Old 01-22-2004, 19:05   #1
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What is Special Forces - A Primer


From the recruiter's offices.

Mostly correct, though it is a couple of years old and IIRC pre-dates the GWOT and the 18X program.

Good overview material for the novice.


Part I

What Is SF?

SF, commonly referred to as Green Berets, are strategic, multipurpose forces capable of rapid response to various contingencies throughout the world. Their mission is to organize, train, equip, and direct indigenous forces in unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense. For this reason, they possess foreign language and area orientation skills. Most SF soldiers work on a 12-man Operational Detachment "A" (SFODA) team, sometimes called an A Team.

How Are SF Different from Conventional Army Forces?

Regional Orientation

Each SF soldier is assigned to one of five SF Groups. Each Group is responsible for several missions in a designated area of the world, or area of operations (AO). The SF soldier closely studies his Group’s AO and trains to the unique demands of this area of the world.

Intercultural Communication

The SF soldier learns a foreign language and works closely with the indigenous people in his Group’s AO. Unlike the conventional soldier, the SF soldier is often called upon to interact closely with, and live under the same conditions as, people of a foreign culture. Not only does he perform his job expertly, he also serves as a representative of the United States (U.S.).

Missions and Collateral Activities

Soldiers in general purpose units train for conventional warfare; in contrast, SF soldiers are called upon to accomplish a wide variety of unconventional missions. The SF soldier serves in the roles of teacher and helper, as well as warrior. SF plan, conduct, and support special operations in all operational environments.

The U.S. Army organizes, trains, equips, and provides SF to perform seven primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, special reconnaissance, counterproliferation, information warfare/command and control warfare, and counterterrorism. (Counterterrorism is a primary mission only for designated and specially organized, trained, and equipped units.) In addition to the seven primary missions, SF may participate in any of several collateral activities: security assistance, humanitarian assistance, coalition liaison, counterdrug activities, personnel recovery, and countermine activities.


Unconventional warfare is a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations, normally of long duration, predominately conducted by indigenous or surrogate forces who are organized, trained, equipped, supported, and directed in varying degrees by an external force. It includes guerrilla warfare and other direct offensive and low-visibility, covert, or clandestine operations, as well as the indirect activities of subversion, sabotage, intelligence collection, and evasion.

Foreign internal defense is the participation by civilian and military agencies of a government in any of the action programs taken by another government to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency. The primary SF mission in this interagency activity is to organize, train, advise, and assist host nation military and paramiltary forces.

Direct action operations are short-duration strikes and other small-scale offensive actions by special operations forces to seize, destroy, or inflict damage on a specified target or to destroy, capture, or recover designated personnel or materiel.

Special reconnaissance is reconnaissance and surveillance conducted by SF to obtain or verify, by visual observation or other collection methods, information concerning the capabilities, intentions, and activities of an actual or potential enemy. SF may also use hydrographic or geographic characteristics of a particular area. It includes target acquisition, area assessment, and poststrike reconnaissance.

Counterproliferation is action taken to locate, identify, seize, destroy, render safe, transport, capture, or recover weapons of mass destruction.

Information warfare/command and control warfare are actions taken to achieve information superiority in support of national military strategy by affecting adversary information or information systems while leveraging and protecting U.S. information and information systems.

Counterterrorism includes offensive measures taken by civilian and military agencies of a government to prevent, deter, and respond to terrorism. The primary mission of SF in this interagency activity is to apply specialized capabilities to preclude, preempt, and resolve terrorist incidents abroad.

Collateral Activities

Security assistance is a group of programs authorized by the Foreign Assistance Act, the Arms Export Control Act, or other related U.S. statutes. The primary SF role is to provide mobile training teams and other training assistance. Public law prohibits personnel providing security assistance from performing combat duties.

Humanitarian assistance is any military act or operation of a humanitarian nature, including disaster relief, noncombatant evacuation operations, and support to, and/or resettlement of, displaced civilians.

Coalition liaison and other security activities ensure the physical security of important persons, facilities, and events.

Counterdrug activities are measures taken to disrupt, interdict, and destroy illicit drug activities.

Personnel recovery includes activities designed to locate, recover, and restore to friendly control selected persons or materiel that are isolated and threatened in sensitive, denied, or contested areas.

Countermine activities attempt to reduce or eliminate the threat to noncombatants and friendly military forces posed by mines, booby traps, and other explosive devices.

Degree of Expertise and Responsibility

Each member of an SFODA is a self-sufficient expert in his branch or MOS and is capable of directly applying his skills or instructing others in his specialty. His specialized training and expertise prepare him for levels of responsibility that are higher than what he would normally experience in the conventional Army. He is expected to exercise more initiative, self-reliance, maturity, and resourcefulness than his conventional counterpart.

Sense of Community

Team members work closely together and rely on each other for long periods of time, both during deployments and in garrison, developing close interpersonal ties, team cohesion, and esprit de corps. The sense of community and support among soldiers and their families is generally considered higher in SF than in the Army as a whole.


Rewards for a job well done are not motivators in SF. SF is strong in terms of intangible rewards: job satisfaction, training opportunities, professionalism, responsibility, and feelings of camaraderie and belonging.

Common Myths About SF

A common misconception about SF is that the work is glamorous and filled with the adventure and excitement of exotic travel and direct action missions. In reality, the SF soldier spends a great deal of time preparing for missions and training exercises. He studies to maintain his MOS and language skills and analyzes his Group’s AO. When he does deploy, he may find himself living in conditions that most Americans would consider austere at best. The work is physically and mentally demanding and frequently extends for long periods of time.

Characteristics of the Successful SF Soldier

Although there is prestige in wearing the Green Beret, SF soldiers are not boastful or arrogant. They are more accurately described as “quiet professionals.”

Successful SF Soldiers Tend to Be:

Team Players
Good Trainers
High Initiative
Completely Trustworthy
Superior in Technical Skills
Skillful in Dealing With People
Open to Different Cultures
Strongly Committed to SF

Last edited by The Reaper; 01-22-2004 at 19:08.
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Old 01-22-2004, 19:06   #2
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Part II

How You Qualify

The road to SF starts with the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) Program.

If selected, you then receive qualification training in the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). Upon graduation from the SFQC, if you are not already foreign language qualified, you will receive foreign language training. Then, you begin your first assignment with an SF Group, usually on an SFODA. The diagram on page 9 shows the typical sequence of events. The acronymns listed below are depicted on the diagram.


SFAS is a 3-week program run by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (USAJFKSWCS) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. After completing the application procedures and receiving a date to attend SFAS (usually through the assistance of an SF recruiter), the soldier reports to Fort Bragg on temporary duty (TDY) status.

The purpose of SFAS is to identify soldiers who have the potential for SF training. The program has two phases. The first phase assesses physical fitness, motivation, and ability to cope with stress. Activities in this phase include psychological tests; physical fitness and swim tests; runs, obstacle courses, and ruckmarches; and military orienteering exercises. An evaluation board meets after the first phase to determine which candidates will be allowed to continue in the program. The second phase assesses leadership and teamwork skills. At the end, another board meets to select those soldiers who may attend the SFQC.

Most candidates find SFAS to be physically demanding. During in-processing, candidates must score a minimum of 206 on the Army Physical Fitness Test for the 17- to 21-year-old age group, and they must swim 50 meters while dressed in boots and fatigues. All assessment activities require the soldier to be well prepared physically.

Ruckmarching and foot care are especially important to any soldier’s preparation.

Suggested physical training programs are available for soldiers through their SF recruiter.

Assignment to an MOS

After SFAS graduation, soldiers learn their MOS assignment and their training course start date. The SF MOSs are—

18A SF Detachment Commander
180A SF Warrant Officer/Assistant Detachment Commander
18B SF Weapons Sergeant
18C SF Engineer Sergeant
18D SF Medical Sergeant
18E SF Communications Sergeant

“The first thing to go is your feet. There’s only one way to make it through—you must train with a rucksack.”

Soldiers have two opportunities to indicate any preference for a particular MOS:

Soldiers can indicate an MOS preference on their SFAS application. Recruiters keep this information in their database.

In the early part of SFAS, candidates have an opportunity to learn more about the various SF MOSs through presentations or films. At this time, candidates have a chance to submit their written MOS preferences in rank order.

The MOS assignment board has access to both preference statements but gives more weight to the more recent (the more informed) preference.

About MOS Assignment

The assignment decision is based on—
_ Your previous MOS and training.
_ Your aptitude scores.
_ The needs of the force.
_ Your preference.

Most soldiers get their preferred MOS when the preference and the aptitudes match. However, there are no guarantees. All MOSs are infantry-oriented (including medics) and everyone cross-trains.

Definitions of SF MOSs

18A. The detachment commander is an 18A captain. He commands the detachment and is responsible for everything that the detachment does or fails to do. The commander may command and/or advise an indigenous battalion combat force.

18B. Weapons sergeants are familiar with weapons systems found throughout the world. They gain extensive knowledge about every type of small arms and indirect fire weapons (mortars). They learn the capabilities and characteristics of U.S. and foreign air defense and antitank systems, as well as how to teach marksmanship and employment of weapons to others. Weapons sergeants employ conventional and unconventional tactics and techniques as tactical mission leaders. They assist the operations sergeant in the preparation of the operations and training portions of area studies, briefbacks, and operation plans and orders. They recruit, organize, train, and advise or command combat indigenous forces up to company size.

18C. Engineer sergeants are experts in the planning and constructing of buildings and bridges, as well as in their demolition. Construction requires learning to read blueprints and to construct a theater-of-operations building and field fortifications. Demolition requires learning about land mine warfare, non-electric and electric firing systems, and how to improvise with substitutes for standard ammunition and explosives. Engineer sergeants plan, supervise, lead, perform, and instruct all aspects of combat engineering and light construction engineering. Engineer sergeants construct and employ improvised munitions, plan and perform sabotage operations, and prepare the operation plans and orders. They can recruit, organize, train, and advise or command indigenous combat forces up to company size.

18D. Medical sergeants are specialists in many different areas of human and animal physiology. Medical sergeants specialize in trauma management, infectious diseases, cardiac life support, and surgical procedures and learn the basics of veterinary medicine. Both general health care and emergency health care are stressed in training. Medical sergeants provide emergency, routine, and long-term medical care for detachment members and associated allied members and host nation personnel. They train, advise, and direct detachment routine, emergency, and preventive
medical care. They establish field medical facilities to support detachment operations. They provide veterinary care. They prepare the medical portion of area studies, briefbacks, and operation plans and orders. They can train, advise, or lead indigenous combat forces up to company size.

18E. Communications sergeants are experts in sending and receiving the critical messages linking the SFODAs with their command and control elements. Training entails extensive use of the Morse code system, cryptographic systems, burst outstation systems, and common radios found throughout the Army. They become familiar with antenna theory and radio wave propagation and how to teach it to others. Communications sergeants install, operate, and maintain FM, AM, HF, VHF, UHF, and SHF communications in voice, continuous wave, and burst radio nets. They advise the detachment commander on communications matters. They train the detachment members and indigenous forces in communications. They prepare the communications portion of area studies, briefbacks, and operation plans and orders. They can train, advise, or lead indigenous combat forces up to company size.


After a soldier is selected from SFAS, he returns to his unit and awaits his slot in the SFQC. There is often a several-month waiting period before the soldier begins the course. Soldiers selected for MOS 18B (weapons) or MOS 18C (engineer) go directly to the 24-week course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

MOS 18D: Medical Training

Soldiers selected to attend the SFMS Course (MOS 18D) attend the course for a period of 44 weeks at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The medical training is divided into two portions: first, the SOCM Course, which is 24 weeks long; second, the SFMS Course, which is 20 weeks long. Normally, 18Ds attend Phase I (3 weeks) prior to the SOCM course and Phase III (5 weeks) after the SFMS course.

The 24-week SOCM Course covers anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and advance trauma training. Along with this training, soldiers will complete the Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic (EMT-P) Course and will take the National Registry Examination for an opportunity to obtain the registry’s EMT-P qualification.

The 20-week SFMS Course covers dental, surgical, anesthesia, veterinary, laboratory, and X-ray subjects.

The medical course is academically intensive and time intensive; 4 to 5 hours per night of studying and research are not uncommon. After the 44 weeks of medical training, soldiers then proceed to Phase III of the SFQC.

All MOSs: The 24-Week Course

All soldiers complete the 24-week SFQC at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Once soldiers receive their SFQC date, they are permanently assigned to Fort Bragg.

SF Branch 18A

All officers, upon completion of the SFQC, will be rebranched to the SF Branch (18A). The SERE Level C Course must be satisfactorily completed before or immediately after the SFQC. SERE is a requirement for branch qualification. Officers will ordinarily complete the Infantry Officer Advanced Course (IOAC) prior to SFQC. If not, they will proceed to IOAC following SF qualification.

Assignment to an SF Group

There are five Active Component SF Groups. The chart on pages 14–15 identifies each Group’s AO. The chart on page 16 describes each Group’s duty station. During the in-processing phase of the SFQC, students will have an opportunity to fill out a Group preference form, stating their first three choices for SF Group assignment. Personnel at the USAJFKSWCS and at the U.S. Total Army Personnel Command are responsible for making the assignments.

Their decisions are based on the—

_ Needs of the Groups.
_ Soldier’s existing language skills or regional orientation.
_ Soldier’s language aptitude (Defense Language Aptitude Battery score).
_ Soldier’s preference.

Group assignments are made first, then language assignments. Students will find out both their Group assignment and their foreign language assignment toward the end of the SFQC.

“Research what you are getting into. Learn as much about your job as you possibly can, and do your best.”
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Old 01-22-2004, 19:07   #3
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Part III

Foreign Language Training

Everyone who does not already hold a language rating prior to attending SFQC will attend language training upon graduation. For almost everyone, the language training location is Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Language training ranges from 17 to 23 weeks, depending on the difficulty of the language. The standards for graduation are 0+, 0+ on the Defense Language Proficiency Test (speaking and listening). About 95 percent of students are successful the first time through. Recycling is usually permitted. If a 0+, 0+ is not attained, your SF tab will be revoked.

The training emphasizes basic communication skills for soldiers who will be conducting military training. The focus is on speaking and listening skills, and military terminology is emphasized.

Students can expect about 6 to 7 hours of classroom instruction per day plus homework, part of which may be computer based instruction.

After completing language training, all soldiers are authorized 30 days to PCS to their new SF Group assignments. This 30-day PCS authorization applies even to soldiers stationed in 3d Group at Fort Bragg.

What You Can Expect After You’re Qualified

Each of the five SF Groups is composed of three battalions and a Group support company (which includes Group headquarters). Each of the SF battalions is composed of three line companies (A, B, and C), as well as a support company and a battalion headquarters detachment. Each of the three line companies is composed of six SFODAs and one company headquarters.


Expect to participate in training events both in the continental United States and outside the continental United States. The following are characteristics of typical team training:
_ Time spent in close quarters with other team members.
_ Much preparation time involving study, research, and planning.
_ Harsh, uncomfortable living conditions, isolated from the world.
_ Fast-paced activities, with little opportunity for sleep or relaxation.

In terms of individual training, the typical SF soldier has considerable opportunities compared to soldiers in other branches. Advanced specialized training is available for specific mission profiles; for example, SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) and HALO (high-altitude low-opening) training.

In-Garrison Activities

Work in garrison varies in type and intensity, depending upon the previous and upcoming training assignments and missions.

Generally, SF soldiers are either planning or preparing for deployment or are deployed. Although they need to be ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, they always have a long-range training plan that they follow. Garrison work often has the following characteristics:
_ Slower, more flexible pace than when deployed.
_ Emphasis on quality time with family and taking care of needed family or personal business.
_ Emphasis on training or preparing for the next deployment or training exercise, performing tasks such as—
- Maintaining equipment.
- Training fellow team members in MOS skills (cross training).
- Preparing and researching lesson plans for teaching missions.
- Physical training.
- Language training.
- Rehearsals to practice team combat skills in accordance with standing operating

Amount of Time Away From Home

The time spent away from home varies greatly from soldier to soldier and from year to year. The amount of deployment time for a given soldier will depend on his—
_ SF Group, its AO, and national priorities regarding that part of the world.
_ A Team and its specialty, if it has one (for example, SCUBA).
_ MOS (shortage MOS may deploy more often).
_ Individual schooling requirements.
_ SF Group commander.

For the soldier assigned to an SFODA, time away from home in a given year can vary from about 1 week to 6 months, depending on the factors already noted.

Deployment is considered TDY, so any one deployment can potentially be 179 days (6 months), but no longer. The average length of deployment is closer to 1 or 2 months.

The Long-Term View of Your SF Career

As a rule, an SFQC graduate’s initial assignment will be to an SFODA. During this period he will enhance his professional development by working with seasoned professionals on a variety of missions in the Group’s targeted region of the world.

Promotion Rates

Typically, sergeants are promoted to SSGs as soon as they meet minimum time-ingrade standards and if they perform well. SSGs normally find themselves in a promotable status toward the end of their initial 4-year SF tour. Promotable SSGs will attend the Advanced NCO Course around their ninth year of Army service.

Promotions are consistent with the conventional Army, but on occasion there are accelerated promotions.

It is possible for some NCOs to go to the Defense Language Institute or to attend SF medical cross-training after serving 2 years in a Group. These soldiers will return to their Groups to employ their new skills on an SFODA after successfully completing training.

After a soldier has acquired about 4 years of experience to round out his SF training, he may be assigned away from an operational Group to serve as an instructor at the USAJFKSWCS or to serve in a specialized position that draws on his regional experience.

During this period, the soldier broadens his knowledge of how the Army works and gains an understanding of the work that goes into developing and sustaining a special operations force.

Soldiers who perform exceptionally well in both the operational and support environment will find themselves returning to an operational Group to assume responsibilities as the senior NCO of an SFODA. The next step is selection as team sergeant, a critical opportunity in an SF NCO’s career, since the team sergeant is instrumental in preparing his SFODA to execute missions and is charged with developing his young NCOs into outstanding SF soldiers. After 1 to 3 years of team sergeant time, an NCO may be selected to serve in key special operations positions throughout the world.

Master sergeants with outstanding files may be selected to attend the Sergeants Major Academy. Graduates from the Academy will be assigned to positions of significant responsibility throughout the world pending selection for promotion to sergeant major (SGM). Duty positions for SGMs are designed to shape policy for the future of SF or to enforce the high standards associated with a career in special operations.

Job Satisfaction

SF soldiers report that the camaraderie, professionalism, and overall job satisfaction are unmatched by any other job in the Army. On the other hand, some soldiers report that they expected to travel more, train more, and conduct more real-world missions than they have thus far.


Promotion rates in SF are among the best in the Army for both officers and NCOs. Given the changes currently taking place in the Army, these promotion rates may also be changing. Moreover, the performance of SF soldiers tends to be relatively high. So, soldiers who get promoted in SF are consistently high performers.

Another career path that some SF soldiers choose is that leading to the drill sergeant, recruiting duty, and WO program. SF offers an excellent opportunity for an NCO to become a WO.

Families in SF

In SF as elsewhere, families and individuals are unique. However, SF families appear to share certain characteristics. Many families characterize themselves as independent and self-sufficient. Balanced with this is a strong sense of community with other SF families.

Wives of SF soldiers describe themselves as—
_ Independent
_ Self-sufficient
_ Flexible
_ Strong
_ A “jack of all trades”
_ Supportive of their husband’s work
_ Having outside interests
_ Outgoing
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Old 01-22-2004, 19:07   #4
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Part IV

Common Issues for Families in SF

The total number of times an SF soldier is away from home in one year may be the same or even less than the number of times he would be away from home in a conventional combat arms unit. However, most SF families report that the length of time the soldier is away at one time is an issue with which they must contend. The SF soldier may be gone for several weeks or months at a time when he is deployed for training, missions, or away at schools. Time away tends to be greater for soldiers who are on an SFODA than for soldiers with other assignments.

Most deployments are planned well in advance, and families are given the soldier’s location and address. However, there are rare times when the soldier deploys unexpectedly or is not able to disclose his exact location. The family may be unable to call him directly during these situations. The unpredictability of such deployments can cause stress for the family because they are unable to plan for his absence, and they are sometimes unable to plan on his exact return date. The time the soldier is away can be particularly stressful for families with children. The wife typically must assume all the home responsibilities when her husband is away, including child care, household finances, and household upkeep. Keeping the children’s relationship with their father secure and ongoing is another challenge when the father is away for long periods.

The transition time when the soldier is leaving and returning from deployments can also be stressful and emotional for both husband and wife. Many wives settle into new routines when the husband is away and must then readjust these routines when he returns. On the other hand, some husbands and wives report a positive outcome when the husband returns from deployments because they experience a repeated honeymoon period.

Some wives report that they’ve had to adjust to the realization that their husbands truly love their jobs and are committed to their team and its missions. Some wives find it disconcerting that their husband spends so much time with his team, even when the team is not deployed. On the other hand, many wives spend a great deal of time socializing with the other wives on the team, so that the team’s closeness is a positive factor for everyone in the family.

Common family stresses in SF are the—
_ Length of time the soldier is away.
_ Number of times the soldier is away, especially when he is on an SFODA.
_ Loneliness due to separations.
_ Difficulties of communication, due to soldier’s schedule.
_ Difficulties maintaining relationships between father and young children.
_ Transition times of leaving and returning and disruptions of routines.
_ Inability to plan family vacations or activities when unscheduled deployments arise.
_ Difficulties of maintaining household finances.

Family Support Mechanisms

SF have been in the forefront of the Army with respect to support for families. They were one of the first to develop family support groups that schedule get-togethers for wives and families, both when the husband is away and when he is in garrison.

The purpose of the family support group is to help families, especially wives, build support networks.

When the soldier begins the SFQC, the company will introduce the wives to the family support group. The meetings, which are open to all, provide opportunities to discuss issues and share information. Each SF Group also has its own family support group. Plus, there are many other formal and informal sources of support for SF families. A family member in SF never needs to feel alone.
Sources of support for SF families include—
_ Family support groups.
_ Close, supportive relationships among team members and their wives (the team is often described as a “second family”).
_ “Chain of concern” rosters used to pass along information and assistance.
_ Chaplain’s office and family support centers on post.
_ Family information briefings before major deployments.
_ Phone “hot lines” that are used when soldiers are deployed unexpectedly to provide information about the soldier’s whereabouts and scheduled return.

Family Satisfaction in SF

Most wives report that they are proud of their husband and his work. Most also report satisfaction in knowing that their husband experiences a great deal of job satisfaction in SF, more than he would in any other job. The independence that most wives experience out of necessity is often seen as a plus. SF wives report becoming stronger and more self-sufficient. The SF community can also be a source of satisfaction for families, because they feel a true bond with other SF families.

Special Forces In-Service Recruiting Commander
U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School
DSN 239-1818
Commercial (910) 432-1818


Special Forces Future Readiness Officer
U.S. Total Army Personnel Command
DSN 221-3178
Commercial (703) 325-3178
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