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Old 02-18-2004, 18:21   #1
The Reaper
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SF Officer Article

From Special Warfare Magazine. An interesting article.

Special Forces: Selecting and Training Officers for Adaptability
by Captain Will Cotty, Jat Thompson and Dr. Michael G. Sanders

United States Army Special Forces requires soldiers who will be able to perform their missions in unique environments. In order to ensure the mission success of SF soldiers and to maximize the effectiveness of SF training, SF uses its training pipeline as a means not only of training but also of selecting soldiers for SF. The process, especially in the training of SF officers, can be seen as an example of natural selection.

Natural selection has been defined as a process that promotes the survival of species that are able to adapt to changes in their environment. While it is normally discussed in scientific circles, natural selection has its place in the military environment, as well. A good example of natural selection in the military environment is
the evolution of the M-16 rifle.

During the early 1960s, the U.S. military was looking for a rifle or carbine that could be used in fighting communist forces armed with AK-47s in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The U.S. had the 7.62 mm M-14 rifle and the .30-caliber M-1 carbine in its inventory, but no matter what modifications were made to either weapon, neither met the demands of the environment. What was needed was a carbine or a shortbarreled rifle that would fire an intermediate-weight cartridge and was capable of full automatic fire.

The M-14 performed well, but it was considered to be too heavy for soldiers to carry in the humid jungles of Southeast Asia. Because of the size and weight of the M-14’s cartridge, soldiers could not carry more than 100 rounds on patrols, which severely limited the rifle’s capability as an assault weapon. The M-1 carbine was lighter in weight than the M-14 and used a smaller cartridge, but the carbine’s cartridge was considered to be severely underpowered.

The U.S. eventually chose the 5.56 mm AR-15 rifle, the forerunner of the M-16, not because it was a superior weapon, but because it had greater capability for modification — it was capable of adapting. The M-16 weapon system is still in use today because it has been able to continually improve in order to meet the demands of the changing global environment. The latest design is the M-4 SOPMOD, which features a rail system that allows attachments — including flashlights, sights, lasers and grips — to be placed on the weapon, adapting it to a particular environment.

This example illustrates the importance of adaptability to the survival of a weapon system. Like the M-16, officers attempting to become SF team leaders go through a selection process. SF is looking for officers who have or will be able to build their own rail system. Officers who embody rail-system adaptability are capable of adjusting to the demands of almost any environment. The training for that type of officer is a progression of learning that allows him to acquire knowledge and skills that can be attached to his rail system. This article will look at the process by which the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, or SWCS, selects and trains adaptive officers. Specifically, the article will describe the core attributes that SF officers (18A) must possess if they are to be capable of adapting to changes in the SF environment.

As an officer progresses through the SF training process, his ability and his determination for acquiring the knowledge and skills he will need to be an effective 18A will determine his future in SF. During the process, some soldiers will recognize that the SF environment is not a good match for their skills and interests. In other instances, SWCS will make that determination, even if the soldier does not. In either case, an officer who leaves the SF training process early departs a better soldier because of the experiences and training that he received while he was in the SF training pipeline. SWCS recognizes that many of the soldiers who leave the pipeline early are capable and talented officers whose skills are not a good match for 18A.

Required attributes

An officer who assumes command of an SF A-detachment will face many challenges that are unique to SF. The 18A job is complex, and it requires an adaptable soldier who can perform effectively in a number of roles and missions. SF is clear about the type of officer required to fill the job, and it has established nine attributes that an officer must possess in order to be successful as an 18A:

• Thrive in complex and ambiguous situations.
• Possess the cognitive resilience and mental dexterity needed for acting autonomously while under great stress.
• Be mentally flexible and willing to experiment and to innovate in a decentralized and unstructured environment.
• Be a self-reliant team player who can function as a leader in a tightly knit small group.
• Possess good interpersonal skills and display political acumen and cultural sensitivity.
• Be extremely physically fit.
• Possess unquestioned integrity.
• Be able to inspire others to perform effectively under stress.
• Be a war fighter.

The following discussion will describe the attributes in detail and examine the type of training in the SF training pipeline that produces SF officers who are ready to assume command of an SF team.

The 18A must thrive in complex and ambiguous situations. The breadth of the SF officer’s job is extreme. Effective performers in that job “are those who anticipate future needs and adapt to changing job requirements by learning new tasks, technologies, procedures, and roles.” The Special Forces Qualification Course, or SFQC, is designed to expose candidates to the types of missions they may face as SF team leaders.

Each of the SF missions has different demands. As candidates are exposed to the missions, they must be able to acquire new skills and to learn the nuances of each mission so that they can become effective performers in unconventional environments. By exposing candidates to the different mission tasks, SF trainers are able to assess the candidates and provide feedback on the appropriateness of candidates’ actions relative to the tasks.

Using that feedback, candidates can build a larger body of knowledge that will help them to make better decisions in the future. The SF training pipeline assesses a candidate’s ability to learn SF tactics and procedures and to demonstrate that he can understand and effectively execute SF fundamental tasks. The ability to learn is essential for every 18A because it will be critically important for them to learn the situational demands of each mission and to thrive in environments that are complex and changing.

An 18A must possess the cognitive resilience and mental dexterity for acting autonomously while under great stress. The
18A has an unpredictable job, and he must be able to adjust to mission changes, changes in resources and shifting priorities. The effective SF officer will be able to shift his focus when necessary and to continue to take reasonable actions despite the uncertainty of the situation.

Many of the training exercises within the SF training pipeline create situations in which there are changes in resources, in the mission or in mission priorities. Those changes force the 18A candidate to develop new courses of action based on evolving realities. The training assesses whether officers can create structure in a situation in which there is no structure or in which the existing structure has fallen apart.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - President Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

De Oppresso Liber 01/20/2025

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