Special Operations are intended to be thoughtfully selected and not mass produced. But, wartime needs have forced the DOD to walk a fine line. Decision makers were pleased by the success of Special Operations in Afghanistan in 2001. In fact, over the coming years and in the demands of war – they grew the community. In Special Forces, each group began to build a fourth battalion, where many careers went to rot. Those battalions now house Jedburgh and other specialty teams within the SF groups. But mass producing is against an SOF core principle – that they can’t be mass produced. They’re intended to be chosen from the few who pass the stringent tests.
Nearly every year, there’s a quote somewhere around five hundred and fifty graduates of the Special Forces Qualification Course. I remember hearing the number repeatedly when I was a student. Who’s in the margin? And, when people fall through the cracks what can happen? A lot. An international incident being the most damaging scenario.
Cancer can spread and if toxic personalities and those who otherwise probably shouldn’t have made it through, hurt the unit. There are tales of the team that had to be disbanded because a few toxic personalities infected the group. As a result, they became unreliable and a liability.
I can never shake from memory another X-ray and who graduated well before I did. He was overweight. He was unprofessionally overweight, and there’s no way he was going to pass his PT test. He had to train for it. He had to train to pass something we were all expected to do at any given time. It made me wonder where he fell in his selection class and to what curve they had to select. We had a small unit instructor lose his mind on our class because he didn’t feel the group, as a whole, was fit. He took it personally offensive.
Each group had to man and build a fourth battalion. SF Groups traditionally have three battalions. So, a fourth battalion increased the size of Special Forces by a fourth. This, in turn, must have influenced the graduate quota and selection percentages. When I hear the stories of selection courses from the past, well before I attended – they do sound more selective. But, I also went during a time of war, and everyone was motivated. Also, it’s not a secret that wartime standards, by necessity, are lower than peacetime standards.
These fourth battalions did not see operational rotations until they had sufficient people. When new guys showed up to the fourth battalion, they knew it was the beginning of the end. The push to fill the fourth battalions is complete, in most groups, I think. But, the yearly quota likely stands. Last year the Army times told us “Spec Ops needs 5,000 soldiers.” That should make us question our strategy moving forward when it comes to selecting and filling Special Operations units.
Featured image courtesy of www.armytimes.com.
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