My first (and only) combat deployment was one with a unique mission. I was an Army infantry officer, and at the time a platoon leader of about 40 men, and our battalion had just got tagged with the Village Stability Operations SOF uplift mission.
For one year, we would all be farmed out to ODAs and SEAL platoons to lend an extra hand, or operate independently with SOF guidance, or something. It wasn’t quite clear exactly what we’d all be doing. For me and my platoon, we would be cut in half, with two squads coming with me and my platoon sergeant to one Village Stability Platform (VSP) and the other two squads to another, to work with an entirely separate ODA. For all intents and purposes, I was no longer their platoon leader, despite still being administratively responsible for them (more on that unique situation in a later article).
Naturally, I had all the nervous and excited feelings one would expect from their first deployment. I was an infantryman, so I wanted to go execute the operations I had been trained to do (kill stuff). And to add to that, I was going to go conduct operations with Green Berets. My company commander would be 100 miles away; it was just going to be me and my guys, an ODA, and coolguy shit. I was undeniably stoked.
But on top of that, I didn’t want to fuck up in the presence of what I saw as bearded superhumans. So, I got serious, went into the experience with an open mind and a willingness to work, and came out the other side being (reasonably) successful. I thought I would share my thoughts with anyone else who may find themselves in a similar situation one day: deploying with Green Berets when you aren’t one.
Be good at your job
I couldn’t necessarily think of the number one most important thing, so I’m not going to number them. I’ll start with the basics.
Green Berets operate with extreme levels of autonomy. Guys on the teams each have their own tasks and their own projects. They are expected to take whatever mission they have, and run with it, with little to no guidance.
If you are unable to even perform the basics of your Military Occupational Specialty, you are a liability right off the bat.
One of the biggest things that set apart my platoon when we started to work with our team is that we were good at what we were supposed to be good at. It sounds stupid, but just being competent is fundamental. The previous unit had (apparently) been composed of fat mouthbreathers, so when we showed up ready to work, without supervision, a modicum of respect was earned quickly.
Be value added
ODAs are small units. Every man on the team has his core competency, whether it’s as the Weapons Sergeant, the Communications Sergeant, the Intelligence Sergeant, etc. But there are way too many things they are responsible for than to simply stick to that basic skillset. Everyone has to assume additional duties.
An infantry platoon can approach joint environments like this one of two ways.
The first is: “hey, I’ve got 30 hard dicks here ready to kill whatever you point us at” While this mentality is conceptually sound, it will likely result in your dudes pulling all the guard shifts, cleaning the shitters, and facing out and pulling security for 12 months straight.
The second, and more appropriate technique, is to seek out problems to fix, make yourself available, and contribute more than the bare minimum. For us, that was to have our NCOs pair with particular team guys to learn some of his MOS, and to take on similar projects. For me, I paired with the ODA commander to help with whatever line of effort he was working on. A lot of times that meant I was there to help him do “officer shit”: writing SITREPS, various types of planning, and representing the ODA to conventional units in the area. I would coordinate and de-conflict with the battlespace owner, attend battalion and brigade level rehearsals if we were conducting a joint operation, and anything else that needed a ‘conventional guy’ to help with.
To be continued in part two.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps Force, Special Operations Command
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