This is the second part to the original article “How to succeed while deployed with Green Berets when you aren’t one.”
If you ask every conventional guy who got the VSO (Village Stabilization Operations) mission how it went, you will get just as many different answers. I have heard many stories from teams, squads, and platoons who were with other ODAs (Operational Detachment Alpha) in different areas, who had horrible experiences. They didn’t get along with the team, they were treated like idiots, and were basically made to do with “Charlie Work” on the VSP (Village Stability Platform).
While a lot of that could be beyond anyone’s control, I worked with multiple teams, all of which had their own personalities and styles, and still had a good working relationship with everyone. We were part of the team and not treated like window-lickers. I would like to think that part of that comes from respecting yourself.
By that I mean not resigning yourself to just be some lackey at the team’s disposal. You show that in a number of ways. First, don’t be an idiot. Be good at your job, be proactive, be physically fit, and the rest should take care of itself.
The most succinct way I could describe it: Act like a bitch, get treated like a bitch. At the end of the day, no matter what you do, you’re not going to suddenly have a long tab and be an operator. But you can be really good at the job you do have, have pride in that, and that will go a long way in earning respect.
Know your role
I got to work with a lot of SF guys and SEALs during my year in Afghanistan. Within these SF Task Forces, there are a lot of support personnel and other random folks who get attached either at the team, company, or SOTF (Special Operations Task Force) level.
One thing that always made me laugh was seeing someone who looked like a team guy, but something about them was just…off. I got pretty good at detecting it as my experience in-country grew. It’s the guy who’s trying too hard. The support guy who is authorized the team grooming standards, which then sort of slowly turns into assuming he’s one of them.
Don’t get me wrong, eventually you will become part of the team. But at the end of the day, you have to recognize that you are not actually part of the team. This isn’t selling yourself short, or discrediting what you bring to the mission. It’s simply respecting that you aren’t an SF guy.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t become close friends with the ODA or SEAL platoon you’re working with. But you have to know your role in the working environment before you start calling everyone by their first name and walking around with your hands in your pockets.
Have a sense of humor
Operating in austere environments, far from the typical ‘luxuries’ of a major FOB (Forward Operating Base), things will tend to get a little stressful. If you are afforded some small creature comforts, like a washing machine, a porcelain shitter, nice workout equipment for the prison gym, or air conditioning units, eventually, that shit will break or fall apart. When that happens, in addition to the already existing stress of a combat environment, the camp has the opportunity to go Lord of the Flies.
At critical times like these, it helps to be able to laugh and not take yourself too seriously. Having a good sense of humor will make you a more likeable person, and an asset to have around when times are shitty. The opposite is true if you are a robot, or a turd with no sense of humor. At that point you have few redeeming qualities, which is undesirable when the team sergeant can make a phone call and have your ass on a helicopter back to Camp Brown within 18 hours.
Also, the reality of a deployed environment can get fairly dark. Consequently, team guys can seem to have a pretty twisted sense of humor. If you can’t get a good chuckle out of at least SOME horrors of war, you may find yourself isolated. This could be said of any wartime service, but the effects are magnified when you are in such close quarters as when you’re with a team.
In conclusion, deploying and serving with SF dudes was the highlight of my time in the Army. If you are not an 18 series, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to conduct the same missions and live with an ODA. If you aren’t a moron, are able to work hard, and can laugh at yourself, you will likely fare well. If you are stupid, fat, or are otherwise suspect, you will know it, as they will tell you. If you get a similar opportunity like mine, embrace it!
Image Courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command