Few members of the active duty Army are aware of what is one of the best kept secrets in the military. Even if you have missed your primary opportunity to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) in your regular career, you can still become a member of Army Special Forces through the National Guard.
If you are an Officer who missed the appropriate year group cutoff, or an Enlisted member who has separated from active duty, you can join either 19th or 20th Special Forces Group and still get a chance to attend selection.
If selected, you will complete the Special Forces Qualification Course in the exact same manner as your active duty counterparts. Once qualified, you will rotate back to your specific National Guard unit and begin drilling.
To become a part of Guard Special Forces, there are generally two routes. The first, and obvious route, is for prior Green Berets from the Active Duty force to transition to the Guard. This is the primary method of filling their ranks.
But for those who were not SF in their Active Duty time, first you must become a member of the National Guard. For Special Forces units within the Guard, they are generally organized into companies across different states. You do not need to live within the state of your chosen unit. Reach out to that company, let them know your background, and see what their requirements are. Each state will likely have a somewhat different process.
In general, if that unit believes you will be a good fit, they will in-process you as a member of the National Guard. If you have served in the Army before, you will retain your previous MOS. You will then fulfill you drill obligations as a regular member of the National Guard: one weekend a month and two weeks a year.
At first you will be a part of the training platoon—guys who are pre-SFAS—and will not hold an 18 series MOS. Your drill weekends will likely be some form of train-up for Selection. Depending on the unit’s particular needs, you will probably attend Selection within six months to two years.
To SOCOM, 19th and 20th SFGs are no different than any of the other active duty groups. The accuracy of that assessment is likely in the eye of the beholder, but for all intents and purposes, a Guard ODA has the same standards and expectations as an Active Duty one.
While it sounds awesome to be a Green Beret without necessarily the same active duty commitments, there are some potential downsides. If you are working at Goldman Sachs as some high-level investment banker, you may encounter some resistance if you are popping out of the office to go on deployments and JCETs every four months. While there are laws on the books to protect members of the Guard and Reserves from being fired while fulfilling their service obligations, in some professions you cannot realistically expect to develop and progress if you are not 100% committed year-round.
For Officers who choose this route, do not expect to accrue rank and retire as a Colonel. The promotion opportunities are far fewer than on the Active Duty side.
However, the potential for diversity on an ODA composed entirely of people who are technically not full-time SF guys is vast. Bringing in cops, doctors, lawyers…you name it, can have unexpected benefits and a depth of experience that the Active Duty side may not be able to replicate.
Image Courtesy of New Jersey National Guard