The Special Warfare Center, specifically the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (JFKSWC) at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, which trains Green Berets, PSYOP, and Civil Affairs soldiers, has been in a state of flux for the past two years. And the news that broke late last week won’t alleviate that instability at all in the coming months.
Breitbart News’ Kristina Wong broke the story that the JFKSWC’s commander, Major General Kurt Sonntag, is being forced to retire following reports of his conduct being investigated by the Pentagon. He’s alleged to have ruined the careers of several Special Forces officers and NCOs for speaking out against the softening and lowering of standards. Wong wrote last week:
They alleged Sonntag wrongfully retaliated against instructors who expressed concern over his lowering of standards for the Special Forces Qualification Course, punished instructors seen as too tough on students, and is a toxic leader who created a climate of fear at SWCS.
Where the story goes from here is unclear, but there will be no easy answers or solutions for the school, the training cadre, or the incoming commander.
Sonntag completed a two-year tour at SWC and asked for a one-year extension. That was denied and he was given no further general officer assignment, which ostensibly means that the general is being forced to retire.
When Sonntag took over the SWC in 2017, he faced many problems, not the least of which was the school not graduating enough Green Berets to fully field the force. The toll of unending wars and an unsustainable optempo has left Special Forces without enough soldiers across the board.
Sonntag immediately began to formulate plans to streamline and shorten the Green Beret training pipeline. He finished those plans in the fall of 2018. Copies of the slides he used were leaked to NEWSREP. We contacted the school and, although we didn’t speak with the general himself, the PAO officer answered our questions.
We wrote about the changes that Sonntag had spelled out here. The SWC representative answered our questions related to the abbreviation of the course with the following:
1st Special Forces Command outlined the individual tasks required for each MOS to meet their operational needs. Instead of adding collective tasks into MOS, this concept focuses solely on individual tasks and incorporates application through historical vignettes (lessons learned). The practical application at a team level will come in tactical skills. Currently, the course orientation and history phase is six weeks. This concept incorporates the introductory individual tasks into MOS training and the collective tasks into tactical skills. History modules and other tasks now taught in course orientation will be taught throughout all phases of the course. This concept found efficiencies in training by reorganizing where we teach certain tasks, which provides opportunities to combine complementary tasks in a logical manner.”
The training cadre of the school asserted that Sonntag’s policies were lowering standards. Now it should be mentioned that those charges are nothing new to the SF school. Every generation has heard those same accusations. I heard it when I went through the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC), and I heard it several years later when assigned to SWC at Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS).
However, this time what transpired next was anything but usual, with the publishing of the “night letter” and the search for its authors. That brings us to where we are today. Sonntag is being forced to retire and a new commander is coming in. Maj. Gen. Patrick B. Roberson is slated to be the next SWC commander. Roberson is coming from special operations Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and is slated to change command this summer.
In Wong’s report, she credited a source who told her that Roberson was the second choice for the new SWC commander. Her source told her that Maj. Gen. Miguel A. Correa was first chosen to take over for Sonntag, but Correa supposedly turned down the SWC assignment because he “didn’t want to take on the s**tshow that Sonntag created.”
Roberson still must face the same daunting tasks that Sonntag did, but now he has to do so with a training cadre that will treat him (whether the allegations against Sonntag are all true or not) with an immediate level of distrust. Hanging over Roberson’s head, unfairly or not, is the fate of the two SF NCOs who were singled out for punishment by Sonntag and are scheduled for termination of service. Green Berets Sergeant First Class Micah Robertson, 33, and Sergeant First Class Michael Squires, 31, are both facing the end of their careers by the conclusion of the month. Their fates will be decided long before Roberson takes command.
However, the Army could do the school and Roberson a tremendous service by keeping both of those NCOs on active duty until the investigation being conducted is complete. There are also several other cases of careers being ruined that should be looked at before those NCOs and officers are lost from the service. It would go a long way in re-establishing trust between the command and the incoming commander. Then, let the chips fall where they may. Will this happen? It is doubtful at this point.
This takes us back to square one: What will happen with the SFAS and the SFQC? One of special operations core “truths” from 1988 is #3: “Special operations forces can’t be mass produced.”
The incoming commander, Maj. Gen. Roberson, certainly understands it. The training cadre in charge of producing the next group of Green Berets for the regiment certainly understand it better than most. They know when their tour at SWC is up, they’ll return to the regiment, and the troops that they assess, train, and graduate this year will be the teammates of the same cadre when they return to the regiment.
That responsibility isn’t lost on them and they take it seriously. One hopes that Maj. Gen. Roberson and his entire school staff find a way to work together to produce the best Special Forces operators that have ever come through the pipeline.
All eyes will be watching what transpires at the schoolhouse for the foreseeable future. No one wants that. But it is what it is.
“May you live in interesting times.”
*This article was originally published on SpecialOperations.com.