A second female, and the first active-duty female officer, is scheduled to graduate this week from the vigorous Special Forces Qualification Course and don her Green Beret. She will be heading to a Group very soon.
Her classmates had many positive things to say about her. Some words to describe her were “great,” “just one of the guys,” and “carries her own weight.” With her hair cut very short, it’s hard to pick her out in the crowd.
In June 2020, a female National Guard soldier graduated and donned the coveted Green Beret. She was the first woman to have completed the modern Special Forces pipeline and was able to join an operational team owing to President Obama’s move to open all military jobs to women. This marked a significant moment for women across the force. Because of this historic milestone, and for the safety of the graduate, her graduation ceremony was held in a closed hangar to conceal her identity. As a Special Forces Engineer Sergeant (18C) with the 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, that female Green Beret hopes to go active duty.
In the early 1980s, another female, Captain Katie Wilder, completed the officer’s version of the SFQC. But her graduation and right to wear the Green Beret was mired in controversy and rumors. For decades there wasn’t an authoritative, evidence-based piece to prove once and for all that Cpt. Wilder had indeed earned the honor of wearing the Green Beret (and the Special Forces tab once it was authorized).
Initially, Wilder was denied qualification as a Special Forces officer and the award of the Additional Skill Identifier (ASI) 5G because Colonel Mize, then the Special Warfare Commander, determined that she had failed Phase III, then Robin Sage. (At the time, 18 series was not a MOS yet.) After an extensive review of the case, General Starry concluded that the investigating officer, who recommended redress, was correct: Eight out of nine allegations of discrimination were fully sustained and the ninth was partially sustained. General Starry “granted Cpt. Wilder’s appeal, directed that she be declared a graduate of SFOC 2-80 and awarded ASI 5G.”
So did the new graduate pass with the same standards? All reports indicate that she has.
But make no mistake, we have yet to see a culture shift in the all-boys club. A woman walking into an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) team room will not be met with high fives and handshakes. Culture takes time to adapt to change. There are still plenty of older generations within the Regiment that believe there is no place for a woman on a team. However, newer graduates are much more receptive, especially when the candidates can pass the same standards.
In a room full of skeptical Special Forces brothers in 2016 at a Special Forces Association conference in Jacksonville retired Special Forces Sergeant Major Billy Waugh, a former CIA Paramilitary Officer, and author of “Hunting The Jackal,” said the following: “I’ve worked with lots of great women at the CIA. They bring super value to the table. It’s going to happen in SF, get used to it.”