A treatise on the supremacy of Weapons over all the other specialties on an Operational Detachment- Alpha

By Uncle Jimbo

There is a profound distinction between the importance of the Weapons Sergeant and all the other personnel on a Special Forces Team. There are 12 members with a number of different specialties, but aside from the Weapons Sergeants, all the rest are essentially support. Detachments consist of a Captain, Warrant Officer, Intel NCO, Team Sergeant, and then the soft skills of Engineer, Commo, and Medic, with two of each. But the emperor of all the surveys, bestriding the Earth like a Colossus is the ramp-jumping, door-kicking, slim-waisted, barrel-chested, freedom-fighting Weapons Sergeant.

Detachment Commander

The ostensible leader of the team is the Detachment Commander, a Captain who has had a command tour of a 100+ personnel combat arms unit. They go through the SF Qualifications “Q” course like the NCOs on the team and often show up for their year or two on a team with great ambitions. These are dashed immediately as they are shown that the actual team leader is the ranking NCO, the Team Sergeant, who will have 10 or more years experience on an A team and more importantly the respect of the other NCOs. One of the first SF team rooms I walked into had a plaque hanging over the Detachment Commander’s desk that read “Shut up sir, we’ll throw you a pen when we need you to sign something“. The main reason the Army requires a commissioned officer on a detachment is the need for a scapegoat when something inevitably goes horribly wrong. This takes into account the virtual certainty that all NCOs involved will certainly have bullet-proof alibis for any misdeeds. Regulations and custom dictate that the Captain commands the team, but not all of them progress to the next step which allows them to be known as the Team Leader. As the sole officer on a team of 10 sergeants who will have more than 100 years experience doing the job, it is a large hill to climb. Especially since they usually get only 2 or so years time on a team before they are either out or up to a command role or a staff position. The bad ones get saluted and check a block on their career path; the good ones lay their credit card on the bar and say, “Let’s see if we can melt this thing”.

Team Sergeant

The real leader is almost always the Team Sergeant. This Master Sergeant will be the most experienced NCO on the team and have proven himself on the ground where it matters. His informal/unofficial leadership of the team is the status quo, and smart Captains spend their first year rubber stamping the “recommendations” of their Team Sergeant and busting their butts to show the rest of the team that they are not just another clown trying to get promoted. Team Sergeants ride herd on the eight reprobates who have the skills and experience necessary to get the mission accomplished. The role requires both discipline & diplomacy as the desire of the team members to violate comes up against the Captain’s need to avoid international incidents. This is a very unstable dynamic and often requires a lot of horse trading to rein in all the cowboys. Although ordering compliance is an option, it is taken as a sign of weakness. We used to call this using the “S” word, as in Sergeant. All names in the team room are first names until someone feels the need to assert authority saying “Now listen up SGT So & So”. This elicits laughs and derision.  Respect and even authority are earned and can’t be obtained by barking, although obedience can, well, at least temporarily. The Team Sergeant’s word is law and crossing him is bad juju. When GPS was first deployed and my Team Sergeant came across our commo guys trying to find enough satellites to get a position fix, he growled menacingly, “If I ever catch you two idiots asking a god**mn radio where you are and you can’t show me on a map, I will kick both your asses.”