“Big dumb Ranger stomping through the woods,” Kevin, a retired sergeant major from 5th Special Forces Group, said with a smirk to me after an After Action Review in Robin Sage. Robin Sage is the culmination exercise at the end of the Special Forces Qualification Course, basically your final exam prior to donning the Green Beret.

I rolled my eyes at Kevin as I shook my head. I was pissed, but not because Kevin was breaking my balls. Rather I was irritated with myself because I knew that he was right. We were instructed to conduct an ambush in the fictional nation of Pineland (actually located in North Carolina) and I was walking point. Getting angry with some of the junior guys on the team because of a land navigation error, I told them to shut up and follow me. I charged off through the woods and made enough noise that the role players guarding the road we were supposed to ambush heard us.

What happened after that was everything not described in the Ranger Handbook. Blank fire was popping off everywhere and I ordered Kevin, playing an Arab foreign fighter attached to our team, to fire his AT4 Anti-Tank rocket. In real life, the rocket would not have even armed because we were so close to the “enemy,” but I figured it would scare the hell out of them if nothing else.

When we maneuvered up to the road, there were “bodies” laying everywhere. We were supposed to ambush an enemy supply truck at a specific time, but with our patrol compromised and the shootout that ensued, it didn’t look like we would be completing that objective anytime soon. Big facepalm moment for yours truly.

Robin Sage Exercise Tests Special Forces Students
Special Forces candidates assigned to the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School lead mules down a path as part of a long-distance movement during Robin Sage in central North Carolina, June 7, 2020. (Photo by K. Kassens/United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School)

It was the youngest guy on our Robin Sage team that suggested to me that we just hide the “bodies” in the bushes and set up our own checkpoint, masquerading as the enemy when the supply truck came through. He was an 18-Xray, one of the kids who were able to come in right off the street and into the Special Forces pipeline. I was still thinking Ranger School, but this guy grasped the unconventional warfare mission faster.

Damn, that was a good idea! It worked perfectly. We stashed the “dead” role players in the bushes, set up a checkpoint, and captured the supply truck.

Kevin’s words stuck with me. Being a Special Forces soldier requires a very different mentality than being a Ranger but I still had a hard time shaking off old habits. In Ranger Battalion everything is usually “dress right DRESS!” and done to THE STANDARD. When you attempt to graft this work ethic onto the unconventional warfare mission it simply does not work. Yelling at indigenous troops and demanding that they behave like Americans will get you nowhere. Expecting them to perform like American Light Infantry is also ridiculous.

Stomping off into the woods while on patrol isn’t a good idea regardless of what unit you are in, but being a hothead is even less effective while running Special Forces missions.