In one of the most damning pieces of the story that has been on-going for upwards of two years, Kristina Wong of Breitbart News absolutely skewered MG Kurt Sontag of the US Army’s JFK SWC (Special Warfare Center and School) over the case of the now infamous “night letter.”
Many Special Forces NCOs who are assigned as cadre to the schoolhouse at the SWC have been concerned that the standards have been lowering for the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) since Sontag took over command of SWC in May of 2017.
What transpired was a toxic command climate where NCOs who voiced concerns over the decreased standards of the SFQC were singled out for retribution. It began where candidates were given multiple chances to pass especially for not passing a physical standard or test. Before Sontag took command, failing to pass two separate times would have resulted in being relieved from the course. But to the consternation of the cadre members, candidates were being passed by a relief board or the training group commander after the cadre recommended relief from the course.
And when any NCOs spoke out about how they were losing their power to properly evaluate potential SF candidates. Wong quoted one SF cadre member as saying, “It’s like Game of Thrones around here,” he said. “Who’s going to be next?”
Why? Because if any of the Green Beret instructors spoke out about the lowering of standards either officially or thru the “town hall meetings” where there is supposed to be a free clearing of the air for instructors and the command, they were either ridiculed for speaking out or had their names marked down for retribution from Sontag himself.
Things reached a head in late 2017. A Green Beret instructor wrote a 6400-word scathing anonymous email that was addressed to the other soldiers in the command, that one Green Beret forwarded to NEWSREP where it was published.
We wrote our own piece on the standards flap here last fall where the charges by the Special Forces NCOs seemed to strike home. One SF sergeant major admitted that SWC had pushed substandard Green Berets onto the operational groups and that it was up to them (the SF Groups), to weed out the unfit.
“‘We push some of these issues forward [to the Regiment] because we believe that the Groups can succeed in fixing those problem graduates when they arrive. That is an amount of risk we willingly accept because after all, it’s much easier to get a tab removed at Group if he doesn’t pan out, than to risk relieving what’s basically a fully qualified student who might have been able to fix himself and become a solid Green Beret.’”
The resultant firestorm from the piece from Jack Murphy about the email had the opposite effect than to fix what was wrong. The SWC command, under Sontag, didn’t seek to remedy the situation but to find the authors of said email and retaliate against them. He did this even though he promised the command thru a letter that he’d look into the allegations brought forward and attempt to fix them.
Several days later, according to Wong, Sontag called a formation of SFQC instructors, both military and civilian and went off the rails.
According to several witnesses, he took off his Army combat uniform top and challenged those who disagreed with him to step forward and fight him.“He took his top off,” one witness said. “He said, ‘If anybody had any problem with me … my rank just came off, I will fight you guys one-on-one.’”
According to another witness, Sonntag also said the email author could be punishable by “death.”
Such actions are hardly the ones you would expect of a general officer.
After a fruitless search for the author, he began a general officer investigation. After dismissing all students and cadre one day at 1400 hrs, Green Berets watched as Army MPs went into the building and began to confiscate computers.
He narrowed down the search to seven possible suspects and had them all flagged for investigation which suspended their security clearances. What followed was a plethora of non-judicial punishments, administrative and reassignment moves and the move to revoke Special Forces tabs from those who, in his mind had crossed the line.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, before his resignation, was behind the cadre members in this flap which has damaged the school’s reputation. The Deputy Army Secretary made a visit to Ft. Bragg over this fiasco and spoke to the cadre of SWC but thus far, nothing more has been heard over this.
Morale is low at the schoolhouse with nearly 43 percent of the cadre saying they were dissatisfied with their job. Wong captured the climate of the schoolhouse with the following comments during her investigation.
One current instructor told Breitbart News that Sonntag was “one of the most toxic commanders I’ve ever had.”
“He keeps order by threats. He’s a hundred percent toxic. He leads by threats and intimidation. He’s ruining people’s careers because he can. He needs to retire out of this job,” the instructor said.
One former instructor said, “Guys — they’re getting out [of the Army] at eight, 10, 12 years. They’re like, ‘Screw this, I’m getting out.’ Why? Because they don’t care about us. And it shows.”
Several Green Beret NCOs and officers have had their careers ended in this purge over at SWC. And things aren’t getting any better it appears. The case of the standards being lowered is one that has been going on since Special Forces has begun its courses of instruction. But in this case, the command and instructors aren’t working together to solve the problem.
Again, what I wrote last year still applies, I don’t know whether what the charges that the NCOs wrote last year were absolutely true or not. I don’t work there anymore and haven’t been there for some time. But if so many of them feel that way, then I trust their judgment as fellow SF brothers that there was an issue that needed fixing.
They are guys on the ground doing the heavy lifting and see the students every day, unlike the command who looks at things from afar and are too occupied with meeting number quotas than turning out qualified Green Berets. The command shouldn’t ever punish those instructors who are only looking to maintain the high standards of the Regiment.
Photo: US Army