The task of the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) course is identifying the candidates who are suitable for Special Forces training. And two of the primary functions of Special Forces are UW (Unconventional Warfare) and FID (Foreign Internal Defense). It is important the schools don’t lose sight of that fact as SF and SOF (Special Operations Forces) have been heavy into Direct Action (DA)/Counter-Terrorist (CT) missions for some time in the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria among other hot spots.

The basic ten operating activities that Special Operations Forces operate in are spelled out in Section 167 of Title 10 of the US Code. Special Forces were created in 1952 specifically for the role in the UW environment after the OSS were disbanded in 1945 after World War II. The OSS’ Operational Groups and Jedburgh Teams were the forerunners of both Special Forces and the CIA.

But first, to properly prepare prospective SF operators for the UW environment, we have to know what it is. And this has been a frequent complaint from the SF community that the conventional (Big Army) doesn’t understand UW and what it entails. And part of that issue has resided in the SF community itself.

The SF hierarchy has been debating the actual definition of what UW is since 1955 and has had ten different definitions since the original manual was written in that year. There have been tweaks in the definition for 65 years and the current “approved” definition of UW published in 2009 is as follows:

Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary and guerrilla force in a denied area.

Many of the activities and operations that the US SOF are undertaking today could be characterized as UW. And the distinction between UW and FID are now described as being the opposite of one another.

UW is characterized by the use of irregular forces to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power while FID is the use of a nation’s recognized security forces to protect a government.

So how do the schools prepare the future SF operators for operating in the austere environments of the UW arena? They must identify the core attributes that the Special Forces operator must have to be successful in the realm of SF operations. The school used the “Whole Man” approach and identified six attributes necessary for success.

Physical Fitness

SF operators must have the physical, emotional, and mental stamina to succeed in the UW environment. They have to be able to prepare to conduct the missions assigned. And that doesn’t just mean physically but mentally as well. The amount of time spent studying all the aspects of the target area (history, politics, religious leaders and beliefs, terrain, infrastructure, and local economy etc). The mental aspect is just as if not more important than the physical.

The school must identify the potential operators who have the creativity and mindset to think outside the box and do it without prompting or leadership from above. The ability to problem solve while under tremendous stress is a key indicator of success or failure for an SF operator. To quote a line from a Clint Eastwood film, “Improvise, adapt, overcome.”

One key area to highlight for success in the UW/FID environment is the ability for the SF operator to not just give orders but to get the host nation to follow their lead. So, language training and cross-cultural communication are very important. The key to UW is to convince the target audience that the relationship between them and the US SF operators is mutually beneficial. That requires a great deal of tact, diplomacy, and empathy.

And the bread and butter for SF operators in the UW environment are being in the role of a teacher and instructor. That’s what SF has prided itself on for 65 years and the school must identify the type of individuals that can not only do their job and do it well but have the knowledge to teach it to others, in their language. Ask any SF operator and they’ll tell you the first time you teach a course in the host nation’s language is a daunting task.

When the JFKSWC (John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center) started the SFAS course back in 1988 they identified the core attributes that we were looking for in successful Special Forces candidates. Many years later the candidates that were passing the Selection and Assessment course were failing the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course) in high numbers.

The Training Group targeted an SF officer Brian Decker to revamp the Selection Course as to identify those soldiers that were going to have a better chance at having success in the SFQC and in the operational SF Groups after being assigned. had the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss the changes made to the Selection and Assessment course and how it impacted the candidates’ performance moving forward. Look for that interview in the next few days.

Featured photo: DOD