Opinion: By now, practically everyone associated with Special Operations Forces have heard of, read, and/or discussed the recent letter from a “concerned Green Beret” that blasted the command climate at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School at Ft. Bragg, NC.

Titled “Careerism, Cronyism, and Malfeasance in SWCS: The End of SF Capability”, the letter went into minute detail about how the command of SWC, is putting undue influence and pressure onto the cadre of the school to push unfit, unqualified Special Forces candidates thru the school’s pipeline to the operational Special Forces groups. The letter was first published on Sofrep.com but was sent out thru normal army channels to SF units all over the world.

As many of our readers who are current or former members of the Regiment and SWC, the schoolhouse is always under the microscope. Because the course, the Special Forces Qualification Course is almost like a living document. It changes with the command environment, it will evolve as strategic and tactical situations that the troops face on the evolving battlefield change. But the one thing that no one wants to see is outside influence and eyes on the course from those who aren’t from the community. When outside influences with no knowledge or background in Special Forces come to bear on the training of said force, it usually doesn’t end well.

The author, or authors (rumor has it, it was a recently retired SWC instructor, unconfirmed)… as I suspect there were numerous hands involved in this piece, went into minute detail describing in a 6,300 piece, that officers and senior NCOs have put career advancement ahead of the Regiment’s well-being:

Our Regiment has a cancer, and it is destroying the SF legacy, its capability, and its credibility.

SWCS has devolved into a cesspool of toxic, exploitive, biased and self-serving senior Officers who are bolstered by submissive, sycophantic, and just-as-culpable enlisted leaders. They have doggedly succeeded in two things; furthering their careers, and ensuring that Special Forces more prolific, but dangerously less capable than ever before. Shameless and immodest careerism has, in no uncertain terms, effectively destroyed our ability to assess, train, and prepare students, or to identify those students that pose very real risk to Operational Detachments. I cannot stress how systematic and severe the effects on the force will be if the standards, recently implemented here in the Special Forces Qualification Course, remain in place.

The author name names, specific incidents and other details that… which if any are true, worthy of serious concern and need to be addressed by the command asap. And the purpose here isn’t to decide whether or not they are entirely true.

We’re no longer involved in the pipeline of the SF training and assessment of candidates at SWC. It isn’t for us to decide whether or not these complaints, (and there is a slew of them) are worthy of merit. But the one thing we’ve built in our own experiences is trust. Trust in one another and trust in the process. The instructors have earned that trust and we now have to believe in what they’re telling all of us is a problem.  If this many of the current SF instructors feel this way, then it is a truth in their eyes and reflects a serious problem in the pipeline. And as former instructors at SWC and members of the Regiment, we stand behind what they’re seeing, without casting judgments at anyone or specific incidents. And these issues aren’t new, instructors many times in the past have felt the same way at different times and in different eras. 

Then it becomes the command’s duty to change that. The school and the command element at SWC must have its instructors, all of them, to believe that what they’re doing is not only the right thing but an essential part in perpetuating the long-term viability of the Regiment. It is called leadership. If instructors don’t believe in what they’re doing, the entire process becomes flawed. The Regiment can’t afford that.

The Commander of SWC, MG Kurt L. Sonntag, who was the recipient of so much of the criticism in the letter, didn’t try to sweep it under the rug, but to his credit, addressed the allegations in a very timely manner. While he didn’t address details, and we expected that, he tried to ensure all of the instructors, at SWC that the standards remain in place and that nothing has changed.

“Many of you have seen the anonymous letter calling into question the integrity of our training standards and the quality of the Soldiers being produced. Let me be clear, I would be proud to serve with each and every one of our Special Forces Qualification Course graduates, and I stand behind the quality of every Soldier we are sending to the operational force.”

“As the operational environment changes, we will continue to adjust instruction to fulfill our obligation to produce fully-qualified Army Special Operations Soldiers. Some of the comments in the email warrant further evaluation, and we are doing that through formal inquiries and a number of existing institutional forums.”

Let me reiterate, CSM Arrowsmith and I seek healthy dialogue as a means of improvement. Every level of the command has been encouraged to challenge the current process, phasing and training methodology to ensure SWCS’ training remains relevant to meet the needs of the 1st SFC (A). Training at SWCS will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the Army. We will remain relevant while upholding the highest academic, military and physical standards. SWCS strives for a professional, rewarding experience for its students, cadre and families.”

We’ve read numerous posts from NCOs and Officers on social media platforms that have worked with MG Sonntag, who will attest to his knowledge and integrity and don’t buy at all into his pushing the standards lower to achieve a greater success rate in the course to further his own career. And we’ve seen others post on those same social media sites that the allegations are correct. The two sides have to meet somewhere in the middle.  And they will.

The general wrote (where the underlining was ours, not his), that certain parts of the letter will require further examination. The hope here is that SWC and the command will delve into the issues brought up in the letter and not waste time in trying to pin down “who” wrote it. The who is unimportant, the issues that the instructors bring up are the crux of the matter. We’ve seen the rumors that certain elements of the command are actively trying to track down the writer of the letter. No good can come of that. Witch hunts only end badly and destroy the fabric of what makes our Regiment so great.

That the school and the SWC command and the soldiers in it are always under the microscope goes without saying. They’re constantly being evaluated by the Regiment on the quality of the troops being sent forward. We wrote back in April that the standards of the Regiment have to remain high. But that occasionally, and this would be one of those times, that outsiders become involved in the process.

The Special Operations community is always under the spotlight even though they themselves would rather remain in the shadows as the “Quiet Professionals” but because of their nature, the public and the government are fascinated by them.

As a result, too many times, people in government with no operational experience, nor any idea what it takes to operate in a Special Operations environment, read up a bit and become instant experts. They then try to get involved with the training and assessment with Special Operations troops. This usually doesn’t end well.

Let’s all hope that this doesn’t turn into one of those situations but unfortunately, the opposite may be true. Outsiders and non-Long Tab wearers have no business getting involved in Special Forces training.

There have always been criticisms of SWC and the SFQC, for 65 years every graduation for the course constitutes the “Last Hard Class” or the first easy one depending upon one’s point of view and level of sarcasm. But this letter speaks of much deeper problems. Judging from MG Sonntag’s letter of response, they’re going to address those issues.

The general does bring up an interesting topic when changes were made to the SFAS (Special Forces Selection and Assessment) Course in 2011, the cadre were identifying candidates who were failing out of the SFQC but had successfully passed selection. Major Brian Decker made the changes to Selection and the results were a big increase in the number of troops successfully passing SFQC. So there shouldn’t be a large percentage of failures after Selection. We spoke with him back in the spring about the changes to and the improvements in the course.

But the instructors have a point. Some troops just don’t belong in SF, it isn’t an indictment on those troops. It just isn’t cut out for everyone. The beret and tab will not make a man a better soldier. That comes from within, the man makes the beret and tab special, not the other way around. And a candidate who voluntarily withdraws should never be put back into the course.

The Special Forces Regiment is one that the troops who have served in and are currently serving in, put out the best-trained soldiers on the planet. No one wants to see that change. Let us hope that the current command in the Special Warfare Center address any issues out there and continue with the Regiment’s legacy of excellence.

De Oppresso Liber

Photo: US Army