One of the most common mantras you will hear in Special Operations is the absolute must of being known as a team player. The very essence of a successful special operation is with a team working together to accomplish their mission. With it, the missions don’t get accomplished and the units fail.
And yet the Hollywood myth of the Special Operations hero is always the laconic, lone wolf. The one who disdains to work with anyone else and utters the well-worn cliche, “I work better alone.”
That’s where the fiction begins and realism ends. Special operators must have the ability to work independently, but if they can’t work within the confines of the team concept, they won’t last very long. The Rambos, MacGyvers, Braddock et al. are all fiction and don’t represent true SOF personnel. If you are a lone wolf is SOF, you’ll quickly find yourself ex-SOF.
All special operators, regardless of which unit they’re in are all dependent upon one another to get the job done and be successful. And they persevere thru the tough times and won’t leave their teammates in a lurch. Ask any special operator what his biggest fear is and they’ll probably say letting down the team, long before they worry about their personal safety.
That’s why they can normally be outnumbered and fight their way thru any scenario. Look back at the Roman Empire and the power of the Legions. They were professional soldiers who knew the strength of their army in battle was in keeping their formations tight and working in conjunction with one another. Many of the places they conquered had warriors that many times outnumbered the Legions. But they fought as individuals, as a mob and would quickly be beaten into submission.
We expect all of our members of Special Operations to be leaders in their own right, and as result, everyone has a say in what goes into mission planning. But where the maturity and teamwork faction pays off is that once the leaders of the team make a decision, all team members have to go all in, 110 percent with the mission.
Sometimes being a successful team member is knowing when to speak up and knowing when to be quiet. Successful teams and team members have good communication up and down the chain of command. Sometimes that will be verbal and other times it doesn’t have to be.
On a Special Forces A-Team, after a while, most team members won’t have to ask a fellow team member is he needs assistance. They can tell by his body language that he needs help and will just pitch in. It is the same across the board.
The vast majority of special operators are the type to hate losing at anything and are as competitive as they come in any scenario. But while everything is a competition with them, and they’ll never fail to let another team member know in no uncertain terms when they out-do one another, they’ll never let their individual accomplishments or goals get in the way of team goals.
Everyone knows that even the most meticulous plan goes to hell once the rubber meets the road. It is the nature of the beast. Helmuth von Moltke, a 19th-century Prussian general once wrote, “No battle plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy.” But being an effective teammate means that the entire group is well trained enough and in tune with each other so that they will quickly formulate a contingency plan and then flawlessly execute it.
The Special Operations Command is looking for and training teams of leaders. Good leaders know how to give clear and concise guidance but leaving enough out to allow the operators to use their own initiative to get the job done.
This teamwork builds a culture of belonging to something bigger than themselves. Special operators are all talented and smart individuals who give part of that up to belong. To be challenged, mentally and physically and conduct meaningful operations.
And then there is what is affectionately termed, “Embracing the Suck” when things get bad. Everyone who has joined a Special Operations Forces unit has hit the wall at one time or another either in training or in an operation. But having a meltdown is not going to sit well with anyone on the team so that is where the injection of humor becomes of paramount importance.
The ability to laugh at one’s self is an art at times and very necessary one. Some guys have elevated it to an art form and know exactly when to break the tension. It is a huge team bonding experience when everyone can laugh at their problems and pulls everyone together, will break the tension immediately and put the entire team back on to the focus on accomplishing their mission.
So, within the SOF community what are the three things that a prospective Special Operations candidate can do to ensure that his team in training will follow the same basic tenets that the teams will already follow in the operational units?
Do Your Job and Understand Your Role: To be successful not only must all special operators know their own jobs extremely well, but they must understand how their job and their role impacts the success of the team. Everyone must be interdependent upon one another within the framework of the team.
Everyone on the team must share a common vision as to what they need to accomplish their goals. Doing your job and understanding your role within the team is necessary.
Embrace the Uniqueness of the Individuals Within the Team: Most times the military goes to great lengths to squash individuality. In basic training, the drill sergeants try to squash that out of the civilian recruits to get them to conform within the “Big Army”.
However, in Special Operations, we don’t discourage it, but foster and encourage, the individual’s uniqueness and to be politically correct, diverseness. Most teams in SOF are an eclectic bunch with very different personalities and backgrounds. That is what makes life interesting and makes SOF units so successful
The ability to learn from and incorporate ideas and strategies that may have been foreign to you before is a big positive in the units.
Buy In 110 percent: The biggest thing in fostering a successful team building atmosphere is that everyone has to be pulling in the same direction. It is always much better to have a great team than a team of greats, someone said once…
Everything personal has to become secondary to the team goals, and each one of us has to implicitly trust one another. If everyone is willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, the team will be much better off.
A final word about perseverance, things will get tough in your journey…they inevitably do. The best operators embrace it and show a true passion for what they do and never lose sight of what their goals are. If you can do that, then the career that you envisioned will become much more possible.