Special Forces soldiers, the U.S. Army’s finest, are similar to other true-grit warriors – Marines, Rangers, SEALs, Air Commandos, fighter jocks and gunship pilots. Like their two-fisted brothers, these top guns remain true to the warrior code and, in the process, define the standards and values of the kill-or-be-killed profession of arms.
So far, as their recent performance in Afghanistan proved in spades, SF folks haven’t been brought down by the kinder, gentler rope that’s slowly strangling the Army, Navy and Air Force. But like most winners in most walks of life, they’re running at max speed, and without enough trained bodies.
The personnel-shortage problem is so bad that almost every National Guard SF unit has been recalled and deployed to hot spots around the world. Out of the five active-duty SF groups, these “Quiet Professionals” are short 540 “A” Team operators – almost one entire SF group. In other words, SF is short about 45 12-man “A” detachments: the cutting edge, the trigger-pullers of the whole SF shooting match. Or short one “A” Team per SF company; or three teams per battalion; or nine teams per group.
Army personnel wonks don’t seem to understand that SF operators can’t be mass-produced. The reality is that quality is what’s needed, not quantity – and since only a small percentage of today’s soldiers can qualify for SF duty, even our million-man Army can’t provide sufficient replacements with the right stuff to support the current SF global commitment. Which is why the Army’s latest attempt to put recruits in SF will fail, just as this same sorry fix did during the Vietnam War.
It’s critical for the Army to use the SF warriors it has more wisely by streamlining the administrative process and developing a FedEx-like logistics system. Two examples:
- SF doesn’t have a dedicated strategic airlift to move operators and their gear to the battlefield quickly. This resulted in SF warriors playing the well-known Army game of hurry-up-and-wait, spending more time sitting in a tent outside of Afghanistan while the brass figured out the next move than in that theater of ops. As a result, many of the “A” Teams deployed in “The Stans” never got into the fight.
“We weren’t used for what we were trained for. We augmented bloated headquarters,” says an old warrior.
- At any one time at Fort Bragg, the headquarters of Army Special Forces, one complete SF battalion – 180 “A” Team operators – is on a 90-day “Intensive Support Cycle,” during which these special soldiers are wasting time cutting grass, doing details and other Mickey Mouse tasks instead of training for war.
“It’s not uncommon at Fort Lewis to see senior sergeants mowing unit lawns, and captains and sergeants scrubbing toilets when they should be on the range or deployed,” says an SF warrior.
Hundreds of SF soldiers are also manning desks at grossly top-heavy Green Beret heads sheds and other Army headquarters, or stuck as Army ROTC instructors, recruiters and drill sergeants. An SF sergeant says: “It’s like an upside-down pyramid. The “A” Team operators are the apex attempting to hold up the weight of it all. The brass has to dissolve the redundant SF commands and cut the administrative burden. This will also save millions of dollars desperately needed for mission-essential equipment and training and free up a lot of guys to do their thing that they’ve spent years preparing for.”
He points to another Army expedient to resolve the shortage of “A” Team fighters, “Stop Loss” – which freezes discharges of active-duty SF soldiers due for retirement or those whose hitches are up to prevent the hemorrhaging of these skilled warriors. “Sadly, many of us ‘Stop Lossed’ operators have been waiting our entire careers for a war like this where we can demonstrate our skill. But, ironically, many of us old-timers want out because we’ve seen so much self-indulgent posturing, mismanagement and incompetence among the brass in today’s Army.”
Last week, the Pentagon announced, “U.S. Special Operations Command would take on a new, more direct role in the global war on terrorism.” Excellent idea. But the top brass better boot Personnel in the tail to make sure that these good men are not stretched to the breaking point.