At any given moment there are small teams of elite Soldiers deployed around the world who are conducting operations that many may never hear of. The Soldiers, often referred to as Green Berets, are members of Special Forces — an Army-specific special operations force — and are considered by many to be among the best in the world when it comes to unconventional warfare and increasing the combat potential of forces around the globe.
Of the seven Special Forces groups within the Army, two are part of the Army National Guard: the 19th SFG and the 20th SFG.
Army Guard Soldiers from those units have been a key part of the special operations forces capability during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as around the world.
“Over the past 12-13 years, Guard Special Forces have not only provided additional force structure to special operations forces at large, but we’ve continued to prove that Guard [Special Forces] teams are on par with our active-component counterparts,” said Army Maj. Joseph Bauldry, deputy chief of the Special Operations Branch at the National Guard Bureau.
“Guard Soldiers are often more experienced than our active-component counterparts,” Bauldry said, “in not only the current conflict, but also in the things we Special Forces previously did, such as conducting Joint Combined Exchange Training and Foreign Internal Defense missions.”
Both are the kinds of missions Bauldry sees Special Forces returning to again.
“I see us revisiting the mission sets that predominated the 1980s and 1990s as well as continuing to support contingency operations around the world. We will stay busy,” he said.
In addition to their training and combat experience, the Citizen Soldiers of the Army Guard Special Forces bring another capability to the table: the knowledge and experience they have gained from their civilian careers. Those skills strengthen their knowledge and abilities while in uniform.
Bauldry said prevalent careers among many Army Guard Special Forces Soldiers are local and federal law enforcement.
“U.S. Army Special Operations Command, or USASOC, has taken note of this capability that the active component just does not have,” he said. “USASOC is looking to the Guard to leverage this law enforcement knowledge and latest techniques, which is often a critical component in fighting the seeds of insurgency and lawlessness in many nations.
“Soldiers who are Guard members, that’s their full-time job, every day,” he said.
Despite any institutional differences, every Soldier must complete the Special Forces Qualification Course, or Q Course, before they can call themselves a Green Beret.
While Baudry said training continues to evolve, it typically begins with small-unit tactics. That is followed by separate training in one of five military occupational specialty-specific training areas. Included among those areas is training for officers, weapons sergeants, engineering sergeants, medical sergeants, and communications sergeants.
“Soldiers then rejoin for an unconventional warfare culmination exercise, where they put together everything they’ve learned,” and work as small teams to complete the exercise, he said.
Next, Soldiers go through the Special Forces training pipeline, consisting of survival, evasion, resistance, and escape — or SERE — training, and language training. “After successful completion of all of this training, Soldiers are awarded Special Forces tab and can then don their Green Beret,” he said.
The training doesn’t stop there. Bauldry said Special Forces Soldiers can also go through high-altitude military parachuting, or military free fall school, and combat diver school — just two out of a handful of schools — depending upon what role the Soldier will have within the assigned unit.
That special training often requires constant recertification, a task that can be challenging for Army Guard Special Forces units.
“National Guard Special Forces members have to seek out those opportunities after they are done at work, on the weekends, or when they are tired,” said Army Maj. Sam with the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Florida, “but they persevere through it and that’s why I think there is a different level of dedication — not better, not worse — but there is a different level of dedication that National Guard members have in contributing to the defense of our nation.
“I know that it is hard for teams to get together, let alone to get extra time to do training and prepare to fight our nation’s battles, but they work really hard down here, and I would put them on par with any active-duty combat dive team.”
Being fully qualified is vital though, and the balance between civilian jobs and maintaining competency in Special Forces skills is what Sam said makes the Guard unique.
“I think it is vital that Guard members hold the same qualifications that the active-duty members have,” he said. “Guard members are unique though, in that they go above and beyond to keep those skills, to maintain those skills, or to advance those skills and it’s not easy to do. I would argue that it is harder to do in the National Guard than it is in the active component, where the active-duty guys are training during the duty day.”
The constant training provides a team or unit the ability to effectively and efficiently do what Special Forces do best.
“We train specifically in skill sets that enable us to work with indigenous people and cultures around the world,” said Army Master Sgt. Rick, an operations sergeant with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 20th SFG (Airborne). “For us, operating as a small package with a powerful punch, it’s a cost-effective way to accomplish the needs of the nation in certain scenarios, instead of sending in a whole battalion. Basically, we are a force multiplier and that’s kind of our bread and butter in Special Forces.”
It’s a capability that lends itself to the atmosphere surrounding Special Forces around the world.
Bauldry encourages anyone interested to try out for the team.
“It’s a rewarding opportunity and I would encourage all those who are interested to try out. We are always looking for strong candidates who are looking for a challenge and who want to get more out of their Guard experience,” he said.