Army Special Forces: an inside look at the elite group's capabilities
By Cindy McIntyre August 15, 2017
FORT SILL, Okla. -- When it comes to elite military teams, the Navy SEALs often come first to mind. For the Army, though, that's okay -- Special Forces Soldiers prefer to be under the radar as the Army's "quiet professionals."
Recruiters visit Fort Sill and other installations regularly to find male and female officers and enlisted personnel who think they have the right combination of character and skills to wear the admired Special Forces Green Beret, or to be part of the three other Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) branches.
Two junior officers were on hand Aug. 3 at the Graham Resiliency Training Center to learn more about the opportunities, and one sergeant came by to submit his application packet as the result of a previous visit.
Sgt. Salah Elboraa, who reads and writes Arabic, said he wanted something more than what his current position offers. "I'm looking forward to a more challenging environment," he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Kiel Mulhern, center leader for Fort Riley Special Operations Recruiting Battalion (Airborne), and Staff Sgt. Zachary Wangerin, recruiter for the same unit, gave a video presentation to the officers about each branch, and told them what they needed for their application packets.
Officers must be within a specific year-group as lieutenants, said Mulhern. And, they only get one opportunity to apply. Enlisted ranks from E-3 to E-7 are also recruited, and can apply again if they don't get accepted the first time.
Wangerin said that only a small percentage of Soldiers even know that joining the ARSOF is an option in their careers. In addition to meeting a minimum 240 Army Physical Fitness Test score, and a 107-plus General Technical (GT) score (110-plus GT or 110 Combat Score for Special Forces), applicants must be U.S. citizens. They will all learn a foreign language and be airborne qualified by the time they complete their training, which takes up to 52 weeks or more to fully qualify them for a multi-faceted job in one of the four branches.
In addition, all ARSOF receive a range of extra pay, which for the languages alone can range from $100 to $1,000 a month. ARSOF Soldiers also tend to earn promotions faster.
SECURE THE VICTORY
The Civil Affairs branch of ARSOF is prepared to thrive in culturally diverse environments after receiving 13 months of intensive training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They work with conventional units, host nations, and Special Forces to marginalize and weaken opposition forces. They also perform peacetime humanitarian work such as disaster relief, immunizations, and provide running water.
They are well-versed in the culture of the host nation and work with U.S. ambassadors and local community leaders to prevent conflict and help avoid "boots on the ground" that could inflame hostilities.
"They use a diplomatic approach before direct action," said Mulhern. "You'll become cultural experts."
A civil affairs team is typically composed of an officer, two noncommissioned officers, and a medic who has enhanced medical skills.
PERSUADE, CHANGE, INFLUENCE
The Psychological Operations, or PSYOP, Regiment engages in psychological warfare to influence actions, behavior, values, beliefs, and attitudes of citizens and communities in support of Special Forces teams, U.S. ambassadors, allies, and coalition partners.
"They try to get the host nation to align with U.S. interests," said Mulhern. During training they are given "impossible tasks" which call upon their intellectual skills more than physical capabilities.
Deployments are typically six months in teams of three to 12. These teams are also based out of Fort Bragg.
DE OPPRESSO LIBER (To Free the Oppressed)
The most elite team in the ARSOF is the Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets.
"They don't like people to know what they're doing and why they're doing it," said Mulhern. "They like to work behind the scenes."
The Special Forces is the only military unit authorized by Congress to conduct "unconventional warfare," said Mulhern. Even the Navy SEALs can't engage in these types of operations, which include working with local resistance groups to remove leaders and promote greater regional stability.
They also engage in special reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, short duration direct action, and counterterrorism. The Alpha Team consists of 12 members who train for at least 64 weeks to attain the highly esteemed Green Beret role.
The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) provides no-notice, worldwide, rotary wing support, precision air assaults and aerial gunnery. A Soldier must be in one of the authorized military occupational specialties to apply.
LEARNING A NEW LANGUAGE
Knowing how to communicate in the language of the host country is critical to ARSOF teams, and if they are not already fluent in a foreign language, they are trained to learn one. The Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB) is an aptitude test that cannot be studied for, as it measures one's language-learning potential, not current knowledge.
Having a basic comprehension of how the English language works -- grammar, sentence construction, and parts of speech -- are critical skills to grasping how the DLAB's fictitious language works.
Scores to qualify for Category I languages mean you can learn the easier languages such as French, Italian and Spanish. German is a Category II language, and the Category IV languages include Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
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