I idly watched a two hour television production last night entitled "Two weeks in Hell." It was about the two week pre-selection period at Ft. Bragg in which the Army now decides if volunteers have what it takes to even start training to be a Special Forces soldier.
The first week seems to be intended to separate the boys from the men and the second week to see if the men who are left can work together under extreme stress. There is no doubt that it is a very tough process. The "candidates" as they are called carry around immense rucksacks all the time. They are systematically deprived of sleep and other rest, are placed in a seemingly unending series of unexpected and nearly insoluble problem situations and run through some of the nastiest obstacle courses I have ever seen, and I have seen some beauties.
I have some doubts about what results.
I went through the SF Officer Course in 1964. the Army Special Forces Regiment was 11 years old by my calculation from the date of establishment of the 77th SF Group. The enlisted guys were trained in what was then called the SF Training Group. I never saw what happened over there. I know they received what was called "branch training," and then occupational specialty training somewhere else before they went to a unit. The specialties were; weapons, (light and heavy) demolitions, commmunications and medical. The medical course was a year long and had a long practicum in a hospital. The officer course was four or five months long. SF was a "branch immaterial" assignment in those days. So, the officers were of any Army branch except JAG. We were organized in student detachments like an "ODA." There were a lot of foreign officers; Vietnamese, French, British, Greek, Italian, Canadian are the ones I remember from my course. There was a PT test at the beginning and then a lot of forced marches and running, but it was simply assumed that you could do whatever was expected of you. There was a tremendous amount of work out in the woods; patrols ususally parachute delivered at night and into an obstacle like a swamp, major exercizes in which you linked up with local mountaineers in western North Carolina who "played" guerrillas for you to train and guide. There was a lot of specific technical training on all the things the enlisted guys were learning as career specialties. There was a lot of "weeding out." The wash-out rate was high. For officers that is a career killer.
There was no harassment. None at all. "The Quiet Professionals." You were told over and over again that if you have to yell at someone, then you have lost that man, probably forever. Guerrillas are civilians. They will kill you for shaming them. Persuasion, charm, understanding of where HE is coming from, courage in adversity. Those were the things that were taught. You have to have a certain grade of material as students to be able to teach lessons like that.
When I got to my first SF unit, I found that the men were better soldiers than the officers. They really did not need us, but, the army has to have officers. This need is in the bloodstream. Our soldiers were an interesting collection; old paratroop sergeants from the 82nd and the 101st, some of them still around from WW2 and Korea. Some of these guys had been sergeants before there had been such a thing as SF. There were many New Americans; Wehrmacht veterans, French and Spanish Foreign Legion, Finnish Ski Hunt Commandos, former Royal Marines. You name it, we had it. These men were something out of the Iliad. To say that a 25 year old kid like me was their leader was a bit comic, but they didn't seem to feel that way. They simply took charge of the "college boy" officer replacements continuing training and looked pleased when you did something right.
Needless to say, they had not been selected in anything like the brutal, searing way that I watched last night. They had selected themselves. There was nothing that they did not know about soldiering. After a while, when you saw that they accepted you, there was no greater privilege than to be their "boss."
SF work is a thinking soldier's work. You have to be tough physically, but, it is equally important that you be smart. I wonder how many thinking soldiers are excluded from the regiment by what I saw last night, by an insistence on physicality before all else. I wonder how many of the old timers could have passed that test. pl