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Civilian Life Got You Down? Snap Into Spec Ops!
Civilian Life Got You Down? Snap Into Special Forces!

Army's new recruiting drive attracts civilians to Special Forces

By Spc. Kyle J. Cosner
U.S. Army Special Operations Command PAO

FORT BRAGG, N.C. A new Army program that lets recruits enlist directly into rigorous Special Forces training here is currently underway and receiving a favorable response from civilians interested in earning the coveted Green Beret, according to officials from the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, Ky.

"Since we restored the program, the results have been extremely positive," said Capt. David P. Connolly, a Public Information Officer at the U.S. Army Recruiting Command. "We anticipate achieving mission success well before the end of the fiscal year."

Revived in mid-January, the Special Forces Recruiting Initiative is a return to the original Special Forces recruitment process, which began in 1952 and allowed both civilians and servicemen to sign up for the nearly two years of training necessary to become a Green Beret.

"I think this program is the best thing to happen to Special Forces in years," said Col. Charles A. King, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) commander. "It will allow us to recruit the right kind of guy off the street, train him, prepare him and mold him right from the start."

The training group is responsible for the training of all Special Forces recruits.

In 1988, the recruiting process was adjusted to allow only soldiers already in the Army to become Special Forces qualified.

"The Army at that time had three-quarters of a million people in it, and Special Forces was about 20 percent smaller than it is right now," King said. "With the Army being bigger and Special Forces being smaller, we discontinued the (recruiting) program. Things have now evolved to a point where we're down to a 480,000 person Army with significantly larger Special Forces groups."

"We are restoring a program which we used to have in order to meet our current operational requirements," King said. "We have the added benefit of having looked back and studied the (pre-1988) program. We're going to improve on it (with the Special Forces Recruiting Initiative)."

As of March 28, Army recruiters have already filled 140 of the 400 slots allotted for civilians enlisting into the Special Forces Recruiting Initiative, according to Connolly. He said since the initiative's pilot program was started in January it has met with much interest among those interested in the military.

According to data provided by the recruiting command, the first 56 Special Forces recruits shipped out during the first week in April to begin the nearly two years of training required to earn the Green Beret.

Among the 140 Special Forces hopefuls recruited so far, Connolly said 22 possess undergraduate degrees, three have a master's degree, and two have earned a Ph.D.

"We are seeing a great deal of quality in these applicants," Connolly said.

Recruits who begin training under the new program will enter the Army as a private first class, eventually earning the rank of sergeant when they complete training, King said.

"This program is not about putting privates on Special Forces teams. A soldier that comes in (the Army) under this program will join a team as a noncommissioned officer," he added.

Capt. Joe Martin, a 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Abn.) training detachment commander, said the new recruits will have a slightly different initial training process that will result in a higher success rate than past Special Forces hopefuls going through the Special Forces Assessment and Selection process.

Special Forces Assessment and Selection is designed to advance only highly qualified soldiers to the next levels of Special Forces training.

Martin said traditional in-service recruits go straight to Special Forces Assessment and Selection from their unit when they volunteer for Special Forces training. To prepare those recruited under the new recruiting initiative for success in the assessment process, the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Abn.) has created the Special Operations Preparation and Conditioning course.

"A soldier coming through (the course) will be better prepared for getting through assessment and selection than one who didn't," Martin said. During the class, veteran Special Forces soldiers conduct intensive training in land navigation, physical training and other soldier skills with recruits.

In just four weeks, a class of soldiers who volunteered for Special Forces training from infantry training at Fort Benning improved their average score on the Army Physical Fitness Test by 30 points at the conditioning course, from 229 to 259, Martin said. The recently enlisted soldiers were used as training prototypes for the civilians recruited under the new initiative.

King said the initial Special Operations Preparation and Conditioning courses' successes were outstanding out of 39 soldiers, only 3 didn't meet the assessment and selection standard.

"At (Special Forces Assessment and Selection), we typically lose about 50 percent of the class," King said.

King also said another advantage of enlisting civilian volunteers directly into Special Forces training was the fact they would be able to provide more years of service than someone recruited in-service, who typically already has about eight years of service in the Army when they volunteer. Civilians recruited under the Special Forces Recruiting Initiative will on average have slightly more than two years in service when they complete their training and are assigned to a team.

"They will be able to give us a full career," King said.

Chris Crain, a retired Special Forces master sergeant, enlisted directly into Special Forces training in 1969. He said the return to "off-the-street" recruiting is something he feels will help bring highly qualified individuals into the Green Berets' ranks.

"I think there's going to be a select part of our youth that will see this as an opportunity to do something they might not otherwise have an opportunity to do," Crain said.

Crain said when he entered Special Forces training, it was tough and designed "to weed out the weak." He said he was glad to see the current prerequisites for training were created with the same purpose in mind to produce the best-qualified soldiers possible.

"With these kind of qualifications (for the recruits), they are really going to help the force," Crain said.

Despite the program's popularity with the recruits, some have characterized it as a move to quickly inflate the ranks of busy Special Forces teams, de-emphasizing high standards. King said criticism aimed at the program because of its creation during the heavy use of Special Forces soldiers in Operation Enduring Freedom was unfounded.

"There is some misconception that we are doing this because of Sept. 11. We have been working on an initial-accession program for quite some time what Sept. 11 did was merely cause us to move up the timetable," King said.

"People have to understand that we have been training Special Forces soldiers for 50 years. There is nobody in this organization that is interested in taking shortcuts or compromising how we train. But everybody in this organization is absolutely confident in our ability to train these young men to standard."

2003, U.S. Army. All opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of Military.com.

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