WASHINGTON — The Army's Special Warfare Center and School has launched an investigation into an anonymous email that accused its leaders of "moral cowardice" for ditching training standards and allowing undeserving soldiers to become members of elite Green Beret teams.
The sharply critical message was sent earlier this week to a wide swath of the Army's Special Forces community. The nearly 6,300-word message declared that the school's senior officers and enlisted leaders are primarily interested in advancing their careers by meeting demands for greater numbers of Green Berets and enforcing "political agendas."
Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag, commanding general of the school located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Thursday defended the process for selecting Green Berets and rejected a number of the claims in the email. He said he stands firmly behind the "quality of every soldier we are sending to the operational force," in a statement delivered to "men and women" of the Special Warfare Center and School.
Sonntag also said comments in the email "warrant further evaluation" and that is being done through "formal inquiries and a number of existing institutional forums." He wasn't more specific, however.
The anonymous email said the push to hit unrealistic quotas has led to a "dangerously less capable" force as dozens of flawed Green Beret candidates are nonetheless graduated. The message said instructors who've sought to hold students accountable for their academic, physical and character performance have been instead muzzled or punished.
But Sonntag denied that instructors have been sidelined. He said the school is consistently told its graduates "are well-trained, physically fit, and ready to join their teams from day one."
Each of the five active-duty Special Forces groups consists of roughly 1,400 troops. The groups' primary fighting units are 12-man "A Teams" that are led by captains.
The email also asserts that the officers and enlisted leaders in charge of Green Beret training want to enhance their prospects for promotion by ensuring female candidates are capable of completing the punishing qualification course. Women, the author said, should be outraged by the implication they need preferential treatment.
"The cruelty of the situation is that any woman with the fortitude to attempt this training would most definitely have wanted the standards to remain the same," according to the message. "It is a point of pride to know you are every bit as capable as the best of the best, if you can do it. But they have been robbed of the ability to earn that achievement."
The author of the email is identified only as "A concerned Green Beret." But the amount of detail in the message — the names of some Green Beret candidates are listed — suggested the author is a current or very recent instructor in the Special Forces qualification course.
The person who wrote the message aimed to be unknown. A copy of the message obtained by The Associated Press shows it was sent through ProtonMail, a secure service based in Switzerland that assures users their data is protected by strict Swiss privacy laws.
Green Beret units have been at the forefront in the fight against terrorist groups since the Sept. 11 attacks and their success has led Republican and Democratic administrations to conclude more of them would be better. So they've grown in size, putting pressure on the Special Warfare Center and School to turn out enough graduates to keep the ranks full.
But that's triggered concerns quality is being sacrificed for quantity. A retired Green Beret officer who still works for the U.S. government used a sports analogy to make the point. No matter how popular Division 1 college football becomes, he said, there's a finite number of people capable of playing at that level. The same holds for Special Forces. The former officer wasn't authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
The author of the message said the grueling Green Beret qualification course has been watered down so much that candidates are almost assured of graduation once they're selected to go through the yearlong program.
"After passing a 19-ish day selection process, there are no physical barriers to earning the coveted Green Beret," according to the message. "These all were standards for EVERY Green Beret in modern history prior to this month. To say that standards have not been eliminated would be laughable, were it not so tragic."
But Sonntag said no fundamental standard for assessing future Green Berets has been removed or adjusted even as the qualification course has modified multiple times since the Sept. 11 attacks. And he said the training remains among the most difficult in the U.S. military. So far in 2017, 541 soldiers have completed the Green Beret qualification course out of more than 2,000 who sought to be selected for the program.