Special Forces Standards Struggling

The long tabbers are whining about standards again. I guess this is an improvement on whining about the SFAB beret being too close a shade of green. https://www.cbs17.com/news/changes-to-green-beret-course-draw-scrutiny-as-troops-are-tested-in-nc-woods/

The truth is, standards change over time. I was unlucky enough to get hurt at Airborne school on my second jump a few years before 9/11 happened. At that time the attitude of Sergeants Airborne (aka “Black Hats”) was that Airborne school was a weed out course, only the most dedicated, physically fit, and brave deserved the right to earn silver wings. Nine years after that experience, I went back to Airborne school, and had an entirely different experience, as the school had changed from “weed out” to “train up.” The “War on Terror” was in full swing, and Airborne school was no longer to make “elite paratroopers” it was to get people qualified so they could fill the ranks of the 82d Airborne Division, 4/25th Infantry, Ranger Regiment, SF Groups, and 173rd Airborne Brigade with the people they needed to deploy. Any “make people elite” attitude was right gone, their job was to train people to fill the units that were constantly rotating through theater.

Ironically, the “make people elite, weed out the undesirables” attitude transferred over to Ranger school (or never left, there have always been badge protectors). During and after “The Surge” Ranger school was, as one former Company commander at that time said, “Out of Control.” This was before women were allowed to attend, so all of the instructors were guys who were burnt out on deploying and “needed to take a knee” did so at Ranger school and some of them added a “personal touch” of sadism. One Company commander (now much senior in rank, and pending retirement) commented that he had to personally keep a roster so that his most toxic RIs wouldn’t be walking, or entire platoons would be so exhausted the failure rate would skyrocket. Graduation rates fluctuated wildly, often reflecting how functional or dysfunctional the Ranger Instructors (“RIs”) were at any given time. Because there was a war on, there was no compunction about sending people to units to fill slots, with or without a tab. So keep the standards high, kick ’em out to the force, was the game. Luckily I managed to survive long enough to earn the short tab, so I didn’t have to repeat that developmental training event.

Then, the Army decided that the Expert Infantryman’s Badge (EIB) had become all about “rote memorization” rather than “successful outcomes.” So the “EIB 2000” standards were implemented (and the old guard whined and pissed and moaned about how standards had fallen and it would get people killed, blah de flippen blah). So when I tested, as long as I successfully completed the task I was a “go” rather than ensuring every single step was conducted properly in order. So I didn’t get washed out for lifting the feed tray cover before locking the cocking handle to the rear on a machine gun lane, lucky me. I thankfully earned the EIB (otherwise you keep trying to earn it until you do).

So now SF is getting some senior leader love because the people who ran the training weren’t producing enough of the correct product. The Generals and Colonels that run the SF community need bodies in their formations. The NCOs running things at the school house weren’t producing. The leadership stepped in, and made sure they were getting what they needed, and the NCOs got to whining that it was “lowering the standards” and the usual platitudes given by people who should quietly fade away into the sunset rather than pretend they are in any way still opeationally relevant.

You’ll still find people who say “the badge” or “the tab” used to mean something. Yes, it meant that someone earned it by meeting the standards of the time they were in. There are people who were awarded the Ranger tab who never did a day’s worth of Ranger training (one of them was the Ranger Training Brigade Commander). There are people who were “book tabbies” who completed the training requirements to earn the SF Tab through correspondence course (yes, that used to be a thing). Standards change, and the population of people we have to draw into the military also changes. The millennial generation isn’t all that bad once you get them acculturated to Army life. Of course the “millenial generation” is in their mid to late 30s now, so whatever generation came after the millenial generation isn’t that bad either, especially now that we have Soldiers who were born after 9/11.

So my point is…if you hang around long enough you’ll see things change. And you can either change with it, or get left behind. When the Army was told “full gender integration” it went out and handpicked the absolute best females available and sent them to Ranger school, and kept sending them until they could hold a press conference celebrating the fact that women had earned the short tab. Eventually there will be a female Long Tabber, the operational demand for them is higher than you think.

And it’s happening all over: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/9157005/sas-first-woman-mum-afghan-hero/ and https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/best-shooter-in-canadas-military-has-a-long-red-ponytail. There are a lot of advantages in having highly trained females available to dismiss them out of hand. A man and a woman can go places and blend in where two or three men can not, because it is easier to accept a man and a woman together as it is “normal.” It is much easier for a female to get information out of female civilians, because of social norms. Women are every bit as devious, hard, and cold an any man (some even more so) but social expectations allow them access and communication streams men can rarely tap into.

Don’t get me wrong, not every woman can make it in the military. It is also true that not every man can make it in the military. And yes there will always be more men who can make it than women who can make it until some breakthrough in technology allows women to overcome their lower strength, weaker bones, and higher amounts of body fat. Biology is a bitch, and the advantages women bring to units come with the detriment that they are encased in that biology, and sometimes the men have to pick up the slack. Life isn’t fair, military service is even less fair than regular life.

And the Commanders out there, at all levels, need bodies in their formations. The Army was on a shrinking path until National Defense Authorization Act 2017 was passed into law. As a result, I’m not retiring next fiscal year, I get to stay in a tad longer. The Army needs bodies, which is the only reason they are keeping me around. The SF community needs long tabbers, which is why the Colonels and Generals got into the mix, to meet the needs of the force, not the needs of the prestige of a piece of cloth.

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6 Responses to Special Forces Standards Struggling

  1. Fred Fuller says:

    The commanders needed bodies so bad they were pencil-whipping results and graduating unqualified candidates, You need to go one article back in the Fayetteville Deserter and read a little further as to what kicked off this hairball. https://www.fayobserver.com/news/20171130/special-warfare-center-and-school-probes-criticism-of-green-beret-training

    “Filling the force” was a thing there for a while a decade and more ago, and guess what – standards were an issue then too. And ever since not long after 1952, there has been an ongoing argument over whether SF soldiers are born or can be made. I believe the mindset and attitude are inborn but certain skills can be learned, which is what the Q Course etc. is about. Big Green Army thinks all soldiers are alike and interchangeable. Experience says not so …


    • rthtgnbs says:

      Please notice my deliberate use of the word “again” in the very first sentence of the post. I was there when SFAS was the “Delta Model” without team week before 9/11 because SF wasn’t getting enough volunteers who had “individual determination” rather than just “strong.” I was there when the groups were essentially ordered to grow by an entire battalion and the consequences of the 18X program started providing a lot of airborne ranger 11Cs to the 82d Airborne. I served under a platoon sergeant who lived through the growth of the 75th to include the 3rd Battalion, and how that shook up standards. I’ve watched plenty of 18Ds get to the point where they say “screw this” and earn the PA certification so that they don’t end up constantly deployed.

      Filling the force is the real bottom line requirement, and the less than 20% pass rate for the Q course in one recent year (a historic low) indicates that the instructors were unable to meet the demand of the force. If the commanders of the SF Groups, BNs, and Companies start complaining about the product they are getting, then it is time to stand up and take notice. If it’s an instructor at the schoolhouse complaining how standards have fallen, I actually care less. The standards WILL tighten up again either when the product coming from the course isn’t meeting the needs of the needs of the units or the units shrink and there is less demand signal for trained bodies. At that point the Q course can go back to being like BUD/S or USAF Air Commando training where some events don’t stop until a certain amount of people quit or wash out. That’s one of the reasons why SEALs are so freaking dysfunctional as a group, their training pipeline deliberately selects sociopaths who only use teamwork as a tool to advance themselves (obviously there are exceptions to this generalization, but this is my opinion after getting some experience working with SEALs).

      As far as the debate over whether SF are made or born, the answer is irrelevant. The Army needs a capability, and is spending a lot of resources to recruit and train individuals who then go to units that conduct unit training and receive readiness certification as a team. Whether or not the institutional training should be “train up” or “weed out” is really going to be determined by which model is more appropriate to putting bodies in units based on demand. Low demand, “weed out” makes a lot of sense. High demand, “train up” makes a lot of sense.


  2. DW says:

    Well first glad to hear things are working out for you on the work/job side. I also tend to agree with you at least on the issue that standards continually evolve and should. The question however is whether the evolution/adjustment to the standard is based on a valid premise and/or enhances the quality of that job/position that the standard applies too?

    So I do have an issue with the “lowering” of a previous standard, especially when it is done to further a “social engineering” requirement. I don’t have an issue with women serving in the military and I think they can & do help fill & enhance many positions/aspects of the modern military & warfare. If there is a different standard for women, most certainly with combat positions – then I strongly disagree with lowering a standard.

    I do understand that filling open slots will drive numbers at times. That said man or woman, ultimately the goal should be creating and developing a well-trained product. A lot of that is determined by how good your trainers are? I only know a few NCO’s, so it’s a deficient sample size, but 100% state that the BS sent down from higher-up was a major factor for getting out.

    On another topic, it was disheartening to see McRaven join the POG ranks with McChrystal and Patraeus. What’s with these retired senior officers tossing their oath and the bill of rights into the trash, embracing the DC sociopaths? It used to be they kept their mouths shut. At least Mattis has the sense to be oblique and subtle when he’s pimped for a response to political noise. And I don’t really care what team they are on, repub or demo, they are essentially the same, they just tell different versions of the same lies to the people/serfs. Cognitive dissonant PTSD or maybe just basic greed? I suspect the latter.


    • rthtgnbs says:

      The military has always been a part of the “social experiment” that is America, for better or worse. After the end of the draft we absolutely needed more women to fill support roles so men could fill the combat roles. What that did, unintentionally, was concentrate women into the senior leadership of logistics, chemical, medical, finance, intelligence, and signal branches with a few in aviation and engineers. Opening up the infantry, artillery, and armor branches really didn’t change anything from a total Army perspective, as the women who volunteer to meet the standards of those jobs volunteer to meet the standards and succeed or find a different job. Back in 1981, Captain Kathleen Wilder completed the training requirements for Special Forces qualification. Yes it caused an uproar since then, and man Long Tabbers between then and now have explained her success away as a mistake, a clerical error, or somehow just a stunt. When SF became an actual branch after Goldwater-Nichols, the pathway to SF that Wilder used was cut off for women since now SF was a “combat branch” rather than an additional certification (back in the days when SF Weapons Sergeants were 11S rather than 18B). There is a really, really good argument to be made that SF hurt itself and the Army by becoming a branch rather than a qualification which limited career progression for unconventional thinkers (one of the reasons GEN Franks screwed up Iraq so badly, he didn’t have enough people thinking about what happens AFTER all the combined arms conventional stuff).

      As far as the current SF training goes, I don’t believe that the training pipeline was changed to make it possible for a female soldier to earn the long tab. I do believe that having a very long training pipeline with a bunch of “pauses” in it between phases was hurting the availability of personnel and wasting taxpayer dollars. Transferring some of the institutional pipeline to the unit training pipeline, tightening up the phasing schedule, and setting hard and fast exit criteria (taking away instructor opinion) has more to do with minimizing operational time lost due to qualification training and maximizing student throughput. Some SF bubbas spent a whole 10% of a 20 year career just in their initial MOS training for SF (such as an 18D with a very hard language). That’s two years of institutional training where the Army pays that individual just to learn, it’s a big investment, and not every long tabber stays a whole 20 year career. That doesn’t include the additional training time spent with their team going through the team train up and certification (much of which is redundant to the institutional pipeline training).

      But…every time something changes you’ll have people claim it was lowering the standards. Sometimes that is even true. The question becomes, were the standards too high to meet the demand? If so, what standard do we really need now to meet the demand? It’s not going to make everyone happy.


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