(TFC)— Lately, whenever “Green Beret” is mentioned in the news, it only seems bad. Whether the tragic death of Sergeant David Johnson in Niger, ambushes in Jordan, or the killing of another in Mali by a Navy SEAL member. Some low key news continues the trend, this time regarding worries that the elite military unit’s training is compromised.
“Our regiment has a cancer”, began an anonymous letter written by an operative deep within the Green Beret’s ranks. “And it is destroying the SF (Special Forces) legacy, its capability, and it’s credibility.” The letter was uploaded to Document Cloud in mid-December, raising many questions about the quality of today’s elite units.
The letter flamed both “bias, self-serving senior officers” in the Beret leadership, and “submissive, sycophantic, just-as-culpable” enlisted personnel. Grunts, in other words. According to the source who wrote the letter, this dynamic boosts the public profile of Special Forces while hindering their actual capabilities.
“Shameless and immodest careerism has, in no uncertain terms, effectively destroyed our ability to assess, train, and prepare students, or to identify those students that pose very real risk to Operational Detachments. I cannot stress how systematic and severe the effects on the force will be if the standards, recently implemented here in the Special Forces Qualification Course, remain in place.”– Anonymous Green Beret, and author of the letter.
The source implied they were one of many instructors pumping out dozens of new operators annually. They warn of a future where more Green Beret trainees will be cleared without possessing “the basic qualities” of functional mission assets. Along with simply not physically being on par with prior generations, the authors fear this new era will render its alums as liabilities. They accused brass of “systematically” removing training standards, including “lowering and undermining grading metrics”.
According to the authors, high-level personnel like Commanders and Sergeant Majors are so “career-focused” that they’ve forgotten the needs of the teams themselves. Almost prophetically they warn these choices will have “international repercussions” stemming from “individual limitation.” Immediately, the death of Sergeant Johnson in Niger and then immediate escalation of US covert presence in-country comes to mind.
The letter also touched on the controversy of recruiting women into SF. Recent attempts to bridge the gap between female soldiers and elite units have failed, though more are coming. It’s a push-and-tug shifting the very nature of military training, and not just for Green Berets. Stirring the pot is determined outside political movements shaming enemies, and reward allies.
The operatives who wrote the letter made it very clear that they weren’t taking a shot at women in SF. If they can meet the standards, then why not let them in? Lowering standards, however, is something that no one should want, the source notes. In the current environment of self-serving decisions at the top, however, with lower standards, that could become a reality.
“What they want”, the letter reads on page 5, “is to markedly lower the standards enough to ensure that any woman attempting this path will have absolutely no issue achieving it.” Despite promising to maintain standards, Green Beret leadership has reputedly lowered “and now eliminated” many of those standards. To support their stance, the source outlines a series of events in a timeline, also found on page 5.
In 2016, the Department of Defense mandated that Special Forces integrate women into all levels of their ranks. Shortly thereafter, the letter reads, SF students were asked to critique the training requirements as input to leadership. By January 2017, the first female recruit was attained but then dropped out due to severe injury during training.
That same month students were again asked to critique the training, this time by “command level” which was “the first time in history” that occurred. In February, command requested specifically negative critiques of the training. The following months saw more students get injured during training, causing more student protections against being failed due to physicals. In July 2017, command ruled that students could only be failed by quitting voluntarily or getting severely injured.They couldn’t be failed, however, for failing to meet physical benchmarks which were once standard.
“This is the state of the entire SFQC as it stands today. Students do not need to be able to pass a 2-mile run at an 80% standard. They do not need to pass a 5-mile run in under 40 minutes. They do not need to be able to pass a 12-mile ruck march in under 3 hours. They are not required to find ANY points during their land nav training and assessment. They do not need to be able to perform 8 pull-ups. They do not need to be able to perform 57 push-ups, or 66 sit-ups. They no longer need to be able to climb a 15 foot rope with weight on. Students are no longer administered any form of physical or administrative punishment. After passing a 19-ish day selection process, there are no physical barriers to earning the coveted Green Beret. 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.”
All of these decisions show themselves to be fully political, harboring an interesting disregard for the quality of new personnel. As the letter points out, any officer-level Green Beret who graduates the first female recruit would be king of a very coveted hill. It doesn’t matter if the recruits aren’t physically ready, or quit before on their teams in training. In fact, the source who wrote the letter referenced a group of 15-20 recruits who passed without being ready for live missions.
Command allegedly went as far as to convince those who wanted to quit not to and destroyed their voluntary withdrawal papers. From then on, instructors would be blamed if students failed. Graduation rates were to be high, exceeding 80-90% in some cases. Reports of breaches of integrity would also be ignored with command allegedly stating “if they ain’t cheating, they ain’t trying.” Students who, conversely, filed complaints against instructors for training being “too hard” saw those instructors face consequences.
Of course, SF command couldn’t let the letter go viral without a response. Their letter, however, was a fraction of the length and detail of the anonymous whistle blow. It repeatedly asserts SF recruits are on par, and that concerns outlined in the letter were not founded. It directly pushes back against any notion that training standards were lowered, procedures removed, or students passed without having earned it. Special Forces command states it respects the opinions in the anonymous letter, and won’t issue any gag orders. It then goes on to list several key complaints in the letter to systematically dismiss.
The anonymous letter’s implications have perhaps shaken the foundations of SF more than they’d care to admit. If the source was accurate, then how might that translate in the future? More deaths or unusual, tragic incidents related to Green Berets?
Perhaps instead, we might notice increased glorification of the unit. As a recruitment tool to augment the ranks further, while cementing the Beret’s reputation to buffer against potential shortcomings. Are similar changes occurring in other special forces and special operations units as they see more deployment demand?