A Few More Good Men
Ambitious. Army units, which make up about half of the special operations force, have the most ambitious expansion plans. The largest single addition will be 3,596 Special Forces soldiers (for a total of 14,137). The largest proportionate growth is active-duty Civil Affairs, which will more than double to 884 soldiers. (Active-duty Civil Affairs units deploy with other special ops troops while their Reserve brethren typically work with conventional units.) Psychological Operations will nearly double to 1,134. The Ranger Regiment will add 933 troops, and the Special Operations Aviation Regiment will add 733.
The smaller Naval Special Warfare Command is aiming at a 30 percent increase, of which only half are seals, but its grueling selection process makes even that much a difficult task (box, Page 38). Air Force Special Operations faces serious shortages in key areas, and the Marine Corps just began building a 2,500-man special ops contingent last year.
The Army Special Forces began ramping up first. The Army Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C., has nearly tripled its enlisted graduates to an average of 750 today. The initial goal was to remedy chronic shortages of the past decade. As of 2001, only 86 percent of the authorized slots were filled. So the school radically overhauled its selection and training process and opened it to civilians. After signing up, those candidates go through almost two years of training before arriving at Fort Bragg for the Special Forces tryout. Some 5,700 civilians responded over the past four years, but too many were washing out, so this year civilian recruits have been limited to 900 and the minimum age was raised to 20.Instead, Special Forces recruitment of those already enlisted in the military was increased to a target of 1,900.
In addition to putting more recruits into the funnel, the school eliminated downtime in the training process; the course now takes 49 weeks instead of 75.Important changes have also been made in the way the course is conducted. Instructors aim now to weed out unsuitable candidates early. Gone is the "redlining" practice in which the instructors could boot a trainee for failing land navigation or some other specific task. Instead, evaluators scrutinize candidates during the 24-day Phase I according to six broad criteria: intelligence, application, physical fitness, motivation, judgment, and the ability to influence others. The latter is considered a key trait, since the Green Berets mostly work with foreign forces.
While the training is physically demanding, the premium is on finding recruits with the right combination of mental and personality traits. Selection chief Maj. Ed Flick said a battery of psychological tests is administered, and the officers go through additional role-playing exercises to test recruits' reactions in different settings. On a crisp morning, for instance, trainees awoke from a late-night march and four hours' sleep to be sent to the log pit, where they worked in teams to balance and maneuver telephone poles on command until they were exhausted. Instructors yelled at the laggards, the only time in the entire month when they receive such hectoring. "Most often we want to see how they do with no feedback," Flick said, "because we are looking for people who can operate without constant guidance in uncertain environments."