RED SHIRT, S.D. – Soldiers from the Kansas Army National Guard and Army Reserve units worked with Task Force 38, Canadian Army, to provide humanitarian support to Native American reservations throughout South Dakota during the Golden Coyote training exercise last month.
The annual timber haul operation provides an opportunity for military forces to use their training and experience while supporting local Native American communities.
“This mission is really important because it builds relationships between the Native American communities and the National Guard units that support the mission,” says Sergeant (SGT) Shaun Phillips, an 88M Truck Driver with the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas National Guard.
The 137th coordinated with the other units to load timber at a site near Custer, S.D. The timber was then delivered to multiple sites on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.
“It’s great to help other communities, and this kind of mission is very similar to the missions we could be tasked with overseas,” says Specialist William Curtin, 137th truck driver.
Soldiers from the 137th Transportation Company, Kansas Army National Guard, loosen straps on a load of timber at Red Shirt, S.D., during the annual timber haul operation as part of the Golden Coyote training exercise. (Photo by Sgt. Kristin Lichius.)
The humanitarian support benefits the community members and provides new training experiences for Soldiers.
“There are narrow, winding roads and various terrain conditions here that provide experience for our drivers and prepares us for different environments,” says SGT Phillips. “We’re able to practice improvising different kinds of loads safely, using our equipment and operating as a team.”
Throughout the Golden Coyote training exercise, about 200 loads of timber were scheduled to be delivered to the local communities.
“It’s a good thing, it helps this community and other surrounding communities that need this wood,” says Peter Bissonette, a resident from Red Shirt.
The wood is often used for construction, heating, cooking, and ceremonies throughout the year.
“This is the unit’s third year participating in this mission, and it’s rewarding to give back to the communities,” says SGT Phillips.
All graduates of the Special Forces qualification course are military free-fall or HALO parachutists, while many others will receive follow-on training to become combat divers or proficient mountaineers, depending upon the type of team to which they are assigned.
If all you’ve ever wanted is to serve your country and join an elite team that carries out difficult and often dangerous missions by land, sea or air, the Army National Guard’s Special Forces could be for you.
But it’s definitely not for everyone.
You’ve got to be a top performer from a physical and mental standpoint, and you’re going to carry out missions that you cannot talk about. In fact, the Special Forces Soldier On Your Guard interviewed for this blog does not want to use his real name. We’ll call him Staff Sergeant (SSG) Jones, and with 6 years of experience as a Soldier, and 4 years as a Green Beret, he has more advice to share.
Having the right combination of smarts and physical endurance is “just enough to get you into the door. From there, you really have to have a burning desire to win and to achieve. But it’s tempered with the understanding that winning isn’t an individual event. It’s a team event.”
The most important thing, he says, is the Soldier’s ability to work with others, especially in challenging environments.
“In order to function effectively as a team, you can’t be labeled as an individual. That just won’t work.”
SSG Jones took a roundabout route to joining his Special Forces Unit in Florida, enlisting at age 32 after selling a business he started. Having had no prior military experience, he enlisted as an 11B Infantryman under a contract called REP 63, which guaranteed him the right to try out for Special Forces. (You can read more about the process and requirements for non-prior military to join the Green Berets on our website).
Inspired to join the military in some capacity after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, SSG Jones, whose civilian career is in aerospace finance, researched other special operations branches in the military before landing on the U.S. Army Special Forces, and ultimately through the Guard.
“Rangers and Seals are primarily a direct action force,” he says. “So they’ll operate out of a base, go out and conduct a mission, such as a raid, and generally come back in a fairly short order.”
Special Forces, however, are trained to persist behind enemy lines. SSG Jones says his team will embed with indigenous forces and guerrillas in difficult environments to train them.
“We’ll work with the guerrillas and develop the battlefield ourselves, create our own mission sets and execute those missions,” he says. “There’s really no other Special Operations unit that can do quite what we do, spending months at a time embedded with these foreign organizations.”
To be able to communicate effectively, each Soldier is proficient in a foreign language. Part of the Special Forces qualification course is six months of intensive language training, where SSG Jones learned Arabic. Soldiers are also expected to maintain not only their language skills afterward, but their skills in general.
“We do a lot of follow-on training, so the training never really ends. The qualification course may end, but you’re really expected to build upon what you’ve learned.”
Even within the Green Berets there are different teams of 12, Operational Detachment Alpha, ODA’s or “A-teams” for short, and each Soldier within that ODA will have a specialty. SSG Jones, who serves on a dive team, is an 18C Special Forces Engineer Sergeant. These Soldiers excel at engineering tasks like demolition and construction in austere environments, while others specialize in intelligence, communications (from satellites to Morse code), medicine (trauma and general care), and weapons.
Check out this short video for a closer look at what Special Forces does.
Because part of the Guard’s mission is to serve the community, Special Forces can also be called up for stateside missions. The Green Berets are especially suited for the task because they are rapidly deployable, says SSG Jones. During a recent hurricane, some men on his team did search and rescue missions by boat.
And while SSG Jones can’t give specifics on his missions overseas, he can share, as an example of his team’s capabilities, that he completed a training mission that involved underwater infiltration of a military port where the team dove from a civilian fishing boat, set up demolition charges, and exited the area on a different fishing boat undetected in an area with heavy shipping lane traffic. Plus, the entire mission was conducted with a partner force in Arabic.
“It’s fun and it’s exciting,” he says, of his Special Forces work.
But it’s a serious job for dedicated Soldiers, so SSG Jones encourages anyone pursuing a green beret to “make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. I think Hollywood and video games have made special operations, in general, seem really sexy.”
In reality, the road to becoming a Green Beret is rough.
“Probably 90 percent of that road is being cold, wet, and miserable or utterly exhausted and sleep deprived, and on the verge of a heat injury,” says SSG Jones. “So for the Soldier who thinks it’s all about jumping out of airplanes, diving, shooting bad guys, and talking yourself up at a bar … it’s probably not the right profession for you.”
What Special Forces really needs, he says are “strong, tough, intelligent Soldiers who are willing to put the mission before themselves.”
JOINT BASE CAPE COD, Mass. – More than 400 eyes stare at a sea of laptops in a hallway of rooms. These eyes belong to the participants of Cyber Yankee 2018, an exercise between multiple National Guard cyber units and civilian agencies that trains participants to defend critical networks against domestic cyberattacks.
At first glance, it may not appear as though much is happening, but not all military maneuvers take place on a traditional battlefield.
“They look at those in cyber and think, ‘Oh, they are just behind computer screens not doing anything.’ Well those guys could be the ones defending you, getting your orders properly, [or] your position, where you’re located,” said CPT Lee Ford, assistant team lead with Cyber Yankee and a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard Defensive Cyber Operations Element (DCOE).
“Technology is engrossed in every facet of our lives, texting mom in California, or ensuring clean water inside your faucets, technology is in every industry,” he said.
During the Cyber Yankee exercise, the Red Cell, or the bad guys, strike the defense, the Blue Cell, with different cyberattack scenarios. These simulated attacks are targeting a water supply networking system, a power company and a Department of Defense network. The Blue Cell mission is to make sure the region remains operational.
In fact, here’s a short video about the Guard’s cyber training:
“We have a bunch of network monitoring software out there. A lot of it is based on skill, too. You have different people who are good at certain things,” said SSG Ryan Beaudoin, Rhode Island National Guard DCOE.
Due to the part-time nature of Guard service, many of the Soldiers on cyber teams come from civilian backgrounds in defense or intrusion detection, working for companies like IBM, Akamai, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
SPC Adam Wong works for MIT Lincoln Laboratories and is also a network and host base forensics analyst with 136th Cyber Security Support Team Detachment, New Hampshire Army National Guard.
“In the event of an intrusion, I will analyze malware files,” said SPC Wong. “I’ll conduct forensics, try to attempt to reverse-engineer the malware to figure out what it’s doing and also trace back into the network logs and try to figure out how it got there.”
He said the group is learning to hone its skills as a team and adapting to work in panic mode.
Part of the team is comprised of military analysts, who provide different angles on how to fight the scenarios.
“We can come in and we can analyze, look up that threat, see if they’ve had any issues in the past, see what they’re motivated by, whether it is money, political affiliation or something like that,” said SSG Tara O’Keefe, military intelligence analyst, 136th Cyber Company, Massachusetts Army National Guard.