The Ultimate Special Forces Soldier: Team Players with Brains and Brawn

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.

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.”

So if you’re interested in joining a team that puts the mission of serving the country and community above all else, there are plenty of ways to do that in the Guard, where you’ll serve part-time. The Guard offers more than 150 careers, from infantry and armor and field artillery to engineering and transportation. You can check out all of the possibilities on our job board and be sure to take a look at the Guard’s outstanding benefits like money for college.

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The Top 5 Reasons to Join the Army National Guard

On Your Guard sat down with Staff Sergeant (SSG) Mike Schriefer to talk about why people join the Army National Guard. We thought who better to ask than a recruiter, who’s also had a few different jobs in his nearly 14 years of service with the Guard. SSG Schriefer, who also served in the Active Duty Army, breaks down his top 5 reasons to join this branch of the U.S. military where Soldiers serve on a part-time basis. 

1. Education Benefits

SSG Schriefer says comparing the Guard’s education benefits to Active Duty’s education benefits is like comparing apples to oranges.

Active Duty components of the military receive only Federal benefits. Because the Guard’s primary mission is to serve the State and its governor, and its secondary mission is to serve the country, he explains, Soldiers are entitled to both State and Federal education benefits.

“It’s like having two Christmases,” he says.

So in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, where SSG Schriefer is a member, a Soldier can participate in a full-time degree program and receive either 100% tuition assistance for a state school or $3,619 per semester to other Pennsylvania schools, including private colleges, and technical and trade schools. It’s important to note that each State has its own policies in place.

That State benefit can also be combined with a Federal benefit like Federal tuition assistance to the tune of $4,000 a year for Soldiers who have completed one year of service after their graduation from Advanced Individual Training.

Yet another Federal benefit can pick up the tab for other expenses associated with going to college.

“Every Soldier who enlists gets the GI Bill, Select Reserve, which, while they’re enrolled in school 8-9 months out of the year, they get another $368 a month, tax-free, that goes directly to them that they can use for books, room/board, food, anything that they need,” says SSG Schriefer.

And, Soldiers who’ve already completed some or all of their education can be eligible for the Student Loan Repayment Program, which will pay up to $50,000 of student loan debt.

2. Job Training and Transferable Skills

When you join the Guard, you’ll get job training, too, in what is called your MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty. Your MOS may or may not line up with your educational pursuits or your civilian career. It can also change over time.

SSG Schriefer says these MOSs are always hot for new recruits in his State: 68W Healthcare Specialist, 31B Military Police, 11B Infantryman, and 19D Calvary Scout.

Many MOSs have direct counterparts in the civilian job market. The 68W MOS, for example, lends itself to working as an EMT in the civilian world. One of the questions SSG Schriefer gets is how Soldiers in combat arms MOSs like infantry and field artillery can transfer their skills to the workforce.

“They learn the invaluable skill of teamwork,” he says. “When you have to ensure 100% safety on firing a 155-mm explosive round downrange, you have to have flawless, seamless teamwork.”

SSG Mike Schriefer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

SSG Mike Schriefer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Other skills: “You will also learn to work under pressure, critical thinking, dedication, and priceless leadership skills that are coveted by employers,” SSG Schriefer says. “Reliability, dependability, integrity – all those things, when you go to apply for a job, are going to make you shine over a regular civilian candidate.”

To help recruits decide on an MOS – there are 150 of them – SSG Schriefer asks them what they want to do and then directs them to NationalGuard.com to research MOS choices and check the qualifications.

Another helpful tool is the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, which determines which MOSs recruits are eligible for based on their scores.

Changing one’s MOS is also possible, says SSG Schriefer, but not likely during a Soldier’s initial enlistment.

“The best time for them to change their MOS is when they come up for their first contract extension,” he says. “But, it never hurts to ask if you’re a stellar Soldier and you’re doing really good things.”

SSG Schriefer himself has been a 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist, 92Y Unit Supply Specialist, and a 74D Chemical Operations Specialist, all before becoming a recruiter.

3. Adventure: Finding Out You Can Do More Than You Could Have Imagined

SSG Schriefer says he was a tall, skinny kid who had played sports in high school, but, “I didn’t know how far I could physically go until Basic Training. I never knew I could run that fast, or carry a rucksack with 50 pounds in it for 12 miles. Mentally, I thought I’d never be able to make it through the gas chamber.”

At Basic, recruits can expect to do some rappelling. However, jumping out of airplanes at Airborne School and rappelling from helicopters at Air Assault School are reserved for select Soldiers.

“That’s used as an incentive. If you’re the stellar Soldier in the Unit, we’ll put you in for those schools,” says SSG Schriefer.

4. Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself

SSG Schriefer likes that his job is about serving the citizens of Pennsylvania.

“Our first responsibility is to take care of the people we live around, so that gives you a sense of pride,” he says. “The ability to give back to the community and share what the Guard has done for me on a daily basis is a great feeling.”

Another great feeling happens every time he arrives at drill weekend once a month. Patriotism, he says, can be seen and felt all around.

“All you have to do is look at the cars in the parking lot with flags, stickers, license plates and you see that these kids love their service, their country and love being in the military.”

This helps develop the sense of camaraderie for the less than 1 percent of the population who serve in the military.

“No one will ever know how we think, feel, act, or process things unless they have been in our shoes. That’s what creates the brotherhood,” he says.

5. Service to your Community, State, and Country (Which No Other Service Can Offer)

The idea of serving a dual mission to State and Nation is unique to the National Guard.

And while SSG Schriefer has served on just one deployment in service to the country – to Kosovo – he’s had many opportunities to help out on State missions, too, like flooding from Hurricane Sandy and delivering meals to motorists stranded by snowstorms.

But he’s found that his most fulfilling mission is in his role as a recruiter, “being able to be on the ground floor, being the first person and the first interaction with the military most people have, and being able to set them on a path of success, it shutters everything else out.”

So, if you’re ready to see how far you can take your career, especially when you don’t have to worry about paying for college, and you want to be part of a team that’s dedicated to protecting the community and the Nation, consider joining the Army National Guard. Explore our job board for information about each MOS, and contact your local recruiter for personalized advice.

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Guard Public Affairs Journalist Named Army Photographer of the Year

After the smoke clears, the Soldiers are exhausted from their mission, maybe even lying in the dirt to rest. Those are the kind of moments Sergeant (SGT) Harley Jelis waits for, turning his lens on people “when they’ve gotten to the point where they can let their guard down, and be themselves … without any judgment on them or trying to tell a certain story, just having people as they are.”

It’s unstaged moments, like the one below, that have earned SGT Jelis the title of Army Photographer of the Year for 2016.

An award winning photo of Soldiers resting after a mock firefight taken by SGT Harley Jelis.

A member of the New York Army National Guard, SGT Jelis took his award-winning shots while covering training activities for infantry, medic, and aviation Units at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk in Louisiana last summer. 

As a 46Q Public Affairs Journalist, one of his jobs is to take photographs, but this Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) also offers opportunities to learn and showcase related skills, like writing, editing, graphic design, and media relations, all to document and promote what the Guard does, whether here at home or far away.

It’s his photojournalism work far away from home, during a deployment to Kuwait, that SGT Jelis considers his most fulfilling assignment so far, in being able to tell stories and post pictures of Soldiers that got attention back at home via the Brigade’s Facebook page or other media channels, and being able to read reactions from proud family members.

SGT Jelis started his part-time service in the Guard in 2008, while he was in college studying documentary filmmaking and photojournalism.

“I wanted to give back a little more to the community and have that personal challenge.”

While mulling his options for military service, it was the mission that gave the Guard the decisive advantage.

“The National Guard’s dual mission of both the Federal side, and the chance that you might have to deploy overseas, or work on a Federal mission appealed to me,” he says. “Also the domestic service side, the ability to, after a storm, be able to help out my local town by passing out food or working on local roads, was one of the major draws.”

SGT Harley Jelis

SGT Harley Jelis

His original MOS was 13F Fire Support Specialist, but after bringing his camera along to drill weekends to work on homework, SGT Jelis was asked if he wanted to switch to an MOS that had more in common with his studies.

So he attended the Defense Information School in Fort Meade for Advanced Individual Training for his new 46Q MOS, which requires about 11 weeks of instruction and practice.

And by the end of that time, SGT Jelis says, Soldiers are able to interview people, write a 4-6 page feature story, take the photos to accompany the story, and design a magazine template in which the story is published – all from scratch and within the span of a few days.

But the learning doesn’t end there or even at the Unit level, where a 46Q might focus on one aspect of the job, but has the opportunity to “cross train with other people. So if someone’s very good at video or very good with photography, they can work with the rest of the people in their Unit to help them work on those skills.”

SGT Jelis says this MOS also requires self-directed learning.

“There’s no ceiling with photography, he says. “There’s always something else that you can learn. You need to put in your own personal time to get better as a writer, get better as a photographer, get better at doing video.”

After his deployment to Kuwait, SGT Jelis took advantage of the Guard’s GI Bill to help pay for his master’s degree in integrated marketing communications, which, like his MOS, directly applies to his current job in marketing outreach and admissions at a mental health and addiction treatment clinic in Connecticut. 

He says experience in the Guard of meeting people who have different backgrounds helps him with the admissions side of his civilian job, when he’s talking with families of people from all different walks of life who are helping a loved one seek treatment.

The Guard definitely improved my ability to work with other people,” he says. His assignments can take him to various places or Guard events where, “I need to be able to hop in and speak with anyone, or interview random people I’ve never met before, and have the confidence to do that.”

So, if you want a part-time career that will build your confidence, visit our job board to explore the Guard’s options in fields like administration, logistics support or armor and field artillery. And for personalized advice, contact your local recruiter who can also walk you through all of the Guard’s benefits like tuition assistance, which will help you take your career to the next level.

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