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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On Your Guard Flashback: A Spotlight on Engineering

In September 2013, On Your Guard ran the following Spotlight on Engineering. Since we’ve been talking about STEM careers this summer, with engineering the focus this month, we thought we’d flashback and repost. The info is still relevant and focuses on the more surprising aspects of engineering in the Army National Guard. Be sure to click the links to read a more detailed description for each military occupational specialty and to view nationwide openings on our jobs board.

Engineering in the Guard is not entirely what you might expect. Sure, there are technical engineers and geospatial engineers and mechanical engineers. But did you know the 12-series Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) also includes plumbers, electricians, concrete equipment operators, and a bunch more job titles that offer a direct correlation with civilian skilled labor trades? Surprise!

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll find by selecting “Engineer” in the Category dropdown menu of the National Guard jobs board.

12B Construction Specialist

Okay, we fibbed. Sort of. This one actually does have the word “engineer” in the real title, which reads “12B Combat Engineer – Construction and Engineering Specialist.” But, in addition to a possible civilian career in structural engineering, this MOS could also lead to jobs related to building inspection, various types of construction, and more.

In the Guard, 12B Combat Engineers design and build roadways and bridges; secure perimeters and tactical firing systems; and detect and safely neutralize mines and other dangers.

12C Bridge Crewmember

Bridge Crewmembers often work hand-in-hand with Combat Engineers on jobs that keep army vehicles moving over both wet and dry gap crossings. You get to learn the engineering principles and basic construction methods associated with building bridges, which of course has a direct correlation to working on any civilian bridge construction crew.

12D Diver

And how cool would it be to serve as a Diver in the Guard? You know you’ve always wanted to learn. Some military operations – like reconnaissance, patrol, construction, repair, demolition, and salvage – actually take place under water. So, Guard Scuba Divers work just below the surface of the water and Guard Deep Sea Divers work for long periods in depths of up to 300 feet.

You may be thinking, “Great, but diving’s just a hobby.” So not true. Oil companies, salvage companies, construction firms, police and fire rescue units, and shipping enterprises – all often require some form of underwater specialist.

12G Quarrying Specialist

If the concept of reducing a mountain to rubble sounds even cooler, then you won’t be disappointed as a Quarrying Specialist in the Guard. These Soldiers make gravel by blasting rock, putting it through two crushing stages, cleaning it in a washing station, and delivering the finished product to the project site. These skills are excellent for pursuing a civilian career with building contractors, state highway agencies, rock quarries, well drillers, and construction firms.

12K Plumber

“Pipe system engineer” is not really a euphemism when you’re talking about choosing a 12K MOS. National Guard Plumbers work on pipe systems for water, steam, and waste, as well as hydraulic and pneumatic systems. Duties include reading drawings, plans, and specifications; planning the layout of pipe systems; and installing and maintaining pipe systems and plumbing fixtures – all of which prepares you for a civilian career in commercial and residential plumbing.

12M Firefighter

Yes, firefighting is an engineering job in the Guard. Army bases have their own fire protection personnel who are responsible for protecting lives and property by controlling and helping to prevent fires in buildings and on aircraft. Just like in the civilian world, they perform firefighting and rescue operations, operate firefighting equipment and vehicles, administer first aid, and respond to hazardous material emergencies. Plus, the training and certifications are the same ones you need to be a firefighter in your community, whether it’s on a paid crew or as a local volunteer.

12R Interior Electrician

If there are “pipe system engineers” in the National Guard, it only makes sense that there’d be “wire system engineers” as well. The 12R Interior Electrician offers all the training you need to work for public utilities or commercial and residential contractors. You learn how to install and wire electrical hardware – like transformers, junction boxes, service panels, electrical boxes, switches, and circuit breakers – found in offices, repair shops, airplane hangars, and other buildings.

12V Concrete and Asphalt Equipment Crewmember

How many construction projects require concrete or asphalt? In the Guard, the answer is: a lot. (Think roads, building foundations, airfields, etc.) Learning how to produce concrete with a concrete mobile mixer, as well as operate asphalt distributors, aggregate spreaders, asphalt kettles, and paving and surfacing equipment no doubt will prepare you for a rewarding career with construction enterprises like building contractors, state highway agencies, rock quarries, well drillers, and construction firms.

12W Carpentry and Masonry Specialist

Concrete is cool, but stone, steel, and wood are all fun to work with, too. The 12W is an Engineer category MOS that prepares you for a civilian career in commercial and residential construction as a mason, carpenter, concrete finisher, drywall installer, ceiling tile installer, and more. That’s because training and duties involve general heavy carpentry, structural steel, and masonry duties, including the fabrication, erection, maintenance, and repair of rigging devices, trusses, and other structural assemblies.

Well, that’s it. That’s all the “What? That’s an Engineer MOS?” job titles we have for this week. If you’d like to learn more about one of these valuable, skill-packed careers, visit the Army National Guard jobs board and contact a recruiter today.

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