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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Time for a Fight: Staff Sergeant Tim Kennedy

MMA fighter and Army National Guard Soldier Tim Kennedy

National Guard Staff Sergeant Tim Kennedy

If you were to create the perfect Soldier, it might start with the warrior’s spirit, world-class athleticism, and the ability to hit a bulls-eye from half a mile away. But perfection is an unreal goal, isn’t it?

Don’t tell that to Army National Guard Staff Sergeant (SSG) Tim Kennedy.


Warrior’s spirit? Check. SSG Kennedy is a Ranger Qualified Green Beret and decorated combat veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star for valor under fire.

World class athlete? Check. With an impressive 14-4 professional mixed martial arts record (MMA), SSG Kennedy is the 16th ranked middleweight in the MMA Combined Rankings. That’s number 16 in the world. The whole world.

Straight shooter? Check. SSG Kennedy is a Special Forces Sniper and can also put four shots into a one-inch grouping with an assault rifle while on the move.

SSG Kennedy is also a husband and a father. He has been featured on multiple television programs. He works out two or three times a day (a DAY!).

And to relax? Does he crack open a cold one and watch the game? No. He cooks.

Translation: He is one tough, motivated, and dedicated guy, but there’s one thing not even SSG Kennedy can do: twist the space-time continuum.

“I love to fight, I love to shoot, and I love being a Green Beret,” SSG Kennedy said. “But I didn’t have time to do it all.”

That could easily be the understatement of the century. When he walked into an Army recruiting office in 2004 and signed up to pursue membership in the elite Green Berets, he was already a professional MMA fighter on his way up the charts with a 5-1 record.

Though he did manage to continue his fighting career while also being an active duty Soldier, becoming a Green Beret, especially one as accomplished as SSG Kennedy, was no simple matter. It required 100 percent commitment from Basic Combat Training through multiple overseas deployments. In between were Advanced Individual Training, Special Forces Assessment and Selection, Special Forces Qualifying Course, Airborne and Ranger training, and Special Forces Sniper School.

You can see how this might cause some schedule conflicts with a professional sports career. In fact, in 2004, 2005, and 2008, SSG Kennedy had no professional bouts, though he did win the Army-wide Combatives tournament in the Light-Heavyweight division each year from 2005 to 2007.

“I was always fighting for time,” he said. “There was never enough time to train, to fight, and to be a Soldier. After I enlisted, I just didn’t have time to fight as much as I wanted to.”

But there was no way he was giving up the uniform.

“Being in a Special Forces unit is so much more important than yourself,” SSG Kennedy said. “It’s eye-opening and humbling. Whatever you’re doing is irrelevant unless you’re doing it for the team. It’s about self-sacrifice and selfless service. If you can give yourself over to that, you’ll experience some of the most marvelous and spectacular things.”

After five years on active duty, SSG Kennedy found a solution in the Texas Army National Guard, which allowed him the time to become a full-time MMA fighter while continuing his Special Forces career.

“The Guard was absolutely the best option for me to do the two things I love: to fight and continue being a Soldier,” SSG Kennedy said. “It was a dream come true.”

On July 14, 2012, SSG Kennedy fought a tough bout in Portland for the Strikeforce middleweight belt. He lost a close decision, but he’s not willing to concede defeat so easily.

“The characteristics it takes to be a successful Soldier are the same characteristics required to be a successful fighter. They complement each other. It’s all about hard work, discipline, and personal sacrifice.”

In short, Soldiers and fighters never give up.

“My story is only half a story so far,” SSG Kennedy said. “I still have more things I have to do. I want to be ranked number 1. I’ve been close a couple times, but I haven’t made it yet.”

Operative term: yet.

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