Green Berets rely on their problem-solving abilities to survive in combat. Much of SF selection seeks to assess this talent. The Special Forces qualification course itself develops and improves creativity. Many times, military problems must be solved with the application of force. Green Berets are not afraid to get their hands dirty, but they understand the power of working with and through others.
There is a story that has been told in the SOF community for years. I don’t believe it is factual, but there is a lot of truth in it. The story goes like this:
The new Secretary of Defense had been confirmed and was touring the Pentagon, taking briefings on the capabilities of his forces. He had a well-deserved reputation as a no-nonsense guy. After a briefing on Special Operations Forces, he was escorted to lunch by a Green Beret officer.
The Secretary’s confused look did not bode well as they walked through the E ring. “I understand how SOF is different from conventional forces, but the Rangers and Green Berets seem just alike to me. You have a Special Forces Tab and a Ranger Tab. What’s the difference?”
“The units are very different, sir. While both units are composed of very capable soldiers, selected for intelligence and fitness, Rangers attack the enemy directly, while Special Forces work by, with, and through indigenous forces to accomplish tasks far beyond their numbers.” The Green Beret secretly hoped he would not be pulled into the eternal Ranger versus SF discussion for the 10,000th time. He prided himself in his teaching abilities, but this guy was being obtuse.
“They dress just alike, they are both ARSOF units, and they both have direct-action capabilities. How are they so different?” It seemed the Secretary was going to force this. The next four years of Special Forces missions hinged on the new Secretary’s understanding. As they walked through an area of temporary construction, the Green Beret had a flash of inspiration.
“Sir, humor me here; let’s do a little demonstration. Rangers are highly aggressive. They pride themselves on their toughness and discipline. They follow orders without question. Do you see that huge soldier with a tan beret? He is a Ranger.”
As the Ranger approached, the Green Beret called out, “Hey, Ranger! Come here.”
The Ranger moved toward them, sprang to attention, and saluted. “Rangers lead the way, sir. How may I be of assistance?”
“Can you help us here for a moment? This is the new Secretary of Defense. He wants to know more about the Rangers. Will you help me educate him?”
Pointing to a new section of hallway, the Green Beret officer said, “Ranger, I need you to break through that wall.”
“Hooah, sir. Would you like a breach or complete destruction?”
“A man-sized breach would be fine.”
With that, the Ranger removed his beret and assumed a three-point stance six feet from the wall. With a grunt, he launched himself into the wall, punching his head and shoulders right through the drywall. Hitting a 2×4 on the way through, he was a little stunned, but he continued to work, smashing a hole wide enough for a fully kitted Ranger to pass through. Staggering to his feet with a trickle of blood running down his face, he appeared a little disoriented.
“Thank you, Ranger. Great job. You are a credit to the Regiment. You need to go to the aid station and get someone to look at that cut.”
The Secretary was incredulous. He had never seen such a display of pure discipline and strength. “That was astounding. What could Special Forces possibly do to match that?”
The Green Beret was also impressed, but not surprised. “The Rangers are highly disciplined sir, but Special Forces selection and training also produce strong, disciplined soldiers. We deploy older, more mature soldiers in very small numbers. They understand that they are a valuable strategic resource, and are selected for their advanced problem-solving abilities.”
The secretary seemed displeased. “Frankly, that sounds like bullshit. It seems that these Rangers are the finest soldiers in the Army. What could Special Forces do that the Rangers cannot?”
As he spoke, a Green Beret Staff Sergeant walked by. Not as young or lean as the Ranger, he had a commanding presence and a serious look filled with confidence. The Green Beret officer called him over.
“Hey Mike, can you help us here for a moment? This is the new Secretary of Defense. He wants to know more about the Special Forces; will you help me educate him?”
The staff sergeant shook the secretary’s hand and introduced himself. “How can I help you, sir?”
Pointing to an undamaged section of the hallway, the Green Beret officer said, “Mike, I need you to break through that wall.”
“No problem. Would you like a breach or complete destruction?”
“A man-sized breach would be fine.”
The staff sergeant removed his beret and stood for a moment in silent thought six feet from the wall. He scanned the area and smiled broadly as he found the perfect tool for the job. “Hey Ranger,” he said, “Come here.”
Know your abilities, learn your environment, and use your resources deliberately. Green Berets know that finding just the right tool can be the most important part of the job. The Ranger in the story can take down a wall. The Green Beret can take out walls until he runs out of Rangers, and then one more.
As a force multiplier in the real world, the Green Berets can enlist large units with local knowledge to fight beside them. A single 12-man A-Team can train and employ a 500-man infantry battalion. That is a significant return on investment for the taxpayer.
Value yourself, and use your rapport skills to build partnerships. Many hands make light work; don’t do everything yourself. Green Berets know that there is no limit to what one can do if other people are doing the work.