This week, historic news filtered out of North Carolina saying that a female National Guardsman will be the first woman to pass the Special Forces Qualification Course (Q-Course) and will earn the title of Green Beret. While the enlisted soldier has not passed the course yet, officials say that at this point barring a medical injury, she is practically guaranteed to graduate.
This morning, the New York Times reported that in 1980, a woman named Kate Wilder did indeed graduate the course but was told the day before graduation she was not allowed to graduate with her class, because of her gender. Ms. Wilder fought back and six months later was finally given the certificate stating she had earned the right to wear the Green Beret, but Wilder had already left the Fifth Special Forces Group and eventually transitioned to the Reserves.
Prior to now, only a few women have passed the Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course but none of them passed the year long Q-Course. The soldier is going to be an 18C or Engineer Sergeant.
According to the Army, the Special Forces Engineer Sergeant is a construction and demolitions specialist. As a builder, the engineer sergeant can create bridges, buildings and field fortifications. As a demolitions specialist, the engineer sergeant can carry out demolition raids against enemy targets, such as bridges, railroads, fuel depots and critical components of infrastructure.
The New York Times also reported a second female soldier is working through a longer Q-Course (the course length will depend on the prospective Green Berets MOS) as a 18D or Medical Sergeant.
This is no small feat. As we all know, making it into the Special Forces required many attributes including superior physical fitness, an ability to handle traversing rugged terrain, weapons proficiency and strong mental aptitude to solve problems on the fly. Green Berets deploy and execute nine doctrinal missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, counter-insurgency, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism, information operations, counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and security force assistance. Also, passing the Q-Course is one thing. The constant tempo of deployments and training while keeping up with high physical fitness standards and training can take a toll on even the most seasoned Green Berets.
There is no doubt the newly minted Green Beret will have tough challenges in her career in the Special Forces. And there will probably be resistance from a few people that struggle to accept that a woman made it through such an arduous course. (The course has been modified due to feedback from active Green Berets so it could be more compatible with deployments and retention but the standards are still the same.)
However, the potential benefits to having women as part of the Special Forces community are too great to ignore.
Retired Lt. Gen. Steve Blum, a 42-year Army veteran who spent 16 years with the Green Berets said, “I applaud and celebrate the fact because half of the world that we have to deal with when we’re out there, half of the people we have to help, are women. The days of men fighting men without the presence of women is long gone.”
When it comes to unconventional warfare, it’s safe to say pretty much every engagement we are involved with nowadays is unconventional. The role of women has expanded dramatically during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and women have been decorated for bravery on the battlefield.
In recent years, we have seen ISIS be thoroughly beaten when engaged by Kurdish forces comprised of women. Having a female advisor in those units would allow better access, more trust, and better control when it comes to directing forces to defeat our enemy.
The same can be said for counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism. The Green Berets were some of the first troops to go into Vietnam as advisors to the South Vietnamese who were fighting a counter-insurgency campaign against the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong and many other insurgent troops have used local females as fighters, transporters and for intelligence gathering. Having a female Green beret engage local women could potentially make counter insurgency easier.
When it comes to reconnaissance, we all know there are places that are harder to get close to because men would stick out like a sore thumb. Certain places in the Middle East and elsewhere have places where men can’t get into and having a highly trained female would be a great way to circumvent that potential issue.
William Denn, an Army Captain who served multiple combat tours said in an interview with the Washington Post that, “Most Iraqi men were reticent to speak with us for fear of retribution from al-Qaeda. Iraqi women, often fed up with the violence in their neighborhoods, could be persuaded to provide information, but first we had to bridge the gender gap, build rapport and earn their trust, all of which took valuable time.” Denn went on to write that “including women in front-line units would be more than an exercise in social equality; it would be a valuable enhancement of military effectiveness and national security.”
While we won’t know her identity anytime soon, it will be awesome to see the path she trailblazes for other women who seek to serve in the Special Forces and how it can help us earn victories in the toughest environments.