Infantry: September 30, 2003

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The war on terror is tougher on some types of troops than others. While most of the news coverage features reservists sent over to do a year in Iraq, the people who have spent the most time overseas in the past two years are the Special Forces. In particular, the 5th Special Forces Group has been particularly hard hit. Most members of the 5th Group have been state side for a total of maybe six months since September 11, 2001. Each Special Forces group has three battalions (about 1200 troops altogether). The 5th Group is now keeping two battalions overseas and one back in the states for rest and training. On top of the heavy work load, the 5th Group is also about twenty percent understrength. Each of the five Special Forces Groups specializes in on region of the world, and the 5th has responsibility for the Middle East and Afghanistan. The other four Groups have been helping out, even though they don't have the language and cultural awareness talents of the 5th Group. That said, the Russian speakers of the 10th Group (specializing in Europe) find lots of people in Afghanistan and Iraq who speak Russian. The two National Guard Groups (the 19th and 20th), have also been called up, as these groups are full of Special Forces veterans who retired or got out to get away from the frequent overseas duty (and make more money). These men have experience and skills, although they can now expect to see a lot more time overseas than the average reservists. There are only seven Special Forces Groups altogether, and, with the personnel shortages, not quite 7,000 "operators" available for action. And several thousand of these have to be held back for possible use in Korea, South America or Africa. Because the Special Forces troops are the product of an exacting screening and training process, they are in big demand by intelligence agencies as well. Recruiting efforts have been increased for over a year, but the results of that won't be seen for at least another year. Special Forces operators (as members of the Special Forces are called) who retired or quit in the last decade have been sought our and offered opportunities to get back in the business. If not with one of the five active duty groups, then with training operations, or to work with the intelligence agencies. Most Americans tend to forget that the U.S. Special Forces are a unique organization in military, and intelligence, history. No other nation has anything like the Special Forces, and never has. The idea of training thousands of troops to very high standards, then having them study foreign languages and cultures, is unique to the Special Forces. The war on terror is the kind of war Special Forces are perfectly suited to dealing with. But now that this unique kind of war is under way, we find that those soldiers uniquely suited to fighting it are in short supply. This is largely because Special Forces set high standards, and has resisted all attempts to lower those standards. One hard lesson the Special Forces has learned in past fifty years is that lowering standards just increases the chances of failure, and getting your people killed. 

 


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