The first female soldier graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) on July 9, 2020 at a ceremony held at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She received her Special Forces Tab and donned her Green Beret during the ceremony along with her other classmates.
The soldier is a member of the 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group of the Florida National Guard. The first female Green Beret will likely be assigned to an enlisted Special Forces Engineer Sergeant position on a Special Forces operational detachment ‘Alpha’. The 20th group is headquartered in Alabama with battalions and companies located in several states in the eastern part of the United States. She was due to graduate in April 2020 but had to repeat part of the training.
“Each and every one of you demonstrated the ability to meet the baseline standards and competencies for admission to our Regiment. From here, you will go forward and join the storied formation of the Green Berets where you will do what you are trained to do: challenge assumptions, break down barriers, smash through stereotypes, innovate, and achieve the impossible. Thankfully, after today, our Green Beret Men and Women will forever stand in the hearts of free people everywhere.”Lt. Gen. Fran Beaudette, Commanding General for U.S. Army Special Operations Command, July 9, 2020 speaking at SFQC graduation ceremony.
SFAS. The training begins with the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) course that is about 24-days long. The attrition rate for this course is usually about 50% although the numbers will vary from course to course. The course screens soldiers for their physical and mental attributes. The soldiers are tested on military skills, land navigation, leadership, and endure long foot marches carrying heavy packs.
SFQC. Once SF candidates have completed SFAS – and they are selected to continue SF training – they begin the 53-week long Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). The length of SFQC varies depending on the military specialty the soldier is training for. The medical course is the longest of the SF entry level positions. SFQC consists of a number of phases and schools – each requiring criteria to be met before moving along to the next section of the course. The phases and schools include small unit operations, Special Forces advanced tactics, unconventional warfare, MOS phase (engineer, medic, weapons, communications, or officer) Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE), Military Freefall Course, and language training. Robin Sage is the 3-week field training exercise that takes place near the end of the course.
Changes in SF Training. Over the years the training of Special Forces soldiers has undergone significant changes. The course has been revamped many times based on the requirements of the SF groups and types of conflicts and operations that the force is engaged in or conducting overseas. In the past few years the ‘Q’ course has been significantly shortened with a ‘changing of the standards’. Many SF veterans criticized this training change citing concerns with the quality of the force due to a ‘lowering of the standards’. The ‘schoolhouse’, however, has to contend with providing the groups with SF qualified soldiers that can fill the operational detachments.
Assignment to ODA. Once the soldiers complete the Special Forces training they are usually assigned to one of seven Special Forces groups. There are five active duty groups and two National Guard groups. Newly-minted Green Berets are assigned to a 12-man operational detachment ‘Alpha’ or ODA. The SF detachments are led by a captain, warrant officer, and master sergeant. There are nine other enlisted soldiers on the team who fill the intelligence, communications, weapons, medical, or engineer positions.
Privacy Concerns. The name of the soldier was not released by USASOC. It is the policy of USASOC not to release the names of service members in training or assigned to USASOC due to unique missions assigned upon graduation. In a press release USASOC asked that the public and media respect the decision of the SFQC graduates who entered into the SOF profession by helping to protect their identity to the fullest extent.
Females in Combat and SOF Assignments. In 2013 the formal ban on women serving in combat roles was eliminated. Female soldiers had been involved in direct combat in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years prior to 2013 due to the insurgent nature of the conflicts. These conflicts did not have clearly defined battle lines drawn between contending military forces. The fight took place within the entire battlespace – so all units operating outside of large bases were subject to combat engagements. In 2015 the Department of Defense opened occupational specialties that involved direct combat to women. Two women successfully completed and graduated from the U.S. Army’s Ranger School in 2015.
SOF Community Resistance. However, there are some deep misgivings among current and former members of the special operations community about women on SOF teams. In June 2014 the Joint Special Operations University published a 136-page report entitled Special Operations Forces Mixed-Gender Elite Teams that cited the SOF operator concerns about lowering the mental or physical standards to allow for the inclusion of women in the SOF ranks and the ability of women to perform physically during direct action missions. In 2015 the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) commissioned a study by the RAND Corporation on the topic. The 292-page report found in a survey that 85% of SOF operators opposed serving with women on special operations teams.
A Little History. There are some who contend that the first woman to complete Special Forces training was Captain Kate Wilder in 1981. Although she completed the Special Forces Officer Course (SFOC) she was not permitted to graduate. She had failed a field exercise that took place at the end of the training and was dropped from the course just before graduation. Three candidates in her 53-member officer’s class failed the course. Wilder eventually received a graduation certificate due to intervention by the Department of Defense and Congressional pressure after she filed a sex discrimination complaint. She never served in a Special Forces unit as a Green Beret; although she was assigned to the 5th SFG(A) S2 prior to attending SFOC.
SFOC Training Revised. Shortly after the Kate Wilder drama the leaders of the Special Forces community revised SF officer training. It was recognized that Special Forces Officer Course (SFOC) training standards were much lower than the Special Force Qualification Course (SFQC). The enlisted SF course was very challenging with a huge attrition rate due to its high standards of physical training and other training challenges and requirements. The SFOC was classroom oriented and mostly academic. Many enlisted Special Forces soldiers referred to SFOC as a ‘gentleman’s course’. In the early 1980s the SFOC was discontinued and officers began attending the SFQC.
ARSOF and Female Soldiers. Army Special Operations has been quietly in the lead in integrating women into the force. For decades women have served in the ranks of PSYOP and Civil Affairs units. During the Afghanistan conflict Cultural Support Teams (CSTs) were deployed in support of Ranger and Special Forces elements after attending a CST qualification course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. In addition, there are several Special Mission Units that have integrated women into their training and operations over the past few decades.
Now the Real Training Begins. The training for the first female Green Beret is far from over. The completion of SFQC is just the beginning of the training experience for a Green Beret. At the Special Forces team level the new SF soldier will be schooled by senior NCOs with years of experience. In addition, there are scores of advanced schools and training within the Special Forces field that an SF soldier will be able to attend.
The Future? The graduation of a female soldier from the Special Forces Qualification Course is ground-breaking. However, the addition of one female Green Beret to a Special Forces community of several thousand can be overstated. Strong leadership will be required within the units that this soldier and future female Green Berets are assigned to. Certainly there are advantages to having female SF qualified soldiers in the Green Beret ranks; but there are also some challenges. Should be some interesting times ahead.
Other News Reports:
July 9, 2020, “Female Soldier Graduates Special Forces Qualification Course”, USASOC Public Affairs Office.
July 9, 2020. “First female Green Beret graduates Army Special Forces course”, UPI.
July 9, 2020. “It’s official: A woman is joining the ranks of Army Special Forces for the first time in history”, Task & Purpose, July 9, 2020.
July 9, 2020. “For 1st time, female soldier set to join a Green Beret team”, The Washington Post.
July 9, 2020. “Fort Bragg announces first woman Green Beret”, The Fayetteville Observer.
July 9, 2020. “Here’s What Spec Ops Vets and Female Soldiers Think of the First Female Green Beret”, SANDBOXX.
July 9, 2020. “Soldier Makes History as First Woman to Join Green Berets”, Military.com.
June 26, 2020. “The Army Is About to Get its First Female Green Beret”, Military.com.
Image: Soldiers in the Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS). Photo from Special Warfare Magazine, July – December 2016.