While there is a considerable amount of information available on how to become a member of America’s special operations forces, what often remains a mystery to those outside the military is how all those commissioned officers wound up leading these elite warriors, or at least absorbing the blame when things go wrong.
While there are great programs that allow civilians to essentially process directly into US Army Special Forces or the Navy SEALs, officers who wish to serve in these units have a less direct, and less sexy, route to take.
Army officers who wish to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) for eventual service as a Green Beret, must first serve their lieutenant time (the first 3-5 years of service) in one of the Army’s many conventional branches.
For many officers within the Army Special Forces community, they begin their career as an infantry officer.
To become an infantry officer, you can take one of many routes. First, you must earn a commission through Officer Candidate School (OCS), the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), or the US Military Academy at West Point. All of these commissioning sources provide an active duty commission, and all of these options are available to enlisted soldiers and civilians.
The basic requirements to succeed as an infantry officer are intelligence, physical and mental toughness, and the ability to communicate. If you have some mediocre combination of these skills, you will likely make it through training and eventually report to a unit, where you may or may not be trusted with a platoon. But graduate level work as an infantry officer involves leading Soldiers.
Unlike most other branches in the Army, as an infantry officer you do not have any technical specialty. You are not going to be operating a tank, a helicopter, or a howitzer. Your specialty is to direct teams to achieve objectives. This requires more than just what passes for intelligence needed to bullshit your way through a liberal arts degree.
And you aren’t leading just any sort of regular teams. You will be leading teams of infantrymen, probably the saltiest human beings on the planet. No one else will be as brutally honest if your plan sucks as an infantry NCO. They can and will see right through any sign of weakness or bullshit.
The good news is, no one else is as aggressive, intelligent, or capable as an infantry NCO. You should feel fortunate to have earned the right to lead them.
Officers of any branch within the Army can apply for SFAS, but a disproportionate amount of student trainees are infantry officers.
Image courtesy of US Army