by Richard H Dick James
58 years ago, October 1962, I was a Private E-2. I had just arrived at SFTG, in Fort Bragg NC, to begin training to be a “Green Beret.” I was assigned to Company B, Special Forces Training Group (Provisional). The first week began busily.
Special Forces Training Group
“If we should have to fight, we should be prepared to do so from the neck up instead of from the neck down.” —General Jimmy Doolittle.
Once again, we were subjected to a battery of tests, this time to determine our psychological status. A man could be a perfect physical specimen, but that didn’t assure he would qualify for Special Forces. Much more than physical strength was required to be a good “Green Beret.”
Special Forces wasn’t looking for men who were good in a bar fight. They were looking for mature men of high moral character, who could walk away from participating in a bar fight, with his head held high. They were also looking for men who could work without supervision, on their own, and could function well, working in any conditions, with any type of people.
A Green Beret had to be able to persevere and want to help the human race in times of trouble. There could be times that a lone Special Forces man could be called on to be an official representative of the United States government, ready to make snap decisions without guidance, and immediately act upon that decision, knowing full well that the action could have deep consequences on himself and the United States. It was not a position to be taken lightly.
One of the physical tests that worried me was the Combat Water Survival Test for Special Forces. It required us to be able to tread water for a somewhat substantial time, as well as swim about 50 yards in water, dressed in our combat fatigues and combat boots. I was highly challenged trying to tread water in high school, and I was only wearing swimming trunks. I had no idea how I would fare while fully clothed, and the thought of going through that test scared the crap out of me. I certainly wasn’t a star performer in that test, but I passed it, just barely.
The commander of the Special Warfare Center was Brigadier General William P. Yarborough, a 1936 graduate of West Point. He had assumed command in January 1961. General Yarborough wasn’t looking just for men who would be good guerrilla warfare combatants, he was also looking for men of higher than average intelligence and character, who had good judgment, maturity, and self-discipline, as well as be able to work closely with foreign nationals, who were a far cry from Americans. He was also looking for men who had inherent ingenuity, capable of solving difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible, unexpected problems, quickly and practically. Those men had to be able to work in small groups, and sometimes alone, with no guarantee of aid from anyone else.
General Yarborough was not looking for rough, tough Ranger types. Rangers were a breed apart, and experts in their field. When you cut them loose in a combat situation, they were a killing machine, ready to cut a swath in the enemy. Blood-letting was a part of their makeup. Yarborough wanted tough soldiers, who could change with the situation; killers if need be, compassionate and merciful if that suited the mission better.
Tuesday morning’s time schedule was the same as Monday’s. At the second formation those who were undergoing training were dismissed to go to their designated training areas. and those of us who were not training were given our assignments for the day, usually details of some kind. Unlike my previous training, Basic, AIT, and jump school, those of us attending classes were not marched to their classes. We were expected to arrive at classes on our own time but be on time.
Details included, but were not limited to, cleaning the local area, work in the mess hall (unlike KP), ash & trash (our description of picking up garbage from unit areas), fireman (keeping the barracks coal burning heating systems running and stoked), demonstrations (carrying out various jobs in the Special Forces demonstration area, known as Area 2 at the time), being sent to the rifle range to help work the firing line for another unit, and working in the supply shack moving heavy items around for the ranking civilian, while he sat on his ass giving instructions, etc. It was almost always very boring work.
The best, and most cherished, detail, which was also a great training aid for us, was being assigned to a field exercise, as indigenous combatants in a guerrilla unit, or as an aggressor searching for guerrilla units. What more fun could a soldier have, than running around in the outdoors, searching for people or enemy groups?
The all-time worthless detail I heard of (besides painting rocks and cement coal bins white) was a group of SF trainees detailed to pick up all the pine cones in the Area 2 Demonstration Area. Shortly thereafter it was decided that pine cones were natural, and a detail was formed to return those pine cones to their natural environment, in the Area 2 Demonstration Area. Wow; talk about stupid!
Rank meant nothing in Special Forces, when it came to details. Even if you were a sergeant, you had to participate in the details. The problem was that the post headquarters determined how post details were to be handed out, by the amount of personnel in the units, not by the amount of personnel below the rank of sergeant. Special Forces was the only unit at Ft. Bragg that had almost all NCOs in the unit, virtually no privates, and very few PFCs and SP4s.
I noticed the first few weeks at Ft. Bragg that Special Forces men didn’t particularly look special, other than the beret they wore. Some were a little overweight (not much though), some wore glasses, some were short, and some tall. The main difference between the looks of SF compared to others, was that the SF troops exuded an air of confidence. Then, as now, Special Forces doctrine specified that the man made the difference, not the equipment he carried, or the beret.
That same day we were interviewed to find out what MOS (Military Occupational Skill, aka job) we were most qualified to pursue in Special Forces. The interviewers went over our qualification tests, something I don’t think the rest of the Army ever did. The officer who interviewed me told me that all my test scores were very high. Because of my extremely high test scores in radio Morse code aptitude (he said they were some of the highest he had seen), he tried his best to talk me into signing up for communications training.
I pretty much had my choice of specialty training. I had been in Training Group long enough before the interview to have witnessed the radio operator trainees coming to the barracks constantly rattling off dit-dahs (Morse code) and had decided that training to be a radio operator would drive me nuts.
We had the choice of radio operator, medic (which would require a minimum of one more year of intense medical training and dealing with a lot of blood and gore), light weapons, heavy weapons or demolitions (explosives). Since I was already trained in heavy weapons and held that MOS, I opted to request training as a demolition specialist, (aka Combat Engineer, MOS 121).
I had always enjoyed loud noises, so explosives sounded like something I would really enjoy. Besides, the field required a good knowledge of mathematics and I had always been good in math while in high school and college. The decision was made, and all I had to do was wait a couple weeks (I thought) for the next class to form.
The specialty training was scheduled to last six weeks, the first week consisting of mathematics training, which I figured would be a breeze for me. The following five weeks of training would be demolition training, which would be a blast (pun intended).
From my Book #1, of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon or from me.
PHOTO: GEN Yarborough and President John F Kennedy, the day that JFK decided that Special Forces troops should be authorized to wear the “Green Beret.”