Opinion: The Special Warfare Center, specifically the JFKSWC at Ft. Bragg, NC, which trains the Green Berets, Psyops and Civil Affairs soldiers has been in a state of flux for the past two years. And the news that broke late last week won’t lessen it at all in the coming months.
Breitbart News’ Kristina Wong broke the story that the JFKSWC’s commander Major General Kurt Sonntag is being forced to retire after reports of his conduct being investigated by the Pentagon for ruining the careers of several Special Forces officers and NCOs for speaking out against the softening and lowering of standards. Wong wrote last week:
They alleged Sonntag wrongfully retaliated against instructors who expressed concern over his lowering of standards for the Special Forces Qualification Course, punished instructors seen as too tough on students, and is a toxic leader who created a climate of fear at SWCS.
Where the story, the center, and schoolhouse for Green Berets go from here is unclear. But there will be no easy answers and/or solutions for the school, the training cadre or the incoming commander.
Wong was originally the one who broke the story that Sonntag was being investigated after several current and former Green Beret instructors voiced their concerns over Sonntag’s policies were levied.
Sonntag completed a two-year tour at SWC and asked for a one-year extension. That was denied and he was given no further General Officer assignment, which ostensibly means that the general is being forced to retire.
When Sonntag took over the SWC in 2017, he faced many problems, not the least of which the school wasn’t graduating enough Green Berets to fully field the force. The toll of unending wars and an unsustainable OPTEMPO has left Special Forces without enough soldiers across the board.
Sonntag immediately began to formulate plans to streamline and shorten the pipeline for Special Forces Green Berets to be trained. He finished it up in the fall of 2018. Copies of the slides he used were leaked to us and we contacted the School and although we didn’t speak with the General himself, the PAO Officer answered our questions.
We wrote about the changes that Sonntag had spelled out here: They answered our questions to the shortening of the course as follows.
“1st Special Forces Command outlined the individual tasks required for each MOS to meet their operational needs. Instead of adding collective tasks into MOS, this concept focuses solely on individual tasks and incorporates application through historical vignettes (lessons-learned). The practical application at a team level will come in tactical skills. Currently, the course orientation and history phase is six weeks. This concept incorporates the introductory individual tasks into MOS training and the collective tasks into tactical skills. History modules and other tasks now taught in course orientation will be taught throughout all phases of the course. This concept found efficiencies in training by reorganizing where we teach certain tasks, which provides opportunities to combine complimentary tasks in a logical manner.”
Sonntag’s policies were met by charges by the training cadre of the school that the standards were being lowered. Now, it should be mentioned, that those charges are nothing new to the SF school. Every generation has heard that and we have to deal with it. I heard it when I went thru the SFQC, and I heard it several years later when assigned to SWC at SFAS.
However, what transpired next was anything but usual with the resultant “night letter” and the search for the authors of such. Which brings us to where we are today. Sonntag is being forced to retire and a new commander is coming in. Maj. Gen. Patrick B. Roberson is slated to be the next SWC commander. Roberson is coming from Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq and is slated to change command this summer.
In Wong’s report, she credited a source who told her that Roberson was the second choice for the new SWC commander. Her source told her that MG Miguel A. Correa was first chosen to take over for Sonntag, but Correa supposedly turned down the SWC assignment because he “didn’t want to take on the s**t show that Sonntag created.”
Roberson has to still face the same daunting tasks that Sonntag did but now has to do so with a training cadre that will view him (whether the allegations of Sonntag are all true or not), with a level of distrust. And hanging over Roberson’s head, unfairly or not is the fate of the two SF NCOs who were singled out for punishment by Sonntag and are scheduled for termination of service. Green Berets Sergeant First Class Micah Robertson, 33, and Sergeant First Class Michael Squires, 31, are both looking at the end of their careers by the end of the month. Their fates will be decided long before Roberson takes command.
However, the Army could do the school and Roberson a tremendous service by keeping both of those NCOs on active duty until the investigation they’re conducting is complete. There are also several other cases of careers being ruined that should be looked at before those NCOs and Officers are lost to the service. It would go a long way in re-establishing trust between the command and the incoming commander. Then let the chips fall where they may. Will this happen? It is doubtful at this point.
Which takes us back to square one, what happens with the courses, SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection), and the SFQC (Special Forces Qualification Course)? One of Special Operations core “Truths” from 1988 is #3 “Special Operations Forces can’t be mass produced.”
The incoming commander MG Roberson certainly understands it. The training cadre in charge of producing the next group of Green Berets for the Regiment certainly understands it better than most. They know when their tour at SWC is up, they’ll return to the Regiment. And the troops that they assess, train, and graduate this year will be the teammates of the same cadre when they return to the Regiment.
That responsibility isn’t lost on them and they take it seriously. One hopes that the next commander MG Roberson and his entire school staff find a way to work together to produce the best Special Forces operators that have ever come thru the pipeline.
All eyes will be watching what transpires the schoolhouse for the foreseeable future. No one wants that. But it is what it is…
“May you live in interesting times.”
Photo of then BG Kurt Sonntag: USASOC