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rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

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  • rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

    question re: SF operational detachments: to what extent is there a rank hierarchy within them, and is it informal, capability/experience-based, and/or more formal ? I'm fully chairborne, have read the standard literature, am asking because it has application to my very civilian job.

    What I've read is that the folks who make it through selection are usually very experienced NCOs who are de facto peers, and also usually in the same general vicinity of rank. The books all say that within SF, rank is deliberately disregarded; this correlates for me with the notion that anyone who makes it through selection has earned a default assumption of high competence from his fellows.

    For a mission, is one member of the team given command authority ? Is this correlated to formal rank, to informally acknowledged seniority of experience/skill, particularly as relevant to the given mission, or other ?

    If there's an officer on the team, is there any assumption that they have implicity authority over lower ranks ? Except as formally delineated for the mission ?

    You may detect from my questions that I haven't served in the military. In response, I find that the same issues which are discussed in publicly available material on the military from the beginning of history, are quite relevant to civilian organizations as well, with the added complication that civilian environments don't have the motivating factor of life-and-death as an ingredient of accomplishing your mission and are thus more laden with personal confusion. The same question pertains - how do you get the most out of a team of 4 people who have essentially the same level of skill, with at most incremental differences, and with some (but not excessive) diversity and specialization ?
    When government shifts from defining what is wrong, with the direct implication that all else is acceptable, to defining what is right, with the insidious suggestion that all else may be suspect if not subversive, then we are well on the way to a police state.<br /><br />Business, society and government all exist solely to serve the interests of the people. Of, By, For.

  • #2
    Re: rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

    I spent a couple years in an SF unit, made it through selection and jump school, but only lasted a few months into the Q course. This was back just before 9/11, so things might be a little different now.

    Most of my training was conducted by ODA team members on their down cycle, and them training us was part of their continuing training, since training indigenous personnel to be soldiers is one of the primary missions of an SF team. An SF team is supposed to go out as a 6-9 man squad infiltrate an unsecured area, then make contact with friendly forces. Once contact is made their true mission starts.

    The team leader is an officer, usually a Captain, but often a warrant officer. The Team leader plans the mission, and supervises the training and deployment. Once the link up with friendly forces is established, the team splits up in order to have the greatest impact. The entire team will likely work together to establish defenses, communication, logistics and work on infrastructure (hearts and minds). Once that is accomplished the team leader evaluates the Indig forces abilities and needs, then they address them with training.

    Once they feel confident the locals are capable of the most rudimentary skills they start running missions of gradually increasing complexity and importance. The SF NCOs will lead patrols of various sizes to teach the locals what to do, then the locals take over and the SF guys observe and advise, often focusing on the technical side like operating radios, calling in air support, resupply, or arty.

    Think two levels up.

    A E5 SGT in a standard infantry unit is typically a fireteam or squad leader (4 or 8 men). In an SF unit he'd be a junior specialty NCO and be responsible for a squad or platoon (8 or 25 men) of locals.

    A E7 in an infantry unit would be a Platoon sgt but when supervising locals often takes command of an entire company, and a Captain takes a command role for a battalion.

    It's very common for the SF enlisted and officers to socialize and fraternize regularly, often being on a first name or nickname basis. A statement like "F*** you sir, are you trying to get us all killed" wouldn't be considered disrespectful, but if the NCOs can't think of a better plan, or there isn't time to discuss it, the Officer's order's are followed without question. This requires trust an confidence in each other, and the key to it is that the relationships have to be well defined and worked out through mutual respect acquired through hard realistic training or time together in combat.


    • #3
      Re: rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

      Modern standards have loosened up a hell of a lot. I met one of the guys from the 18X program a while back (direct recruitment). Sure he was a little brighter than the average grunt regular soldier, but not the same breed I saw in the 1980s by a looong shot.

      Apart from the 18X program, which is direct recruitment and rapid promotion to fill operational SF unit ranks, the A-teams are usually far more "life experienced" people. I did exactly two weekends with another part of the same SF unit in FL that ISC was in although we had never met, but I went in before even joining the regular military and before they had the 18X program, and the 1st Sgt basically showed me the door and to "go join the Marines and come back when you are no longer on your mother's tit". As my life went, I never went back but I did continue studying SF in general for decades.

      That means older, and probably progressed somewhere in the regular military before even trying out for SF. The career progression that goes with time in service is usually promotions, but can go in a few different directions. The SF A-team direction is that they got the promotions, they are probably older than a lot of other people for a unit that size, but they really represent the leadership cadre of whatever group of people they get attached to. So yes, the A-team junior E5 is a squad or team leader of sorts, but his squad or team is quite likely going to be indigenous troops, mercenaries or foreign fighters of some sort. He may not be directly supervising them either, but rather diplomatically coordinating with their regular leader. He may also not be in their chain of command, but is more likely just reporting to his own people while acting as an instructor/coordinator with the indigenous troops. The E6 who in a regular unit would be in charge of a squad and maybe a platoon is just a senior version of an E5. The regular military has a pretty big jump from E5 to E6, in SF, it is a muddier difference, but the E5 is usually a "new guy" or "apprentice", the E6 and E7 being "regular guys".

      The officer situation is often a bit of a blend too. NCOs in SF often get promoted to officer, and there are officers from the rest of the military who will take a reduction to NCO in order to be in SF. Then you have junior to middling officers from the rest of the military who are using some time with SF as a career stepping stone and are not going to stick around very long, but SF people tend to welcome them because those people tend to get promoted upon leaving SF units and will act as "upstairs pentagon connections" as good relations are maintained between them and their former comrades as their careers progress, often into higher level command and even lateral appointments to highly paid careers with state and local governments or the well known contractor companies. I say "well known" since some like Custer Battles had a pretty mixed but mostly bad reputation, and then famous people (in certain circles) like Erik Prince who parlayed his earlier Navy Specops career into the success of Blackwater, but his senior staff had a lot of those one-time SF officers calling the shots.

      Bo Gritz is an example of someone who spent most of his career as enlisted, and then they just made him an officer I think not long before his retirement in order to give him better pay and a higher title.

      So with that "respect" issue, it gets foggy and if you ever deal with those people you would want to back off and see what the score is, and for a lot of the older guys, they are jumping to civilian clothes or unmarked cammies and the pay grade issue is just that; their pay situation, and may not as clearly represent their actual role in the team.
      Life, Liberty and the pursuit of those who threaten them.


      • #4
        Re: rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

        thanks guys. the applicability to my situation isn't even employing SF or ex-mil folks (glad to do that were the oppty to arise) but rather the philosophy of how to structure an organization as regards hierarchy to get the most out of high-capability people. Clearly, there's no getting past building mutual respect and not tripping over your body parts on the way to doing that. Also a structure to move information up (status, feedback, requests for resources) and down (plans, orders, inquiries). But then there are a lot of formalized philosophies on leadership not all of which recognize that an egalitarian structure enabling high-cap individuals to work together without internal or organizational friction tends to do stuff like win wars. Thank you for your insights.
        When government shifts from defining what is wrong, with the direct implication that all else is acceptable, to defining what is right, with the insidious suggestion that all else may be suspect if not subversive, then we are well on the way to a police state.<br /><br />Business, society and government all exist solely to serve the interests of the people. Of, By, For.


        • #5
          Re: rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

          The military is not the most functional model for that sort of thing. You might want to look at the construction industry on that a bit more, especially smaller jobsites. Crews that get **** accomplished respect the individual specialties and the market will sort out those who don't make it work. It gets to a point where you can look at where the slowdowns and cost overruns are on a project and can tell who was calling shots outside their lane and getting stuff out of sequence. I don't quite function at journeyman level in any particular field but can do enough advanced apprentice work on a few things that I can bounce around trades a lot. Dysfunctional or overly specialized people can't or won't.

          For example, when I go to hire someone for a job, I am looking at first for someone better at it than myself, and if I really need them, I pay them more than I am keeping in the deal as long as I am getting my own good fair share. In the military, including SF, if they decide to keep you down, then you stay down. That or that Peter Principle thing of promoting to the highest level of incompetence. People get their egos wrapped up in superiority and "respect" which gets them to calling things outside their areas of expertise. In SF, they tend to be the smart, capable fast learner type, but it is still the military.
          Life, Liberty and the pursuit of those who threaten them.


          • #6
            Re: rank hierarchy or its absence in SF detachments ?

            Something we haven't talked about in this thread is natural, inherent leadership ability.

            I've met alot of guys over the years in sports, the military, and construction who were natural leaders. They weren't always competent. Eventually that sorts itself out. On the ballfield, it can take a couple bad plays or lost games because the "leader" slacked off or chose not to follow his assignment. On the job it can happen after equipment or material is damaged or rework has to be done because of rushed or shoddy work.

            On the battlefield it can occur after taking casualties.

            I'll never forget a young 2LT who had this "great idea on how to occupy a ORP during a training night mission. No rehearsals, no briefing to the platoon, he apparently came to the idea while droning on the long movement from the drop off point to the staging area.

            He called a security halt and brought in his squad leaders to explain his idea. They came back to explain to us (I was a team leader at the time) and then IU had to explain it to my guys. Ever play the telephone game? With 30 tired exhausted Joes? In the dark? While trying to exercise noise and light discipline?

            A simple thing we'd done 100 times became a total CF with everyone in the wrong place, FPFs that would have been fatal if we got into a firefight, and a loss of sleep that night on what was already going to be a sleepless night. To make it even better, 45 minutes into what should've been a 5 minute evolution it started raining. I got about 30 min of sleep instead of the 3 I would have gotten if he gadn't changed everything around.

            My point is that the 2LT was popular and a good natural leader, he was also pretty capable in most aspects of his job (prior enlisted), but he was over confident and suffered from the problem that gets alot of 2LTs in trouble. He had a "great idea".

            If we would've had a stronger Platoon SGT, he would've told the 2LT to rehearse it in the rear when everyone was fresh, not after a 8 mile movement with full packs in the dark. But the PSG was new too and he and the 2LT actually knew each other before OCS. Ultimately, there was no real harm done, and maybe the PSGT wanted to teach the PL a lesson in a training environment, but for the next 6 months before the PL got transferred to a different job every "great idea" he had has greeted with a general sense of derision.