The A team in support of the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant
Thursday, March 15, 2012
I wrote this piece in the back of a C-130 flying from Okinawa to to the Philippines in 1990 and have updated it a bit here. While it has strong military specific content, I think it is still understandable to civilians. If you asked all my fellow SF Weapons Sergeants, they wouldn't even think it is a parody.
The A team in support of the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant
A treatise on the supremacy of Weapons over all the other specialties on an Operational Detachment- Alpha
There is a profound distinction between the importance of the Weapons Sergeant and all the other personnel on a Special Forces Team. There are 12 members with a number of different specialties, but aside from the Weapons Sergeants all the rest are essentially support. Detachments consist of a Captain, Warrant Officer, Intel NCO, Team Sergeant, and then the soft skills of Engineer, Commo, and Medic, with two of each. But the emperor of all he surveys, bestriding the Earth like a Colossus is the ramp-jumping, door-kicking, slim-waisted, barrel-chested, freedom-fighting Weapons Sergeant.
The ostensible leader of the team is the Detachment Commander, a Captain who has had a command tour of a 100+ personnel combat arms unit. They go through the SF Qualifications "Q" course like the NCOs on the team and often show up for their year or two on a team with great ambitions. These are dashed immediately as they are shown that the actual team leader is the ranking NCO, the Team Sergeant, who will have 10 or more years experience on an A team and more importantly the respect of the other NCOs. One of the first SF team rooms I walked into had a plaque hanging over the Detachment Commander's desk that read "Shut up sir, we'll throw you a pen when we need you to sign something". The main reason the Army requires a commissioned officer on a detachment is the need for a scapegoat when something inevitably goes horribly wrong. This takes into account the virtual certainty that all NCOs involved will certainly have bullet-proof alibis for any misdeeds. Regulations and custom dictate that the Captain commands the team, but not all of them progress to the next step which allows them to be known as the Team Leader. As the sole officer on a team of 10 sergeants who will have more than 100 years experience doing the job, it is a large hill to climb. Especially since they usually get only 2 or so years time on a team before they are either out or up to a command role or a staff position. The bad ones get saluted and check a block on their career path; the good ones lay their credit card on the bar and say, "Let's see if we can melt this thing".
The real leader is almost always the Team Sergeant. This Master Sergeant will be the most experienced NCO on the team and have proven himself on the ground where it matters. His informal/unofficial leadership of the team is the status quo and smart Captains spend their first year rubber stamping the "recommendations" of their Team Sergeant and busting their butts to show the rest of the team that they are not just another clown trying to get promoted. Team Sergeants ride herd on the eight reprobates who have the skills and experience necessary to get the mission accomplished. The role requires both discipline & diplomacy as the desire of the team members to violate comes up against the Captain's need to avoid international incidents. This is a very unstable dynamic and often requires a lot of horse trading to rein in all the cowboys. Although ordering compliance is an option, it is taken as a sign of weakness. We used to call this using the "S" word, as in Sergeant. All names in the team room are first names until someone feels the need to assert authority saying "Now listen up SGT So & So". This elicits laughs and derision. Respect and even authority are earned and can't be obtained by barking, although obedience can, well, at least temporarily. The Team Sergeant's word is law and crossing him is bad juju. When GPS was first deployed and my Team Sergeant came across our commo guys trying to find enough satellites to get a position fix, he growled menacingly, "If I ever catch you two idiots asking a god**mn radio where you are and you can't show me on a map, I will kick both your asses."
The Warrant Officer is an experienced NCO who went to the next level and figured out that if you were smart enough to understand the officer and command and control functions you removed yourself from most of the crap jobs on the team. They are a tremendous source of institutional knowledge about how to maximize your per diem dollars while deployed and the best ways to stay, warm or cool (as the case may be) and dry. They can often be found doing a crossword puzzle while the rest of the team packs, fetches, totes or cleans. It's a good gig if you can get it.
Each team also has an Intel NCO whose job is to have a clue about who we were messing with and why. Second in seniority to the Team Sergeant among NCOs, they are often abused by the other specialties as a soft skill. This was due to how often they have to excuse themselves to go to briefings or read area studies or some other admin BS. This allowed them to miss any manual labor without appreciably adding to the team's knowledge of anything useful. Example of Intelligence at work:
Weapons- "Which one is the target?".
Intel- "His name is Akhnard ben Akhnard. He is a member of the Douchebagi tribe and spent his childhood in the Poontang Valley."
Weapons- "Yeah but which one is he, I want to shoot him".
Intel- "He was educated at the Wanker Academy near the Play Doh river in GoatRopeistan".
Weapons- "Would you STFU and just tell me which one of the clowns down there is him? Ahhh never mind you muppet, he has to be the one whose ass all the rest are kissing. BAKOW!"
Engineers are assigned to an A team because often the mission will require the Weapons Sergeant to operate in areas with limited shelter and overall primitive accommodations. Engineers can be useful in the construction of living quarters, eating facilities, hygiene infrastructure and bordellos. They also provide value when the Weapons Sergeant's mission requires the removal of obstacles or the destruction of fixed targets. They exhibit a child-like glee when given the opportunity to blow something up. Another benefit is that they take well to their pack animal status; Engineers being generally beefy and somewhat dim. They usually don't even notice that they are carrying their own and the Weapons Sergeant's share of the commo batteries and additional team gear. Were it not for their load-bearing and limited construction capability, Engineers would not be worth the food and water they require since any Weapons Sergeant can properly employ explosives to explode anything needed by simply reading a Demo card and using P for plenty.
SF Medics undergo the longest training of any Special Operators and consequently have an inflated sense of self-importance. They believe the extended time they spend learning how to keep the Weapons Sergeant healthy and whole somehow directly increases their value to the team. Not so, and in most cases their main value is in assisting in hangover recovery with IVs and Oxygen. Granted that in extremis the medical attention of one of these folks may actually keep a Weapons guy mission capable or even alive, but way too much of the time this is not be the case and listening to a mouthy, know-it-all medic gets stale quick. The inherent danger of the Weapons guy's mission requires the services of a qualified chancre mechanic, but the medic needs to remember his place. Teams deploy to crapholes all over the planet, so the medic provides much of his limited usefullness working on farm animals of the local populace to gain their friendship. This is a natural progression as medics learn their trade on goats and never really lose this affinity.
It is especially tough to understand the value of the Commo Sergeant on a team, but let's try. These red-headed step-children have always been considered a little different due to their ability to tap out Morse code and that alone gives them a sort of Rain Man quality. They may be the last folks on earth who actually use this arcane skill. Given the tremendous advances in communications, their role could easily be filled by a 16-year-old girl cranking out text messages on an Android smartphone. These over-amped geeks have even gone so far as to suggest that the Weapons Sergeant carry some of the power sources for their always-too-heavy radios, etc. All in all, if the commo guy can't get NFL Primetime in Hi Def, he is dead weight.
Anyone with an above double digit IQ can readily grasp the intrinsic dominance and primacy of the Weapons Sergeant on a team. The others have some value, but essentially they are enablers of the mission to put a Weapons Sergeant in position to do something special. He can stack dead tangos like cord wood, lower vermin to room temperature or use any number of high-speed, low-drag, fin-cooled, gas-operated, dacron-coated, titanium-filled, death-dealing devices to return scumbags to their component molecules and leave the clean-up and DNA testing to the Engineers and Medics. Properly backed up by the hired help, the capabilities of the Weapons Sergeant are virtually unlimited. Regardless of the mission, the important thing is to ensure that the Weapons Sergeant arrives fresh and with all the required equipment contained in the rucksacks of his beasts of burden team mates. The ancillary members of the detachment are simply there to ease the strain and simplify the mission of the Weapons Sergeant and will forever remain his supporting cast.