The Importance of the Green Beret as a Symbol

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Words matter. Symbols matter.

The issue – at least right now – is not the utility of units like the new Security Force Assistance Brigades’ (SFAB) mission overlap or lack thereof, or how Special Forces (SF) interact with them. The issue now is the Army’s decision to model the SFABs’ symbology so closely to that of SF’s. Did those responsible not understand the effect of what they were doing? Was it incompetence? I doubt it. I think our leaders are intelligent and know what they are doing. Could it be the Army sees no meaningful difference between SF and SFAB? Even the Army Chief of Staff said SFABs are not SF. Well then, this despicable decision can only be explained by a conscious decision to dilute the distinctiveness of the green beret as a SF symbol.

In some sense, any beret is just an impractical piece of felt. Many of us would have sought out SF and done the job without a beret – or uniform for that matter.

However, the importance of the green beret is in what it symbolizes – to distinguish and honor a unit and the men purpose-built to fight a “new [sic] kind of war, ancient in its origins….” as articulated by President John F. Kennedy at the height of the Cold War. We were created to conduct unconventional warfare (UW); a dangerous, difficult, unusual and strategically important mission which puts a premium on paratrooper-level bravery, demands high standards of professionalism and self-reliance beyond supply and command chains deep behind enemy lines for the duration, and requires farm-boy, hood and hunter intelligence that fully grasps the operational value of the wretched in the hinterlands and the neglected precincts of the human hive. It requires men who understand the noble value of “resistance” and are assessed, selected, trained and equipped to organize, advise and when necessary to lead such a resistance.

SF is not designed for foreign internal defense (FID) even though it is one of its many core missions and SF does it all the time all over the Earth. SF was designed for UW. Let the big Army do the 97% of FID appropriate to other big armies. Let SF do FID only when appropriate and always, always with the idea of perfecting the skills the UW resistance advisor’s calling requires.

Finally, it is indeed a calling. I am proud to have been a Soldier in the US Army. I am proud to stand next to all my fellow Soldiers and veterans to honor our flag and protect our constitution. Regardless of our job, we all stand together to do that. Moreover, I thank every cook, mechanic, truck driver, computer technician and faceless leader for their service. Our Nation and our Army need you. I sincerely honor your commitment and your contributions to both.

However, just as there is a recognized difference between the pilot and the mechanic, between the surgeon and the nurse, between the general and the private, there is an even greater distinction between those who volunteer to go behind enemy lines alone or with a small handful of brothers to organize and lead men and women in desperate struggles for political freedom.

The ghosts of Pineland[1] everywhere-man-may-yet-tread cry out: “May men shame and may God damn those who do not respect the difference.”

The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of Army Special Operations Command, US Special Operations Command or the US Army.

End Note

[1] Pineland is a fictitious country located in North Carolina, developed by the United States Army Special Forces Command to train Special Forces, Psyops and Civil Affairs in unconventional warfare.

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