- - Friday, July 22, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Two female Army officers will make history when they report to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in their first step toward earning the Special Forces tab and becoming Green Berets.

The female officers, whom Army officials declined to identify, could attend their first Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) class as early as October, though neither has yet received orders for training at Fort Bragg, The Washington Times has learned.

Col. Nestor A. Sadler, commandant of the Special Forces Regiment at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center School at Fort Bragg, confirmed that the two female candidates had accepted invitations for the SFAS class.

“Two females met the requirements for SFAS and were nominated by the ARSOF [Army Special Operations Forces selection] panel to attend SFAS. One candidate declined her invitation and withdrew from the process. Special Forces Branch asked why. On the last day to accept or decline the invitation, she changed her mind and accepted the invitation to attend SFAS,” Col. Sadler said.

At a recent Special Forces Association conference in Jacksonville, Col. Sadler said that the Army selection panel had reviewed the application packets of seven female officers. Of those, two were approved for the SFAS class, he said.

Officers may apply for special forces positions once a year. The Army selection panel in April reviewed application packets from 860 officers for the three Special Operations Regiments, which include Special Forces, Civil Affairs and PSYOP.

Maj. Melody Faulkenberry, spokeswoman for the Special Warfare Center and School, said that 71 women applied for the various Special Operations Regiments forces positions, and 65 were selected for consideration.

“This was the first time females had the ability to choose Special Forces, and nine female officers marked Special Forces as their first choice in their packets,” Maj. Faulkenberry said.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened all combat occupations to women in December, ending a ban on women in direct ground combat roles.

The female officers must pass the SFAS and the subsequent Special Forces Qualification Course before earning the coveted green beret.

Both female officers are on active duty and have served in combat support roles. Neither attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. One received her commission via ROTC, the other via Officer Candidate School.

Citing the Privacy Act, Army officials declined Freedom of Information Act requests for the officers’ service background information such as their military occupation specialties, awards and deployment history.

“An important thing to remember is, these are volunteers. Special Forces is something soldiers volunteer for,” Maj. Faulkenberry said.

The two female officers are “triple volunteers,” having volunteered for the Army, airborne training and now Special Forces, she said.

In announcing an end to the military’s ban on women in direct combat roles on Dec. 3, Mr. Carter said that some military occupational specialties will likely have few women, noting the physical differences between the sexes.

“Thus far, we’ve only seen small numbers of women qualified to meet our high physical standards in some of our most physically demanding combat occupational specialties, and going forward, we shouldn’t be surprised if these small numbers are also reflected in areas like recruitment, voluntary assignment, retention and advancement in some of these specific specialties,” he said.

So far, no female officer has been able to complete the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course in order to join the ground combat force. Three female soldiers have completed the Army’s Ranger School but not the qualification for the special operations Ranger regiment.

Maj. Faulkenberry said that the two female officers and 338 male officers aiming to join Special Forces first must complete the grueling, weeding-out process of Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFA), which last 21 days.

“It’s a challenging and scientifically based process that allows the regiment to predict a candidate’s ability to succeed in the intensive training that’ll follow, as well as operate in a team environment,” the major said.

Retired Col. David Maxwell, who commanded Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, said the SFAS is “built on lessons learned dating back to World War II and Office of Strategic Services [OSS] selection.”

“The OSS is the predecessor to today’s CIA and, of historical note, women went through OSS selection and training,” said Mr. Maxwell, who is now the associate director for the Center for Security Studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.

According to the course description, the SFAS cadre evaluates each candidate on eight core Army Special Operations Forces values or “attributes”: integrity, courage, perseverance, personal responsibility, professionalism, adaptability, being a team player and capability. Unique tests push each candidate’s strengths, determination, intelligence and willpower to the limit.

“SFAS tests the candidates on those attributes under extremely stressful conditions. We’re looking to see what they’re made of,” Maj. Faulkenberry said.

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