#139: SWCS 2030 – Special Warfare Training For The Peer-To-Peer Fight – BG Will Beaurpere & CSM Lee Strong

Thursday May 23, 2024

One hundred men will test today. But only three win the Green Beret. Less than 1% of the Army wears the Green Beret. Developing America’s Green Berets takes a vision for the future, knowledge of the past, and an understanding of the present. 

The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is the home of both training Green Berets and developing the policy and doctrine our Special Forces operate by. To share the mission of SWCS, Fran Racioppi sat down with Commanding General Brigadier General Will Beaurpere and Command Sergeant Major Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Museum at Fort Liberty, NC. 

BG Beaurpere and CSM Strong explained how SWCS 2030 will develop a more prepared Special Forces Regiment through the establishment of three Branch Schools for Green Berets, Civil Affairs and Psyops, each under their own O-6 level command. 

They also break down irregular warfare, why it’s important, and how it’s complemented by psychological operations; another school being developed through SWCS 2030. 

Finally they talk recruiting as the Global War on Terror generation of soldiers is retiring and SOF was directed to cut personnel. The CG and CSM share how they are meeting the personnel needs of the Regiment, while enforcing the standard, continuously improving professionalism, and integrating technology and automation into the force.  

Take a listen, watch, or read our conversation about the past, present and future of SWCS. Then head over to our YouTube channel to watch BG Beaurpere and CSM Strong share the importance of the Jedburghs in the Jedburgh Media Channel’s first documentary, Unknown Heroes, Behind Enemy Lines at D-Day, the story of Operation Jedburgh.   

The Jedburgh Podcast and the Jedburgh Media Channel are an official program of The Green Beret Foundation. Learn more on The Jedburgh Podcast Website. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube

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SWCS 2030 – Special Warfare Training For The Peer-To-Peer Fight – BG Will Beaurpere & CSM Lee Strong

General Beaurpere and Sergeant Major Strong, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Thanks for having me back here.

This is the second time in the museum, and the museum gets better every time I come in here. It’s constantly evolving. Roxanne, even in the afternoon, we had to pull her out of one of the displays to tell her that we were leaving. This place is absolutely incredible.

It’s great that you get to do this back here where it all started for you in your own career in Special Forces. The one thing I’ll tell you about this museum is every student now gets an opportunity to walk through here because we put so much emphasis on our heritage and the lineage that drew people to this profession, but also making sure that the next generation never forgets what came before. Welcome back.

We didn’t get to do that when I was here. That process didn’t exist. The mission here at the Special Warfare Center and School is twofold. First, you’ve got to recruit, assess and train the next generation of special operators, but you also have to establish and field the doctrine that guides our operations. Both of those are extremely complex and critical to our national security strategy. I won’t give the exact number because I won’t get it right, but there are about 7,000 Green Berets in the Army, but there are 450,000 soldiers. I did the math. It’s 1.5% when you include the National Guard component. I would argue the top 1.5%, but I know there are some good soldiers out there who are waiting to come over to SF. They haven’t seen the light yet.


You’re also responsible for the civil affairs and psychological operations and their mission, not only here within Special Forces but within the broader Army as well. The mission, as defined, of the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and Schools to deliver world-class Special Forces, civil Affairs and psychological operations, soldiers and doctrines were the full range of military operations across all domains and dimensions. It’s a mouthful. What’s the difference between serving as the proponent to deliver Army Special Operations soldiers versus developing and fielding that doctrine that drives their operations?

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

You’re asking fundamentally about the difference between the center and the school at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. I’ll talk a little bit about the functions of the center and the way we see the role as an Army proponent for three branches and a specified proponent for irregular warfare then maybe Major can talk a little about the importance of the school and the training.

As a center of excellence within the Army, we have a range of possibilities for not only doctrine and training but also modernizing those branches, which is where those proponent roles become important. We represent three branches that are assessed and selected, special forces, civil affairs and psychological operations. We have to write the doctrines for those branches. We have to write the capstone doctrine that brings Army Special Operations together, and that’s a constant state of revision.

The Army updates its doctrine. The joint force updates its doctrine. We have to make sure that our doctrine aligns and stays relevant. We watch and draw lessons from operations in Ukraine in places like Gaza. We watch the battlefield, the modern era, and we draw that into our doctrine as well. That doctrine didn’t then drive training and development for programs of instruction. That’s a critical function. We have a responsibility as a proponent for personnel, managing the health of the force, everything from a session in recruiting through training to the lifecycle of a soldier out into the operational force and managing that lifecycle that what ultimately really is an end strength number and making sure that we maintain our end strength. That’s the proponent role. I’ll turn it over to Sergeant Major to talk a little bit about the training aspect.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

It’s named Special Warfare Center and School. I think neither John nor I had served at Sway prior to taking this assignment. Particularly for me, I was pretty aware of what the Special Warfare Center, the school portion, did. I was not aware of the center and the proponent function. The school is pretty easy. If you’re in the first special warfare training group, you’re assessing selecting and force-generating, and MOS 18, 37, 38 that’s pretty easy to understand. As ASFNCO, you’re going to train, lead, and develop our SOF soldiers to send them onward to the operational force and serve, or you’re teaching an advanced skill like halo or scuba.

It’s very much a trained lead-developed model. We have the most professional cadre to do that. There’s another layer that that’s what they’re doing, but the first part of their job is managing risk because we do a lot of high-risk training here. Quite frankly, our students have some of that risk because you have very driven people who never quit. It is very risky. Our cadre is constantly like one hand on the steering wheel and one hand on the throttle. Get ready to admire that environment. That’s the school. I didn’t understand or fully appreciate the proponent functions or the center functions until I got here.

I realized that the proponent function monitoring the health of all three branches at the great plate as well as professionally developing those MOS and branches for career progression and as well as the production of that doctrine. It’s this relationship with us as the institution to the operational force to be constantly communicating, but the health of their formations that fill those current operational requirements, but also, “What is the doctrine and training and we need to modernize as the mission grows in the next3 to 5 years moving forward.” If we don’t get that doctrine or that proponent to function right, we’re going to continue to train and do the things we’re doing now. Are we really preparing them for the future?

There’s a special sauce there in terms of what Seargent Major was talking about that’s the people in the school, our cadre, our staff, the ones that are there with the students every single day, that role model what a special operator, that brings both their education and training with their operational experience coming together now and driving the next generation. One of the greatest and most humbling aspects of this job is seeing those special operators ask cadres to be truly committed and devoted to developing the next generation, and they do it better than anybody else. It’s phenomenal.

The cadre is where you really truly achieve mastery, but I think we train baseline our SOF soldiers, and then I would say they’re like apprentice level. They go to the operational force for a couple of years on a team. They’re at that journeyman level. When they come here and teach those skills, they master them. For example, if you leave range 37, you go back, you are now an asset to your whole group in that specific function. You and you should get leveraged across.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Peer-To-Peer Fight

You see that when they come back from their SWCS, they come back onto the teams, but they do have this level of knowledge and expertise that becomes critically useful. I remember seeing that as guys came back. You talked a bit about modernization. Where are we going? By and large, the regiment has been organized similarly for 70 or 80 years, almost since the Jedburgh. There have been small modifications here and there, but the basic construct has been similar. The Army uses SOF. First Special Forces Command have all started this deep conversation about what is the next fight, especially as we come out of many-plus years of really CT-focused operations, not a mission set of special forces, not our core number one mission now we look at a peer-to-peer fight and what’s that going to look like and where do we fit in?Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

You’ve put forward and drafted the SWCS 2030 as the guiding vision for where you want the organization to go. I’ll read it here and then turn it over to you. It says, “Our institution must transform to address the modern multi-domain and multi-dimensional battlefield we must do so with urgency, knowing that Army special operations formations are already asked to take a leading role in solving the challenges instigated by peer and near-peer competitors worldwide.” I would argue that those challenges are vast and complex every day. You only have to turn on the news, but only turn on for the first fifteen minutes because crap after that. But, and depressing and depressing. Yeah. Talk about SWCS 2030 and how that vision will better prepare our people to win on tomorrow’s battlefield.

We say SWCS 2030, this is our strategy to transform and modernize. That is what SWC 2023 is. Special Warfare Center and School, visualizing what we look like 5 to 7 years down the road, 2030. It’s a journey. It starts with where the Army is right now. The Army is very much in an era of continuous transformation. We don’t know when the next conflict is going to occur. We were strategically surprised on September 11th. We don’t want to be strategically surprised again, but we’ll probably get it wrong. We got to be ready. We’re going to be ready with the Army we have today. If that day comes tomorrow, we’re going to fight with what we have today or if it comes 2 or 5 years from now. We don’t know.

We have to maintain readiness but transform at the same time to meet the demands of the 21st-century battle. When we talk about 2030 and visualize what the institution will look like, a couple of things come to mind institutionally. First and foremost, we have to do a better job aligning the branches that we have here with the reserve component. A large portion of the civil affairs and the psychological operations capabilities in the Army reside in the reserves.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

How do the reserves train their psychological operations and civil affairs soldiers? How do we train our SOF civil affairs and psychological operations soldiers? First and foremost, you have to achieve a baseline capability of critical tasks at the initial entry level so we’re all speaking the same language and we can be interoperable across components. A large part of what 2030 envisions is better alignment with the reserves, including a stationing action for the sixth task brigade and the total Army School System brigade, which is a reserve brigade that trains SIOP and Civil Affairs soldiers. They need to be on our campus here. They need to be integrated with our civil and psychological affairs.

The second piece is the common odds. The common odds traditionally in Army doctrine and Army regulations are the branch chiefs that drive modernization for their branches. They represent their branches at the Army table and at the joint table. They help drive modernization. They look down and in and make sure that the POIs, the Programs Of Instruction for their branch remain relevant at all times. We had a gap in our swing here when we came into command. We did not to have a civil affairs or a psychological operations commandant, we want to reestablish those common odds by 2030. They need to be 06s, they need to be farmer brigade commanders. They need to be the senior branch representatives for those branches.

Given those branches and the opportunity to develop their own schools. Our civil affairs and our SIOP training occur in first training group led and commanded by a Green Beret, which is great and there’s good integration, but it is somewhat stymied by their ability to truly drive institutionally where the branch meets to go for the Army, let alone for uses. The first initiative was the Army, which articulated a force modernization priority for information advantage. The ability to gain an advantage over an adversary and influence that adversary to change its behavior.

We realized there was not only a gap in a commandant but a gap in a school system that focused on information advantage. We wanted to establish the Psywar school to meet the use of SOC force modernization priority and Army modernization. We’ve now organized the task into a Psywar school. We’ve got an interim commandant who’s in a position sourced by the reserves temporarily until we can get a full-time comment in place.

What that has done is it has brought the proponent function and the school function together into the sphere. The other big thing about 2030 is radio warfare. The Army is assigned specified proponents of doctrine training leader development responsibilities. Two uses were delegated to the Special Warfare Center and School to establish a proponent office for irregular warfare to help sustain the education of irregular operations and activities in support of conventional warfare across the Army.

I think when you think about our SOF soldier, we inherently think irregularly. Our approach is irregular, but the truth is a large portion of what the Army has done over the course of its career, its history hasn’t been irregular warfare. Think counterinsurgency and the past many years of global war on terrorism. That’s been a large part of what the Army does.

Stability, operations, reconstruction, and civil-military operations are all lumped into this thing called Irregular warfare. Their operations and activities really remain very relevant. We’re going to stand up at Irregular Warfare Academy to help drive that initiative to maintain doctrine, training, leader development, and professional military education. On Irregular Warfare, make it relevant to conventional warfare and articulate it into programs of instruction, not only just in our school but across the Army. Build a community of interest beyond the use of SOC. There’s a wide community of interest in Regular Warfare. That’s a glimpse at some of the things we’re looking at.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Psychological Warfare

I want to dig into both the irregular warfare piece and the psychological operations and the Psywar School piece because I think that those are critically important. You mentioned that there’s a big contingent, especially on the psychological civil affairs operations side and the reserves. We’ve had a lot of conversations here. You go back to World War II, you go back to history, and psychological warfare has been a SOF task.

Why? You know OSS. Why is psychological warfare SOF task? Why has the Army said, “Not only is this a SOF task, but you are best positioned to scale, and grow this,” then, not only do it as we’ve done a lot. We tend to sometimes be siloed and we’ll say, “SOF deals with SOF. See everybody else figure it out.” They’ve said, “Not only that, but for both psychological operations and for irregular warfare, we big Army is going to send you people, you’re going to train them and then kick them back.”

In 1952, when the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center School first stood up, it was a Psywar center. It was the only Psywar center in the Army in 1952. We weren’t even a branch yet. The use of psych didn’t exist yet, but the Army realized that there was something to this application of psychological operations, which we conducted through World War II and the Korean War. That had to be harnessed somewhere in one location institution.

The Psywar School hearkens back to that lineage and that history that certainly there are roots to the OSS, but more importantly, psychological warfare is something we’ve conducted for the preponderance of our history as a military in terms of communicating messages to an audience and changing their behavior, which is what we’re looking for in psychological warfare, changing behavior. We do that through our school and trained soldiers to do that in our school.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Why is the Army keen to keep that in special operations? It goes back to indirect approaches, irregular approaches and something that is maybe a little bit squishy, a little hard to understand, but we have the prop parity expertise here. When you combine that with some of the other capabilities in the Army like cyber or even space, the ability to convey those messages through different mediums, we can do the target audience analysis, understand how that target audience functions, how they think to change their behavior, but there are many other ways to get that message to that audience that it becomes a total Army approach.

That’s where the relationship with the Army becomes important. The other piece is why there’s a psychological operations component in the reserves. I think it goes to capacity. A lot of our psychological operation soldiers who serve in Army special operations would want to get out of the Army. We want to keep serving, have an opportunity then, go into the reserves, and continue doing what they’re doing in the reserves. There is a symbiotic relationship.

Think about the long game too. I was an infantry officer prior to coming over to SF. Think about the conventional fight. We’ve seen this historically over time. We’re great when we mass effects very quickly and swiftly take decisive action as a conventional force. We can kick anybody’s ass very fast. As things get drawn out, it starts to get more complex. It starts to get more difficult. When we think about things like irregular warfare, that balance begins to shift, and the same goes for psychological operations. You’re not going to start a messaging campaign and in a week, all of a sudden, everybody’s like, “America is great. We love America.” Throw down your arms. It’s going to take a long time.

When I think about SOF capability, and we often equate it to the soccer field, little league soccer versus major league soccer. They’re all chasing the ball across the field. Somebody kicks it to the other side, but there’s nobody there where SOF maps that battle space. They stay patient. They wait out the long game by having these capabilities and developing them within SOF. How do we get the conventional Army to understand that patience sometimes and looking at the big picture all the time is how we have to play the long game, especially against an enemy like China who has a 100-year plan?

The first thing I’ll tell you is deterrence. You have to layer in our access and our placement around the world every single day, our ability to see, sense and understand the operational environment, and then conduct operations and activities forward before conflict to deter the enemy and should we go to conflict, then prepare the environment for conflict? That’s what SOF does. That’s why psychological operations, civil affairs, special forces and other special operations formations are critical.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Left of conflict, we often overlook that with the Army. That’s where the dialogue with the Army becomes a little bit challenging sometimes because so much of what we can provide is in that deterrent phase. It is in that shaping phase, competition and campaigning. You walk into a warfighter or a combat training center with the RE and all of a sudden, you’re in large-scale ground combat. Everything that occurred before is either white-carded or it’s assumed away. We find ourselves in a very kinetic, high-tempo, close combat fight, which we have a role in as well. Maybe not in the very close, but probably in the deep, the periphery or the flanks, maybe the rear. It’s that competition phase that I think we have to do a better job of articulating to the Army why that matters much.

That means I don’t really fault those conventional armies or commanders at Epcon or your division brigade on down is. Their assigned mission is to apply mass maneuvers dominating them in face grade. They’re going to train and resource to do that because ultimately, that’s their mission and that’s what they know the nation. It’s our job to do all that phase zero left of preparation and be those forward sensors and, quite frankly, provide flexible turn options during those phases.

We’re at the point now where we probably need to baseline across the Army and solve of what each other do and how we complement and supplement each other throughout each base. That’s something that’s maybe new to us coming out of the GWP where everything was going dominate. Now we need to know what each other does and how we fit into each other.

Strategic Disruption

This is an interesting conversation. You guys are bringing it up here. It is worth exploring for another minute. You have the culmination of the global war on terror. What I would argue, and I’m sure you’ll agree, is that the global war on terror is not over. You no longer get the campaign ribbon for it. It closed some box on a spreadsheet somewhere, but the reality is that there are still bad people out there who intend to do US harm.

We’re still going to work, but at the same time, what we saw was a SOF force who spent a tremendous amount of time in some groups more than others, in the kinetic fight, the CT fight, which has, by and large, created a perception, whether it be at, in Congress, in the public, or wherever it may be, that SOF is designed for kinetic operations only. If we go back to when we started talking, we talked about the Jedburghs. Here’s an organization, the OSS, the Jedburgh’s lineage of our organization. Even as the organization stood up, you talked about being left of day and left of day zero.

Our organization was created because senior leadership identified that you can’t hit the conventional force of a nation-state superpower against a superpower nation-state. The only way you win that fight without mutually assured destruction, like we went through in the ‘80s and early ‘90s and everything with Russia, is to employ SOF forces who then, through proxies and surrogates, are essentially fighting each other. SOF is successful when we never allow the peer-to-peer fight to happen. I’ve laid all that out and now we sit here and the Army comes forward and says, “SOF, cut 7,000 people,” when in my opinion, you need to tell me if I’m wrong, would be, “Let’s add 7,000 people because this is precisely the moment in which we need to be doubling down on our SOF efforts because we’re left of the event. I don’t know if there’s a question in there, but that’s my opinion.

You’re entitled to your opinion. I’ll give you a little bit of perspective. The Army’s getting smaller. There are four structural reductions across the Army. Let’s put that aside here and get after what you’re really talking about, which is strategic disruption, as I would describe it. The ability to prevent conflict before it happens or shift the enemy’s calculus to the right. We often talk about the very public knowledge now that President Xi Jinping of China has said that the PLA needs to be ready to militarily invade Taiwan by 2027. That’s out there in open source and well known. We understand that that’s a potentiality. 2027 is right around the corner. If we strategically disrupt our adversaries effectively, that date shifts to 2028, 2029, and 2030. We potentially never have to fight that fight that we don’t want to fight, but we’ll be ready to fight if we have to.

That’s fundamentally where I think campaigning strategic competition to disrupt, dissuade, and deter our adversaries is absolutely critical. There’s a range of tools available to the US government in the Department of Defense, one of which is special operations forces forward engaged with partners on a persistent basis, seeing, sensing, understanding the environment, bringing that back, and even preparing the environment for a potential crisis unfortunately, crisis happens. We’ve all been involved in crisis response, and we usually tend to be the first ones to respond because we’re already there.

If we’re not there directly responding, we’re there to enable the joint force to come in and respond to that crisis. We’ve seen that time and time again. It’s this concept of strategic disruption ethic is important to us as we talk about our modernization strategy and our continuous transformation, our doctrine has to reflect that our training and our education have to reflect how our SOF soldier of the future will be very comfortable in that ambiguous environment and probably more persistently forward. I would even argue maybe in forward stationed more frequently and in more locations than we are today. That’s what 2030 looks like for us.

Suite 2030

What doesn’t change in SWCS 2030? What stays the same?

First let’s ask why SWCS 2030 in this modernization transformation effort. That’s the first question most ask. Why are we even doing it other than, is it because everybody at every echelon is modernizing and transforming, therefore SWCS does. Modernization transformation effort for us, the end result is a better product, the first special forces command in use to go exercise those missions on behalf of the nation. If I say what is the one thing I think where we gain the most value from SWCS 2030 is we’ve taken a commander’s comment on a proponent in a training unit and put them under one umbrella so they can basically have flexibility and speed to iterate quicker on training leader development doctrine and modernization within those three branches for those specific missions.

You’re closing the feedback loop. What we gain is speed and flexibility. If you think of a pie chart with three slices, you have a commander, a con/proponent function and a training unit that are all under the control of one commander. They can iterate faster and ultimately produce a better end product. For us, the real reason we want to modernize and transform is to produce a better end result, i.e., student or a capability for the use of SOC in the nation.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

In some ways, that baseline ingredient of people of a forced generation, our SOF soldier, not much of that changes. You go out to Camp McCall, things have not changed and they’re probably not going to change anytime soon because the main ingredient or the foundation of our recipe is to get the right people first, then I’d say left of that model, there’s some modernization transformation that might change when it comes to the pipeline or MOS production, especially with the advanced skills, there’s definitely some layering of capabilities and things to change with. Ultimately, not much changes in the training as we know it, but what does change is our ability to iterate faster and ultimately get things in the operational force back into the pipeline so that we’re not training legacy tasks that maybe are not relevant in 2030 and beyond.

One thing Lee and I have said consistently as we look at this continuous transformation is the one place where we will not assume risk and cannot assume risk is in the production of world-class special forces, civil affairs and PSYOPs soldiers. If that starts, that’s our measuring stick. If we sense there’s risk there, then we’ll reassess. A few years into the process, we’re still continuing to produce world-class capability and we’re able to transform and modernize at the same time.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

I think about the cuts versus growth comment, if you look at the cuts, nobody wants to take cuts, and quite frankly, “You’re going to take a 10% cut.” I’ve never wanted 10% less firepower on an OA and combat. We all want to stay where we’re at, but the reality is we could probably streamline and gain some efficiencies across the whole Army of which maybe fits into that. Would I love to grow 7,000? That’d be all too.

I don’t know if we could do that in a qualitative model as opposed to a quantitative one. There’s a certain threshold where SWCS can optimize and produce a quality of our SOF soldiers and I don’t know if we could even grow to those channels. There’s a little bit of something like, “This is what our production model looks like, where we know when we slap that brand and seal approval on the other side of anything we produce here.” That production model needs to fit that, then quite frankly, the operational force needs to structure around that because we can’t mass produce.

One of the things I would tell your audience out there is if you want to be challenged, you want a very unique mission, you want to be relevant before a conflict even occurs, you like working with indigenous partners, SOF may be the place for you. Come and check out the chemical. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to walk away more self-aware, especially in the Army now as the Army moves towards career-long assessments and finding opportunities for leaders to seek those challenges over the course of their career to be assessed. We’ve got a great program for that. Whether you get selected or not, you’re going to walk away a better soul. You

You both talked about improving professionalism, about ensuring standards because and when you’re talking about continuing to develop the high quality and top-notch operator, we’re talking about standards and upholding the standard, never compromising on the standard. When I think about elite organizations and in the work I do with companies, we talk about this a lot, not only do we have to enhance the standard, but the elite mindset is never satisfied and they still come in and they’ll win the game I work with athletes. The best ones will come in and they’ll say, “I site them.” I said, “You won by twenty,” like, “I did all these,” something about Tom Brady. You think about Peyton and these people who are never done.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Maintaining Quality And Relevance

As I read through what’s been put forth on SWCS 2030, that theme resonates there that there’s a need to professionalize. I think about myFran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School. thirteen years and how we always talked about, “We got to do this better,” yet, at the same time, in the back of our minds, we know we’re the best in the world at this and we do produce the highest quality special operator in the world capable of any mission. How do you ensure that we’re constantly at the tip of the spear when it comes to planning our training and identifying scenario-based opportunities to continue to stay relevant in a fight and that we don’t get complacent?

I’ll give you a couple of thoughts on staying relevant and then I think Seargent Major can give you a really good perspective on the quality of our training. A couple of things that are important to me as a commander, you have to get assessment and selection right up front. That’s where we wait for our attrition. We have a lot of people in the training who can’t be trained. That’s a very important gateway to make sure that that program is as rigorous as possible, assesses and then selects the best individuals to be trained. The truth is, historically, that selection rate is right, about 30%. That’s the reality of the equation and we do that really well.

Secondly, in terms of relevancy, continuous dialogue and link with the operational force to understand their requirements because the environment is changing so quickly and technology is modernizing so quickly that we have to make sure our program is continuously reevaluated and stays very relevant to the operational force. We’re there, but we can’t be satisfied with it. That is a continuous process of dialogue, senior leader dialogue, and then, even at the cadre level dialogue with the operational force to make sure that what we’re producing remains relevant.

The third thing to me is professional military education. One of our roles and responsibilities is leader development. We have an NCO Academy. We have a ward officer institute. We run the academy’s career course. We run the RSOP, the Army Special Operations pre-and course for all Army Special Operations ‘05 and ‘06 command teams. They come through our institutions to continue their professional military education. Professional military education has to maintain very high standards and reinforce those things that we build at the foundation level in our qualification courses.

To say to professionals and wanting to get better. I think what you see in our SOF, probably very similar, the athletes you work with is this culture of excellence or always striving for better. We see a bunch of professionals who are humble but also our lifelong learners and they’re constantly trying to get better. We do a good job of trying to model behavior. When that 18X gets off the bus, that first star, first class, your master sergeant he meets is the model of what he’s trying to be. Over that course of their time here at SWCS to the pipeline, they see that through our cadre of, “These are individuals, if you’re going to do a career in SOF, these are the behaviors you need to model to constantly make yourself better.”

You see that after training iterations in AR. We’ve all been very hypercritical of ourselves. Even if everything was great and we wanted to make it better, the concept of marginal gains where, “What is the 1% or 2% we can do to improve to ultimately make this better and myself better the team better?” You see that collectively at every level, both individuals across teams and within the organization. It’s part of our culture. It’s in our DNA. It’s who we are and then we throw human performance and wellness resources on top of that. You see individuals who all have these oral sleep brain trackers. If you go around the institution from students to cadre, people are now challenging themselves and each other to get better quality sleep. Not because they want to hit a certain metric but because they know that better sleep, along with better diet and physical metrics, makes me perform better.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

As at my job but also as a person you see that collectively across the board. It’s an awesome environment to be a part of and now we have awareness of it, we get that visibility. You naturally seek out those things, those resources to improve, but ultimately modeling behavior through our cadre sets those examples and conditions for the students throughout their experience here then they go on the operational force and you get the same thing from their team leaders, team sergeants up to their battalion group command it’s a good position to be in across the regiment.

Introducing Technology

You brought up sleep and a little bit of technology. I’m going to give a shout-out to our friend Major Allison Brager, who’s been on a number of times and joined me up at the Center for Sports Performance and Research in Boston and served as my co-host. Thank you for lending her to me. We brought up the technology aspect. I find it fascinating and when we think about the modernization of warfare. We think about the peer-to-peer fight. We see capabilities. One of the things that has come to my mind over the last several months, especially as this situation has unfolded in Gaza and in the Middle East, is that the Navy and the Air Force man the arms, meaning that they provide people-to-man weapon systems.

The Army arms the man or woman, the person and at the center of the Army is one of our core values that people are more important than hardware. As we evolve and modernize, technology becomes more critical. I’m going to go somewhere with this. Technology becomes critical and we leverage it. In certain aspects, there are certain things where we’re not going to go backward in terms of how we’ve been enabled by technology.

At the end of the day, the job that you have in this institution is to develop leaders who are capable of solving complex problems when they’re under stress I think about the VUCA word, Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. We can have a lot of great leaders when everything’s perfect and the sun’s out and it’s not raining and we’re making money and everything’s great. That’s not the reality of why we build leaders in SOF because we’re building them for those difficult times.

How are you balancing introducing technology to the force because it is critical in the next, in the peer-to-peer fight, but at the same time, we have to develop men and women of strong character who are willing and able to do hard things with or without technology because technology has been made to make our lives easier, not harder.?

There is no question in my mind that the 21st-century battlefield will be saturated with technology. I think by focusing on the human and getting the best possible human, that humans will better adapt to that technology model. Fundamentally, in terms of answering your question, I think you pick the right people with the right attributes who can be trained and who can adapt to almost any environment, you could teach them the technology because they’re the right people.

There is one aspect, though, that I think is critical right now and that’s robotics. As you look at the Army’s continuous transformation, there is a desire to better understand where robotics fit on the battlefield. We see the evolution of potentially a new career field in SOF that is focused on robotics and it’s still fledgling and underdeveloped, but our boss has challenged us to take a look at what it would take to establish a new military occupational specialty inside of special operations that is a robotics and autonomous system integrator and innovate.

It changes to the MTO.

Continuous transformation. We’re constantly exercising, testing and evaluating new ideas. I think we see robotics required at the tactical edge where our teams operate to enable a partner and achieve effects, not just reconnaissance but lethality as well. We see robotics at Echelon to keep pace with the technology and at the pace at which evolution and things are changing in this space to stay relevant and field that very quickly. That’s going to take some resources. It’s going to take some authority by the Department of Defense to keep pace with that technological change.

We think it’s absolutely critical. Back to your point, and I think my partner would agree, it’s the human. At the end of the day, if you pick the right human, you can bring those skills to bear on that right human to use what, in our case, for our career field is in a very politically sensitive, often denied environment that adds a layer of stress and plex. I went to robotics there, but it’s the question of humans versus technology.

Going back to the recipe of selecting the right person. Many people are high character values that align with their thought attributes. They’re physically fit and mentally and emotionally intelligent. They can be more cognitive tasks, and stressful environments can be adaptable. That’s what A does then we train them, then when you talk about layering technology like anything else, ensemble traditional, you got to have a solid foundation of basic fundamentals and then we grow from there.

We can never really sway too far in our pipeline or any of our courses of preparing people for the worst day in combat. Combat is a human endeavor and we need to prepare them for the reality of the worst day in their life at ground combat, though we do have to layer technology. I think of race 3-7 Safari, for example, if we have all sorts of optics and red dots that enhance the shooter, but maybe we start with the iron sight before we layer on optics and then we grow from there.

The same with robotic training, the use of GPS and things like that. With our advanced tactics and filtration course, it’s very easy to push a bundle at night under nods on a GPS-guided bundle. IR chem like crap and follow that bundle to the ground with an ATAC system. What do we do in a GPS-denied environment? ATAC is jumping map and compass chasing bundles, but they need to be able to work that map before they can flip down that advanced system.

There’s this layering of basic fundamentals at adding tech. What we generally find are people who are physically fit, mentally, and emotionally intelligent and perform cognitive tasks under load. When you layer technology out, they actually use technology better than the folks who maybe didn’t get that same baseline funnel. Going back to our whole careers, master the basics. The basics get harder as you go.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

When I talk to organizations and companies, I’ll tell them that, “There’s nothing special about being special forces. You do the basics and fundamentals better than everybody else. You never compromise the standard.” If you can wake up every day, and that’s your default attitude, all the cool guy gear only makes you better, but you never become reliant on it because it’s your foundational habit that you create.

It’s the epitome of a professional soldier. That’s what every Green Beret wants to do.

Looking Forward

What are you most excited about looking forward to? You’ve both been around a while, but I’ve heard through the grapevine are going off to do some great things in other places one day. As you look forward and you look at the regiment and the direction that it’s going, what excites you?

If you have a bad day in a special warfare center in school and you’re coming out of a meeting and you’re like, “The budget is not where it needs to be. We’re never going to make this deadline,” I go find a student somewhere. I pull that student aside and I say, “Tell me your story. Tell me a little bit about why you’re here.”

That’s when they stop shaking.

It depends on where they are and their pipeline because they’re here for about a year or plus. If they’re on the front end, they’re like, “The gentles talking.” On the back end, they’re pretty comfortable and determined. Hands down, it’s why they serve. You see the fire in their belly, the determination in their eyes, this passion for being the best that they can be. Some will succeed. Some will not, but they are motivated. It rekindles in me that sense of purpose for 30 years in the Army. I’m still wearing the uniform not for me now. It’s for the next generation. That’s where I get excited. That’s what our modernization strategy is focused on, ultimately being the best possible institution for them to make sure that they have all the tools required to succeed.

When their 9/11 occurs, they are as ready as they can be and that we can retire from our careers in the military knowing that we’ve done the best possible work we can to make sure that those soldiers that are graduating from this institution, regardless of what school, and we have 100 different courses, plus or minus, that we teach every day. Almost 4,000 students on any given day here at SWCS. We owe it to every student who walks across the stage in this institution to be as ready as possible for their next crisis. That’s what gets me.

Not to pop my boss here, but definitely, I’m excited about the future When you see these amazing young women that come to this institution, extremely talented, very intelligent and very physically fit. When you talk to them, you turn on the news, you don’t watch more than fifteen minutes because it’s totally negative and we’re attacking each other and everything’s going to fail, but we come to work every day and I don’t get a sense of that. I need to work every day and feel fulfilled because there are 90 students left in this current A and S class. They’re starting their long-range movement on the trek to join this team.

Tomorrow night, hopefully, nine of them will be selected. People still show up to do this eight times a year to be part of this team. When you meet them and hear their stories, it’s amazing. You get to see the best of people, the best of the Army and really the joint force, then you see the care and training leadership and development that the cadre put in, you realize how awesome they are. I think we had all these great careers in the GWA and we’re super proud of them. We pat ourselves on the back. The reality is that this generation is going to face challenges that are much more difficult than anything we have faced. I think they’re going to do and they’re going to do it well and they’re going to bring that SOF narrative, continue that legacy and bring us probably back closer on roots of unco warfare like we started with. They’re very well prepared for it. It’s super exciting to be around.

You brought up the trick and I’m jealous. I remember like every minute of that. I ran the whole thing.

It’s raining and you’ve done watching your fifteen minutes of the negative news stories. There’s probably somebody pushing a jeep in the woods because it’s Tuesday. I just joined this team. That’s every single day around here. We have some amazing people and they still show up in volume. All the things you hear about the numbers declining like there are still classes of upwards of 300 that are coming.

They want to be here. Every one of them wants to be here and they know statistically not all of you are going to make it, but they’re going to try. I’m encouraging them to try, realizing that when they show up to our program, they volunteered to come here. We owe back to them a quality assessor, letting them know where they stand. We have decades’ worth of data on thousands of candidates and we can put them within that pool of candidates and articulate to them exactly where they sit compared to the rest of the Army. They can take that back and become a better leader for the Army, not for SOF.

I guess something I’m excited about is we will see an increase of select rates without lowering a single standard because, for a long time, we put a lot of emphasis on recruiting that we need to, but was recruiting and bringing in volume for selects. We’ve thought about having all this data, let’s turn data into useful commander decision-making and the information into a decision. We realized we probably needed to focus on preparation. Preparation is king. You have to recruit them, but we need to arm them with the most preparation we possibly can so they can be successful.

By maybe letting people see behind the curtain a little bit and ultimately preparing them for that AMS, we should see those rates increase. I think we are going to see that without lowering the standard. We had one class of the in-service prep course where we gained a little land map training, and we saw an effect from that little bit of training and preparation. What else can we do? Can we prepare them better physically, whether remotely through apps or online training guides?

Preparation is king. I think if we prepare people, they’ll be more successful, and our regiments will benefit from it. We have a tried and tested operation model out there. The special operations recruiting baton can give that to you to make sure you’re following that training program before you show up for a call to make sure you’re successful. That’s been around for a while. It’s very successful.

Those lessons become ingrained in you, too, and they never go away. A couple of things I take away from being in the regimen and being here at the school is the tagline of the show, “How you prepare today to determine success tomorrow.” There’s no more true statement and we can’t hope is not a course of action and we can’t expect to achieve success if we don’t put in the work before that. The other thing that you mentioned was the ability to have people who come in with the regimen who are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful, even post-service. For me, that’s continuing. I even wear this bracelet that somebody gave me on my wrist a few years ago that says, “Whatever it takes,” to remind me every day.

Success Work

I thought it was stupid when they first gave it to me. I’m like, “I’ll never wear that thing.” I was looking at it a couple of days later, I was like, “Why not?” I got constant reminders of, “You got to wake up today and you set out a goal and you’re going to achieve that goal, whatever it takes.” I made it thirteen years in the Army. No tattoos. No nicotine. Last question. The Jedburghs in World War II and you’ll be familiar with this, had to do three things every day. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate. We talked about habits for a minute. Those are foundational tasks. Those are things that become second nature.

They become routine. If you train them enough and they’re ingrained in you, you never think about it, which means that, as we talked about earlier, you talked about mental and physical capacity under load. The more times you do something, the less you have to think about it, which means your actual attention and focus can focus on something else. You don’t have to worry about it. I’ll give you a chance to each answer this. What are the three things that you each do every day in your personal or professional lives that set the conditions for your success? It can be anything.

Three things that I think generally make a leader in the Army and in SOF successfully. 1) You have to read professionally. You have to have a professional reading program, but it should be something that is diverse enough to challenge you intellectually. The study of the profession of arms is critical. Whether I’m successful every day or not, I always try to read something, whether it’s an audiobook or actually pick up something and read, whether it’s an article, a professional journal. I think you have to have a reading program. 2) You have to take care of yourself physically, especially, at least at my age, you are at least not far behind me. There’s a couple of things. The human performance program has really coached us over the years to watch this.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

We talked about sleep. You have to make sure you get a good night’s sleep. You have to have good nutrition and be physically active because I fundamentally believe that to have a sound mind, you have to have a sound body. The two are symbiotic. You have to have the ability to take care of yourself physically. 3) You have to have a strong foundational value system that ties you back to your family and the character and who you are as a human being, not just as a leader, but as you. I’m married, very happily to a former Army nurse. She got out of the Army because she wanted me to be successful in my career. I’ve never forgotten that. I always elevate her as an example of true sacrifice.

She never volunteered to follow me necessarily, but she was willing to because we had a strong foundation built in our relationship with God. We have four wonderful kids who all grew up as RV brats and they range in age from 25 to 11 years old. Two of them are in the Army right now. I never would’ve thought, but they’re serving. I’m proud of them, regardless of what they all decide to do. They didn’t get a vote. They wanted and agreed to follow me in my career. That presented them with some challenges, but I think we got through it as a family because we had a strong foundation in the family and our core values. You have to have that foundation, which is so critical. You have to work on that too. I think you have to maintain that. Otherwise, you’re going to lose.

My very similar terrible pairs, and they’re probably somewhat intangible, but I’ll go through them anyway. The first one was that I structured my day around my values. If I structure my day around my core values as a person, I can go through my day and my question my decisions or my day or decisions against that, “Am I staying true to myself?” If so, that’ll guide me along both my personal life, and my work life. I think that keeps you humble and consistent as you move from job to job or in stressful situations. What I find is when the stress piles up, where the chips are down, is when your values is where you have to find yourself to them, and that’s when they shine through the most. I live my life day by day through my values, which are as intangible and weird as that sounds.

The second one, I’m maybe going back to Preparations King. I’m a firm believer that you’re only as hard as the last hard thing you did. Constantly challenge yourself or set goals, whether it’s a physical goal or being a lifelong learner. By doing so, it forces me to think about all components of my wellness, physical, spiritual, mental, emotional and financial health.

Fran Racioppi is joined by BG Will Beaurpere and CSM Lee Strong from the JFK Special Warfare Center and School.

Setting goals and putting myself in uncomfortable situations, and then once you’re done with that, looking back to, “What was the last hard thing I did or the last goal I set?” I’m only as good as that, plus the atrophy. The third thing is gratitude or a purpose coming home to my family every day and giving me a for a reason that you do this in the first place. When I go in the driveway, I leave work behind me, and I walk through the door to be my wife and kids, which is the reason we’re all doing this anyway.

Closing Words

Read professionally, physically take care of yourself. Have a strong value system. Structure your day around values. Constantly challenge yourself. I tell people all the time, “Nobody cares what you did yesterday.” That is what you do today to be successful and have gratitude. Those are all great ones and important. I’ll tell you both that coming through this organization breeds within your entire psychology of winning, no matter the challenge.

You asked me the beginning before we started and why I called this The Jedburghs Podcast. I told you the story about identifying these values, identifying the character, the work ethic, what it takes to define what true leadership is, and whether that be here in service, in the private sector, whether you’re an athlete, a business person, it doesn’t matter.

If you are a person of character, if you wake up every day and you put people above everything else and you relentlessly execute to the best of your ability and you don’t necessarily care about what’s going to happen on the back end and how great things might be for you, but you do the right thing every single day because it’s the right thing to do as you do and those students will do when they start running through the woods for an unknown distance, unknown time until someone tells them to stop, I think about that all the time.

Sundown, stay in between the cones, don’t deviate from the cones. Do your best. I run all night. I think if you live your life that way and you take the lessons that are taught here and apply them to everything you do, you will be successful. I share your optimism for the next generation of what I’ll call warriors to go out there because the challenges are vast and great. We will see challenges that we may and do not expect. We will be relying on them to carry this nation forward. I believe that we’ve set the conditions and you’ve carried that forward and built a great organization with a great vision that will continue to put this nation first. I thank you so much for sitting down with me and for everything you’re doing. Keep up the great work.

It’s our honor.


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