#140: You Better Be More Than A Good Dude – Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams & LTC Dave Lucas, Special Forces Qualification Course MOS Phase

Friday June 21, 2024

Stress is the great equalizer in leadership. When you’re cold, you’re wet, you’re tired, your company’s losing money, you have no revenue, you’re pinned down by enemy fire, or you’re down by five with two minutes left, great organizations need leaders who stand up, take charge, make decisions and act.  America’s Green Berets are the best in the world at leading under stress.

To unpack just how we’re selecting the next generation of Special Forces Operators, Fran Racioppi sat down with the team responsible for training them; LTC Dave Lucas and Medal of Honor Recipient Command Sergeant Major Matt Williams; the command team for 4th battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, otherwise known as the MOS phase of the Qualification Course.  

From the JFK Special Warfare Museum at Fort Liberty’s John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School they cover the Q-course; what it takes to be a successful Alpha, Bravo, Charlie or Echo; how they’re upholding the standard and preparing the force for the peer-to-peer battlefield and the difference between motivation and leadership. 

Plus CSM Williams shares his account of the Battle of Shok Valley and why sometimes the greatest displays of leadership have nothing to do with rank, position, or tenure. 

Take a listen, watch, or read our conversation then head over to our YouTube channel to watch this episode and CSM Williams and LTC Lucas share the lineage of America’s first Special Forces in the Jedburgh Media Channel’s first documentary, Unknown Heroes, Behind Enemy Lines at D-Day, the story of Operation Jedburgh.  

Listen to the podcast here

#140: You Better Be More Than A Good Dude – Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams & LTC Dave Lucas, Special Forces Qualification Course MOS Phase

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Lucas, Sergeant Major Matt Williams, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thanks for having us.Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

It’s awesome to be back where it all started. We go back a long way. We had the fortunate or unfortunate opportunity to spend the Q Course together. I heard your story numerous times. Thank you for all you’ve done, not only for brothers and arms but the regiment, and getting the story of the regiment out there. I appreciate you both taking your time out of the day to come and sit down with me.

I appreciate it. It’s a pleasure.

It’s great to be here. 

The tagline of the show is how you prepare today, determines your success tomorrow. In your role here in command of the Fourth Battalion at the Special Warfare Center in school, your job is to prepare tomorrow’s Green Berets and leaders today in their critical skill and what we call their MOS, their military occupational specialty. What are they going to do on that team? Before we get to them and put that and don that Green Beret, and they get out there, they have to pass your course. There’s a deliberate process that is used within the command that we call recruit, assess, select, and trade.

4th Battalion

If you would, for a couple of minutes with me, I want to break those down because when we build great organizations, whether we build special operators, a company, or an athletic team, we have to instill a process. We can’t do the Oakland Raiders and go ahead, find the best guy out there, pay them a lot of money, and bring on the team. We have to be deliberate about it. We have to know why we’re doing it. I’ll be biased and say, “We have to do it the Patriot way.” I’m not sure how we’re doing it now. Tyler’s got gel, but that’s what we have to do, and it has to be a deliberate process. Talk for a second and tell me what is the mission of the Fourth Battalion.

Before I get into that specific and address what you talked about, which is building that culture and the process of recruiting the less select and train, it’s all focused around people, and it’s getting the right people in. One of the soft trusses, humans are more important than hardware. That defines what the fourth battalion’s mission is, but the first special warfare train brief.

What we do is we prepare students to go out to selections. We run the Special Forces preparation course, which prepares new recruits for the Army who have raised their right hand and decided to give Special Forces a shot. Our cadre prepares them for the Raiders going forward to maximize their chances of success.

Once they’ve completed selection and small unit tactics training, they come back to the fourth battalion, where we have the MOS. We have the eighteen Alphas, who are the officer course. They’re detachment commanders. Eighteen Bravos are Special Forces weapon sergeants. Eighteen Charlies, which are engineered demo sergeants, and eighteen Echos, which are the communication sergeants. Our job is to teach them the fundamental skills that they will utilize and bring to their operational detachments in the future and ensure that they’re set up for success.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Recruit And Assess

One of the proudest moments of my career in life is donning that Green Beret because it’s the culmination of this whole process. To get there, it has to start with that recruit and assess piece. We go through that process, and we’re identifying what we’re looking for in our candidates. What are those character traits that we’re looking for?

It is adaptability, teamwork, integrity, and all these intangible things that we holistically need from an individual to show up here. We can mold the rest of that around them. We need people who can work on teams, be comfortable alone and afraid, unappraised, and have the ability to adapt to their environment because we throw a ton of different things at you. This isn’t the most fun place in the world at all times. You have to be resilient in that manner. When it’s cold and wet, it sucks.

We want guys that understand why they’re here and what’s driving them to be successful here. It is not just to put on a Green Beret one day. That is an ultimate perk of the job, but that doesn’t get you where you need to be. What do you want to do? Those are the questions that we ask these guys. Every time we see them, we’re like, “Why are you here?” If you don’t know why you’re here, you need to think about it. If you don’t already have the inherent grit and resiliency, and you don’t have the ability to work on a team and be adaptable, you won’t find success.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Your why can be a thousand different things. It doesn’t matter. It can be because you’re the greatest patriot on earth, and you want to fight and win wars for America, or you saw Rambo and thought it was awesome, and you want to be that guy. That doesn’t matter as much as those inherent abilities to go above and beyond yourself to be a part of a team. When you boil it down, that’s what we’re looking for.

Coming through the course and graduating the course, it’s a culmination in one way, but it’s the beginning. That’s when you’re going to get out there. You got a seat at the table now. What are you going to do with that seat at the table? What I hear you saying is that character is what matters. As you put people and leaders in different situations, their character’s going to come through the more they’re tested and the different ways that they’re tested.

We’re going to ask people in Special Forces to do different things that they may never even think about. They’re going to show up to their team, and they’re going to be asked to do that. Not only do it but succeed. It’s going to take a defined person to be able to go out and do those. There’s no way that we can mirror every scenario that people are going to run into.

That’s why we focus on the person and the soft attributes. One of them is adaptability because the amount of situations that the three of us could talk about that we were never trained for but that we encounter is critical. It’s training that person so that they can adapt, overcome, and be successful for themselves, their team, and the nation no matter what comes their way.

Scenario-Based Training

Can you talk about the scenario-based training? That’s the most important thing. As you look at the respective MOS courses, the courses are going to follow a certain structure. You’re going to teach ’em hard skills that they need for their job. You’re going to put them in scenario-based training. As you develop those scenarios, what are you looking at? How are you best tailoring that to the current environment, and how do you project forward what they might endure?

I’ll hand it over to Matt in a second to talk about some of those specifics, but as far as the lash-up with how we stay relevant, we have a tight lash-up with the operational force. We are aware of what’s going on. We seek feedback from them to help develop our scenarios. We do have critical pieces that sometimes you go, “You can do the task, or you can’t.” Other things start with selecting the right people to be instructors who put their subjective evaluation on a student going forward and to determine their success.

At the end of the day, even if somebody is not successful within the course and leaves and goes back to the larger Army, our goal is to make sure that they leave better than when they got here. They may not be Green Berets, but they have skills, and they can take some of those things back to the force and continue to enhance them. I’ll hand it over to Matt.

From a scenario-based training perspective, that is something that sets us apart. We give and teach you hard skills. If you’re a weapons sergeant, engineers sergeant,  or communication sergeant, your ability to use a radio, employee weapon system, or build a bee hut in the middle of somewhere or something that you can tangibly bring to a team.

What we try to do is eke out your capabilities under stress. We do that through different scenarios. We spend a lot of time, money, and effort on developing these robust, rigorous scenarios that test the individual, not just on their skills that we’ve given you, but on their ability to operate as a functional, well-rounded, robust human being in a dynamic environment because that’s the key to our success. We don’t do anything in a vacuum. It requires the ability to think outside the box and employ these hard skills that we’ve given you in a stressful, extremely dynamic environment. That’s something that we put a lot of effort into here.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Standards are one of the most important things when we talk about building great organizations, especially when we look at the selection process, the assessment process, and the training because you’re always being assessed. When you go out to your unit, you go out to your job, or we talk about in the civilian world, you have performance assessments like we did in the Army, which have to be more than once a year.

Upholding Standards

I have spent a lot of time speaking with the executive leadership in a lot of different companies. They’ll say, “We give formal feedback once a year.” What do you tell your people how you’re doing? What about the other days when feedback needs to be continuous because you can’t uphold a standard once a year? You have to uphold the standard every day. How do you guys view standards? I’ll put it in the context of a difficult time.

Recruiting is no secret. Recruiting across the Army has been at lower levels in the past twenty years or so. SSAFA has been asked to cut 7,000 positions in 2024. We’ve been asked to cut 750 in 2023, but you still have to feel the force, and that force has to be of high quality. As you look at the standards across the different MOS courses, how are you upholding those standards?

Upholding those standards is fairly easy because all you do is don’t change them and continue. We are both, as well as the entire chain of command, the standard is the standard is the standard. We may have to do extra work before that in training folks and adding in different training iterations to make sure that people are meeting that standard. That’s what we’ve done and continue to do. If it comes down between dropping the standard and getting more people through, our focus is on getting the best initial entry Green Berets out to the force that has met the standard.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

We’ve been able to do that. The great thing about America is that there are still plenty of young people out there who are willing to answer the call. Sometimes, they may need a little help. Younger and newer generations maybe haven’t spent as much time outdoors and playing sports. That’s fine. We can help you with that. We employ operational psychologists. We have our preservation of the force and family effort through SOCOM and gym coaches to get people physically and mentally prepared for the rigors that they may not have experienced previously in their life, but they’re about to if they continue down this time.

It’s easy in that manner. We understand them. We empower our companies and committees to employ those standards and maintain them to the highest level. You asked about the best part of our job. We get to adjudicate those standards all the time. It is difficult to sit there and have a conversation with an individual who hasn’t met those standards and let them know that, unfortunately, they haven’t, but that’s what has to be done.

Our standards are unwavering in the sense that we hold heavily the weight that we understand we’re sending guys out to the force to do some of the hardest things in the world, and they can’t be because you’re a good dude. That’s not what we do here. My buddies who are team sergeants, the company Sergeant Majors, and Battalion CSMs all rely on us to make those judgment calls the right way. That’s what we do.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

GWOT Generation

We come from the GWOT generation. That generation’s retired, and it’s coming up. I came in in 2003. I went to a retirement ceremony for one of the guys. I went to basic training at OCS a couple of months ago. What impact is that generation retiring and now coming into senior positions where you guys are at now on the tactical level, ODA, and company level? As I’ve been setting up, there are a lot of folks coming in here to check in with no combat patches, which is something we didn’t see when we were coming through the pipeline. What impact is that having?

It’s a good question because we hope that we’re doing the best that we can to maintain the lessons that we’ve learned and the things that we’ve done to evolve into the force that we are now. It’s also a great opportunity for us to take a clean, fresh look at the world and the way that we need to operate in the way that we should operate with the next war.

We’ve all experienced the GWOT in one form or fashion. For most of us, in the formative years of our careers, it holistically wasn’t DSF’s mission. It wasn’t what we all, whether you like it or not, signed up to do. It’s what you signed up to do. It’s what you went and did. That’s not our core mission. Foreign internal defense is not something that we holistically do. We are before that. Our purpose is left of bang.

In my opinion, we’re getting back to our roots in that manner. We’re out there in the world. We’re making relationships. We’re building those key future relationships that are going to take us into and through the next conflict. It’s our job to impart the wisdom to the new guys that we’ve learned for many years of hard-fought blood, sweat, and tears combat in that way and makes sure that they don’t make some of the same mistakes that we did, but also understand that they’re carrying this forward into a new operational environment, a very dynamic world that frankly will not be what we saw.

The most important thing is that we don’t get so hung up on twenty years of GWOT. We get hung up on the fact that we experienced a lot of things, met, saw, and worked with some of the greatest human beings on earth, and carried us through that time. We’re walking into a new future. It’s these guys’ responsibility to get there and be successful there.

I see that as an opportunity. That’s something that should excite candidates who are coming in. People who are thinking about becoming a Green Beret are going to get to do things that we haven’t done that much over the last twenty years. It’s been going on in the background. If we think about the next fight and what peer-to-peer competition we have with our nation-state adversaries who have been out there, for twenty years, we don’t necessarily fight nation-states. There was backing by nation-states that fought against us, but we didn’t go. There was no discussion of a naval battle against China or putting boots on the ground in Iran. It’s not that we’re necessarily discussing that now, but these are things we have to think about.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Technological Evolution

Technology is paramount now on the modern-day battlefield. We saw that evolve in our careers. When we came in, we still had the old Alice pack. Everything’s changed. There was no podcast back then. It’s evolved tremendously over the course of the last 20 to 25 years. We’ve also become reliant on technology.

At the end of the day, we need physically and mentally tough people to operate in a world in which technology if you think about it, is designed to make your life easier. Everything on your cell phone is not designed for you to do a hard thing. You don’t even call people anymore because that process is hard. Dial a phone number. You text somebody. Everything in technology is designed to make your life easier, but special operators who do the missions that you’re talking about require them to be mentally and physically tough. How do you reinforce that? How do you balance integrating technology into the force with creating people who are hard and want to do hard things?

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.That’s our purpose. We’re aware of it. We spend a lot of time and effort on maintaining the physical dominance that’s required to be a successful Green Beret. That’s something that we holistically do. Understanding that the conversation around technology has to be had. We can’t be ignorant in that way. We’re past the point of whether we should use a DPS or an accomplice. That’s irrelevant. We’re moving forward into implementing technologies in such a new, dynamic way that we have to maintain that forefront and capability. You have to be able to carry it in and employ it. That’s something that we have not got away from.

In that respect, the Q Course and what we do across SWCC still remain the same. We’re still out there with Rux on the back, carrying all the gear, making those movements, and upholding the physical standards. As Dave Lucas said, unfortunately, or fortunately, it doesn’t matter however you want to look at it. We’re spending more time making people more resilient and robust. Some of the kids that we’re getting struggle in that way. They don’t have the robust physical resiliency that some of us did go in, but we’ve adapted to that. We’ve found ways to get them where they need to be to go out and be successful in that domain.

It’s important to look at the fact that we are the most powerful military that’s ever existed in the history of the world, but the Taliban control of Afghanistan. They did not have the technology. Technology is important. It is enabling. It is critical in some cases, but at the end of the day, if I had to choose between the right people and the right technology, I would go with the right people all day long. You layer on that technology on top of the right people, which is what we do within Special Forces to create the ultimate fighting machine. That’s the key going forward. However, it is not put as critical. It is mission-enhancing and is only becoming more important as we go forward.

Your example proves it. Number one, you referenced earlier soft truths. People are more important than hardware. Quality is better than quantity. That’s what we have to develop in soft. At the end of the day, people take and hold grounds. Look what’s going on in Israel and Gaza. You can drop a lot of bombs, but at the end of the day, Israel still has to put people on the ground to close with and destroy the enemy. That comes down to technology-enabled people who are effective at their jobs.

People is still our number one business. We’re going to get out of that anytime soon.


Leadership matters when we talk about people. Regardless of everything else that you have going on here with respective MOS and building competent specialized skills, you’re developing leaders at their core. How do you define leadership, each of you?

It is something that we do. We look at and evaluate people based on their leadership. Coming from the most senior NCO officer all the way down to the newest private who enlisted and was in basic training a few short months ago, they all have to demonstrate leadership of some sort. What does that mean? You tell people, “You have to be a leader.” It’s being able to influence others to accomplish the mission in this case. How you do that is important.

You know as well as we do. It’s not maybe the stereotypical movie of the drill sergeant yelling in your face, but it’s more relational leadership and building that unit cohesion with teamwork to influence through your personality, not necessarily the rank on your collar. Junior privates may be leading that particular patrol out somewhere or that mission throughout the course, and they have to lead other, more senior people with a lot more experience. It’s being able to accomplish that mission using soft attributes, integrity, and teamwork as they go forward. The drill sergeant can be highly motivating.

Motivation and leadership are not the same thing. The way I look at it, influence is primary. You have to be able to influence and you provide purpose, direction, and motivation. Motivation is in there, but you can’t provide motivation without a clear purpose that you’ve taken the time to empower and educate your people on.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

One of the most important things about leadership is empowerment and education. Fortunately, we get to sit in the back, where this all started. We’re in fourth, and our job here is to educate. Through that education, we’re providing these kids the purpose of why it is to do a Green Beret, what they learn, and how to take all this knowledge and stuff that we’ve given them to go out and be successful. That’s true leadership. If you boil it down, it is those things.

When Operation Jedburgh was on a mission, this is what they looked for. Men of adventurous spirit are not inclined to shrink from a challenge or look for the easy way out. They were men who liked to think for themselves, determined to serve with only the best. To me, that defines a Green Beret.

Our lineage goes back to the OSS and the Jedburgh, but I also think about the fact that it’s easy to be a leader when everything is going well. When it’s sunny outside, your business is making money, and you don’t have any problems at home. Your kids aren’t acting out, which you know is never the case. You don’t have deadlines. You’re not under pressure. That’s not reality. The reality is we live in what we call a VUCA world, the Army doctrinal term, volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

Biggest Advantage And Challenge

The soft Green Berets that the motto, the nicknames out there, “You’re masters of chaos.” How do we create leaders who can operate effectively and make decisions in these times of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity? That’s what we’re asking them to do from day one. That has to be introduced in these training programs. It’s only going to get compounded when they go into the operational force. When you guys look at this next generation and the major threats, challenges, or opportunities, what do you see out there that will be the biggest advantage that soft holds? What’s going to be the biggest challenge?

The biggest threat out there is we follow the national strategy and privilege. We already talked about purifying it going forward. Looking at China and Russia, these types of activities and some of the irregular activities that they’re taking right now. Chinese use of the activities within the South China Sea. They are working against Filipino fishermen, running them out, and trying to disrupt that area. How do we, as the US? Special Forces is not going to combat that, but how does the US combat that?

That’s an example that as we go forward if it were to go into a hot war, we have to be fully prepared for that. That’s why we are doing our operations and training exercises, going after the ranges, and doing everything we do. It also consists of other activities that Matt talked about earlier, such as having relationships before the war starts.

We have Green Berets deployed to dozens of mentaries on any given day. They’re there working with host nation forces, building those relationships as well as the foreign capabilities as an ally to the United States. That’s where we extend our influence and leadership throughout. As far as the greatest threat, it’s been well-defined for us. Our part of that is building out our influence around the world before any conflict happens.

It was the biggest opportunity. Job security. There’s so much instability. There’s never been a time when, whether it was post-Korea before Vietnam or throughout the entire Cold War, this was not a tank battalion that made its money. Its job is to go out there and destroy other tank battalions or take other tactical objectives. We’d all see tank battalions deploying all over. They are a huge fan of AMOS. However, our jobs don’t start or end in major combat operations. We are there throughout the continuity and through all phases of conflict.

Well before, as discussed previously, we’re out with friendly nations working with them and building those relationships. Where the opportunity is that alliances and American leadership around the world are critical. Special Forces play an integral part in that. We’re certainly not doing it on our own. We do play a part in that by building up allies around the world.

What you’re talking about is how we prepare for it. We have an opportunity now because we have more information than we’ve ever had before. Still, our job is to make sure that the first time these guys are tested and stressed isn’t that day. It’s not the day they find out they’re going into China. It’s starting now. You want to be tested, strained and stressed to the max. The guys who can navigate effectively carry forward. They get to wear the Green Beret and be a member of an attachment that’s going to face some of the biggest challenges the world has to offer.

Can we talk about having to take action in the VUCA environment? April 6th, 2008.

Sitting in this seat and talking about what you talked about to this point is what does the fourth battalion do? I get to tell you from experience that the fourth is your first combat deployment. I graduated with the Q Course in August 2008. I took the normal leave, PCS. I’ve started PCS. I’ve never left here. I have a distinct honor and was told to sign a third-best portion. I signed up for a group and met the team.

You mentioned earlier that one of the greatest accomplishments is earning your Green Beret. Second to that is the nervous feeling of excitement that you have when you’re meeting your company sergeant major for the first time and learning about what ODA you’re going to and what that interaction’s like. Excitement and terrified at the same. I still remember it.

I joined ODA 3336. Some people will say it was three out of six. They made a transition at a time. This is salty to some folks. It’s irrelevant. I quickly learned that I was joining a good ODA. This isn’t biased. I got to see it from the outside looking in. These guys worked. I met a team sergeant. He’s like, “We’re going to Afghanistan.” It was two weeks. I sat, and he was like, “We’re leaving. This is your date.” I was like, “Okay.” I don’t know what that means. I get tough boxes. I’m trying to figure out what I’m supposed to put in these things. I was ACX ready to back up even more.Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

We deployed and went to Afghanistan. I learned that they were given the best mission of the time because they were the best-trained, most developed team in the company. I’m not saying that because I got to be part of it. I got to see it, and this is what I learned. As part of this deal, I’ve taken that with me throughout my whole career. That’s why I bring it up. It’s important.

We moved forward. We’re partnered with the first commando battalion or Kandak operational in Afghanistan at the time. They’d followed our model and built a ranger of a battalion-like infantry unit in Afghanistan. They cut light infantry the cable of maneuvering relatively quickly. We’re partnered with them. We spend the whole deployment with them. We do several missions. We had the fortunate circumstance of traveling all over Afghanistan because we were the only operational unit they had at the time. We’re stationed out in Kabul. We got to go out east and go down south.

Fast forward to April. We have a mission to capture and kill high-value targets in the mountains of Northeastern Afghanistan, which is a relatively treacherous place. That’s why they like it there. They never make it easy on us. It’s one of the things you learn later on. Nobody had been there since the Russians. The Soviets weren’t even interested in going there because it was terror as hell. There’s no reason to go there unless you live there, want to fortify it, and want to play terrace tech.

We make our way to this village. We have about 100 Afghan commandos. My team is a twelve-man team. We’re beefed up a little bit into the mission. We have a combat controller and combat caravans. As we make our way to the village, our lead element maneuvers up to the high ground. They make their way up to the village. We have to climb the size of this mountain to get up to where we’re going. I’ll leave the tactical and strategic decision-making on why we filled the way we did out. It is what it is. It was not a good idea, but we did it because that was the mission. We infill the low ground. We’re assaulting up a mountain. We wouldn’t teach anybody to do this, but it is what it is.

That happens about the time our lead element gets to the mouth of the village. The whole valley erupts. I am down in the valley with my team sergeant, medic Ron, and commandos. We each have our own squad. Immediately, we were notified that Dylan Bear had been shot. He’s in the middle of the element, about halfway up the mountain. He was shot in the hip. We only had one medic on the team at the time. That was Ron. Scott calls him up, “We got to go.” I’m not sure why. I’ve got a relative FOMO situation. I was like, “I’m coming with you. I’m not flying down here. This sucks.” In all seriousness, I had the heavy weapon squad with me. That was who I was tasked with for the day. I was like, “I’ll bring some firepower up there.”

We set off up to where these guys were rendered. By the time he got there, Luis Morales had been shot as well. We had a serious problem on our hands at this point. These guys had been pinned down well. The enemy was maneuvering on them the whole time and hammered them hard. We had a killed interpreter, some wounded commandos, and two injured Americans at the same location. It becomes the priority in our minds in these situations. We’re in a firefight, but we also are trying to save lives. At that point, with two casualties, the mindset is still the mission.

That’s one of these hard, logical leaps that you have to make in that environment. It’s like, “What are we doing?” You can’t get sucked into the fact that two of your good friends grow to be actual friends. It’s been a short time, but we’ve done a lot of shit together. They are laying there bleeding out, and you have one guy capable of working on him. He’s directing traffic the best that he can and decided what we’re going to do.

The team sergeants, Scott, Kyle Walton, and I had that actual conversation. We’re looking at the situation. It’s a conversation in a place and time I’ll never forget. I was the three of us standing there. I was like, “What’s the deal? How are we going to handle this?” We settled on continuing a mission. We have to get to the village. If we don’t, we’re screwed. The plan is we’re going to move the village, get, establish a foothold, move the casualties in there, give Ron some time to treat these guys and move on. We try to fight our way through using our superior tax and firepower to move through.

I moved down to call up some other reinforcement to help us out. By the time I did that, Scott and John Walden got shot. We’re up to four wounded in the same location. Scott got shot in the chest and the arm. John got hit in the leg. We amputated his lower leg immediately. We’re back to four wounded guys in the same location. No bigger than this room. It’s minimal cover. They know where we’re at. They know what they’ve got going on. Things start to change. You’re like, “What are we doing? What are we here to do?”

That’s one of the hardest parts to figure out at that point. Who’s taking charge? Our team front is out. A lot of our senior guys are out. The captain is there. He’s directing traffic. Our JTAC is up there. He’s doing what he’s doing. He’s directing traffic and dropping bombs. The situation is not looking good. Long story short. When I found out they were wounded, I climbed back up to their location. Scott can move because he’s shot in the arm and the chest plate. We decide we’re going to move him down. There’s a little building at the bottom of the clip. We’ll put him down there and move the rest of these casualties.

It comes into a situation. We don’t have the firepower or the manpower to move to the village anymore. I stepped back down from their location with Scott. I passed him off. The other Bravo and I had another conversation like, “These guys are up there. We’re here. We need to move them.” We lost cause with them for a while. It’s two junior Bravos on the side of a cliff figuring out what we’re going to do. Some time had passed. We hadn’t heard from them. We assumed the worst.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Seth and I had a conversation about it. We feared the worst. We assumed they’d been shot up. We weren’t sure, but we’re like, “They’re coming down.” Whatever happens, we’re going up there to get them.” We looked back on our commandos. We’re like, “Follow us. We’re going up.” We took off. We looked back. It’s Seth and I. There were no command commandos aside to do what they were doing. They didn’t want to help. That’s part of the gig.

We’re fortunate enough to make our way. We climb and scale this cliff laterally to get to where they’re going because we can’t go up the same way that I’ve been up there the previous times. We get around to where they are. Fortunately, everybody’s still there. They lost comms. We were able to help them get comms back up and evacuate the guys on the side of the cliff.

The two most impressive things that I’ve seen were our JTAC young guy to his first appointment dropping bombs like you wouldn’t believe. He’s pinpointing 500-pound and 2,000-pound bombs danger close. Talk about testing stress and the ability to work in a stressful environment. The stress somebody out to do normally. He was able to do it.

Ron is still a true testament to what an 18 Delta is. We haven’t talked about 18 Deltas because we don’t hail them much. They’re in their own group. The most highly trained trauma medics, trauma-capable human beings on the planet, are our 18 Deltas. I get to see that firsthand with what Ron did. He kept four guys alive, two of which for sure should be dead. Fortunately, he was good at the job and handled stress in a way I’ve never seen anybody handle it before.

He had the most stressful situation you could imagine. He had four guys lying in his hands. There was never a hiccup or a concern. He took a couple of rounds off the helmet, but it didn’t matter. He’s there plugging holes and directing traffic. He got a combat cameraman who was carrying a camera twenty minutes ago until he got shot putting tourniquets on people, treating wounds, and doing things that this kid had never been trained to do either, which is a testament to the force multiplication nature of a Green Beret in my opinion. I got to witness firsthand, which is holistically incredible.

Long story short, we were able to evacuate these guys and make our way out of the village. At the end of the day, the team was awarded. There were ten silver stars given out, an Air Force Cross. Kerman got a silver star. It’s impressive. Fast forward several years later, Ron and I were both awarded or upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which led me to where I am now. It’s allowed me the opportunity to continue to serve in the regiment. The Army found it fitting enough to let me come back here, where it all started several years ago.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Getting back to your question about the VUCA environment. This is what we started talking about. That was not just me. I got to see this as a bystander, almost got to see this ODA who is extremely highly trained, who spent a ton of time and effort making sure that they were prepared to conduct this mission faced with the most audacious environment that we’d seen to that time. Every single person on the team did what they could or should have done in the situation that they were given. It was an inherent trust and ability we had as a team to operate in this VUCA environment that you mentioned for us to be successful, or we 100% would not have been.

There would’ve been a lot of dead people. Another search and rescue type situation had that gone any other way. It’s not 1 or 2 people. It was a team. It was an ODA capable of handling its own dynamic complex environment to come together as a team and be as successful as we possibly could have been in that worst situation that we’d seen until that point.

It’s the definition of everything we talked about. How you prepare today determines success tomorrow. Taking people of character, training them to a defined standard, never wavering on that standard, and when everything goes wrong, and you’re in that VUCA environment, do we have the mental and physical fortitude and toughness to make critical, difficult decisions and take action?

[00:39:32] I appreciate the chance to get to talk about it because it is important in that way. The story of our ODA at the time is a shining example of what an ODA is capable of doing. A small twelve-man team that’s able to take the things that they’ve been trained in and adapt those things. At the end of the day, boil it down to something we talked about a long time ago on this show. It’s teamwork and your ability to adapt, overcome, and be resilient. Those are the things that we need out of people we look for every day here.

Advice For Young People

What do you tell the E-5 who comes in and looks up to you and says, “What’s next for me?”

It’s an interesting position to be in. I don’t highlight that fact, but they know. I don’t know if they do or not. I guess some of them will find out maybe here in a little while this comes out. I’m the CSM of the fourth battalion. That’s my job and my purpose. Other things have happened in my career, and that’s great. That’s true for everybody. I don’t shy away from the responsibility of having the medal. I understand fully what it means and what it represents. I’m eternally grateful for that. I also don’t want to separate the fact that I am the command sergeant major of Fourth Battalion SWCC. I am by far no better than any of the cadre that worked for us.

We have some of the greatest cadres in the world, our company leadership, committee leadership, and down to the men that teach these dudes every single day that run the Special Force of preparation course to make these guys physically and mentally resilient enough to tackle the qualification course are the ones that these guys should be looking up to because they are their teammates in the future. I’ve spent my time here. I’m eternally grateful for everything I’ve experienced. At the end of the day, I’m a figurehead. I’m a battalion CSM. I’m somebody that nobody wants to talk to or make friends with. That’s what it is. 

Setting Up For Success

Humility is one of the characteristics that we assess. I appreciate that. I have to let you get back to some meetings because that’s how we get work done some days. That’s true. Before I do, I have one more question for you. The Jedburghs had to do three things every day to be successful in a job. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate a lot of what you thought in your story. What are the three things that you do every day in your own life, professional or personal, that set the conditions for success? What are those habits that allow you to achieve what you achieve on a daily basis?

Before I answer your question, I want to say on Matt, you couldn’t ask for a better CSM to be in charge of future Green Berets or a better role model for those guys coming through because it’s not something that I’ve ever heard him discuss ever. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard him talk through it because we try to focus on being the fourth battalion command team, but he’s kidding himself, and he thinks that all of these young guys don’t know. It’s an honor to get to work with them. It’s great to get to do this together. It’s fantastic.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

There are three things. First and foremost, no matter who you are or what your position is, you have to be physically and mentally capable of doing a job. That entails some physical preparation. We’ve been given all the tools to do that here within Special Operations. If you don’t take advantage of it, it’s your fault, but you’ve always got to be ready to go no matter what seat you occupy because you never know what’s going to come next.

The other is we talked to the cadre. I was a previous cadre. We were both cadres here before. It gets to the professionalism of the students. That is to be the Green Beret that you want them to be. Meeting that standard every day, whether in the right uniform or actions, is the best way to be the expert at your job. Whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing, be the best at it that you can be and turn around and learn the next one.

Matt talked about when they got back up with their element. They had to reestablish comms, but it was two 18 Bravos weapon sergeants having to do that. Had they not known that they wouldn’t have been able to do that. Be professional and the best at your job, and move on to learn something new. For me personally, after over the years of all of us being gone, I try to spend as much time with my family as possible because they’re the reason that I am here, and I continue to do so. Spending quality time with the family, I lost out on the quantity through the GWOT years, and that’s okay. We all signed up to do it, and I wouldn’t change it.

It’s the same thing. It’s family. We talk about a SWCC a lot. When you come to SWCC, it’s your time to take a break, take care of the family, and do those things. If we don’t highlight that, we’re willing and capable of doing that, and I will do that. I put my family first. This is the opportunity to go to baseball practice and soccer, which your kids are doing.

Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

This is one of the most important jobs in the world. If you’re the only one that can do it, we’re wrong. Be open and highlight that through that. I’m leaving it at 3:30 because my kid’s got a baseball. That’s important here. It’s a different look than most people are used to, but I’m willing to not be in the office if it means I’m doing something with my family to highlight that. That’s perfectly okay and reasonable to do.

The rest of you have to stay physically and mentally fit. You’re always learning and doing something physical. Take care of yourself. We’ve had leaders who tell us, “Don’t wait until the end to do it.” They wait until the end to do whatever that is. That’s the same thing. Take advantage of the things that we have around us. Go to PT and take care of yourself so you understand how to educate the younger guys on how to do it better than we’ve done it. That’s important. That leads to earning every day. Whatever that may mean for your situation, the position you’re in can influence what that means to you. If that’s what you’re doing, you’re on the right path.

Closing Words

Stay physically and mentally fit, but we have to physically prepare, lead by example, spend time with our family, and earn our beret every day. I appreciate everything you guys are doing. I’ll tell you that. I miss being in this organization every single day. I’m jealous of what you guys get to do. I’m honored to be able to sit down with you and tell this story. We have come a long way in many years as an organization, but I do believe that the best days remain ahead of us all the time. Our nation and the world rely on this organization.Fran Racioppi sits down with Medal of Honor Recipient CSM Matt Williams and LTC Dave Lucas to talk leadership under stress and training Green Berets.

Before we go, I’ve got one thing for you. You’ve done that. Your career won’t go into what you did within SF, but for those who don’t know, it was remarkable. We’re able to think on both of our last trips on our ODA and make-up overseas. What you do through your efforts after taking off the uniform is getting that word out recruiting. Anybody who is tuning in to The Jedburgh Podcast understands what it is, not just what we talked about now. As you go forward, we have a little gift for you that we brought you. This is one of the instructor hats that guys get when they come through.

Thank you so much. It’s great to do this and be here with you all. This is amazing.


Important links:


To Top of Webpage