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July 29, 2008

’Chosen Soldier’: ’A New Band of Brothers’

Chosen_soldier_2 Following up on my previous post about the qualities sought in recruits for Green Beret school, I wanted to elaborate on the issue of diversity. I love the picture Dick Couch offers in his book Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior of what an Special Forces (SF) group looks like. The picture of America that SF offers the rest of the world is not insignificant.

How soldiers represent our nation in other countries does matter. As historian Stephen Ambrose has mentioned, “one of the most comforting sights for the war-weary citizens of France or Belgium was a patrol of American GIs coming into their village.” And as Chuck has mentioned before, “the sight of those American kids meant cigarettes, candy, c-rations, and freedom. They had come not to conquer or terrorize but to liberate.”

But, as Couch notes, “that was an all-white patrol of GIs in a western European village. Afghanistan and Iraq offer none of the homogeneity found in western Europe during the last world war.”

So diversity is sought in SF not in order to create a “racial or ethnic balance that mirrors our national demographic.” Rather, it’s strategic. “[I]n the military, especially in SOF [Special operations forces, which encompasses all branches], and most certainly in Army Special Forces, diversity itself is an operational advantage,” writes Couch. Continuing, “Diverse skills and ethnic backgrounds bring a more multidimensional approach to cross-cultural issues that Special Forces teams have to deal with on a routine basis. The more diverse the members of an SF detachment, the better the thinking that may go into problem solving in a cross-cultural environment.”

And getting back to the image portrayed by a diverse group of soldiers,

In these troubled nations [Afghanistan and Iraq] and in much of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, there are competing religious and tribal interests. There are deep-seated animosities in the same nation—in the same community. Imagine the impact in these tribal and ethnically charged areas when a Special Forces detachment with blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics enters a village. Not only do they have the skills to fight and to provide material assistance, they also speak the language and understand and respect the customs. They demonstrate that people who are different can live and work together. They are the new band of brothers.

Our “melting pot,” I believe, is something to be very proud of—and in SF we see what that “pot” looks like at its best.

(Image © Random House)

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