COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Inside an abandoned base exchange on Peterson Space Force Base, a Special Forces detachment assigned to the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) awaits the arrival of a person of interest with intelligence that could lead to the kill or capture of a hostile target as part of an unconventional warfare training mission.
To maintain a low signature within a population where adversaries could lurk, the Operators are dressed in polo shirts and slacks, use mobile phones, and carry sidearms to remain indiscernible.
The person of interest arrives and after an exchange of pleasantries, it’s down to business. While a duo of Operators asks the contact questions about the intended target’s habits and whereabouts, their teammates monitor the area for threats.
From the stockroom of the abandoned store emerge men armed with rifles who start shooting at the Special Forces team. The team’s been found out by the enemy…This is not a warzone; however, this scenario is a potential reality in unconventional warfare.
From July 5 – 8, 2022, a Special Forces team assigned to 2nd Battalion, 10th SFG(A), conducted unconventional warfare and direct action training to prepare for future deployments.
“We have to think through problems we've never encountered before because when we come across these problems for the first time, we don't want to be doing it for real,” said the 10th SFG(A) Special Forces team leader. “Raising your signature on the spectrum or if the enemy knows you’re there or not can greatly impact your mission and what you can accomplish; sometimes it’s life or death.”
A key task for Special Forces is conducting operations in the gray zone – an uncertain operational environment that falls between the traditional war and peace duality. Early understanding of emerging threats, especially in gray zones, is essential for developing national plans and policies that counter adversarial actions.
“If you’re low visibility with a little bit of scruff, you can blend inside those areas where you don’t need to raise attention to who you are,” the team leader continued. “[Furthermore,] it makes us think about the vehicles we drive, where we’re going to put our IFAK (Improved First Aid Kit), Glock, and what kind of radios we’ll use.”
Wearing a combat uniform or using other materiel plainly identifies oneself as a Soldier, so a Green Beret will optimize their equipment to mitigate detection in denied, semi-permissive or permissive environments.
“In some battle spaces we rotate into, a conventional military presence isn’t desired,” said the 10th SFG(A) Special Forces team sergeant. “The ability to wear multiple levels of camouflage – from polo shirt to full assault rig – is necessary for certain missions.”
A Special Forces team sergeant supervises, instructs, and serves as the senior enlisted member on a detachment, and is responsible for each teammate’s adeptness at performing individual and collective tasks.
“Once [the team leader and I] give the team purpose, direction, and end state, that should be enough for maneuver elements to move independently,” the team sergeant said. “I want the maneuver leaders to know they’re in charge of their element and to make decisions themselves.”
Part of decision-making is owning up to an error, learning from it, and adjusting accordingly.
“What was most challenging was making a decision in the gray, and managing the second- and third-order effects for that split-second decision,” the team leader said. “We really tested the TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) and SOPs (standard operating procedures) of the detachment, refined them, and built confidence in the fact that we can [quickly] go from low visibility operations to full-scale war.”