FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Five psychological operations specialists assigned to the 4th Psychological Operations Group recently underwent a grueling, five-day assessment to determine if they are fit to serve and fight with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
PSYOP roles are usually divided into two areas: strategic and tactical. Strategic roles may require a Soldier to wear a suit and work in an embassy, whereas tactical missions often see them out in the field, carrying a weighty, man-packed loudspeaker system in addition to their normal combat gear.
The detachment of 16 PSYOP Soldiers supporting the Rangers is certainly described as tactical. After all, their name is Tactical PSYOP Detachment 9B40, part of Company B, 9th PSYOP Battalion. Because of the tough missions and austere conditions that Rangers are notorious for, the Soldiers providing PSYOP capabilities have to be the best available.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Mead, 9B40 detachment sergeant, had the job of running the events and helping to evaluate the candidates.
"These guys might have to move out for 20 miles loaded down with equipment, keeping up with Rangers who are probably the fastest ruckers in the Army, and still know how to perform their PSYOP role, and how they'll fit into a given mission once they reach their objective," Mead said. "We need thinkers that can fit in with the Ranger regiment."
Capt. Bruce Hoffman, 9B40's detachment commander, has been in the Army for over 19 years. First joining the Army as an infantryman, Hoffman has served with scout platoons, long range reconnaissance and surveillance teams, and as a Ranger instructor for four years. Members of his detachment recognize him as the standard bearer. During the five-day assessment, he used the skills he gained as an instructor for the Rangers to determine whether the Soldiers trying out have what it takes to be a member of his team.
The week-long assessment was designed to observe how the Soldiers perform under stressful conditions. Kicking off the week was physical training as soon as the sun came up. Then it was on to the Ranger physical fitness test. After a quick breakfast and the chance to change into their duty uniform, the Soldiers and their evaluators moved out to Mott Lake for the combat water survival test.
Mead ran through a demonstration, then the five candidates were individually canoed out to the middle of the lake where they donned a blindfold, carried a weapon and a load-bearing vest that were tied to the boat, and jumped into the water. All five completed the water test successfully, after which the group was taught how to use their Army combat uniforms to make a personal floatation device.
Before the assessment, each Soldier was given a little black Ranger handbook and told to memorize the Ranger creed.
"They need to be physically fit for not just a PT test, but for a week-long endurance event," Mead said. "They need to know the Ranger handbook, and they need to know tactical PSYOP. If they do those things and come with the right attitude, they're probably going to be successful. But if they blow off any of those three, they're gonna have a hard time."
For one of day two's events, the group met in the August heat at one of the obstacle courses on Fort Bragg. After a run-through to show the Soldiers what to expect and to point out any hazards, they lined up at the beginning and were let loose one at a time. Climbing up walls, swinging on ropes, low-crawling through muddy water, jumping over obstacles, and rolling through sand left the candidates covered from head to toe in water, dirt and sweat.
Other PSYOP tasks included in the SUT lanes were face to face interactions with "locals", consequence management, and loud speaker operations. Mead said determining how effectively the Soldiers performed their PSYOP roles was a big part of the assessment.
One of the candidates, Sgt. Minkyu Rhi, said he volunteered for this because he was looking for a challenge.
"One of my cadre from when I went through the PSYOP course used to be a member of 9B40, and from how he described the team it sounded like the bar was higher over there than in the rest of the group," Rhi said.
During days three and four, the group went out to a site near Camp Mackall to do small unit tactics and land navigation.
"During the small unit tactics portion of the assessment, we were curious to see how they would react during a stressful situation," Mead said. "Obviously you can't replicate the stresses of actual combat, but we tried. We fired blanks and shouted at them and basically got them excited, got their hearts pounding to see what they would do," he said.
"I would tell anyone that's interested in this, that it's probably one of the most vigorous events, physically and mentally, that they'll ever do," said Rhi.