FORT HOOD, Texas- In 1943, Gen. Frederick Browning, commander of the British First Airborne Corps, granted a battalion of paratroopers from the United States Army's 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment membership in the British Parachute Regiment and authorizing them to wear the British-style maroon berets.
Ever since, Soldiers who find themselves airborne unit have worn this distinctive head dress as a proud figure of airborne pride. At other U.S. Army installations, such as North Carolina's Fort Bragg, home to the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, red berets are as common place as the Soldiers who wear them.
But here, on Fort Hood, Texas, where the mechanized trooper calls home, red berets are worn only by a select and chosen few.
There are barely 150 Soldiers of C Troop, 2nd Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment's Long Range Surveillance (LRS), an airborne unit who calls West Ft. Hood home. This company sized element, under the command of the 504th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, is at the tip of the spear.
During ground combat operations they provide near real time information, helping commanders to make more competent and focused combat related decisions, said 1st Sgt. Jason Skeen, of Georgetown, Texas.
"The LRS (Long Range Surveillance) mission is important because we are one of only three LRS companies left in the Army. We operate in undisclosed locations infiltrating objectives undetected, that is what makes the human intelligence collector such a vital piece in the Army's current deployment mission," he said.
It is a safe assumption that members of this specialized unit realize they hold the smallest piece of the combat mission pie. However humble this mindset may appear, they also know it could quite possibly be the most satisfying.
"When a LRS team deploys, it is not a conventional line unit mentality. You have six guys [on mission]... if you take contact [with the enemy], that's six guns," said Staff Sgt. Darren James, an LRS team leader from Wilmington, N.C.
"No man's idea means less than anyone else's at that point, everyone has their input. This is a common sense, innovative, and customer based organization. We gather intelligence from behind enemy lines. We watch life unfold in an area where no one knows we exists, we need that "quiet professional" who we know is doing the right thing regardless of the situation," James emphasized.
The unit just wrapped up its most recent monthly LRS selection course, in which candidates from around Fort Hood voluntarily subject themselves to some of the most rigorous physical training one can see.
Of the 50 available slots, only four Soldiers showed up July 26 with their enlisted record brief (ERB) in hand. This single piece of paper is the only look the LRS command group gets at each candidate prior to their participation in this Ranger Assessment Program (RAP), which is the physical standard that all applicants are graded upon for selection.
"The first week of Ranger school is RAP week, and if you look at all the physical events we do for our selection, it is exactly the same things you have to do in Ranger school. Same time standards; everything," said Benton, Ark. native, Sgt. 1st Class John Cline.
For these candidates the week's gauntlet of Ranger activities is cumulative. Beginning on day one with timed push-up, sit-ups to muscle failure and a 5 mile run in under 40 minutes. Immediately followed by as many reverse grip pull-ups one could possibly do weighed down by euphoric exhaustion and sweat drenched uniforms.
Most would be wiped-out by this point in the week's long course. Somehow this thought is re-missed by these participants and in good measure too, for there is still work to be done.
The next morning's two and a half mile "buddy-run" separates the men from the boys early in its treacherous web of sprints and sustained paced running. The muscle tightening change of pace is only exasperated by having to shoulder the load of 50 pound water jugs, and another Soldier on your back for half mile periods respectively.
"It would be an unfair assumption to say that the physical aspect of what we do isn't essential to what makes a LRS Soldier. These guys sometimes hump for days all throughout the night to objectives with up to 150 pounds on their backs," said 1st. Sgt. Skeen.
"It is necessary to put them through this because when you are dropped in the fight we have to know that everyone is going to make it, if one person fails the team fails and we have a team oriented mission," he added.
Wrapping up the week with a 12- mile ruck march and Ranger Swim Test, the 4 candidates from the 1st Cavalry Division have propelled themselves to what Sgt. 1st Class Cline calls the most essential portion of the selection process.
"The board process is no different than a job interview. It is a meeting between that Soldier and our entire command to include four platoon sergeants and the first sergeant. It is a great opportunity for us to finally get to know a little bit about who they are as an individual, their mind-set, that sort of thing," Cline said.
With only three LRS Brigades in the Army, keeping the roster manned is always a top priority for the LRS teams here at Fort Hood.
"The biggest problem we run into isn't finding the individuals to select," Skeen remarks candidly. "It is getting those Soldiers released to us from their current units."
"And we understand that; we know it is hard for commanders and first sergeants to let their guys go to another unit. But if a Soldier has tried out and earned his place, by denying him that opportunity you are failing that Soldier," said. James.
However, the Soldiers and NCOs who make up this command know firsthand that the main motivating factor for any candidate should be the LRS mission itself.
"Just because we wear the red berets, jump [out of an airplane] here once a month, and wear the Ranger tab doesn't mean that Ranger school, and airborne status should be the deciding factor for trying out," says Darren.
"We are looking for those individuals who exemplify what it means to be a 'quiet professional,' the ones who find a way when the way seems lost. You should know what we do and have the desire to learn from those of us who have been in the skill set a while, then worry about the schools that are offered, he added.
"If a Soldier wants to better himself and he is already proficient at his 88M (Truck Driver) skills or 11 series skills (Infantryman), they wouldn't be doing anything but justice for themselves by trying to become a part of this unit here, Skeen said. "We have opportunities. We have a distinctive mission."
"Now, we just need those Soldiers who are looking to be a part of a very special unit here at Fort Hood, Skeen added.
For more information on the 2nd Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment, Long Range Surveillance (Airborne) here at Fort Hood, Texas, or for information on becoming an applicant, contact the unit at 254-553-0759 or at Building 91234 on West Fort Hood.