FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Turning the Army's most elite fighters into highly educated Soldiers is the newest initiative to emerge from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
Whether the goal is a master of arts in strategic security studies or an international business bachelor's degree, the special operations community is rallying around the mantra of higher education.

On Nov. 3, JFKSWCS held its Special Operations Forces Education Fair and Symposium, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which targeted the higher educational interests of military and civilian SOF personnel. Institutions like Troy University (offering a Master of Science in International Relations with concentrations in global studies, national security affairs or regional affairs) spoke with Soldiers about degree programs, financial aid and learning styles.

"Here in the special operations community you're expected to provide your own direction ... It's very much 'big boy' rules. You're expected to perform as an individual as well as a team member," said Staff Sgt. Mark Mitchell, currently a student of JFKSWCS. Mitchell entered the Army as an E-4 thanks to his formal education and has considered graduate work in strategic studies or defense analysis.

A better-prepared force is a more effective force, according to Mitchell.

"From a strategic point of view, we're advertising and representing America and we try to do so with as much goodwill as possible. If people work with you, it's a lot easier to get what you want done than it is if they're working against you," said Mitchell.

For Spc. Brian Keefer, also a JFKSWCS student who elected to study the Russian language, the SOF community is ideal for motivated and independent thinkers. Keefer earned a bachelor's degree before entering the SWCS program and plans to pursue a Master of Business Administration or Master of Science degree.

"Street smarts keep you alive. Book smarts is what's going to help you in your diplomacy-making or critical decisions. You need both to accomplish what we're trying to do," Keefer said.
While the SOF community attracts independent thinkers, each Soldier is evaluated on social skills and unit loyalty, Keefer said, "The biggest factor that impresses me is how well they do around people. And of course knowledge comes into play - whether or not they're just blowing smoke or actually know what they're talking about," Keefer said.

Civil affairs, military information support operations and Special Forces students and Soldiers are increasingly looking to formal education to enhance both their military careers and, potentially, their value in the private sector.

According to Lt. Col. David Walton, Education Department chief of the Directorate of Regional Studies and Education, JFKSWCS, "The importance of a solid educational foundation is paramount to the special operator. U.S. Army Special Operations Forces are deployed in small groups all around the world - our Soldiers need to be strategic minded, critical thinkers who can depend on these skills to solve the most complex problems," Walton said.

"Training helps you determine what to do when you know the answer. Education helps you solve the problem when you don't," he added.