More than 110 Soldiers were officially welcomed into the U.S. Army's Special Forces regiment during a ceremony Aug. 9 marking their graduation from the Special Forces Qualification Course.
Run by the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C., the SFQC is a Soldier's initial training in unconventional warfare, survival, small-unit tactics, regional studies and an assigned specialty as an officer, weapons sergeant, engineer, medic or communications specialist. The course runs at least one year for all students, and may take two years for Soldiers with the most complex assignments.
The ceremony marked the first time each graduate was authorized to wear their green beret, the distinctive headgear worn by the U.S. Army Special Forces regiment ever since it was authorized by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. Surrounded by friends, instructors and Family members in the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, the graduates donned their berets in unison upon being given the order by the 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) command sergeant major.
Brig. Gen. Darsie D. Roger, Jr., a 4th Infantry Division Deputy Commanding General at Fort Carson, Colo. and the former commander of Joint Forces Special Operations Component Command-Iraq during Operation New Dawn, served as the ceremony's guest speaker.
"I recall about 20 years ago when I was sitting out there right where you are and listening to our distinguished speaker making remarks," Rogers said, "and I don't recall a single word. I don't even recall who our distinguished speaker was. I had one thing on my mind, and that was getting a green beret on my head and getting out to a detachment."
Most graduates will report immediately to their first assignment on a Special Forces operational detachment-alpha, the 12-man unit made up of each specialty within the career field. These units make up each of the Army's five active-duty and two National Guard Special Forces groups, based around the world.
Select graduates will report for follow-on tactical or language training before finally reaching their first detachment assignment.
Rogers said the graduates have entered a new and challenging chapter in their lives.
"We'll ask you to go around the globe and engage with our partner nations, build our partner-force capacity, and face our nation's enemies," Rogers said. "You will be given the best equipment, you've already had the best training that any military in the world has to offer."
"You will be given irregular missions, unlike any you've experienced in your previous service, with broad, open-ended guidance, and perhaps you'll be partnered with poorly trained or untested forces, but you'll make it happen," he said.
During the ceremony, SWCS leaders took several moments to recognize those members of the Special Forces regiment who "made it happen" in the past. Three former Soldiers were inducted as distinguished members of the Special Forces regiment: Col. Edwin W. "Andy" Anderson, the late Col. Charles A. Beckwith, and 1st Sgt. Charles L. Gray.
Anderson, who retired after 30 years of active-duty service in 2004, last served on the staff for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti, and before that served in various positions at SWCS such as director of training and doctrine, and as the 1st SWTG(A) Commander. Since his retirement, Anderson has continued to serve the military community by supporting various service organizations, most notably the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
Beckwith, who died of natural causes in 1994, is most notably known for founding and commanding the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta in 1977. Throughout his career, Beckwith was critically wounded during the Vietnam War, led a part of the Joint Casualty Resolution Center in Thailand, served as the commander of the then-U.S. Army Special Warfare School.
Gray, a native of Rowland, N.C., graduated the SFQC in 1965 and served on active-duty in Korea, Thailand and Vietnam during the course of his career. Spending the majority of his career with the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Gray was a qualified combat diver and led several related courses and programs for his unit. He retired after 20 years of active-duty service in 1980, and has since become a lifetime member of the Special Forces Association.
Additionally, one Special Forces spouse was recognized for her significant effort toward support for SFQC students' Families. Nicole Young, whose husband graduated the course during the ceremony, was applauded by the Soldiers and Family members in the crowd for her countless volunteer hours as leader of the SFQC students' family readiness group, which addresses and works with course managers to solve Family concerns and issues that may come up over the course of Soldiers' training.
To close the ceremony, Rogers told the graduates they have entered a new and challenging chapter in their lives, and offered the graduates a glimpse into what their futures may hold.
"You will thrive on uncertainty, you will seek action, and you will willingly jump out of a perfectly good airplane," Rogers said. "Some of you will free fall from dizzying heights; others will conduct a sub-surface infiltration wearing SCUBA gear."
"And you will win when you go, because you are Special Forces operators, and part of the greatest Army in the world."