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Go spec ops: Thousands needed, huge cash bonuses offered

Hard chargers may find easy sell in big bonuses, faster promotions

Jul. 9, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A soldier holds a newly earned civil affairs regimental insignia. Civil affairs is one area with opportunities for soldiers who want to move to special operations.
A soldier holds a newly earned civil affairs regimental insignia. Civil affairs is one area with opportunities for soldiers who want to move to special operations. (Army)
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Spec Ops Careers

Special operations is the functional area for enlisted soldiers with the most incentives. It consists of:
Career Management Field 18 Special Forces
CMF 37 Psychological Operations
CMF 38 Civil Affairs
Under the current in/out reclassification calls:
MOS 18B Special Forces Weapons Sergeant, 18C Special Forces Engineer Sergeant, 18D Special Forces Medical Sergeant and 18E Special Forces Communications Sergeant are open to immigration at the ranks of sergeant, staff sergeant and sergeant first class.
MOS 37F Psychological Operations Specialist is open at Skill Level 1 (pfcs. and spc.) and sergeant.
MOS 38B Civil Affairs Specialist is open from SL1 through sergeant first class.

Bonus Extension and Retraining (BEAR) Program:
MOS 18B, 18C, 18D, 18E, 37F and 38B are eligible for bonuses of $8,600 to $32,200, depending on rank and length of service extension. The eligible ranks are SL1 through sergeant first class. To qualify for BEAR, soldiers must retrain, reclassify and re-enlist in the designated military occupational specialty.
Tiered Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program:
Soldiers already serving in one of the special operations MOS receive the same bonus payments as BEAR program soldiers when they re-enlist.
38B Reclassification Program:
For Regular Army specialists through sergeants first class who can meet the rigorous requirements for 38B, including airborne qualification and successful completion of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) physical exam. Soldiers incur a three-year service obligation upon completion of training.
Critical Skill Retention Bonuses:
These huge bonuses (the biggest in the Army for officers and enlisted soldiers) are aimed at Special Forces senior noncommissioned officers in grades E-7 through E-9 who are at or near retirement eligibility. Payment levels range from $18,000 to $150,000, depending on rank and length of service extension.
Automatic promotions

Staff sergeants: Promotions to staff sergeant are virtually automatic for 18-series sergeants when they are boarded by their units. Primary-zone and secondary-zone cutoff scores for June are 14 and 15 for promotable 18-series E-5s. This compares with cutoff scores of 300 to 600 for most other MOSs that have promotion vacancies.

For more information or to apply, visit the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion website at

If you think you have what it takes, the Army's special operations community wants you.

If you think you have what it takes, the Army's special operations community wants you.

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If you think you have what it takes, the Army’s special operations community wants you.

Recruiters for high-demand jobs such as Special Forces, special operations aviators, civil affairs and psychological operations are seeking thousands of qualified, hard-charging soldiers from any military occupational specialty to fill the ranks.

Now is a good time to go spec ops. Although the Army is shrinking the active-duty force by 80,000 over the next five years, special operations needs to bring in thousands of new soldiers per year, giving qualified, combat-hardened soldiers who otherwise might leave the Army another opportunity to stay in uniform and serve in those elite ranks.

The demand for special operations soldiers is so high that despite the budget crunch, special operations MOSs offer bonuses up to $150,000 and incentives — including healthy promotion rates — to those who make the cut.

“We are always recruiting, and we are always looking for the full range of MOSs to join our ranks,” said Brig. Gen. Darsie Rogers, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command.

Soldiers also have opportunities to earn the coveted Green Beret.

“I do believe there are enormous opportunities for people to transfer and come into Special Forces,” Rogers said.

Special operations forces have played a key role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and in operations around the world these past 12 years, highlighting the importance of these troops and their highly specialized skills. Fighting alongside each other for 12 years also has resulted in the closest-ever working relationship between special operations forces and their Army brethren.

“Special operations will play a critical role in the future operating environment,” USASOC officials said in an emailed statement to Army Times.

One critical role for special operations forces will be building partner capacity, as well as complementing the Army’s effort to align its forces with the geographic combatant commands around the world, according to the command.

The spec ops community is seeking soldiers in part because years of conducting back-to-back deployments and high-risk operations have worn on the force, and the punishing training pipelines make it difficult to enter the ranks.

“Obviously, we have a pretty significant attrition rate as far as selection, recruitment and processing,” Rogers said. “So we’re always looking for soldiers who are willing to come over here and see if the special operations community is for them.”

In Special Forces alone, only one in four candidates will successfully complete the training, and attrition in the civil affairs and psychological operations pipelines is between 40 percent and 50 percent.

“Army special operations forces are not mass-produced,” according to USASOC.

USASOC has 28,000 soldiers, including operators and support soldiers. Of the 28,000, about 11,500 are qualified operators.

Tough enough?

Another reason to go spec ops now:USASOC officials do not anticipate recruiting goals will increase in the future.

“Our standards are high, and not every soldier makes it through training,” the command said. “However, in the past several months, candidates who have tried out are experiencing lower attrition in assessment and selection, which indicates that we are receiving higher-quality candidates for this year.”

Recruiting goals fluctuate, but during a typical year, special operations recruiters seek about 3,000 candidates for Special Forces, about 700 for civil affairs and about 350 for psychological operations, according to information provided by USASOC.

From recruitment to graduation, it takes an average of two years to grow a special operations soldier. Those who want to be Special Forces medics undergo nearly an additional year of medical training.

“As with any organization that has a similar mission, we must recruit more than what is actually produced,” according to USASOC.

Successful completion rates for assessment and selection courses range from 38 to 80 percent; graduation rates for the qualification courses average between 70 and 85 percent.

The special operations push for more eligible soldiers doesn’t stop at infantry and other combat arms soldiers.

“We’re not just talking about Green Berets or Rangers,” Rogers said. “We’re talking about [military intelligence] guys, signal guys and gals, logisticians, everybody. We need the breadth and depth of the Army to come work in special operations.”

The type of soldier suited for special operations should be confident, mature and able to operate independently, something soldiers have learned while serving on small forward operating bases and combat outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Rogers said.

“We’ve got to have mature people who are capable of innovative thought, who are capable of acting independently or making decisions independently if required to do so,” he said.

They also must be able to “interact with leaders, either indigenous leaders such as tribal leaders, local government officials in a foreign country, as well as U.S. officials, from ambassadors to senior military officials.”

“We’re really looking for some people on their A-game,” Rogers said.

The training is tough, but the process is necessary, he said.

“Anybody can apply to be a Special Forces soldier,” he said. “Anybody can apply to serve in the Rangers, MI or whatever the case may be. There are selection processes for all those organizations. But then again, we think those processes and those requirements are essential to assisting us [in picking] the right people to do those special operations missions, some more specialized than others. We’ve got to be able to choose from the very best our Army has to offer to those unique situations.”

The payoff

For those who make the cut, the payoff can be huge, including:

Cash bonuses. Special operations, including Special Forces, psychological operations and civil affairs, now has more incentives than any other functional area for enlisted soldiers, according to information compiled by Army Times.

Under the current Bonus Extension and Retraining (BEAR) program, bonuses for these soldiers can range from $8,600 to $32,200, depending on rank and length of service extension.

Special Forces senior NCOs at or near retirement eligibility are the target of a critical skill retention bonus. Payment levels range from $18,000 to $150,000.

Many special operations soldiers also receive Special Duty Assignment Pay, USASOC said, because they are filling an Army critical billet.

More opportunities. Under the current in/out reclassification calls, the Special Forces MOSs of 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E are open to immigration at the ranks of sergeant, staff sergeant and sergeant first class.

The psychological operations MOS (37F) is open to privates first class, specialists and sergeants; civil affairs (38B) is open to E-3 through E-7.

A civil affairs reclassification program targets regular Army specialists through sergeants first class who will commit for at least three years and can meet the requirements for the MOS, including airborne qualification and successful completion of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape physical exam.

Faster promotions. Promotion to staff sergeant is virtually automatic for 18-series sergeants when they’re boarded by their units.

For many soldiers, promotion chances could hardly be better. For example, in June, primary-zone and secondary-zone cutoff scores are 14 and 15 for promotable 18-series E-5s, according to information compiled by Army Times. This compares with cutoff scores of 300 to 600 for most other MOSs that have promotion vacancies.

In addition, E-7 selection rates for 18-series soldiers historically have been well above Army averages.

USASOC officials declined to provide specific numbers, but said promotion rates “vary by rank and [special operations] regiment, but we tend to fare very well and, at times, slightly better than the overall Army percentages.”

Demand to stay high

Overall, USASOC sees about a 10 percent natural attrition rate each year, which officials say is fairly stable because of the force’s “unique mission, camaraderie and high-quality soldiers,” as well as generous retention bonuses.

But the special operations community also faces many of the challenges seen by the rest of the Army after 12 years of war, including combat stress and strain on the troops and their families.

Leaders are focused on managing soldiers’ time at home. Special operations soldiers typically serve shorter but more frequent deployments, and making sure they have enough dwell time is critical, Rogers said.

“We really make a concerted effort to make sure they have time at home,” he said. “Will they deploy more than most? Given the past few years, I’d say it’s about the same. How will it be in the future? I can’t answer that at this time because we really don’t know what’s going to happen in Afghanistan, the footprint there, the conventional force.”

Most soldiers in special operations know what’s expected of them, Rogers said.

“I think that most of the people … realize they’re signing up to go places and do things perhaps more frequently than their peers,” he said.

Last year, U.S. Special Operations Command launched a sweeping campaign to take care of and preserve a force that has shouldered the relentless operations tempo of the past decade.

SOCOM created the Preservation of the Force and Families Task Force to look at training and education opportunities, as well as troops’ quality of life at home. The task force is also focused on increasing predictability for troops, growing resilience and improving communication with family members.

“Since 9/11, we have doubled in size, our budget has tripled, and the number of deployed special operations forces has quadrupled,” Adm. William McRaven, commander of SOCOM, testified March 6, 2012, on Capitol Hill. “It’s clear the demand for special operations capability will remain high.”

The force and their families have faced “physical and emotional stress,” McRaven said.

“The demands on special operations forces will not end in the foreseeable future,” he said in his testimony. “We will continue to sustain a world-class special operations capability.”

Staff writers Jim Tice and Joe Gould contributed to this report.

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