Rusty Bradley- Special Forces’ terminal diagnosis

BOUHAMMER NOTE- I am pleased to welcome my good friend, Major Rusty Bradley (ret) as a new Guest Blogger here on A Career Special Forces soldier with multiple deployments and an accomplished author, Rusty is a great addition to the list of guest bloggers here on this site.


As policy makers look to trim the Defense budget, they should start by cutting the dead weight around the Special Forces community and stop spending millions to train soldiers that would fail to meet the old standards.

  • Special Forces live by five simple truths.
  • Humans are more important than Hardware.
  • Quality is better than Quantity.
  • Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced.
  • Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
  • Most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance

These “truths” act as our compass through the labyrinth of unconventional warfare. But for more than a decade, the Army special operations community has ignored the second, third and fourth truth creating a Special Forces regiment rife with soldiers who would not make the cut before Sept. 11, 2001.

Historically, the Special Forces – designated the Green Berets by John Kennedy – only accepted the most highly qualified and capable soldiers. The standards were never compromised for any reason because the extreme situations and environments where Special Forces soldiers operate require the best our country can produce.

But the demand for Special Forces teams after Sept. 11, 2001 far exceeded the supply. To meet the demand, standards were lowered, corners were cut and training pipeline started graduating substandard soldiers. Look at it from this perspective, imagine the surgeon operating on your child graduated medical school because he could maintain a “D” average or just did not quit. Would you want that him doing surgery on the person you love most in this world?

Green Berets are supposed to be the most diverse and adaptive soldiers on the battlefield. Trained to think and operate like guerillas/insurgents, they are capable of operating far behind enemy lines working with and training rebel forces. They can also train government troops in counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense. Green Berets on horseback led the Northern Alliance to victory against the Taliban during the first years of the war in Afghanistan. Special Forces built and trained both the Afghan and Iraqi armies. On the African continent, Special Forces teams are helping Congolese troops fight the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony and in Colombia Special Forces teams trained soldiers to battle the FARC. Special Forces soldiers must be of the highest quality and caliber because that is exactly what your enemies will put against you.

In the summer of 2005, my Special Forces team was on patrol in northern Kandahar province. We were about to head into a valley where we were frequently ambushed by the Taliban. My team sergeant wanted to test fire the machine guns on our vehicles since we’d had to hastily leave for the patrol. We found a large vertical rock and used that as the target. My gunner was told to fire a short burst. I was in the lead truck and my gunner was a new sergeant who had just graduated from the Special Forces qualification course.

I gave the order to fire and stuck my fingers in my ears to muffle the thunderous boom of the .50 caliber machine gun. Click. Nothing happened. The new sergeant left a piece of the weapon back at the base camp. The gun was useless. The maintenance of weapons is a basic soldier skill, and the new sergeant failed. I found out later, he was part of a number of soldiers who had been allowed to enter the organization as long as they did not “quit.”

That was my first experience with the “new” Special Forces soldier. When I returned to Fort Bragg, I was horrified to learn that the standards had been dropped and would not be raised again because of the expansion of Special Forces. Every group was getting a fourth battalion and commanders needed bodies.

These less than qualified soldiers account for ninety percent of the problems in the command. I can think of at least half dozen cases where soldiers that would not have been selected are now getting charged with crimes ranging from drunk driving to theft. This kind of misconduct is an issue Army wide.

The Associated Press reported in February “enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crimes and other misconduct shot up from about 5,600 in 2007, as the Iraq war peaked, to more than 11,000 last year.” The general officer corp has its own share of scandals from Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward’s unauthorized spending, sexual misconduct charges against Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, and other episodes of gambling and drinking, according to the Associated Press. The Special Forces community is not immune to “big Army” problems. The issues are just more acute in our smaller community unless standards are upheld.

The problem won’t correct itself, but any objections to the lowering standards are considered non-compliance and is used as cause to deny promotion or schools for professional development to those blowing the whistle. Commanders and policy makers have forgotten how to object or say the word “no” anymore, even if it is detrimental to the force and ultimately the soldiers doing the job.

I’m saying no.

Our country deserves better than what we are giving and what they are getting. We must turn this trend around and get it back on a path to success or there will be fewer and fewer victories at the cost of more and more American lives. As a leader, I didn’t expect my soldiers to do things I would not do myself. You cannot hope for change, you must make it happen. Commanders need to establish higher standards for every candidate – man or woman – and purge the ranks of soldiers that no longer exemplify what it means to be a Green Beret. Cutting the dead weight will be painful at first as there are fewer soldiers to do more work, but it will leave the ranks filled with the best soldiers. If more soldiers, veterans and commanders do not begin to stand their ground and force this great country back on course, we face losing what we all hold most dear.

MAJ Rusty Bradley (Ret.) deployed to Afghanistan eight times, most recently in 2012. After 21 years in the U.S. Army, he was medically retired in 2014. Bradley is also the author of the book “Lions of Kandahar.”

8 thoughts on “Rusty Bradley- Special Forces’ terminal diagnosis”

  1. Thank you, Major Bradley, for your bravery and commitment to our Nation. Your service does not go unnoticed. God Bless you!

  2. Major Bradley. I’m Australian and even from here, I’m grateful honored to be able to say Thankyou to you, for your honorable sacrifice. .I’m so touched by your story. . May God Bless you always n Bless the Militaryn Veterans. .

  3. Just finished reading Lions of Kandahar last nght, This mornings news reports five Special Forces killed by “friendly fire”. It appears either the wrong coordinates were given or the B1 made the wrong drop. Frightening how these lowering of standards may have caused the deaths of our soldiers. Thank you for your service and may God bless these men and their families.

    1. Yes Peg, Rusty’s book is awesome. Also yes it is a shame we had any soldiers killed by friendly fire. It happens in the “fog of war” when life and death decisions have to be made in milli-seconds, but I don’t think we know enough yet to reach a conclusion as to the exact cause.

  4. I think it would be a good idea for future Presidents of the US to have military qualifications going into the job, either having previously served in battle or at least volunteered, so that they have an idea of what our men and women in uniform go through, when engaged in war. Otherwise, I don’t feel they can really understand foreign “diplomacy”, as well as how to be an effective battle strategist.

  5. I love to read. To me there are three types of books. The ones you read and immediately donate to the salvation Army. The second types are ones I keep because they are semi-good, but might wind up at the Salvation Army anyway. The third type are what I call Savory books. You keep those because they will be read over and over again through the years.

    Rusty’s book “Lions of Kandahar” is in my Savory section and will stay there.

    I never served in the armed forces because I failed my physical. I was ashamed of this for many,many years afterward and would not admit it to anyone.

    This is why I have a high admiration for those who have served, especially those who have served in wartime. It’s a shame and emarassment how our soldiers were treated when they returned from Viet-Nam. The war I should have served in.

  6. I had the pleasure of meeting rusty bradley several weeks ago at books a million in myrtle beach, sc. I just finshed reading his book lions of kandahar it was really good. Thank you for serving our country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.