How the Army is training the next generation of Green Berets amid a global pandemic

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Training for about 2,500 Special Forces students and candidates at Fort Bragg continues at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

Leaders are balancing the safety of students and the cadre in the midst of coronavirus concerns, said Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, commander of the school.

During an April 9 virtual town hall meeting on Facebook, Roberson said Special Forces, civil affairs, and psychological operations assessment and selection are considered mission essential.

"We are trying to balance the readiness of our future force with our current readiness," Roberson said about why it's important to continue mission critical courses.

Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Fancher said families and soldiers will always be the No. 1 concern.

Special Forces candidates from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School engage an enemy while running through a wooded area during the evaluation and final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 16, 2019. Robin Sage has been the litmus test for Soldiers striving to earn the Green Beret for more than 40 years.

Special Forces candidates from the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School engage an enemy while running through a wooded area during the evaluation and final phase of field training known as Robin Sage in central North Carolina, July 16, 2019. Robin Sage has been the litmus test for Soldiers striving to earn the Green Beret for more than 40 years.

"It's the fabric of who we are," Fancher said. "With that balance, we have to provide an exquisite capability for the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. We need to provide an exquisite force that can deploy at night if necessary on behalf of our nation and our allies."

Mission-enhancing courses like advanced shooting skills or dive school have been postponed, and the captain's career course and language course have moved to virtual teaching, Roberson said.

But, Roberson said, some courses and training, including medical-related ones, require in-person teaching.

"If you're going over instruments and tools, you're going to have to be there in person," he said. "If you're going over terms about physiology, you can probably do that in a virtual environment."

With in-person classes, he said, social distancing and hygiene measures are in place, and there are periodic health screenings to take temperatures and ensure everyone's healthy.

Responding to an online user who asked if continuing courses and training through school is "endangering" students and the cadre, Roberson repeated the reasoning that they are "mission critical."

"Our nation depends on us," he said. "Our enemies are out there. They could take advantage of this. We don't want to start from a cold start getting our production line back up."

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct shooting drills at a Mauritanian range during Flintlock 2019, Feb. 15, 2019 in Atar, Mauritania.

Green Berets assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) conduct shooting drills at a Mauritanian range during Flintlock 2019, Feb. 15, 2019 in Atar, Mauritania.

He described candidates taking the course as a "clean population" who haven't really left Fort Bragg since training started.

There are students in a military occupational specialty phase at Camp Mackall, which Roberson said is an isolated area where the population has been "semi-quarantined."

"Those students, they're not seeing anybody but themselves," he said, adding that trainers who leave the area are taking precautions.

As of April 9, Roberson said, no one in the Special Warfare Center School enterprise has tested positive for COVID-19.

Roberson said Special Forces Qualification Courses have continued with a six-week tactical skills course. After that, the Special Forces exercise known as Robin Sage is expected to start.

Robin Sage is a role-playing exercise spread over parts of 15 counties that is the final training exercise before Special Forces candidates graduate and are assigned to a unit.

"We're doing everything we can to mitigate risks out there while carrying on this mission-critical role for our nation when it needs us the most," Roberson said.

Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at rriley@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3528.

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