US Army's Special Warfare Center And School Is Getting A Half-Billion-Dollar Upgrade

Soldiers attending the Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course practice skills needed to perform amphibious infiltration, June 7, 2018, Key West Florida.
Army photo by Robert Lindee

Maj. Gen. Kurt Sonntag has watched and listened to the construction work outside his Fort Bragg office for as long as he has been in command of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

Glancing out the window of Bryant Hall, the sight of hard hats and fluorescent vests brings a smile to his face.

“It’s been fun watching,” Sonntag said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

After years of efforts from past SWCS leaders, the schoolhouse that trains the nation’s Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations soldiers is undertaking a long-overdue transformation.

At a cost of nearly half a billion dollars, the Army is building new facilities and updating others across Fort Bragg and nearby Camp Mackall and at SWCS facilities in Key West, Florida, and Yuma, Arizona.

The end result, officials said, will be a footprint that more closely resembles a college campus than a military installation.

That’s no accident, Sonntag said. Army special operations is competing with colleges and universities for the nation’s best. And to compete, SWCS must upgrade its facilities as well as the way it teaches and trains soldiers across the special operations enterprise.

“We’ve got to invest more in our people,” he said. “We’ve got to catch up and stay ahead of technological advances.”

At any given time, SWCS has approximately 3,000 students, mostly at Fort Bragg, but also spread out in satellite facilities at other installations. That includes newly trained troops and special operations soldiers returning for more advanced skills.

The school long ago outgrew its facilities, now taking up shop in temporary buildings, trailers and even hotel rooms. But that is expected to change in the coming decade, as the revitalized campus takes shape.

At Fort Bragg, much of the ongoing construction of the new SWCS campus is focused on a block bordered by Ardennes Street and Gruber, Reilly and Zabitosky roads.

There, two multi-story buildings have risen from the remains of a block that was razed in recent years. A pedestrian bridge over Zabitosky Road connects the new development to nearby barracks buildings.

The first of those buildings, a special operations language and culture center, opened earlier this year.

Built at a cost of $64.7 million, the language and culture center will be dedicated as Clay Hall early next year. Hall was credited with helping to rebuild Europe after World War II.

The soon-to-be-named Clay Hall is home to the Special Warfare Education Group, special operations language and cultural classrooms and the Marquat Memorial Library.

Next door, a $48 million special operations training command building is taking shape that will eventually house the 1st Special Warfare Training Group headquarters and additional classrooms.

Along with the existing Bryant Hall and neighboring Kennedy Hall on the other side of Ardennes Street, the four buildings will help form the core of a new campus that will surround open green space, tree-lined walkways and a planned statue garden. An additional pedestrian bridge will eventually link the campus to a nearby food court.

In all, the SWCS projects are valued at more than $456 million, with more than $101 million of construction already completed and another $112 million under construction.

The transformation of SWCS will bring facilities more in line with other institutions of higher education, officials said. But it also will upgrade tactical training facilities at Camp Mackall and the Gen. Yarborough Special Operations Forces Complex off Chicken Road.

But the centerpiece will be the campus on Ardennes.

Lt. Col. Sonya Dyer is command engineer for SWCS. She said officials aimed to consolidate the current command footprint while creating a space that is pedestrian friendly.

“It does have a campus feel to it,” she said.

Dyer said the new classroom spaces are better suited to a more technology-focused world and tailored to the specific needs of special operations forces — a far cry from the 1960s-era concrete buildings that now house much of the school. Other parts of the command are in modular trailers or temporary space strewn across Fort Bragg, including two hotels.

“The end state will be consolidation in modern, state-of-the-art facilities,” she said. “This brings the facilities up to what it should be.”

Joseph Rasmus, an engineer technician for SWCS, said the new space is flexible, allowing soldiers to meet in small study groups or as part of a larger lecture.

“Back in the 1960s, they didn’t think about that stuff,” he said.

Rasmus said classroom space has long been tight on Fort Bragg. The new construction alleviates some of that crunch and overcomes challenges related to poor connectivity and overwhelmed electrical systems in current facilities.

“There’s no question there will be an improvement,” Dyer said. “It’s a major improvement.”

Sonntag said the updated SWCS facilities fulfill the vision laid out by a previous commander, then-Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, who led the command from 2010 to 2012 and has since retired as a lieutenant general.

Between Sacolick and Sonntag, four other commanding generals have shepherded the development process, which will undoubtedly continue years beyond Sonntag’s time at the helm of SWCS.

“It took five years just to get started,” he said. “(Lt. Gen. Sacolick) got everything in motion. We’re just seeing the fruits of that vision.”

When Sonntag attended the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1991, he stepped foot in many of the same facilities those training Special Forces soldiers have used for nearly the entire history of SWCS.

But the need for special operations soldiers and the type of training required to produce and maintain the force has long outpaced those aging facilities, leading to a myriad of “temporary satellite” locations across Fort Bragg.

Key West is home to SWCS’s underwater operations school. Yuma houses the freefall parachute school. And other facilities are based in Kansas, Colorado, Washington, Virginia and Florida.

With the new campus, Sonntag said, the command can not only consolidate its facilities on Fort Bragg, but also live up to its moniker as the nation’s Special Operations Center of Excellence.

“It will become a centerpiece,” of Fort Bragg, he said.

The goal, the general added, is to create a campus that can adapt with new technologies related to augmented and virtual reality and the needs of special operations forces, rather than be outgrown by them.

“These will be there 100 years from now,” Sonntag said, looking at the new campus taking shape outside his window. “Probably longer.”

“This is going to have to last us,” he added.


©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.

Then the rhythmic clapping begins.

This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.

"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."

Read More Show Less

Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.

In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.

"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."

Well, I feel better. How about you?

On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.

"We do not know where they are," James Jeffrey told members of Congress of the 100+ escaped detainees. ISIS has about 18,000 "members" left in Iraq and Syria, according to recent Pentagon estimates.

A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."

"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.

President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.

"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."

The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."

Trump said that "small number of U.S. troops" would remain in Syria to protect oilfields.

Kade Kurita (U.S. Army photo(

Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.

"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article by Matthew Cox originally appeared on, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.

Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.

Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.

There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.

Read More Show Less
The Minot Air Force Base main gate (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Read More Show Less