Pandemic blamed for impacting combat-readiness of special forces

STARKE, Fla. — Hundreds of special forces recruits are trained to become elite Green Berets at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center.

It’s no small task to take home that title. These men and women can be considered masters of warfare. Action News Jax got an exclusive inside look at one of the most dangerous things they do — high-altitude sky diving.

“You walk to the edge. You look at the height, and you realize, ‘OK. If things go wrong I’m probably going to die.’” Action News Jax reporter Meghan Moriarty spoke with several senior leaders in the special forces. The identities of these men and women must be protected, which is why we won’t be naming them or showing their faces in our interviews. “Your first jump is unique because it’s the first time you throw yourself out of a perfectly good airplane, which is a completely unnatural act.”

At about 10,000 feet, recruits exit the plane, but they don’t deploy their parachutes right away.

“As they’re moving in the air, they’re checking their body position,” one senior Green Beret leader told us. “They’re checking their altitude, and at a specific altitude they will then initiate and pull.”

TRENDING NEWS: Rep. Charlie Crist announces run for Florida governor

This operation allows small teams of Green Berets to go deep into hostile territory undetected.

“We are always in a constant struggle for people who want to do this,” He said. “It’s a very minute segment of society that can strive in this environment, so COVID only made things infinitely harder for us.”

Currently, recruits must quarantine upon arrival to base for two weeks of isolation. Recruits are also monitored consistently throughout training.

“All of that stacks up,” he said. “There’s a monetary expense to all of this stuff that the taxpayer has to end up footing the bill for.”

The Pentagon has been asking Congress for $11 billion to cover the effects of COVID-19 on defense contracts. However, what is harder to calculate is how COVID has impacted training and combat readiness.

“We’re doing our best, but there’s only so much virtual training that a person can do,” he explained. As a senior leader in the special forces, he has seen firsthand the vast difference between the types of training. “You actually have to go out, put your hands on the weapon. You have to go out of the aircraft.”

Moriarty: “What kind of restrictions has COVID put on the number of people you can bring on base?”

Green Beret Senior Leader: “Because we’re at a reduced capacity for training, I can only get so many guys into boot camp because of COVID. We’re in an airborne unit. I can only get so many guys in airborne school, which means I only have so many troops to deploy.”

For security purposes, he could not tell Action News Jax how many recruits the unit is down.

As restrictions begin to ease, they now have availability for more people to sign up. They host recruitment events several times a year at Camp Blanding.

“Anyone in the greater Jacksonville area that wanted to try out or potentially become a Green Beret can do so right here in their backyard,” He said. “You’re going to be required to run distances up to five miles. You’re going to be required to have a backpack on that’s very heavy, and hike an undetermined distance and you have to do it in a certain time.”

LOCAL NEWS: Plans for new sports grill stirs concern in Jacksonville’s only Orthodox Jewish neighborhood

It’s no walk in the park. Candidates must have physical toughness and intelligence.

“You’re also, one day, going to be woken up very early in the morning. You’re going to have to get a bunch of gear and head out into events that you have no idea what they are,” He explained. “They test your physical and mental fortitude for an entire 24 hours.”

Once selected, candidates are vetted and trained to attend special forces assessment and selection. If successful, they go on to a 13- to 14-month qualification course.

“If you do the hard things in life, your life will be easy. If you do the easy things in life, your life will always be hard.”

If you or anyone you know is interested in the Florida National Guard or Special Forces, the men and women of Camp Blanding invite you to spend a weekend with them. You can reach out directly at 321-210-1669. We’ll continue to add recruitment event information as it becomes available.