Cadets learning from Special Forces in Seoul
Stars and Stripes June 29, 2007
SEOUL — Daniel McGrath and Jorge Jimenez came to South Korea this summer expecting to find the kind of Special Forces soldiers portrayed in the movies — super macho guys who go on dangerous missions in remote places.
What they found was a small, professional group of soldiers whose jobs emphasize diplomacy and teaching as much as soldiering.
"The image of Special Forces in the movies is just these gung-ho people who are just insane soldiers," said Jimenez, a 20-year-old cadet from the U.S. Military Academy. "These people are very disciplined in their jobs. They aren’t out there doing push-ups and shooting guns all day."
The two West Point cadets have been embedded for more than three weeks with the 39th Special Forces Detachment, a Seoul unit that works with its South Korean counterparts as part of the Cadet Troop Leadership Training Program, or CTLC.
Jimenez said the Special Forces focus on unconventional warfare — and this unit’s mission of working closely with the South Koreans — is a preview of what he’ll be doing in Iraq or Afghanistan someday.
"The whole experience of us working here with foreign nationals is exactly what we’ll be doing in the regular Army," he said.
About 210 West Point and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets have been or will be embedded with U.S. military units across South Korea this summer. Cadets are required to participate in the four-week program before graduating.
This is the first time the Special Forces detachment of about 16 soldiers has hosted cadets. Maj. John Brennan said the program gives future officers a better understanding of Special Forces and the selection process that they or their soldiers might go through one day.
"The payback for us is long-term," he said. "Special Forces is sometimes not that well understood in our own Army — what we do and how we do it."
In the past few weeks, the cadets have jumped out of planes. They went on a three-day mountain trek. They got basic scuba diving lessons. They ate with soldiers every day, and even lived in a noncommissioned officer’s apartment.
"We wanted them to be completely in. The best way to do that is to immerse them in our lives. It gives them a good snapshot of what a soldier’s like on a personal basis and on a professional basis," Brennan said.