WASHINGTON — Army Special Operations Forces may soon be arriving at a high school near you.
So said Lt. Gen. Jon Braga, the top general in the Army’s Special Operations Command, in an exclusive interview at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference on October 11.
The command draws a significant number of its Special Forces soldiers from the 18X program, which allows future soldiers to enlist with a guaranteed opportunity to attend Airborne School and Special Forces Evaluation and Selection. In recent years, it has also quietly launched a similar program, 37X, for psychological operations roles. Another contract option also offers candidates a chance to join the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Braga wants the 37X program to appeal to young Americans and tap into the rich vein of talent that the direct entry route for Green Berets has found.
“We build about 50% of our workforce through the 18X program for street-level direct hires – and they’re very talented people…[like] journalists, stockbrokers, lawyers” and other STEM graduates, Braga explained. “That was the cornerstone of our [recruiting] efforts.”
It’s also possible that the overproduction of such contracts could help fill ranks elsewhere in the force, which is struggling with a historically bad recruitment crisis. Special Operations Direct Entry programs allow unsuccessful recruits to be reassigned based on Army needs – an oft-repeated joke holds that the 18X program is the 82nd Airborne Division’s primary source of recruits .
The special ops community could also do a better job of getting the word out, especially when it comes to their PSYOP roles, according to Braga.
“We need to do a better job of translating these opportunities not just for high school students, but…[also] people already in the labor market,” he said. “If I just said, ‘Hey, do you want to come over and be a psychological ops operator?’ some people are like, ‘What are you talking about?’ But what if I walked in and said, ‘Hey, do you want to be a military social media influencer?’ I think I know what you told me right there.
Braga said candidates often had “no idea…[they] can have a career” in influencer operations, which requires everything from graphic design to copywriting, production skills and more.
Another challenge is finding the right messengers.
Traditionally, the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion has focused exclusively on recruiting active-duty soldiers, or “in-service” recruiting, Braga explained. But that could change.
“I asked [if we] can modify that to give them a broader mission statement,” he said.
More operational units from the command will also join recruiting efforts in the coming year. The Army recently launched its “Meet your Army” campaign, which pairs combat units with the service’s recruiting brigades to provide people and resources in support of recruiting events, and USASOC is joining this effort.
But according to Braga, the recruiting push could go beyond working with recruiters or expanding the SORB’s mission.
Some units are already on their own to find talents that fit their needs. Braga pointed to efforts by the 7th Special Forces Group to recruit from colleges and universities with high concentrations of native Spanish speakers. The unit is aligned to Central and South America, and all qualified Special Forces personnel must maintain fluency in Spanish.
Other corners of the command create their own content to entice potential recruits, such as the 4th Psychological Operations Group’s “Ghosts in the Machine” video. Posted in May, the disturbing three-and-a-half-minute video has amassed more than 1.1 million views and made national headlines.
Braga wants to see more efforts like this, as well as authentic depictions of special ops life that go beyond Hollywood production value.
“The younger generation — they live on different platforms; they consume media in different ways. And we have to adapt to that,” the general said. “[Our content]must be organic, because that’s what people like to eat. [If] it’s more believable, and the more transparency I think you have, the more people understand, “Oh, I could do that…I want to do that.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the military, specializing in accountability reports, personnel issues, and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master’s thesis on the influence of the Cold War-era Department of Defense. on Hollywood films of World War II.