Special Operations Aviation / By MAJ Jason J. Dumser and CW4 Benjamin S. Arps: The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (SOAR (A)) has the unique challenge to recruit, assess, select, train, and employ a lethal and agile aviation organization within U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in support of Joint Special Operations Forces (JSOF). To best identify the right personnel who will succeed, the Regiment underwent a comprehensive review of its recruiting and assessment procedures. Similar to college or professional sports programs, the goal of the Regiment is to identify or “scout” those personnel with the requisite attributes for success in the unit. This review leveraged experts from professional military organizations, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and experts in civilian recruiting and human performance, such as psychologists and behavioral health specialists. The working group additionally sought feedback from current Night Stalkers who are at different levels in their aviation career progression to best research, develop, and implement a way-forward. This comprehensive review refined the arduous process of recruiting Night Stalkers through a more focused scouting and investment approach.
Soldiers of Green Platoon use teamwork to pull a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle (LMTV) at Fort Campbell, KY. / 160TH SOAR(A) PHOTOS
The 160th SOAR (A) is unique in many ways and arguably well resourced, but the most important resources are the Soldiers who serve in the unit. The Regiment is an all-volunteer organization that consistently demonstrates the attributes of a Special Operations warrior. To maintain this winning spirit built on trust and find the right person with potential for Special Operations Forces (SOF) service, the Regiment scouts across the Army in the Active, National Guard, and Reserve components. A person must volunteer to serve with the Regiment. Whether a candidate is a young private, non-commissioned officer (NCO), warrant officer, or commissioned officer, they must embody the Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) core attributes that are the foundation of U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC).
On one end of the spectrum, there is a large enlisted population in the Regiment requiring a more condensed approach to scouting the right talent. Enlisted and NCO service members are screened for selection using different methods due to the wide range of authorizations by rank structure in the Regiment. The recruiters scout for future Night Stalkers from Advanced Individual Training all the way through sergeant first class NCOs who are looking for a new challenge in their career. The enlisted personnel selected for assignment must successfully complete the challenging Green Platoon training program to begin their next step as a Night Stalker.
Soldiers of Green Platoon conduct tactical medical training at Fort Campbell, KY.
On the other end of the spectrum is the scouting and talent search for officers and warrant officers serving in aviation and non-aviation specialties. They are screened, assessed, and selected in a demanding formal process. The recruiting team uses the Department of the Army current force generation model and develops a schedule to identify potential candidates available for reassignment. This process serves to minimize scouting impacts to Army aviation commanders as they accomplish their training and deployment missions in support of the geographic combatant commanders.
Once the officer or warrant officer accepts the invitation to assess, the Regiment continues the process to identify them as a potential future Night Stalker by conceptualizing the “whole person” through a week-long formal assessment. This holistic look balances the candidate’s cognitive abilities to safely and effectively execute an air mission while demonstrating the ability to perform fundamental aviation related tasks. Through the assessment process the Regiment identifies candidates who possess attributes essential for success and enduring service in the 160th SOAR (A). With the high cost of training a Night Stalker, it is essential that the Regiment selects those candidates postured for success. Sometimes the Regiment will ask a candidate to return for another assessment after gaining more Army experience as an aviator and leader.
Retaining Night Stalkers for continuous service is an investment. The key to successfully progressing and manning the combat crews of the 160th isn’t the incentives or modified aircraft, but the people with whom they serve. The rated and non-rated crewmembers of the 160th SOAR (A) are provided the unique opportunity to remain with the unit for longer time periods because of the training and resources invested in each crew member. Just as an individual’s savings and retirement account grows stronger and more successful by investing in it, so do Night Stalkers in the 160th SOAR (A). Investing in Night Stalkers requires critical thinking and leader engagement, because commanders must rely on their Night Stalkers to perform at the highest levels for the Joint SOF they support. This investment begins with the scouting process, continues through Green Platoon training and evolves through leader development and the challenging mission environment of the 160th.
Although the recruiting and assessment process requires time-consuming efforts, the effects of investing time and energy in each candidate results in a well-trained Night Stalker who will serve the needs of the nation for years to come. Scouting and recruiting will remain a vital part of personnel integration into the Regiment. As people remain the most valuable resource of the 160th SOAR (A), only through deliberate scouting and assessment can the Regiment instill the winning spirit that will carry the next generation of Night Stalkers forward to accomplish any mission no matter the difficulty.
Night Stalkers Don’t Quit!
MAJ Jason J. Dumser is the S1 and CW4 Benjamin S. Arps is the recruiting officer for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) located at Fort Campbell, KY.