Hopeful PSYOP Rangers compete to become best of both worlds



Pretty neat story, there are photos and a video at the end of it. (on the link)


Hopeful PSYOP Rangers compete to become best of both worlds

By Sgt. Kyle J. Cosner
U.S. Army Special Operations Command

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, Feb. 18, 2004) — Their reward will be combat parachute operations and air assaults into enemy territory, some of the toughest training in the U.S. military and so many deployments that woodland camouflage uniforms might become nothing more than a distant memory.

But don’t be fooled by the shoulder tabs and combat scrolls they seek — the mission of these motivated recruits won’t be to capture or kill terrorists in distant lands. Winning the hearts, minds and cooperation of their countrymen is the name of this game.

A handful of hopefuls from the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) here began a weeklong assessment and selection course Feb. 2 that, if they’re successful, will land them a coveted two-year tour with Tactical PSYOP Detachment 940 — the 75th Ranger Regiment’s PSYOP force provider of choice.

“Our Soldiers are the only (PSYOP specialists) that get to go to Ranger School,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Browski, TPD 940’s detachment sergeant. “To become Ranger qualified, they’ve got to come to this detachment. To come to this detachment, they’ve got to go through the selection process.”

The five volunteers are all young, junior-enlisted Soldiers trying to be all they can be — the PSYOP equivalent to the Rangers of the renowned infantry unit. But before the week even kicked off, the five quickly became four as one Soldier was injured during intense buildup to the tough five-day trial.

Throughout the week’s assessment, detachment leaders would make it clear to the remaining four that if they want to perform wartime PSYOP missions, they’d need to prove that they are themselves warriors first.


For one particular candidate, a young specialist, it had already been a long day, and it wasn’t even 7 a.m. yet. The Soldier, from 4th POG’s 8th PSYOP Battalion, was carrying almost 90 pounds of gear, plus his body armor, while briskly road marching the third of many off-road miles when a 940 assessor demanded a rendition of the Ranger Creed.

“Recognizing…that I volunteered…as…a Ranger,” the Soldier stammered between out-of-breaths, “fully…knowing…”

The assessor just shook his head. It’s going to be a long week for these Soldiers.


Out of necessity, the assessment process is rigorous. Because of the peak performance that Ranger commanders demand when they employ TPD 940, Browski said the detachment’s assessment and selection course is essential — unit leaders must know that a Soldier can accomplish the mission and make it out alive.

Due to the unit’s high operational tempo, PSYOP task competency and the physical strength and endurance required to keep up with the Rangers are factors that must be known before a Soldier can be accessed into the detachment, said Capt. Frank Gasca, TPD 940’s detachment commander.

“What we have to do is find the best possible PSYOPers that we can find, those that will be able to move with the regiment and operate at a level that the regiment operates at,” Gasca said. “A lot of Soldiers go through this training, and some are qualified, but we can’t accept everybody.”

Designed to balance the assessment of recruits between mental and physical factors, the week’s event would include a mix of classroom and field time designed to overwhelm hopeful Soldiers. More than 11 classes and 30 miles or running and ruck marching over five days would help the best candidates rise to the top, Browski said.

“The stopping, the going — we’re trying to … see how they think and operate once they are mentally and physically fatigued, because that’s what they’re going to experience on-duty during a mission,” Gasca said. “More will be expected of them than we’re giving here, so we have to find that person that’s not going to quit.”

“Some of the practical exercises we do are very much in line with what we may be held to do in support of the regiment, and many of the psychological operations problems and applications are geared toward what we have done in the past and what we anticipate doing in the future.”

“This happens once to twice a year,” Gasca added. “We do it when we actually need people because of our turnover rate. Last assessment, we accessed eight Soldiers into the unit, and there were about 20 to 30 guys trying out. This time, we don’t need as many, so we elected to have a smaller class.”

Gasca said that by identifying potential candidates for his unit, he was grooming the psychological operations career field’s best Soldiers to mentor others.

“Once they come out of this unit, they go back into the PSYOP world as leaders,” he said.


The week’s first major field test was reserved for Feb. 4, the third day of the assessment. With a comprehensive team building exercise scheduled for the morning of Feb. 4, the TPD 940 cadre was hoping to see just how hard they could push their young recruits.

During the team exercise, the assessors would push hard, but the volunteers pushed back harder.

“In between phases of today’s operation, they’re going to do about a 10-mile trek through the woods,” Gasca said. “They’ve done … four to five miles with rucks on their back, then we’re doing a transition phase where we’re going to try to fatigue them a little bit more, then they’ll … go on a run for another five miles. They’ll end up in about the same place, go through some more transitional exercises, and then they’ll do a buddy-carry for another mile back to the unit — but they don’t know that yet.”

The “transitional exercises” that Gasca referred to were what normal Soldiers would call “getting smoked.” The Soldiers were subjected to a number of uphill runs during the ruck march, all while wearing body armor and their buddies on their shoulders — carrying total loads easily in excess of 200 pounds.

Why? “We have to find that person that’s not going to quit,” Gasca reiterated.

“Do any of you know how to do anything tactically?” Browski asked the Soldiers after one particularly intense ‘transitional exercise.’ “If I catch anybody else laying in the middle of the road, you’re going to get smoked!”

That left more than one Soldier wondering exactly what it was they had just done.

Suddenly quickening the pace, the cadre took the Soldiers off the road through the rough terrain of the woods. Such unexpected turns are what successful candidates can expect during real-world operations, Browski said.

With a variety of rucksack weights distributed between the recruits, TPD cadre try to encourage teamwork by having the Soldiers share each other’s loads, which ranged from 50 pounds to more than 90.

After the five-mile road march portion of the event, the Soldiers were directed to move supplies intended for an entire unit, including a mountain of meals-ready-to-eat boxes and five-gallon water jugs. The only catch was, they had to sprint uphill with all of the supplies, with one of the candidates still wearing the 90-pound rucksack.

“Get it on! Get it on! Hurry up,” were among a colorful collection of shouts directed toward the already-fatigued Soldiers. “That’s your Ranger element up front, TPD, you’d better get up there with them!”

After completing the heavy-lift resupply mission, a shout of “Rangers lead the way!” came from the direction of the recruits.

Staff Sgt. Jason Gaboury, a TPD 940 team leader, just smiled as he put on his tennis shoes in preparation for the upcoming five-mile run.


Administratively situated in the 9th PSYOP Battalion’s Company B, TPD 940 is known among psychological operations specialists at Fort Bragg — and Armywide — as one of the most competent field PSYOP elements in the business. Constant deployments over the past two years have made the detachment one of America’s busiest special operations units.

When the Rangers go, so does 940.

If the Rangers are called in, commanders generally need guaranteed results — and fast. According to Gasca, some of those results can usually be directly attributed to his Soldiers’ PSYOP work while deployed with the regiment.

“The Rangers have a great appreciation for PSYOP, and especially Detachment 940,” he said. “We’ve created a good name with them and we’ve created a good working relationship, so they really understand our mission and they utilize us pretty thoroughly. There’s no lack of work once we get on a mission.”

Well-known among the PSYOP volunteers is how four TPD 940 Soldiers received combat jump devices for their participation in the 75th Ranger Regiment’s parachute assault onto Objective Rhino at Dry Lake Airstrip in southern Afghanistan on Oct. 19, 2001. The jump, which effectively began U.S. ground combat operations in the war on terrorism, was the first mass tactical combat parachute drop since the 75th and the 82nd Airborne Division jumped into Panama during Operation Just Cause in December 1989.

The PSYOP Soldiers parachuted with approximately 200 Rangers into Afghanistan to operate portable loudspeaker equipment designed for broadcasting surrender messages to opposition forces, and was exactly the type of mission Gasca said the unit constantly trains for.

However, more typical unit missions can range from leaflet dissemination coordination and radio transmissions to more conventional loudspeaker broadcasts. But Gasca said that no matter the method, most of the detachment’s work is done face to face.

“(Our mission is) very much mixing with the culture and the local leaders,” he said. “We try to use every aspect of PSYOP that we possibly can to accomplish the mission.”

Gasca cited this unit versatility as the main reason for the structure of the assessment week.


“We don’t just scuff them up,” Browski said, referencing the numerous times the young troops were exhausted physically by the training or forced to hit the deck after careless or unsatisfactory performances. Although only the most physically fit psy-operators are accessed into TPD 940, Browski said it is just as essential to get troops who can flex their mental muscles during operations in enemy territory.

“We need guys that are smart, that can think on their feet. And they’ve got to be strong. We need the complete package — exactly what any commander would want.”

Although it’s not as flashy as the field stuff, time spent training in classroom environments is a big part of the detachment’s selection process, Browski said. So big, in fact, that the classroom phase can often equate to the Soldiers cramming for exams.

“During the classroom phase, they can get overwhelmed,” he said. “In the classes, we try to get the information to them — stuff they can really use. But in the evaluation phase, they’ll come out of it and feel good about themselves. That’s where it really gets fun for them.”

But Browski said that for the bits of enjoyment experienced during the assessment, there were plenty of aching bodies, broken egos and self-doubt to go around for the recruits, who are forced to operate at full physical capacity, as a team, with little reinforcement from detachment leaders during the field assessments.

“All we tell them is the duty uniform and where to be, so there is a lot of anticipation on their part,” he said.


On Feb. 5, the fourth and second-to-last day, the 940 volunteers embarked upon the assessment’s capstone exercise — a simulated real-world PSYOP mission in a Military Operations in an Urban Terrain environment.

Within the confines of a gray, cement-blocked mock city, the recruits were to be assessed on a variety of combat PSYOP applications, including village assessments, combat loudspeaker operations and detainee interrogations. The evaluations were all based on events that Gasca said new TPD 940 members were sure to see not long after joining the unit.

The scenario — an Afghan village, wary of American forces and in need of its first ground assessment — is one many TPD 940 Soldiers have actually experienced for themselves, according to unit leaders. Ultra-realistic training is the best way to determine a Soldier’s potential, Browski said.

Putting the week’s classroom time to work, precede their entry into the village with a loudspeaker broadcast — in Russian. To add a sense of realism to the exercise, the Soldiers are provided with a role-playing interpreter to help them communicate with the villagers, who will only speak that language.

After negotiating for a meeting with the village elder and the “Ranger element” gives the green light for entry into the town, the recruits cautiously made their way towards the villagers, all of whom were drawn into the street by the somewhat successful loudspeaker broadcast.

The PSYOP Soldiers began to interact with the village role-players immediately after stepping into the city, and right away made a critical mistake — they identified themselves to a villager as psychological operations specialists, a move the 940 assessors would later denounce during an after action review as contrary to establishing credibility with foreign nationals.

The TPD 940 recruits are then led through a maze of dark rooms, at the end of which they are introduced to the village elder. “Please, please, come sit down,” said the somewhat convincing role-player, himself a PSYOP specialist.

Role players, the Soldiers and their assessors all cram into a small room. It will be an uphill battle for the recruits to accomplish their mission of negotiating a door-to-door assessment of the village by the Rangers.

During the meeting, the TPD assessors stop the meeting abruptly when the recruits persist in trying to communicate with the villagers in English and hand gestures.

One senior assessor imparts advice that he said would be critical when deployed — “If you’ve got an (interpreter), you’d better use him!” The assessor emphasized that knowing how to use available resources is the key to success for PSYOP field operators.

Lines between recruiting assessment and training exercise are constantly blurred throughout the week, and sometimes it seems as if the TPD 940 cadre are more interested in developing their volunteers than testing them.

As the meeting continues, the PSYOP Soldiers attempt to question the chief, through the interpreter this time, about opium farms and weapons caches rumored to be in the area. Tensions rise and fall during the exchange, but progress is made as tea is brought in and calmingly sipped by all parties. Eventually, the elder agrees to let the Americans perform an assessment on his village.

But the meeting is interrupted again, this time for good, when the simulated Ranger element detains a villager found with a rocket-propelled grenade. Problems arise for the recruits when the village elder learns that the Americans had detained his comrade.

“PSYOP is not all touchy-feely handshake stuff,” Browski reminds them. “You’ve got to be straightforward and direct. What are the facts here? They say there are no weapons but there’s an RPG. You tell them these men you’re with will find the weapons. We don’t have to sit, drink tea and eat cookies — we have to stay mission focused.”

The Soldiers carefully tap-danced around tensions as they questioned the detainee while trying to answer the elder’s demands — and Browski’s. Soon after, unit leaders halted the role-playing for a quick after action review — and a close to a tough day. With only one short day left, the assessment is almost over.

But for the Soldiers selected to join the unit, it would only be the beginning.


“We do it because we want to be leaders,” said Spc. Alec Petkoff, a recently accessed PSYOP specialist in TPD 940. “Everybody knows about the assessment, but out of everybody in 4th POG, these five people came out for the assessment. Whether they make it or don’t make, it doesn’t matter. They’ve already set themselves apart.”

Gasca said the one thing that the Soldiers chosen for accession into TPD 940 could expect upon arrival to the unit was to make the transformation from combat supporter to warfighter.

“The one thing we can pretty much guarantee them is that they’re going to combat,” Gasca said. “That’s something that not every unit in the Army can guarantee their Soldiers — (for) about the last two years, we’ve had an element from the detachment in combat at all times.”

They’ve seen the Taliban. And the Fedayeen Saddam. They’ve met with indigenous peoples all over the U.S. Central Command theater of operations in an effort to soften hard targets for the Rangers. They are constantly training to balance their hybrid role as PSYOP-Rangers. And they’re ready to do it all over again — TPD 940 is always mission ready, from the newest Soldier to the most veteran — because hard work makes hard men.

“We’re trying to change a behavior, and we’re going to do whatever we can … to accomplish the Ranger mission,” Gasca said.