Cover: National Guard Special Forces

National Guard Special Forces

Enhancing the Contributions of Reserve Component Army Special Operations Forces

Published Nov 6, 2012

by John E. Peters, Brian Shannon, Matthew E. Boyer


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Research Questions

  1. What can USASOC expect in terms of the supply of ARNG Special Forces, and what are the factors that can limit and constrain it?
  2. What is the legal and policy framework governing ARNG Special Forces?
  3. What skills, knowledge, and abilities might ARNG Special Forces personnel bring to future deployments from their civilian lives?
  4. What will the demand be for Special Forces generated by ongoing combat operations, security cooperation activities, and established joint training requirements?
  5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of ARNG Special Forces Groups?
  6. What options exist for making ARNG Special Forces purpose-driven, that is, forces organized and employed to take advantage of civilian skills, language proficiency, or other attributes found predominantly within the ARNG Special Forces?

Hoping to draw on the experience gained from nearly a decade of war, U.S. Army Special Operations Command wished to identify options for enhancing the contributions of the Special Forces Groups residing within the U.S. Army National Guard (ARNG). The research was motivated by the sponsor's belief that ARNG might occupy high-value capability niches that could be put to use in future deployments. This report presents an analysis of ARNG Special Forces capabilities. The study also examined the prevailing legal and policy guidance that affects how the ARNG raises, trains, equips, sustains, mobilizes and deploys its Special Forces, with the expectation that the guidance might constrain how these processes could be conducted to fill the niches. The report concludes that the expected capability niches do not exist in a form that could benefit the overall Special Forces community or serve as the basis for training, organizing, or deploying ARNG Special Forces. The report also concludes that the regulatory environment presents far fewer constraints than commonly thought and that many of the points of contention between ARNG Special Forces and U.S. Army Special Operations Command can be effectively managed through regular coordination, cooperation, and periodic conferences.

Key Findings

There are few legal and policy issues that interfere with USASOC's ability to maximize the contributions of ARNG Special Forces or move them toward a purpose-driven force.

  • DoD policy casts the ARNG as an asset of last resort, but this could be changed to reflect the type and intensity of integration DoD expects from the AC and the ARNG.

The supply of ARNG Special Forces is ample in terms of manpower, but below goal in terms of desired duty MOS qualification.

Despite the limitations in terms of duty MOS qualification, the ARNG Special Forces contain certain skills and the will to undertake future deployments.

  • They generally have fewer personnel qualified in such skills (e.g., military free fall, dive), although they have more qualified snipers than the AC; the ARNG members typically are somewhat older and have more years of service than their AC counterparts.
  • Language skills, a challenge throughout the force, do not appear to be a principal asset of ARNG Special Forces.
  • Deployments are essential for growing and maintaining competence within ARNG Special Forces.
  • Among the AC special forces personnel surveyed for this research, the prevailing view of ARNG Special Forces is guarded but far from dismissive. There appear to be tasks and circumstances suitable for the ARNG.

Demand for Special Forces is high, though not at its apogee, and unstable.

  • It appears that ARNG Special Forces can play a useful role in satisfying demand, especially demand that takes the form of scheduled events, such as programmed rotations within the Playbook (the USASOC planning calendar that reflects the units identified for future deployment: their assignments, the time frame, and similar details) and theater security cooperation activities.


  • Employ ARNG Special Forces for recommended tasks, such as theater security cooperation (TSC), joint combined exchange training (JCET), foreign internal defense (FID), unconventional warfare (UW), Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa Building Partner Capacity operations, and extended training operations.
  • Deploy ARNG special forces to manage active component OPTEMPO.
  • Ensure that all ARNG Special Forces undergo some minimum number of operational deployments to maintain their skills and the confidence of their AC counterparts, with whom they typically operate when deployed.
  • Extend the Playbook planning calendar and share its contents earlier so that ARNG units have better insight into when they will be mobilized next, where they are likely to be deployed, and what missions they are likely to perform.
  • Operate Internet site to solicit volunteers based on their civilian skills.
  • Revitalize directed training alignment (DTA) relationships between the AC and ARNG Special Forces. Ideally, the ARNG mobilization sites should be co-located with their DTA AC unit and they should deploy together.
  • USASOC and USASFC should sponsor more conferences to conduct planning and coordination with the ARNG units. For example, force generation conferences and the process of building the Playbook should involve the ARNG Group commanders.
  • More Special Forces Qualification Course quotas and support.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center.

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