COLUMBIA, S.C. – Unconventional warfare in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq taught the U.S. Army (search) it needed more unconventional warriors.
To increase the pool of potential Special Forces (search) members, officials have started selectively recruiting civilians straight into a program that could make them Green Berets in about two years. It's attracting hundreds more recruits than expected, and they're doing well, Army officials say.
"What's amazing is ... those who are coming in are qualifying," said Leslie Ann Sully, spokeswoman for the Army recruiting office that covers South Carolina, western North Carolina and eastern Georgia.
"And not just anyone can be Special Forces. You have to be a much more mindful soldier. It means using your brain. It means being a teacher. It means more than just using your muscles," Sully said.
Clinton DeVoe started considering the Special Forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Under the new recruiting drive, he leaves for basic training July 8 - after completing his studies in philosophy at the University of South Carolina.
"After 9-11, I decided I wanted to protect people here. ... I'm comfortable with the idea of a military life," said DeVoe, 23, of Wilmington, N.C., whose grandfather and uncle had careers in the military. With "a dabbling" of Japanese, Korean and French, DeVoe said he wants to work in Asia.
Army Special Forces soldiers work in 12-man teams, often on secret missions. Each soldier is an expert in weapons, communications, engineering or medicine. Each knows a foreign language and is trained to work with local populations.
The Army has approximately 6,250 Special Forces soldiers in its active duty ranks and counts 2,500 in National Guard units, said Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for Army Special Forces Command at Fort Bragg (search), N.C.
"We had [Special Forces] units operating at less than 100 percent. After Afghanistan, we fixed that," said Gen. Kevin Byrnes. "We decided to look at recruiting opportunities outside the Army."
The new recruiting effort began last year with more than 460 men. This year, the Army wants to recruit 600, and officials say they will meet that goal.
"They are some of the best recruits we're getting," Kolb said. "They are very smart guys."
Recruits must be male, ages 18 to 29, U.S. citizens and have a high school diploma. They must sign up for at least five years of service and score well on intelligence tests. They are also screened for the aptitude to learn at least one foreign language.
They undergo nine weeks of basic training, followed by about two years of intensive training in such skills as parachuting, land navigation, small unit tactics and survival. Each man is eligible for a $13,000 enlistment bonus if he remains in the service for five years.
The Special Forces had direct recruiting from 1952 until 1988, when the Army switched to selecting Special Forces from its own ranks through in-service programs.
Under the new direct recruiting program, the men who have entered so far appear to be just the kind the military is looking for, officials said.
"A lot of people wanted to do this very elite thing, but it just wasn't available. It's opened up, and people want to go do the fun thing," said Lt. Gen. Dennis Cavin, who's in charge of Army recruiting.
After two years in college studying journalism and a brief try at acting, Nathan Tuten headed for the recruiting station after he saw the new initiative mentioned in a local newspaper.
"I feel I have the mental and physical abilities, but I've never been challenged to that extent before," said Tuten, 20, of Columbia. "I want to see if I have what it takes."