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    Florida Guard Special Forces Soldiers inspire and mentor others

    Florida Guard Special Forces Soldiers inspire and mentor others

    Photo By Sgt. 1st Class Shane Klestinski | Army Master Sgt. Larry (left) stands with Army Brig. Gen. John D. Haas (right),...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. 1st Class Shane Klestinski 

    50th Regional Support Group

    One of the great misconceptions about the role of Special Forces within the armed forces community is the amount of time they spend preparing to train other Soldiers. As a matter of fact, one of their most valuable skill is their ability to effectively communicate and teach both at home and overseas. Those skills are what enabled Master Sgt. Larry to join the “Quiet Professionals” almost ten years ago and what continues to motivate him today.

    “I picked infantry when I joined the Florida Guard, and I remember one of the Soldiers in my platoon casually mentioned that there was a National Guard Special Forces unit in Florida. I didn’t even know there were Special Forces in the Guard,” Larry said. “I have always been interested in growing as a leader and being a better Soldier. That’s what prompted me to look into becoming a Green Beret, which became the best decision of my military career. Mentoring others to do the same was a bonus regardless of whether they wanted to join SF or not, they would be better soldiers.”

    Soldiers interested in joining Special Forces go through a lengthy and arduous selection process that tests them physically and mentally. The selection process is designed to identify a person’s ability to adapt to any situation and be a team player.

    “It’s hard to understand this at the beginning, but the reason why the selection process is the way it is, is to force you to perform,” Larry said. “They want to see how you perform when things are going bad and how you overcome that complex situation. That’s a true test of your character and ability to adapt to any situation.”

    For Larry, the hard part was not meeting those challenges, but rather understanding to learn from failure. He was a non-select the first time he went through the Special Forces qualification course, and he seriously considered quitting. However, after speaking with other members of the Special Forces community who mentored him, he tried again and passed the second time. It was this experience that has guided him during his time as a trainer and mentor, to include during three deployments to the Middle East where he helped train allies in counterterrorism.

    His ability to motivate and inspire others did not go unnoticed back home in Florida. During the summer of 2020, Larry received a call from Army Col. Ricardo Roig, commander of the 50th Regional Support Group (RSG) and his former commander. Roig said he was sending a group of Soldiers to participate in Expert Soldier Badge (ESB) testing at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, and he asked if Larry could help the Soldiers and be a motivator for them.

    “I agreed to help even though it was the first time I had heard of this badge,” Larry said. “Col. Roig and I went to Iraq together and we overcame a lot of adversity thanks to his strength and leadership. He was a role model for me when I was a junior Soldier, and I wanted to do the same for his Soldiers.”

    Soon, Larry was developing training plans for the group, taking them on ruck marches and coaching them through the different ESB tasks. He was joined by Master Sgt. Mike, a colleague in Florida’s 3/20th Special Forces Group. Mike, a fifteen-year Special Forces veteran with several deployments, had volunteered to serve as a grader for the Expert Infantry Badge (EIB)/ESB and was working with all the Guardsmen who were vying to earn their badges. After work, Mike and Larry met up to coach and mentor the 50th RSG’s Soldiers.

    “Meeting Master Sgt. Larry was definitively a significant event in my military career,” said 1st Lt. Freddy Herrera, commander of the 138th Transportation Company from Miramar and one of the Soldiers Larry and Mike mentored. “I feel that at my age (40 years old) I have reached a new peak in my career, and earning this badge is proof of it. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without his mentorship and support.”

    Out of the 12 Soldiers that Larry and Mike worked with, only Herrera earned the Expert Soldier Badge in Camp Blanding. He made history becoming the first Soldier in the entire National Guard to earn the ESB.

    “I was really proud of 1st Lt. Herrera and the entire group. They truly gave it their all,” Larry said. “I remember telling them never to give up. It’s only failure if you give up and fail to keep pushing.”

    Larry and Mike both stayed in touch with the group of Soldiers who didn’t earn their ESB in Blanding and helped them develop a plan to stay in shape and continue training. They were surprised when Roig called them a month later to tell them that he was putting together a second group to test for the ESB in Fort Hood, Texas.

    “When the state decided to send a second group of Soldiers to Texas for the ESB, they asked me if I wanted to be a grader again, so I said yes,” Mike said. “It gave me another opportunity to not only train and mentor the Soldiers from the 50th RSG who traveled from Florida, but also the 600 Soldiers from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Cavalry Division who were participating in the event.”

    Thanks to the training and mentorship from both NCOs, six out of nine Florida Soldiers participating in the ESB in Fort Hood earned their badges, and a total of 88 Soldiers met all requirements to earn the title of “expert” Soldier or infantryman. This was an incredible success rate that didn’t go unnoticed by his peers and the 2nd BCT chain of command

    “During previous EIB and ESB evaluations, land navigation (land nav) was traditionally one of the events where the largest number of Soldiers were disqualified, so we decided to focus on this task by breaking it down,” Mike said. “One of the big takeaways from my time in the Special Forces has been learning how to communicate using simple language. This technique can be applied to anything, anywhere. Making something complex, simple. That’s what we did with land nav in Fort Hood.”

    For his and his team’s contributions at the land navigation site, Mike received an Army Achievement Medal.

    “The Special Forces’ primary job is to teach and train,” Larry said. “We train Soldiers to be better Soldiers overseas, and that approach is what we took with the Soldiers from the Florida Guard’s 50th RSG. The Special Forces community has given me an opportunity to be a better Soldier and I am glad that I can repay it by helping others be better Soldiers as well.”

    Editor’s Note: The Special Forces personnel mentioned in this article are intentionally referenced by first names to protect their identities.



    Date Taken: 03.23.2021
    Date Posted: 03.23.2021 17:20
    Story ID: 392121
    Location: CAMP BLANDING, FL, US 

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