I Have to Ask: Life in the Special Forces

Posted on April 14, 2020

Dalton Rice Final

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week, Dalton Rice, Management Analyst for the City of Mont Belvieu, Texas, reflects on the transferable skills learned as a Green Beret. 

Before serving in city management, I dedicated over 13-years in the United States Army Infantry, Special Forces’ (colloquially Green Berets), and Special Operations Detachment Africa. My journey into local government is far from linear. Like many veterans leaving the military, my knowledge of what local government entailed, much less how to enter the profession, was limited. It was not until I started a career in public safety that I began to understand the similarities between being a “Green Beret” and my undeniable passion for continuing a career serving others. Though not inclusive, there are three broad skills attained while serving in Special Forces that seamlessly transfer into public administration: Collaboration, Autodidactic, and Leadership. 


In public service, collaboration is essential when engaging with citizens in the community and team members in the workplace. From managing projects, engaging with department directors, committees, private organizations, and local, state, and federal elected officials, to name few, requires the ability to communicate confidently and effectively across all levels. Special Forces operate as 12-man teams, often less, in the most austere and culturally diverse communities around the world, regularly disconnected from vital support. The ability to collaborate and problem-solve for resources and information was typical and expected. Building and maintaining relationships and coordinating with various governmental, nongovernmental, and foreign entities was paramount in achieving our objectives. Teams accomplished this in multiple ways by improving a community’s vital infrastructure, manage projects, improve community health outcomes, provide strategic guidance, and security assistance are just a few of the collaboration efforts the Special Forces performed.


The dynamic environments of local government necessitate self-starters and the adeptness to navigate and bring order to stressful and chaotic situations. As a jack of all trades, “that’s not in my job description” is nonexistent in our vocabulary. The capacity to be self-taught, self-sufficient, self-motivated, and adaptable to various and unpredictable situations is foundational to the Special Forces community. Teams plan most aspects of training and operations in logistics, medical support, transportation, intelligence, and budgeting and finance. Although my specialization was as a medic, it was our responsibility to understand and know the job of each team member. Moreover, each operation was like building a business model, and each community the team engaged with required in-depth knowledge of cultural and societal norms, a basic understanding of the language, SWOT analyses, and contingency planning, among many other duties.


Lastly, our leadership and leading by example, is the hallmark of what defines Special Forces Soldiers. The most significant similarity to public administration is the ability to inspire and influence others. Civil servants serve at the will of the citizens, and elected officials, like Special Forces teams serve the will of communities around the world, often with common goals. Although we have our directives, rules of engagement, and policies, we have zero authority and are only successful by inspiring, influencing, and leading to accomplish those objectives. The motto of the Special Forces is De Oppresso Liber or “To Free the Oppressed” or an elegant way to describe the core principles of what it means to be a servant leader.

It is essential to recognize and appreciate that the military develops far more characteristics, attributes, and transferable skills to Service Members than just the ability to fight wars.

Whether a community is searching for their next executive administrator or seeking a valuable member of the team, local government leaders should hire for potential and consider veterans transitioning out of the military. We [local government] must bridge the gap, bring awareness to, and encourage those that have already dedicated a life to their country to continue that service for the betterment of our communities.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Close window