From maroon and white to Green Beret


Talia Winiarsky , Staff Writer

Daniel Katz ‘00 was enamored with the military for as long as he can remember, he said. “If you asked my friends at Horace Mann, I was known for being the guy who knew a lot about aircraft, and in particular, military aircraft.”
However, coming from an affluent Jewish family in the Northeast, joining the Army did not always seem like a plausible career option for Katz. He mostly thought about the military as a topic for history papers and leisure reading. He believed that after he finished his undergraduate engineering studies at the University of Pennsylvania, he would apply his education in the finance field, a well-paved path for Horace Mann alumni.
His thinking changed, however, in the wake of 9/11 during his sophomore year of college and developed more as the nation became embroiled in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Given the situation the country was in—and I had always been a big supporter of the military—I felt kind of duty-bound to do my time and support the nation and do at least one term of service.”
Furthermore, after completing finance classes and internships, he realized that it was not the right career for him and started considering a career in defense. Military service struck him as a necessary first step on that path. “I felt that there were certain things about the organization that you could only learn by serving.”
He began thinking seriously about joining the military in the summer of 2003 before his senior year of college. His first idea was that he would serve as an officer in the Intelligence branch of the United States Army. It wasn’t until he attended a career fair in his senior year of college that he discovered the option to enlist as a Special Forces Recruit. “I wanted to be in the fight,” he said. “The Army was at the center of the fight, and the Special Forces was at the center of the Army’s fight.”
Army Special Forces, also known as the Green Berets, specialize in unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, direct action, special reconnaissance, and humanitarian aid. One of their primary roles is training foreign military and paramilitary forces around the world. The minimum enlistment contract for a Special Forces Recruit is five years.
Katz underwent intense training for two years and nine months. “Special Forces training is more intense, but the instructors’ attitude is more laid back [than standard Army training],” he said. “They don’t do a lot of yelling. Get caught breaking the rules or can’t keep up? Goodbye.”
The intense training tested Katz’s physical and mental limits. “You march for miles with over a hundred pounds of gear, you endure cold, heat, hunger, sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. Most candidates quit, many more are physically broken down and get injured. Those who endure have demonstrated the mental and physical toughness to accomplish the mission the nation needs of Special Forces.”
In Special Forces, soldiers are organized into 12-person Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) teams. Each has two functional specialists in engineering, weapons, communications, and medicine, as well as an intelligence sergeant, an operations sergeant, a warrant officer and a captain. Katz decided early on that he would become a medic in order to help both soldiers and the indigenous population. “If guys were getting hit, I wanted to be the one patching them up and saving them.”
After training, Katz was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in May of 2007. He served two tours of duty in Baghdad, Iraq.
In his first deployment, Katz worked as a medic in a small detention center where high-value detainees—people suspected of being leaders of terrorist or insurgent groups—were interrogated. While there, his job was to look after their health and human rights.
A typical day for Katz started with physical training in the morning. Once on duty, sick call for the detainees came first, followed by medical documentation, delivering any longer treatments the detainees required, and conducting preventative medicine checks of the facility. The remainder of the day, he was in the office on stand-by to check detainees before and after interrogation, and conduct longer medical examinations of arriving or departing detainees.
“Every time a detainee went into or came out of an interrogation cell, I had to look him up and down and verify that he was in good condition.” He and his junior medic worked 12-hour shifts each for seven months with no days off. He passed the time between checks by studying Arabic, reading about Iraq and physical training and, towards the end of his deployment there, studying for the GREs.
On his second deployment in 2009, Katz was assigned to an ODA team that was partnered with a battalion of the Iraqi Emergency Response Brigade (ERB), the Ministry of the Interior’s federal SWAT team. During the day, the team trained the ERB in close quarters battle and at night, the team and ERB performed counter-terrorism missions. The team was on alert every evening for intelligence on target locations and, if received, would sortie (head out) with the ERB to capture the individual.
The “jackpots” Katz’s team achieved—missions on which they captured their target—were his proudest moments in the military. “You’re going out and bringing really, really bad people off the street. It’s exciting, and you know you’re doing real good.” His team knew that they were saving lives by capturing terrorists.
Although Katz’s time in the Special Forces is over, his subsequent career was influenced by his service and all his jobs have been related to defense. His current job is at Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defense contractor. “I can point to multiple opportunities that I’ve had that have enhanced my career because I’ve served in the Army.”
When Katz applied for his first civilian job in the defense department, his resume was picked out of the stack because it said that he had served in Iraq, he said.
Moreover, Katz takes the lessons that he learned in the Army Special Forces still remain in his life, such as the importance of good judgement. “‘Special Forces demonstrate superior judgement so they don’t have to demonstrate their superior abilities,’ a very experienced Special Forces instructor taught us.”
This Veterans Day, Katz honors the service of other veterans and the sacrifices that they have made. “I encountered some really great soldiers, the ones you see in movies, the ones who take down the enemy by the dozen and bring everyone else home alive. They’re real. The nation is very fortunate to have people like that.”