An Insurgent Non-Conformist In Special Forces

Frank Sobchak


Frank Sobchak was born in 1970 and spent the first two years of his life in Oak Park, Illinois, before moving to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His father became an engineer through the G.I. Bill after World War II and eventually registered sixteen patents. His mother earned a Masters’ Degree from Vassar and was a junior editor for the New Yorker before becoming a school teacher. Frank was fascinated by the military and frequently read history. His interests also included running cross country. At the age of 17, he joined the Army Reserve as a 12B Combat Engineer, enjoying the growth experience of Basic Training. He was interested in pursuing a military career and applied to both West Point and Annapolis. He did not find R-Day to be too challenging, noting that Basic Training and the Army Reserve prepared him, although he recalls that Reorganization Week was difficult. As a Yearling at Camp Buckner, he remembers not making the best choices and feels that in general he learned negative lessons. Seeing Special Forces posters proclaiming “people join us because they’re different” appealed to him because he considered himself a non-conformist. He enjoyed majoring in History, finding true mentors among the faculty. By his Firstie year, Frank was company commander for G4. He enjoyed escaping from West Point whenever possible through the Tactics Club and the Triathlon Team (he was team captain). He commissioned as a Military Intelligence officer but transitioned to Special Forces, serving in operational assignments in Iraq, Kosovo, along the Southwest border, and in Kuwait. He taught History at West Point, commanded a Special Forces Company in Iraq, was a City Manager, worked as a congressional liaison, and served on the Army Chief of Staff’s Iraqi Freedom Study Group. His first deployment was as a Military Intelligence officer assigned to an Armor Battalion, and he did well under a very good Battalion Commander, LTC Keith Walker. He was then assigned as a Ground Surveillance Radar Platoon Leader, which he likened to a Scout Platoon, and he enjoyed the freedom that specialty platoon provided. Joining Special Forces became his next challenge, and he discovered that selection was very physically demanding, requiring internal motivation. In Ranger School, he failed mountains twice, and in Special Forces training he failed patrols in Phase I. SERE was very tough as well. He selected Spanish and Arabic as his languages. He found that leading a 12-person Special Forces Team on a peacekeeping mission in Kosovo with a joint UAE and Jordanian force was the best job in the Army, and he loved the freedom and the responsibility that came with it. As the Cold War was ending, he began working with JTF (Joint Task Force) Six conducting a counter-drug mission. He quickly discovered that the cartels were tracking him. In 2002, he earned a Masters’ Degree at Georgetown University before returning to teach history at West Point from 2002 to 2004. He called grad school “the most stressful experience of my Army career,” and likened it to Academic Ranger School. His thesis focused on U.S. policy in Somalia from 1992 to 1994, and he was able to interview people about their experiences in that country. While at West Point, he returned to the Tactics Club, serving as OIC. His next assignment was with 5th Special Forces Group at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as a Company Commander and Battalion Operations Officer from 2005 to 2007. While there, he deployed to Iraq’s Ninewah Province (Mosul), worked to rebuild the Iraqi Army, conducted an exchange program with the Israeli Defense Forces Special Operations Unit, and restarted the American Security Force Assistance Program in Lebanon after a 20-year absence. From 2007 to 2011, he served in Washington D.C. as a Congressional Liaison and Deputy Legislative Director, and he felt that he had a real impact. In 2011, he became the Garrison Commander for Natick, Massachusetts, at the Soldier Systems Center. His final assignment in the Army was with the US Army Chief of Staff’s Iraqi Freedom Study Group, where he served as a Senior Fellow, Principal Writer, Director, and Principal Editor at various times from 2013 until his retirement in 2018, in what he considers one of the most challenging experiences of his Army Career. He worked with another History Department alum, Joel Rayburn, and they frequently “ran the cutting edge,” requiring frank discussions to ensure the history was properly written. On his team were 6 former history instructors and 2 from the Department of Social Sciences. Part of the project involved recording oral history interviews with many key individuals. After retiring from the Army, he reentered higher education, primarily working at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts, earning his PhD in International Relations in 2022. Currently, Frank is the Chair of Irregular War Studies at West Point’s Modern War Institute, and Adjunct Faculty at the Joint Special Operations University. He is proud of his service, stating that it defines him and noting that he wants to heal the world by making it a better place. At the end of the interview, he reflects on what West Point means to him, stating that it means love.


conflicts Iraq War Cold War
topics Leadership Teamwork Camaraderie West Point History
interviewer David Siry
date 02 December 2022


name Frank Sobchak
institution USMA, Georgetown University, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
graduation year 1992, 2002, 2022
service Military Intelligence, Special Forces
unit 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor; 124th Military Intelligence; West Point Department of History; ODA 536 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group
specialty West Point Department of History; Congressional Liaison and Deputy Legislative Director
service dates 1992 2018