Special Operations ‘Fraying Around the Edges,’ Commander Says

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2011 — Demand in Afghanistan for spe­cial oper­a­tions forces is “insa­tiable,” even as U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand increas­es its troop strength by a bat­tal­ion a year, Socom’s com­man­der said today.
Speak­ing at the Nation­al Defense Indus­tri­al Association’s 22nd Annu­al Spe­cial Oper­a­tions and Low-inten­si­ty Con­flict Sym­po­sium, Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson dis­cussed the effect near­ly a decade of war has had on the Defense Department’s most elite war­riors.

“As we have essen­tial­ly dou­bled our force over the last nine years [and] tripled our bud­get over the last nine years, we have quadru­pled our over­seas deploy­ments over the last nine years,” Olson said.

“We are doing more with more, but the more we’re doing it with doesn’t match the more we’ve been asked to do,” he said. “We are, frankly, begin­ning to show some fray­ing around the edges.”

As Olson’s 2010 Socom pos­ture state­ment sets out, the command’s mis­sion cov­ers com­bat, train­ing and equip­ping indige­nous forces, as well as syn­chro­niz­ing plan­ning of glob­al oper­a­tions against ter­ror­ist net­works.

The pos­ture state­ment reads in part, “Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces respond to the sound of guns with a com­bi­na­tion of speed, dis­ci­pline, and tenac­i­ty. They also apply their knowl­edge and expe­ri­ence well ahead of the sound of the guns to pre­vent vio­lence from erupt­ing when­ev­er and wher­ev­er pos­si­ble. These are war­riors who can act swift­ly with pre­ci­sion and lethal­i­ty, yet remain simul­ta­ne­ous­ly capa­ble of build­ing long-term rela­tion­ships and trust with inter­na­tion­al part­ners.”

Olson, a for­mer Navy SEAL who has com­mand­ed Socom since 2007, said he doesn’t pre­tend the demand for spe­cial oper­a­tions forces will decrease over the next few years.

“We saw 100,000 Amer­i­can troops come out of Iraq; we only saw about 500 spe­cial oper­a­tions [mem­bers] as part of that,” he not­ed.

Spe­cial oper­a­tions recruit­ing and train­ing have ramped up since 2006, when that year’s Qua­dren­ni­al Defense Review direct­ed increas­ing spe­cial oper­a­tions forces by 15 per­cent and increase the num­ber of Spe­cial Forces bat­tal­ions by one-third.

The QDR also direct­ed Socom to estab­lish a Marine Corps Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, while instruct­ing the Air Force to cre­ate an unmanned aer­i­al vehi­cle squadron under Socom. The Navy was instruct­ed to increase SEAL team man­ning and devel­op a river­ine war­fare capa­bil­i­ty.

Final­ly, the QDR called for a 33 per­cent increase in psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions — since renamed mil­i­tary infor­ma­tion sup­port — and civ­il affairs units, and direct­ed Army and Marine Corps ground forces to increase their capa­bil­i­ties and capac­i­ty to con­duct irreg­u­lar war­fare mis­sions.

Olson said that while Socom has worked to “grow the force” quick­ly, demand has grown faster.

“We grew a bat­tal­ion in the 5th Spe­cial Forces Group in 2008, and it’s deployed. We grew a bat­tal­ion in 3rd Spe­cial Forces Group in 2009, and it’s deployed,” he said. “We grew a bat­tal­ion in the 10th Spe­cial Forces Group, and it is prepar­ing to deploy. Over the next two years, we’ll grow bat­tal­ions in 1st Group and 7th Group.

“We’ve been able to deploy 36 addi­tion­al [oper­a­tional detach­ments A, or “A-teams”],” he con­tin­ued. “And frankly, if you’re on a 1-to-1 deploy­ment ratio, which is the very most that you can sus­tain … as you grow 36 ODAs, you should deploy no more than 18. But the demand has gone up close to 50 in that time.”

The spe­cial oper­a­tions deploy­ment ratio is off the charts, Olson said.

“The force has proven far more resilient than we pre­dict­ed, [and] the fam­i­lies have proven far more resilient than we pre­dict­ed,” he said. “But like the rest of the force – not on the same scale, but like the rest of the force – we’re see­ing the indi­ca­tors of pres­sure.”

That pres­sure affects spe­cial oper­a­tions troops on and off duty, Olson said, as well as their fam­i­lies.

“When I say we’re tak­ing mea­sures to address it, we real­ize that there is no sin­gle solu­tion to this,” the admi­ral said. “It’s a thou­sand dif­fer­ent approach­es that will ulti­mate­ly relieve some of this pres­sure on the force: being more pre­dictable in what it is we do, being more com­mit­ted to the sched­ules that we present our peo­ple, pre­sent­ing them with far few­er sur­pris­es over time, pro­vid­ing them addi­tion­al train­ing – as I said, par­tic­u­lar­ly the fam­i­lies, so that they under­stand what resources are avail­able to them.”

Olson said the com­mand has enhanced its Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Care Coali­tion, which is a U.S. gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tion fund­ed and run by Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand to advo­cate for wound­ed, ill and injured spe­cial oper­a­tions troops.

When he says the force is fray­ing, Olson explained, he means more mid-career spe­cial oper­a­tions troops are choos­ing to leave ser­vice.

“Over half of our force now, about 60 per­cent, actu­al­ly came in since 9/11. This is all they know, in their mil­i­tary ser­vice,” the admi­ral said. “They were inspired by the events of 9/11, they’ve served their coun­try, and now, eight or 10 years lat­er, they are sat­is­fied with what they did and feel like they were part of some­thing impor­tant. But what seems good for eight or 10 years maybe doesn’t seem as good look­ing ahead to 18 or 20 years.”

But the force still is strong and capa­ble, Olson said.

“They make me proud every day,” he told the group. “The chal­lenge now is to make sure that we still have, in five or 10 or 20 or 30 years, what we’ve become accus­tomed to now in terms of qual­i­ty and suf­fi­cien­cy.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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