Special Ops Provide Great Return on Investment, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, March 6, 2012 — U.S. spe­cial oper­a­tions forces remain focused on Afghanistan, but they also are active across the globe, the com­man­der of U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand said today.

Navy Adm. William H. McRaven tes­ti­fied with Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mat­tis, U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand com­man­der, before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

About 80 per­cent of McRaven’s troops sup­port Centcom’s mis­sion in Afghanistan, and much of the remain­ing force is spread across near­ly 80 oth­er coun­tries, he said.

The Cent­com focus “doesn’t dimin­ish the effort we are putting into the cul­tur­al train­ing or the lan­guage train­ing with respect to those oth­er folks that are deployed glob­al­ly,” the admi­ral said.

Prepar­ing spe­cial oper­a­tions forces for post-Afghanistan oper­a­tions “will be a func­tion of … reem­pha­siz­ing some lan­guages and some cul­tures as we move from a Cent­com-cen­tric envi­ron­ment to a more glob­al­ly bal­anced envi­ron­ment over time,” he said.

The rough­ly 66,000 ser­vice mem­bers who make up Socom sup­port U.S. pol­i­cy objec­tives in the Pacif­ic, Africa, Latin Amer­i­ca, Europe and oth­er regions, he not­ed.

Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces have “unique skills, cul­tur­al knowl­edge and the abil­i­ty to work with part­ners [that cre­ate] effects far above our rel­a­tive­ly small num­bers,” the admi­ral said.

McRaven said he is com­mit­ted to strength­en­ing “embed­ded” spe­cial oper­a­tions forces sup­port to geo­graph­i­cal com­bat­ant com­man­ders by rein­forc­ing the­ater spe­cial oper­a­tions com­mands.

The tra­di­tion­al “hearts and minds” mis­sion of train­ing oth­er nations’ spe­cial oper­a­tions forces also con­tin­ues, he said.

Since ser­vice-spe­cif­ic spe­cial oper­a­tions forces were estab­lished in the the 1960s, fol­lowed by Socom’s stand-up in 1987, McRaven said “our rela­tion­ship with our allied part­ner force around the world has strength­ened each nation’s [spe­cial oper­a­tions forces] and each nation’s abil­i­ty to deal with their own secu­ri­ty prob­lems. We must con­tin­ue to build these rela­tion­ships wher­ev­er pos­si­ble.”

McRaven not­ed that his pre­de­ces­sor at Socom, retired Navy Adm. Eric T. Olson, drew atten­tion last year to the “fray­ing around the edges” spe­cial oper­a­tions troops expe­ri­enced dur­ing a decade of extreme­ly high demand for their tal­ents.

Olson set up a task force to study the issue, McRaven said, and he has fol­lowed through with his own efforts.

“I have put a gen­er­al offi­cer and my com­mand sergeant major in charge of the preser­va­tion of the force and fam­i­lies,” he said. “They are empow­ered to imple­ment inno­v­a­tive solu­tions across the Socom enter­prise to improve the well-being of our war­riors and their fam­i­lies.”

Recruit­ing is up from pre­vi­ous years among spe­cial oper­a­tions forces, McRaven not­ed. He cau­tioned that retain­ing those forces requires a con­sid­ered approach to any change in future ben­e­fits.

“I think if you polled a lot of those young men and women com­ing in, they prob­a­bly wouldn’t cite the health care and retire­ment ben­e­fits as the rea­son that they are join­ing,” he acknowl­edged. “How­ev­er, it could very well be the rea­son they stay after a cer­tain point in time.”

Any changes in future retire­ment and health care ben­e­fits should be “pru­dent and care­ful … so that we keep those expe­ri­enced non­com­mis­sioned offi­cers and offi­cers in and take care of them for the ser­vice that they have ren­dered,” McRaven added.

Socom is a force already in line with Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta’s strat­e­gy call­ing for a small­er, lean­er and more agile mil­i­tary, the admi­ral said.

Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces remain rel­e­vant, in high demand and offer “an unpar­al­leled return on the nation’s invest­ment,” he said.

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