Special Ops Workload 'Difficult, but Manageable'
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 20, 2004 Special operations forces are deployed worldwide, but changes have made the operations tempo for those forces "difficult, but manageable," officials said before Congress today.
Army Col. Kenneth J. Cull, the personnel chief at U.S. Special Operations Command, told the House Armed Services Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee how the command is working on the optempo problem.
Cull said the special operations forces are deployed throughout the world on a scale not done before. The forces are the poster child for low-density, high- demand forces, meaning there are few forces and a lot of need for the specialties. The Army has the greatest number of special operations forces, followed by the Air Force and Navy. U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., is in overall command of these forces.
Special operations forces are particularly well-suited for the global war on terror. They are a precious resource it takes on average two years to train special operators to their entry-level standard, officials said.
In many cases, the troops have spent long years understanding the languages and cultures of the areas they specialize in, but that time has reduced to relieve the operation tempo on the forces. The Army's 5th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., specializes in the U.S. Central Command area. They were among the first on the ground in Afghanistan.
"Traditionally we orient our Green Berets to a specific area of the world," Cull said. "Today, however, with approximately 75 percent of our deployment going to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army Special Operations Command has found it prudent to sustain that force by using other Special Forces groups, including two excellent National Guard units in the U.S. Central Command (area)."
He said commanders lose some valuable cultural and linguistic expertise. But the Army gains through "the accumulation of vast operational experience for the designated units as well as the requisite opportunity to recuperate the 5th Special Forces Group" normally assigned to this region.
The overall capability will grow slightly in the future. "The current plan is to add about 2,700 personnel to the force over the next five to seven years," Cull said.
He said the command is working with services to add a limited number of active duty units to the Special Operations Command "to supplement our most stressed specialties," including civil affairs and psychological operations units. This will also include aviation units and trainers at the special operations schoolhouses.
Cull said another effort is to ensure the right mix of active and reserve forces in U.S. Special Operations Command. Currently the reserve components make up one-third of the command. In some specialties such as civil affairs and psychological operations almost all of the capability is in the reserves. Right now, there is no recruiting or retention problem with these units, officials said.
Cull said the command will look at ways to give reserve service members more predictability, and that the command possibly will redirect a portion of the reserve component's capability to the active component.
The command also has focused its special operations capabilities. Officials said deployments are limited to areas where special ops capabilities truly are needed, and not just to demonstrate American military presence. By doing this, the command has been able to decrease the percentage of special operations forces deployed by 13 percent over the past year, Cull said.