Special Ops Provide Great Return on Investment, Commander Says
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
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.