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Commanders: Special Forces Must Evolve to Meet New Challenges

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

SAN DIEGO, Jan. 12, 2006 – Special operations commanders know what is needed to meet the ever-changing challenges facing their forces fighting in the global war on terrorism, a panel of special operations leaders said here yesterday.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Special operations commanders participate in a panel discussion at the WEST 2006 conference Jan. 11 in San Diego. about the panelists discussed the types of special operations forces needed and what is required to support them. From left, are Army Col. Edward Reeder, deputy commander of 7th Special Forces, Navy Capt. Sean Pybus, commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 1; Erik Prince of Blackwater USA, and Brig. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commander of the Marine Corps Special Operations Command. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"We've got to field a warrior or technician that is culturally attuned (and) linguistically capable," Navy Capt. Sean Pybus, commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 1, said. "Those are key requirements in the years to come."

The panel spoke at WEST 2006, a technology, communication and national security conference co-sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute. Army Col. Edward Reeder, deputy commander, 7th Special Forces, agreed with Pybus, adding that interpersonal skills, tactical and technical expertise also are musts.

"The Special Forces operator needs to be a subject-matter expert in unconventional warfare," he said. "He must thoroughly understand and be competent in the execution of a broad spectrum of military and paramilitary operations. A Special Forces soldier is physically fit, mentally tough, politically and culturally sensitive to his region of operation ... and lethal when required."

That expertise, combined with cultural and linguistics training, translates to Special Forces with a special understanding of foreign issues as they apply to the U.S., Hejlik said.

"They ... understand that when they go to a country that any inappropriate action has a severe and adverse impact on the way that country looks ... at the United States of America," Hejlik said. "They're more mature, they're more experienced, better equipped." Supporting these special operations forces isn't as simple as just basic equipping and training, panel members said. While those elements go a long way in creating the type of forces needed, more specific support systems also are needed.

Brig. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, commander of Marine Corp Special Operations Command, said communications is the area in which special operations forces "really hurt the most."

"We always need enhanced capability in comms," he said, noting that as with computers, the best available communications gear becomes obsolete in six months.

Biometrics -- automated methods for recognizing humans based on intrinsic physical or behavioral traits -- is another support system the panel agreed was needed. It's essential for tracking what the call "individuals of interest."

"The biometric piece is critical in an unconventional warfare environment," Reeder said. The biometrics system currently used allows for fingerprints to be lifted from debris left in areas where attacks have been launched, he said. Those fingerprints can then be entered into a data base for comparison to others found, thus providing a method for tracking an individual's movements.

Pybus also voiced his concern about proprietary communications systems. Current systems don't always interface, he explained, and that can hamper the flow of information from one location to another. Communications systems that can talk to each other are essential, he said.

"We've got to figure this out," Pybus said. "And my opinion is to get away from proprietary ... technology, looking instead to services' open architecture so that we can take those Predator or Raven feeds, present them to the guy in the Humvee so he can make decisions that might save his life and certainly help accomplish his mission."

Predators and Ravens are unmanned aerial vehicles used to gather information.

With a combination of the right training and support, special forces will continue to enhance unconventional warfare capabilities to expand the set of options available to policy makers, Reeder said.

Erik Prince, a founder of Blackwater USA, also participated in the panel discussion. Blackwater USA is a North Carolina-based private military contractor and security firm. The company provides support to "military, government agencies, law enforcement and civilian entities in training, targets and range operations," Prince, a former Navy SEAL, said.

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Related Sites:
U.S. Special Operations Command
Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association
U.S. Naval Institute
WEST 2006


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