The U.S. Special Operations Command, reeling from the demands of
the global war on terrorism, is taking steps to replenish its dwindling
stock of specialized operators, according to its commander.
Some of the most skilled personnel slots may face future shortages,
including civil affairs operators, psychological operations staff,
special forces units and combat controllers, SOCOM commander Gen.
Bryan Brown told the House Armed Services Committee.
The shortage has already led to a shift in staffing that has prompted
moving operators from other theaters into the Middle East as a stopgap.
“If you try to talk to some special operators at CENTCOM they’d
be speaking Spanish (as a second language),” Brown said, referring
to Central Command, the combatant command headquarters that covers
the Persian Gulf.
So far, the areas of most concern are psychological operations
and civil affairs forces, Brown said.
PsyOp units are tasked with disseminating information to foreign
audiences, spearheading weapons collection efforts, encouraging
enemy surrender and directing civilians away from battle zones.
Three-quarters of SOCOM’s psychological operations personnel
are from the Reserves. Civil affairs units help reconstruction and
stabilization efforts, a fight for “hearts and minds”
that entails the identification and prioritization of infrastructure
In his testimony, Brown said that civil affairs and PsyOp troops
were essential in facilitating elections in Afghanistan and Iraq
and were vital in coordinating relief to tsunami ravaged areas in
Asia. The steady drain of combat operations, Middle Eastern infrastructure
rebuilding efforts and indigenous force training are stretching
Army Reserve civil affairs and psychological operations units have
been mobilized for up to 24 months, making SOCOM more reliant on
the few active duty units to meet these needs, Brown said. “Future
rotations for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
will be constrained by the number of personnel in the specialties.”
Brown said his command has added four reserve PsyOp companies and
two active ones, as well as two reserve civil affairs battalions
and two active civil affairs companies. “While the use of
provisional battalions, created for the war effort, is a concept
we are exploring, compressed civil affairs specialty training is
not the best solution to this problem,” he testified.
Asked if civil affairs should be moved from SOCOM auspices to the
Army, Brown suggested that while the overall move may be acceptable,
his job relies on direct control of those activities. “There
is a portion of civil affairs that should stay in special ops, for
sure,” he told the committee.
The question of moving civil affairs operations to the Army is
quietly being debated inside the Pentagon. Those in favor of the
change, an idea reportedly championed by Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, assert that by moving reconstruction efforts away from
special operations, that command could better focus on hunting and
killing high value targets.
Brown said he considered the current operations tempo “manageable.”
In certain critical specialties—namely SEALS, Special Forces,
Air Force Special Operations Command combat controllers, pararescue
men and special operations weather personnel—there are “growing
problems,” he said.
To relieve that stress, Brown said that investments in SOCOM schools
and additions of instructors would increase the numbers of operators
without lessening the quality of training or stringency of standards.
“However, adding SOF is not a near-term fix, as SOF cannot
be mass-produced, nor created after emergencies occur,” he
SOF operators take sizeable amounts of time and money to produce.
Brown said it takes $320,000 in training costs alone, excluding
pay and benefits, to train a SOF operator. It takes 12 to 24 months
of training, depending on the specialty, to graduate an initially
qualified SOF operator.
By the end of 2006, SOCOM will expand by 1,405 members, to an end
strength of 52,846. These personnel additions will include active
duty SEAL and special forces, as well as additional personnel at
the 16th Special Operations Wing. “We have also added one
MH-47 aviation battalion, based on the West Coast,” Brown
Retention is a large part of the strategy to keep the force viable.
Hefty bonuses for 19-year veterans will be instituted, Brown said.
A $150,000 lump sum will be given to SOF operators who choose to
extend their service at their 19-year mark, Brown said. Since starting
in January, more than 100 operators at this point in their careers
have reenlisted, he added, signaling to Brown that the incentives
are being well received.
Brown said that these bonuses sounded large, but stressed that
they had to be in the face of high offers from the private sector
that often lure SOF operators away from the military. “They
can sign some big contracts with civilian industry,” he said.
Also meant to sweeten the pot are educational opportunities for
the soldiers and their families, including web-based degrees. In
an effort to retain personnel before they reach 19-years of service,
SOCOM is also considering ways to shift selective reenlistment bonuses
to boost rewards earlier in an operator’s career.