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National Defense > Blog > Posts > McRaven: Special Operations Can Learn From FedEx
McRaven: Special Operations Can Learn From FedEx
By Dan Parsons

TAMPA, Fla. —
The leader of U.S. Special Operations Command is looking at the business model of a package delivery company in planning for the future.

Adm. William McRaven, chief of U.S. Special Operations Command, said May 14 that FedEx serves as a model on which he is basing his vision for the future of globally deployed forces. The company has a network and a logistics base that the military should emulate, he said.

“FedEx runs a global operation. ... If we’re going to run a globally networked force, I wanted to find out how they do business. There is a standard of excellence that FedEx has set,” McRaven said in a speech at the 2013 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.

McRaven is positioning special operators as a globally available force that can perform roles ranging from surgical-strike direct-action missions to “small-footprint” humanitarian efforts. When the war in Afghanistan ends in 2014, it is his intention to shift forces to other parts of the world.

SOF is already focusing on the Pacific and Africa. McRaven said troops are in 70 to 80 countries, mostly in small teams of fewer than than 10 personnel.

Most of them are not doing anything that involves the Hollywood heroics like nighttime airborne raids. The future will be a balancing act of maintaining lethal skills learned during the wars of the last decade and the winning hearts-and-mind tactics that McRaven said are equally important in the fight against global terrorism.

That will require those commandos who have been constantly deployed in combat zones to learn and maintain skills that are less lethal than kicking down doors and killing insurgents. Special operators will have to be able to both kick down doors and drink tea with neighbors of their enemies, McRaven said.

“There is an … understanding by the door kickers that they have to know how to drink three cups of tea,” McRaven said. “But those guys drinking tea have to know how to fight.”

Special operations leaders believe that areas of the world where water is scarce are just as unstable and potentially dangerous as those that are experiencing outright violent conflict, he said.

“It can be pretty frightening when you look at it,” McRaven said. “Look at things like water availability and population density. We need to be appropriately postured to be able to do something about it” if conflict breaks out over such issues, he said.

Increasingly McRaven is seeking partner nations in far-flung parts of the world. It is through those partners that the ultimate success of a forward U.S. military presence abroad rests, McRaven said. He called the plan “operations that move at the speed of trust.”

“We will remain the world’s finest direct action force,” he said. “The way you are going to solve these problems is preparing the host nation to deal with the problems. The way to do that is with a small footprint, cost effective and networked so you can get information and support whenever you need it.”

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.


Re: McRaven: Special Operations Can Learn From FedEx

Not trying to pick on Mr. Parsons, but he definitely took creative license when it came to the ADM's comments. I was in the room for this talk. I will caveat my comments below that perhaps I misunderstood the ADM, but I believe you have made a comparison that might not be in line with his comments, in my opinion. 
The ADM did go to FedEx expecting to see incredible command centers and a huge logistics pipeline, but what he found was in his words, "nothing like that." That ADM learned that FedEx is run almost completely by Air Tasking Order (ATO) and no one person, or command center, controls much of anything. It reaffirmed the SOF frame of mind that you have to trust your people over everything else.
He noted FedEx's biggest intangible was its commitment excellence. When they said a packaged was going to arrive at 1000, it always got there at 1000. The ADM was using FedEx as an example of his big bumper sticker statement that: "You can't surge trust." The point being: You trust FedEx because they spent years proving they deserve your trust, and that is precisely what we need with partner nations and partner SOF. We need to spend years teaching them things, and being their friends, so that when the time comes that we hand them intelliengce and ask them to act, they trust us.

You might be able to infer that SOCOM could benefit from being run as a global logisitics network, but in my opinion the ADM never made such a statement.
Mike at 5/20/2013 3:38 PM

Re: McRaven: Special Operations Can Learn From FedEx

Thank you Mike for the context/clarification..  Not to pick on Mr. Parsons but your commentary is much more logical and contextually correct...
Lisa at 5/29/2013 3:20 PM

Re: McRaven: Special Operations Can Learn From FedEx

Thought you might like this one as well.

David Phaire
david phaire at 6/5/2013 9:04 PM

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