For decades the U.S. special operations community has had a set of “truths” to guide how it selects and trains commandos and how it fights.

The U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) used hard-earned lessons and failures to create those five “SOF Truths.”

Now, more than 40 years after the formal establishment of a special-operations structure and after 20 years of war in the Middle East, these guiding principles remain essential as the U.S. faces new tests from China and Russia.


The SOF Truths

Marines training in pool
Marines go through U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s Assessment and Selection course at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, January 30, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Donovan Lee/USMC)

The first SOF Truth is “Humans are more important than hardware.” As SOCOM states, people, not gear, make the difference. Highly trained individuals working as a team can accomplish any mission even with equipment limitations, but untrained units with all the gear in the world can’t.

The second SOF Truth is “Quality is better than quantity.” A few, carefully selected, well-trained, and well-led special operators are preferable to a larger number of less qualified troops.

The third SOF Truth holds that “Special-operations forces cannot be mass-produced.” Building a fully trained and operational special operator takes years and millions of dollars. Even after they are assigned to a Navy SEAL platoon, a Green Beret detachment, or Marine Raider team, those operators still receive training. You can’t mass-produce such forces without degrading their capabilities.

The fourth SOF Truth is “Competent special-operations forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.” This is probably one of the more important guidelines as it emphasizes the time required to build a competent special-operations force. If the U.S. hadn’t had elite Tier 1 units before finding Osama bin Laden, it probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off that mission.