In a recent interview with the Cipher Brief, Retired Brigadier General Craig Nixon discussed ongoing problems in the Special Operations community and provided useful insight. During his 29 years of service, General Nixon served as the Director of Operations for both the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which is responsible for the nation’s Tier 1 units, such as Delta Force and SEAL Team 6.
Asked about the recent wave of bad publicity in SOCOM and JSOC, General Nixon highlighted the unrelenting pace with which SOF units have been operating for almost two decades. “There are a number of things that are coming together to create the conditions for some of the things that we’re seeing come out,” he said. “One is just the cycle of continuous deployments over an extended period of time. There has also been an overexposure, if you will, of Special Operations in a lot of cases where we see Special Operations being used in roles where historically they have not been used.”
Deployments for some SOF units–particularly those tasked with Direct Action (DA) missions, such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, Delta Force, or SEAL Teams–are usually shorter in length to account for the intensity of the deployment. Instead of six months, for instance, such units would be deployed for three.
Concerning the plague of unprofessional incidents, including war crimes and fratricide within the ranks of America’s tip of the spear, General Nixon argued that more leadership and discipline is required to extricate the force from the bog. “My belief always is, I mean, you’re striving organizationally and individually to reach a level of self-discipline. But, you do that through an environment of discipline,” said the former director of operations for JSOC. “I think it is really the foundation of discipline that allows the Special Operators to perform at the standards that we are used to seeing and we expect them to operate in.”
With regard to the responsibility of the Department of Defense (DoD) for the ongoing recruitment and manpower issues in the SOF community, General Nixon indicated that the unprecedented growth of SOCOM that began in 2006 may be one of the seminal reasons behind the problem. He suggested the force may be too large and unsustainable. “As that force is drawn down, I think, we have to look at Special Operations in that same context. Is it the right size? Is it able to recruit and retain and sustain the force with the same standards that they’ve had in the past? I think that’s going to be the challenge. That’s the challenge for them now and I think that’s the challenge they’re going to face moving forward.”
Recent developments support General Nixon’s assertion. The 75th Ranger Regiment, for example, is offering financial incentives in order to attract more candidates. This isn’t an uncommon practice. Conventional and SOF units often offer bonuses to fill up mission-critical Military Occupational Specialities (MOS). Now, however, the Ranger Regiment is also offering bonuses for 11B contracts, that is, the basic infantryman. It is reasonable to be short on 74Ds (Chemical Operations Specialists), but not on infantrymen.