After a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) concluded its review on America’s Special Operations Forces (SOF) ethics and professionalism. The results are rather ambivalent.

The Pentagon didn’t find any systemic or structural reasons for the numerous high-profile incidents that negatively rocked the spec ops community over the past few months. Nonetheless, the “DOD is pursuing several initiatives to improve individual and organization ethics and professionalism in the SOF community,” added the report.

The report also stated that military leaders are constantly trying “to improve the oversight and accountability by senior leaders of ethics and professionalism-related issues with respect to special operations forces.”

How this is achieved has yet to be determined, but the DOD report offers some recommendations. SOF leadership will now issue a “moral disengagement questionnaire” to gauge the psychological maturity, as well as the tendencies for immoral actions, of special operators and SOF candidates. However, psychological testing is already in place for many of the SOF selection processes. Thus, the DOD’s recommendation suggests current methods are inadequate.

The DOD acknowledged that endless deployments and constant exposure to combat situations have an adverse effect on the force. Its report stated: “SOF personnel who manage violence under the stress and ambiguity of combat require the highest level of individual and organizational discipline.”

In late 2018, General Tony Thomas wrote an open letter to all SOF units urging caution and highlighting the enhancement of ethics and professionalism. “A survey of allegations of serious misconduct across our formations over the last year indicates that USSOCOM [United States Special Operations Command] faces a deeper challenge of a disordered view of the team and the individual in our SOF culture,” he said. “Left unchecked, a disordered value system threatens to erode the trust of our fellow comrades, our senior leaders, and ultimately the American people.”

USSOCOM is comprised of numerous units:

  • The Naval Special Warfare Command, which includes Navy SEAL teams and Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen;
  • The Army Special Operations Command, which includes the Special Forces Groups, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the 75th Ranger Regiment;
  • The Air Force Special Operations Command, which includes the Special Tactics Squadrons of combat controllers, pararescuemen, Tactical Air Control Party airmen, and Special Operations Weather Technicians;
  • The Marine Special Operations Command, which includes the Marine Raider Battalions.

With regard to an internal review conducted by USSOCOM, the final results are pending as individual components work on collecting data. Cpt. Jason Salata, a USSOCOM representative, said “the focus period has had active involvement at all levels in the USSOCOM enterprise. Inputs from the component commands are still being collected and assessed.”

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