Improvisation and language skills might be the warrior of the future’s greatest weapons. To emerge triumphant in an emergency situation, one must often improvise. To fuel the emotion of others to get things done requires a presence, emotional intelligence, and oratory skills. These can win battles. With them, an operator can rally proxy and partner forces in their native language, reinforcing our mutual objectives far better than printed money can. The world has become very polarized, and money will not suffice to win over a potentially indifferent party. We need to generate buy-in from our partners. When we learn a target language, we can also learn how to communicate and express ourselves to inspire others. 

We’ve become preoccupied with gunslinging and fighting, but it doesn’t seem like we’re asking how a war is won.

Some people can sell anything. The SOF operator is a kind of soldier-diplomat selling America. Again, this is something we’re not stressing. Bureaucracy may not be a place for entrepreneurs, but people with that DNA are open to the world. They welcome paradigm shifts. The world is changing right now, in more ways than one. Soldiers that want to influence others, as well as be a gunslinger, are the future. I’m not saying we recruit entrepreneurs; that wouldn’t make sense. But we should look at the attributes that make them successful and revisit our model for the future, not to amend the standard, but to add criteria for consideration.

A program in our unit language school designed to increase communication skills and proficiency sent students to an Arab country for a month or two. While there, they lived with host families and worked in a classroom setting daily. The idea is that immersion only works when there is a base of knowledge to be sharpened. Maybe more special operators should spend time abroad to learn and experience a culture as a person, not as a warfighter. It would bring an extra dimension to their knowledge, and would develop in them a strong sense of empathy. In unconventional warfare scenarios, that’s crucial.

Forgive me the juvenile reference, but no one in the audience liked Gaston from “Beauty in the Beast.” Yet some business leaders and politicians within the story were charmed by his charismatic nature and followed him, liked him, and would have fought for him. The difference between a special operator with charisma and this fairy tale character is the former must have charisma and emotional intelligence. Knowing when to smile, how to joke with others, how to create power in a relationship, how to keep it, are all tools in the toolbox—and can be taught.

Finding your own niche and brand is not just a civilian strength; it’s a human one. After all, everyone is different. If folks in SOF learn to communicate more effectively, it will catapult more veterans into leadership positions in the private sector. Machiavelli was controversial in his time, but he talked about how to gain power based on what is and not what should be. It’s akin to understanding your operational environment. We’ve become both reliant and obsessed with our technological and weaponry mastery.

A beautiful part of Special Forces is that we’re expected to learn a culture, its language, interact with its members in their native tongue, and forge strong bonds. You can’t rehearse that, it’s a human connection. It’s experiential learning, and if it’s backed up with an understanding of human behavior and how to project oneself, it’s powerful. Not in the way that’s taught in some courses (many try to influence others, and it comes off as contrived), but in a way that motivates others, favors charisma, embodies a positive attitude, and works to get others to work past their pain barrier voluntarily. Because ISIL and others are inspiring others to take action despite a low level of weaponry and technology. We can do it better.

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