After a rash of high profile incidents involving the U.S. Special Operations community, Gen. Richard Clarke, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command, has ordered a comprehensive review of the culture and ethics in play throughout America’s elite war fighting institutions.
Recent incidents have called our culture and ethics into question and threaten the trust placed in us,” Clarke wrote in a memo.
“As a result, I am initiating a comprehensive review of Special Operations Forces (SOF) culture and ethics. The review will gather insights and observations from across our force and will draw upon the unique perspectives of leaders from internal and external entities.”
The review will delve as deep as recruiting and selection methodologies for new Special Operations war fighters, as well as ethics training and operational policies for seasoned operators. Beyond training and selection, Clarke also indicated that the review would include how ethics violations are addressed within the Special Operations community. This, perhaps more than the other elements discussed, strikes at the heart of what some have called a crisis of culture within SOCOM following a rash of controversies ranging from sexual misconduct to murder that have plagued the community in recent years.
Clarke’s strategy is to employ a two-pronged approach to identifying and evaluating issues within the SOF community. One team, comprised of former special operations leaders and civilian personnel with direct understanding of the SOCOM operations and military ethics, will work from the top, investigating and addressing leadership concerns. A second group, comprised entirely of military personnel, will visit individual units in an attempt to identify issues at the operational level.
“I expect you to expend every effort to facilitate access and support the review team’s efforts,” Clarke said in his memo.
Despite the high profile of many recent incidents and investigations involving special operations troops, the SOCOM community is actually quite large. With more than 70,000 troops and civilians assigned to the Special Operations Command, some are reluctant to suggest that the community at large has a culture or ethics issue, believing instead that the behavior of a few bad apples with discipline issues have tainted the reputation of the force.
I don’t know yet if we have a culture problem, I do know that we have a good order and discipline problem that must be addressed immediately,” Rear Adm. Collin Green, the head of the U.S. Navy SEALs, wrote in a letter to commanders earlier this month.
America’s special operations units have seen a dramatic increase in the operational tempo throughout the Global War on Terror, as the highly trained units have been relied on for a broader degree of combat operations than ever before. Some have attributed ethics concerns within the community to burnout, while others have contended that it’s the SOF culture of keeping secrets and protecting one another that has spiraled out of control. Those that hold this view suggest that operators have prioritized protecting one another over the honor of the nation.
Whatever the root cause of the recent rash of SOF related incidents, Clarke has made a point to say that this review will be made public after it’s been provided to Congress and all classified material has been edited out. This, it seems, pertains directly to Clarke’s concerns that the public at large may be losing faith in the Special Operations community as a result of all the negative attention it has received recently.