Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is the home of the Special Operations Campaign Artistry Program (SOCAP). This small but select program prepares officers to design and plan long-duration, low-visibility, SOF-centric contributions to strategic plans. Special operations is a complex endeavor at the tactical level requiring technical and tactical expertise. The missions performed, whether surgical strike (direct action, HVT capture/kill, etc.) or special warfare (unconventional warfare, combat foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, etc.), are difficult to accomplish and require highly trained individuals who are part of extremely capable units at the tactical level. However, there is also a requirement for SOF capabilities to be seamlessly integrated into campaign plans and leveraged to achieve campaign goals at the operational and strategic level.

The U.S. Army has established a number of advanced schools to develop planning capabilities at the operational level. One of these courses is SOCAP, an 18-week course to prepare the students to work at one of the theater special operations commands (TSOC). Each TSOC works for a unified joint command in charge of military operations in regions around the world. The TSOC that works the European theater, Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), describes its mission as follows:

Special Operations Command Europe provides tremendous flexibility throughout a full range of military operations including combat, special operations, humanitarian assistance, non-combatant evacuations and joint-combined military operations. SOCEUR exercises operational control of European theater Army, Navy and Air Force Special Operations Forces (SOF) and is responsible for SOF readiness, targeting, exercises, plans, joint and combined training, NATO and partnership activities, and execution of counterterrorism, peacetime and contingency operations.” [1]

Many observers and critics of the U.S. military state that it does very well at the tactical level, winning almost every fight on the battlefield. However, it is at the operational and strategic level where the U.S. military establishment seems to have difficulty. The strategic environment is very complex, with a mix of different types of warfare ranging from asymmetric threats to protracted conflict. Some are describing this environment—the space between peace and war—as the “Gray Zone.”

The SOCAP prepares its students to ensure that, through proper campaign design, the joint special operations force is fully integrated into the conventional force campaign plan. This will ensure interoperability between conventional and special operations forces.

So at a more concrete level, where does the SOCAP graduate go once he finishes the 18-week long course? Here is one hypothetical example: The officer (or warrant officer/senior NCO) would head to Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) in Stuggart, Germany to work as a campaign planner on the plans staff. And the part about interoperability? Well SOCEUR works for United States European Command (EUCOM) so the SOCEUR campaign planner would ensure that SOCEUR (the special ops guys) plans are fully integrated into the planning done by the higher headquarters (the conventional guys) to ensure full interoperability.

Working on a TSOC staff is not as sexy as kicking down doors looking for bad guys or advising a host nation battalion commander on how to conduct counterinsurgency. However, proper campaign planning for special operations is an important job that needs to be done to ensure that the U.S. military wins not only at the tactical level, but at the operational and strategic level. Not everyone stays in his 20s and 30s forever; eventually you grow older and get promoted out of the tactical-level jobs. So for all those young doorkickers and counterinsurgency experts out there, this is what you have to look forward to during the latter part of your career!

Image from “Special Operations Command Europe”, Special Warfare Magazine, April-June 2012.