Some might argue that the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan were tailor made for SOF (Special Operations Forces). The respect and notoriety the SOF community has garnered from their outstanding efforts in the execution of their missions is well deserved, however it has come at a cost. As the media trials of General Petraeus and General Allen wear on it is hard not to feel the tip of the spear dulling slightly. I am neither condoning their behavior nor believe the “facts” to be entirely true either; I am undecided at this point. However, it is a symptom of a larger problem for the SOF community and the military in general.
The military has taken a step away from conducting conventional military missions in favor of more unconventional methods to fight seemingly unconventional wars. The problem with this idea is the conventionalization of unconventional forces. Special groups are designed to answer special and unique problems. To do so they must be light and agile. Elements within SOF have not grown much since their inception, in fact in some cases the number of “operators” have shrunk. But, recently that has changed.
All of SOF, especially SF (Special Forces) and SEALs have felt the “push” to increase the number of operators. Lucky for those units it takes a special person to be at the tip of the spear. Additionally, no one has developed a way to identify the perfect SOF candidate. Everyone still has to go through the same rigorous selection course. But what has happened is the support, infrastructure and operational requirements have increased tenfold over the last decade. The support elements at a SEAL Team may at times out number operators 4 to 1. What a SOF member needs to know and do to complete a mission is astounding.
The next decade or two will undoubtedly see the rise of a new threat to our national security. There are several countries, regions and organizations poised at the ready, waiting for their opportunity to take a crack a at the bid dog on the block. SOF cannot afford to get bogged down. It must remain light and agile. It must be the clear answer to the asymmetrical adversary. SOF must be able to act with the same tenacity and precision it has in Iraq and Afghanistan or continue down the path of what we’re coming to know as the conventionalization of SOF.