Agility, Flexibility, and Innovative Spirit

The agility, flexibility, and innovative spirit of the U.S. special operations community have long been its hallmark, according to Army Command Sgt. Maj. Shane W. Shorter. As the Defense Department progresses, leaders within special ops are intent on fostering these qualities. Shorter, the top enlisted advisor at the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), highlights the integral role special forces play across the military landscape, employing new techniques, technologies, and strategies to enhance their critical functions.

During a visit with Army Gen. Bryan Fenton, the commander of SOCOM, to engage with members of Congress, Shorter emphasized the broad and often misunderstood scope of special operations forces within the National Defense Strategy. Despite a common association with counterterrorism efforts post-September 11, 2001, Shorter points out that the roots of SOF stretch back to World War II, well before the global war on terror, with a storied history in major power competitions.

U.S. Special Operations Forces members fly over Tampa Bay in a U.S. Army MH-6 helicopter during a SOF capabilities demonstration on May 18th, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. SOF Week is the premier gathering for the SOF community and industry, bringing together more than 11,000 attendees, including representatives from more than 100 countries, to collaborate on new initiatives and capabilities needed for SOF professionals to compete and win in the future. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander Cook

Roles Beyond the Capacity of Conventional Forces

Special operations forces have not only been pivotal in counterinsurgency efforts, like those in the Vietnam War, but also played key roles in Europe during the Cold War, filling critical roles beyond the capacity of conventional forces. Presently, the National Defense Strategy identifies China as a major challenge and Russia as a significant threat, with special operators actively engaging across the Indo-Pacific to bolster the military capabilities of partners and deter aggression. In Europe, collaboration with the Ukrainian military dates back to the 1990s, intensifying after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

A crucial aspect of support for Ukraine has been the development of an empowered non-commissioned officer (NCO) corps within the Ukrainian military, which will significantly contribute to the defense against Russian aggression in 2022. Though direct boots on the ground are currently absent in Ukraine, special operations forces continue to offer remote support and advice.