Special Operations Command

The war in Ukraine has been underway for a little over three months now, and the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has been paying close attention. So what is USSOCOM (sometimes simply referred to as SOCOM)? It is the unified combatant command responsible for overseeing the special operations components of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. Created in 1987, it provides command, control, and training for all special operations forces (SOF) in the United States.

A destroyed Russian tank on a road in the Kyiv region on April 16. Image Credit: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty

As I’ve said, they’ve been paying close attention to the war and have learned at least two important lessons. The first lesson being that the military relationships the US has been cultivating over the past several years are paying off for us and our allies. For years, Ukrainian troops have been trained at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center (CTC) near Lviv. The most recent US soldiers providing the training were part of Task Force Gator. With a name like “TF Gator,” you should not be surprised to find out it was comprised of the Florida Army National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

A Ukrainian soldier with the 1st Airmobile Battalion, 79th Air Assault Brigade tosses a practice grenade from cover while a Yavoriv Combat Training Center observer provides feedback. Photo by SGT Anthony Jones, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

The 45th BCT trainer shown above was part of an international coalition dedicated to improving the combat training center’s capabilities and helping to build professionalism within the Ukrainian Army. Not even a year ago, about 6,000 multinational troops from 15 different nations came together at the Ukrainian training complex under the banner of “Partnership for Peace,” a cooperative program for NATO and Euro-Atlantic partner countries. The exercises ran from September 20th to October 1st, 2021.

One might wonder why the US would send National Guard Units to train Ukraine’s army instead of regular army units and the answer is kind of interesting. While National Guard units were once comprised mostly of people who had no prior active duty military service and were called “Weekend Warriors,” the modern unit of the Guard of the last 20 years have deployed repeatedly to combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They are chock full of men and women with combat experience.

In the US Senate

Last month, leaders of the special operations commands of the various services testified before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. While budgetary issues and general readiness were discussed, the main focus was on the situation in Ukraine.

Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa wanted to know, “What are the follow-up risks of the invasion? Where do we need to expand our footprint and presence in EUCOM (US European Command).”

Army Lieutenant General Jonathan Braga stated that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “added emphasis” to the need to expand “longstanding generational relationships” across eastern Europe. But, he added, “With the scale and scope of the threat of Russia and China, we won’t be able to do this alone. “That’s why I talked about our international partners and how increasing their capacities  is so critical.”

The impact of international partnerships with special operations forces of a “multitude of different countries” in Ukraine is an “untold story,” he said, most likely referring to still classified operations. The General went on to say: