The terrorist attacks of 9/11 put Special Operations on the map and at the forefront of the 21st Century DOD but this has also created a massive problem few in leadership positions are ready to admit.
The main issue is that many will only admit in hushed voices behind closed doors, is that US SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has become a massive bureaucracy. Unit level autonomy in Naval Special Warfare (NSW) has been eroded to the point where purchasing damaged uniforms can open source is nearly impossible because it would mean circumventing a major program of record, and more importantly, SOCOM’s main HQ in Tampa has become a place where civilian contractors, who serve as program managers, are more concerned with careerism then taking care of the Special Operations Warfighter on the front lines.
“Many of these guys have never served in the military and the GS contractors are always looking for an reason to say no, when active duty guys are looking for reasons to say yes, and get the job done.”, one senior non-commissioned officer attached to SOCOM told SOFREP.
Last year an NSW Warrant Officer told SOFREP that it’s routine to see senior level Special Operations line officers doing “busy work” at SOCOM that is unrelated to core expertise, and he personally witnessed a Navy Commander escorting a janitor (without security clearance) from space to space for an entire work day. Time is valuable, and seeing time and talent wasted like this goes against Special Operations core values. This is a huge problem and the elephant in the room few want to admit exists. Our hope is that influencers inside SOCOM will push for change and continue to fight against bureaucratic paralysis that can only be leveraged against us by our enemies.
If USSOCOM wants to thrive in the new century, leadership must look to leaders of organizations that have been able to successfully lead highly intelligent (and driven “A” types), around clear and inspiring organizational goals on a large-scale. And continue to maintain the ability to communicate quickly and effectively top down and bottom up, with the ability to make decisions quickly, and add autonomy where needed.
Elon Musk should be at the top of the list of people to emulate when it comes to leading large organizations that are highly maneuverable and use it as a competitive advantage. The PayPal co-founder, and CEO of Tesla and Space X has revolutionized the American space industry since 2002. In just over a decade Elon has accomplished what many thought was impossible; to make America relevant and at the forefront of interplanetary space travel.
Evaluating and learning from exemplary industry leaders and innovators like Elon Musk who are able to successful lead large and nimble organizations is something worth reflecting on (SOFREP also highly recommends reading Ashlee Vance’s new book, “Elon Musk”).
SOCOM must gain its unit level autonomy and maneuverability back. This will be critical to the effectiveness and relevancy of a modern and maturing SOCOM and is essential to the Command’s survival as it continues to deal with State sponsors of terrorism (like Iran), and open source radical Islam that leverages distributed adversaries across the globe.