In recent years, the special operations community has been experiencing a noticeable withdrawal of operators from the military. This alarming pattern is being seen across all branches, proving it is not an isolated incident. The question is, why is this happening?
To answer this question, the first thing that needs to be understood is what the normal op-tempo is for a special operator. In Naval Special Warfare, on average, an individual will spend approximately a year and a half training before heading off to a six-month deployment. This year and a half of training is not limited to a Monday-Friday schedule, where you go home at five and have weekends off. Instead, the pre-deployment workup consists of many training trips, where operators are gone for weeks and months on end. Special Operations troops have been worked extremely hard in recent years with some averaging more time on deployment than at home. When units deploy, they may either go to an active combat zone or a peaceful place like Europe to work with allies — it just depends.
So, imagine going through over a year of demanding training, just to go sit on your ass and do nothing for six months in a friendly country; that’s not what these guys signed up for. On the other hand, if a unit does go on a combat deployment and experiences tough losses this can also be tough to cope with. Combine these realities with bad leadership and stupid decisions and rules and you create a perfect storm of misery and frustration. Repeat this cycle for a few years and you may have some operators ready to get out after their contract is up.
It’s important to understand that many individuals that enter into special operations already have college degrees, families, and lucrative opportunities in the real-world. But, they volunteered for special operations because they wanted to be with the best and be a part of something greater than themselves. A lot of these guys are not “yes men” and have little patience for bullshit. Even at the special operations level, there are incompetent leaders and bad policies. These types of personalities mixed with less than ideal situations can be detrimental to the morale and attitude of operators.
Many of these individuals know their worth in the outside world and recognize the value that their military service brings to their resume. The average salary for an operator is $70k a year, and while this is by no means a bad number, individuals, especially those with college degrees, know that they can demand a salary well into the six figures. This is just one of the facts that makes it hard for guys to want to stay in if they have become frustrated with their situation. The special operations community has acknowledged this issue, which is why they oftentimes offer very impressive reenlistment bonuses.
Now, not everyone gets out because they are pissed off. Many came into the military because they wanted to check the box and had the desire to give back to their country. Some leave because they want to pursue further education and new challenges and opportunities. Others just get tired of being away from home and want to spend more time with their families. Recently, SOCOM placed new limits on how many days operators are permitted to be deployed in a rotational period.
The departure of special operations members is not taken lightly. SOCOM is a small community; it invests a lot of money and time to train and maintain its operators. These issues have been noted at the highest levels and actions are being taken to improve the lifestyle and welfare of the operators.