SOCOM Commander Tackles Ethics Issues Head-on

With SOCOM reeling from one incident after another in the past year, General Tony Thomas, the Commander of SOCOM is tackling the issue of moral and ethical standards declining among the force directly.

With allegations of misconduct, spousal and sexual child abuse, war crimes, drug running and murder among its own, SOCOM is taking a massive hit with the public in the trust department.  And that is the first thing that Gen. Thomas addressed, was the trust factor.

“Trust—among teammates and especially with our Nation—is our currency in Special Operations…we trade on it every day. We have strived long and hard over many years of combat to earn it. We will not allow inexcusable and reprehensible violations of that trust to erode decades of honorable service, teamwork, and progress by the members of USSOCOM…

“A survey of allegations of serious misconduct across our formations over the last year indicate that USSOCOM faces a deeper challenge of a disordered view of the Team and the Individual in our SOF culture.”

Thomas, who is retiring soon, didn’t attempt to sweep this under the rug, or to pooh-pooh it as the actions of a “few bad apples” but is alluding to the fact that there may be serious cracks developing in the force.

A force that has been in constant combat for 17 years, the longest continuous combat we’ve had in our nation’s history. The force has been over-tasked, over-employed and close to suffering burnout.

More SOF Missions To Be Turned Over to Conventional Forces

Read Next: More SOF Missions To Be Turned Over to Conventional Forces

Thomas had to know that this email was going to go viral and hit the mainstream media. And he along with Owen West, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict go right to the root of the problem which they allude to as a culture of entitlement, where a member of a “team” be that Navy SEAL, Delta Force, Green Beret, Ranger or Air Force Special Operations members feel more loyalty to the “team” than they do protecting the Constitution of the United States.

Thomas addressed this as well,  “The Team exists to serve a higher purpose—to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” he wrote. “When the Team becomes ultimate in our values system, our identity becomes distorted and ultimately corrosive to everything we hold dear.”

He also addressed the sense of entitlement by writing this: “The Individual is also highly valued in SOF because victory demands individual skill and force of will in the face of adversity. But the Individual is also not of ultimate value,” he said.

“When each of us volunteered to serve America in uniform, we placed our individual well-being and value beneath that of the defense of our Constitution and the lives and liberties of our fellow Americans. Left unchecked, a disordered value system threatens to erode the trust of our fellow comrades, our senior leaders, and ultimately the American people.”

And the allegations of misconduct run deep through the spectrum of SOCOM’s units. Among the current scandals rocking the command include but are not limited to:

  • Two U.S. Navy SEALs from DEVGRU (SEAL Team 6), Petty Officers Tony DeDolph, Adam Matthews and two U.S. Marine Raiders are facing murder charges in the death of U.S. Army Green Beret, SSG Logan Melgar, in Mali last year. Melgar supposedly witnessed several acts of the others that were unprofessional and possibly illegal. And they allegedly broke into his room in the middle of the night and strangled him.
  • Alleged war crimes perpetrated by highly decorated Navy SEAL Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward “Eddie” Gallagher. Gallagher is accused of stabbing an Islamic State group (ISIS) detainee to death in Iraq last year. U.S. Navy SEAL officer, Lieutenant Jacob Portier, Gallagher platoon commander, is accused of attempting to cover up the war crimes by not reporting the murder to the chain of command.
  • Special Operations Command Africa commander Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks suspended two Navy SEALs, the Special Operations Command Forward – East Africa commander and senior enlisted advisor of their duties on May 10 for sexual misconduct and sent them home from a deployment.
  • MSG Daniel J. Gould, a U.S. Army Green Beret from the 7th SFG, was arrested after attempting to smuggle 90 pounds of cocaine from Colombia to Eglin Air Force Base, FL in August.
  • SSG Derek McKinney of the 7th SFG  was arrested and charged with the murder of his estranged wife, Natasha McKinney in April.
  • SSG William Mrozek of the 7th SFG was accused of raping two young girls, ages 7 and 11, while they visited his home for two weeks last summer.

As with anything of this kind of situation, there are always different trains of thought. Some of our colleagues believe that Thomas’ email was weak and ineffectual. That he didn’t go far enough nor have the command take any accountability for the actions of the troops in it. The feeling here is quite different, but we’ll leave it up to our readers to make their own judgments on the matter. Included below is the email that General Thomas sent out to all of the commands.  
From: “Thomas, Raymond A GEN USSOCOM SOCOM

Date: Wednesday, December 12, 2018, 8:26 AM

Subject: Subject: Ethics and Our SOF Culture  A Call To Action
SOCOM “teammates,

Our Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and I are sending out the attached cosigned guidance on ethics for everyone in the command. It is focused on our Special Operations community and builds on ethics guidance provided by the Secretary of Defense.

Trust among teammates and especially with our Nation is our currency in Special trade on it every day. We have strived long and hard over many years of combat to earn it. We will not allow inexcusable and reprehensible violations of that trust to erode decades of honorable service, teamwork, and progress by the members of USSOCOM.

But a broader review of events across USSOCOM make this guidance timely and give it greater urgency. A survey of allegations of serious misconduct across our formations over the last year indicate that USSOCOM faces a deeper challenge of a disordered view of the Team and the Individual in our SOF culture.

The team is a small number of committed and capable Americans held together by tight bonds forged by shared mission and risk victories and sorrows – is rightly a celebrated aspect of service in SOF. But the Team is not of ultimate value. The Team exists to serve a higher purpose -to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. When the Team
becomes ultimate in our values system, our identity becomes distorted and ultimately corrosive to everything we hold dear. The Individual is also highly valued in SOF because victory demands individual skill and force of will in the face of adversity. But the Individual is also not of ultimate value.

When each of us volunteered to serve America in uniform, we placed our individual well-being and value beneath that of the defense of our Constitution and the lives and liberties of our fellow Americans. Left unchecked, a disordered value system threatens to erode the trust of our fellow comrades, our senior leaders, and ultimately the American people. Correcting this trend will take committed leadership at all levels of our command and personal moral courage by all. No component or command has escaped this trend and all of us will feel the disproportionate and negative impacts of these incidents on our mission and our people.

For this reason, I am calling all of us to rapid and focused action to begin to identify and address the underlying causes, to prevent further erosion of trust in our force, and to ultimately produce a more effective special operations force for our Nation.

In response to these trends, USSOCOM will undertake the following actions:

Worlds’ Special Operations Commanders Meet in US For Global Symposium

Read Next: Worlds’ Special Operations Commanders Meet in US For Global Symposium

Beginning on 1 Jan 2019, we will execute a 90-day focus period on core values and their role in our SOF culture by the following actions:

* USSOCOM training and education commands and institutes will review programs of instruction for opportunities to address core values in SOF culture in ways that will impact our formations, to include values-based decision-making and reinforcement of moral courage.

This includes all assessment and selection venues for SOF personnel as well as SOF-specific

training for non-SOF personnel assigned to USSOCOM.

* USSOCOM will review all command climate survey results within the last year to identify any trends across the force rooted or impacted by SOF culture. * Commanders and SEAs (05-level and above) will conduct personal and direct engagement with their personnel on the SOF cultural climate and report their observations up the chain of command. Components and operational commands will consolidate these reports and provide them to me along with proposed corrective action plans to address deficiencies.

* USSOCOM will pursue additional research into the connection and correlation between operational trauma and behavioral health. This guidance is in addition to actions required to support the standing NDAA Section 1066 requirement for the Department to review the ethics and professionalism programs of USSOCOM and the military departments for officers and other military personnel serving in SOF.

* This guidance is in addition to actions required to support the standing NDAA Section 1066 requirement for the Department to review the ethics and professionalism programs of USSOCOM and the military departments for officers and other military personnel serving in SOF. With respect to individual cases, if substantiated through our military justice system, these allegations represent a violation of the trust and standards required of all service members, but
most especially special operations forces. Furthermore, the serious allegations concerning our personnel are being discussed in the media, Congress, and the American public. The distraction, speculation, and divisiveness created by these allegations increase the Ask to our colleagues and the mission. As SOF professionals, we must all see this as a call to self-reflection, to consider who we are, what we stand for, and what we represent.

We must stand together and resist divisiveness stoked by private and public speculation without the benefit of the facts. USSOCOM is an inherently joint force. Our service SOF components’
capabilities provide the Nation with a comprehensive arsenal to defend our liberties and we have a long tradition of working together. Trust and mutual respect must remain our hallmark.
GEN Thomas

Photo: DOD