Opinion: Our Special Operations Command has been in the news these days for much of the wrong reasons. And with the number of questions we’ve gotten asking about the different Selection courses for SOF with an increasing number from potential officers, I felt it was time to address an issue.
An increasing number of Special Operations troops that I know, both NCO and officer feel that there is a disconnect within the command. That senior level officers and NCOs are more interested in punching their ticket and engaging in a mode of CYA than they are about their troops. I’m not going to argue the merits of whether that feeling is justified or not. But if the troops feel that way, then it is a reality that the various commands have to address, for the long-term health of the force.
So to our aspiring SOF officers out there, the best piece of advice the rest of us in the force can give to you all before you embark on your own path is two-fold. If you want to be a Special Operations officer, A.) Be a good one and B.) Don’t forget A. when you rise to positions of higher authority and responsibility.
We all know the “SOF Truths” that General Baratto came up way back in the day…(my era), Jeez that makes me feel old(er). In 1988, BG Baratto added the “truths” to the new SOF imperatives which were a two-sided coin in recruiting, training and fielding the new SOF command. The newest command SOCOM was created just a year before in 1987 and the truths were a brainchild who fit perfectly into the SOF command. General Wayne Downing who took over SOCOM shortly after that totally embraced it.
But the third of the “truths” SOF Can’t be Mass Produced can be applied to our leadership as well. And that is where we’re at today. Good (SOF) Leaders Can’t Be Mass Produced. Let’s face it, unlike the ideals that our forefathers wrote in the Constitution, all men are NOT created equal. Especially when it comes to military leadership. It is one of those things that we wish weren’t true but it is.
Wouldn’t it be outstanding that at the end of every SFQC, that every officer who walks across the stage and pins on a tab would be the next Bob Howard? Well, we all know that isn’t happening. The best leaders always seem to beget the best leaders. Why is that? Because leadership training is time-consuming, very labor intensive and requires a ton of training and experience. And most importantly command influence.
While SOF training is not a cookie-cutter approach to training operators, the courses are designed to spot, recruit, select, assess and train the next group of operators for the individual units. But the flexibility that is allowed inside the training is imperative to training all of the operators. That includes leaders.
Unlike our conventional brothers and sisters, while the leader is in command, in SOF, the leader serves the team and not the other way around. The team supports the leader to the utmost of their ability to accomplish the mission.
Leadership, especially good leadership is an art. It requires the effective leader to be at times a diplomat, a psychologist, a taskmaster and above all a good listener. The best leaders know when it is time to be all of those. Some are born into it and take to it like a duck to water. With others, it takes time and experience. Some, unfortunately, will never “get it”.
SOF troops are by and large the take charge, Type-A personalities. Knowing how to navigate the potential minefield of huge egos that permeate the atmosphere is never an easy one. That’s why it is best to be direct, transparent and most of all be consistent. One of my favorite leaders had a reputation as somewhat of a hard case. His statement was frequently “I may be an asshole, I know it, but most importantly, YOU know it, and at least you know I’m a consistent asshole!”
The best SOF leaders are all mentors. They are always training the next operator to take over their job when the time is right. Which is why they mentor their operators to lead. The time to learn how to be a successful leader is not on the day you assume the mantle of command. That is a disaster waiting to happen.
I was personally blessed to serve with and alongside some of the most outstanding Special Forces officers this country has produced. The excellent by far outweigh the few so-so commanders. I still contact several of the former Captains who became Colonels to bounce off ideas and questions even today.
That is the kind of leader you should all aspire to be when choosing SOF as a career choice. Be the kind of guy everyone around wants to emulate, not the guy who only has his eye on making Flag Rank.
Soapbox rant over, Screw it, let’s go rucking…DOL