It is well-known fact inside our Special Operations Forces that being in one of the many units in the United States SOF has more to do with the operators being ‘special’ and not just the gear that they use to get the job done.

But frequently the public gets wrapped around the ax handle with the gadgets that the military has at its disposal and yes while many of them are intriguing, they are not an end-all, be-all for Special Operations.

Special Operations Forces are often compared to professional athletes. While quite different, in one area where they are very similar is that SOF units are always training. They place supreme emphasis on it. The training is what makes the operators special, not the equipment used.

When the Special Operations Command was in its infancy, MG David Baratto, then Commander of the JFKSWC came up with SOF Imperatives to serve as the basic tenets to which SOF should operate.

These were written by a retired Col. John Collins who interestingly enough was not a Special Operations officer. The command adopted them back in 1987 and about twenty years later they were rebranded as “truths”.

But whether they’re called imperatives or truths doesn’t matter. They’re the cornerstone for any operational unit and can be used in both the military and later into the civilian world. For aspiring SOF operators, these truths should become second nature.

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At a time when the Special Operations Forces are conducting a lion’s share of operations in Afghanistan and Syria while comprising just a fraction of the total force, it is always important to know what Special Operations is and isn’t.

The five Special Operations Forces Truths:

Humans are more important than hardware:
This one is a no-brainer but at times gets frequently misunderstood in the public’s eye, and at times in our government’s. Operators make the equipment, not the other way around. The training and preparedness of the operator is the critical difference in mission success and failure.

The right operators, the best operators, that are highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with whatever equipment is available. On the other hand, the best equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of a trained force.

Quality is better than quantity:
This one is especially true in Special Operations. A small, well-trained team is much more effective than a large under-or-untrained one. A quality force is a limited resource and is much preferable to conduct sensitive type operations. 

Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced:
Properly training Special Operations Forces operators and units takes years to get them to the level of proficiency that will be needed to conduct the type of missions that these units will be tasked to perform.

Then the joint integrated training within the community amongst the units takes even more time. Any attempt to shorten the process or quicken it to meet operational needs only serves to weaken the entire force as a whole.

Cookie cutter training produces cookies, not special operators. Slapping a beret on everyone’s head and calling them elite is an exercise in futility, not training a force.

Competent Special Operations Forces can’t be created after emergencies occur:
The first word here is perhaps the most important. Competent. As we mentioned above, the training of the individual operators and units takes time. Here is where the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine SOF units have to be on top of their games.

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Not only must they ensure that the force is properly trained and equipped to fight the current wars that we’re involved in, but they must be proactive rather than reactive and have the foresight to see what the next conflict [there will always be a next one] will entail and have the operators ready to take on the challenges of that one.

It requires smart, forward thinking and not reacting to events as they occur.

Most special operations require non-SOF assistance:
This was one of the imperatives under Baratto that was originally left off of the list. Perhaps he and General Wayne Downing, the commander of SOCOM at the time were trying to defend their new slice of the pie without getting too much interference from the “Big Army” at the time. It isn’t known, just speculation on my part.

But Adm. Eric Olson SOCOM Commander found the final imperative or truth and resurrected it in 2009. And it is true.

However, it is true, while the Type-A personalities in SOF will disagree outwardly, it takes a joint effort with everyone pulling together to ensure mission success. With the integration of the conventional force in support of SOF missions, this will increase the effectiveness of the missions that are tasked.

So, with fewer big wars but with many more conflicts all over the globe, the Special Operations Force operators must be prepared, trained and ready to lead. Not only in the current conflicts but in the ones that will follow. And nobody is more prepared than the force of SOF professionals that the United States has.

Photo Courtesy DOD