The Department of Defense is correct in putting more emphasis on special operations forces as opposed to conventional forces. By putting more support in special operations, the drawdown of conventional forces is minimized. Special operations forces such as the 75th Ranger Regiment, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers, and Marine Expeditionary Units are small in terms of size, but they are all force multipliers. Each special operations force has its own particular niche on the battlefield. But what is often forgotten in the narrative of special operations is what some units are capable of in terms of promoting the peace, avoiding war, and keeping our own soldiers out of harm’s way in the first place. Those units are from the Army Special Forces.
Army Special Forces are primarily composed of small, 12-man teams called operational detachment alpha's (ODA). The ODA is comprised of weapons specialists, medics, engineers, and a command element. Before these soldiers are selected to become Green Berets, they must go through months of intense training, and this after they must also go through Special Forces assessment school (SFAS). SFAS merely judges whether or not candidates have the aptitude to become Green Berets. Upon completion of SFAS, they must then go through the Special Forces qualification course (Q School) where they are trained in the art of unconventional warfare. They then move on to language school, where they will become fluent in their area of operations' (AO) native tongue and study the culture of their AO.
Special Forces are among the best soldiers on the planet because of both their training and experience. Their accomplishments on the battlefield are indeed second to none. But their stories must remain classified because of the nature of their business. A major tenet of the Department of Defense’s Counterinsurgency Strategy (COIN) is to “win the hearts and minds.” Special Forces operators are trained in multiple languages and local customs and culture. Special Forces medics are trained in veterinary medicine and emergency surgery. Special Forces engineers are capable of building a bridge, a medical clinic, or a school one day and, putting a well-placed explosive on an insurgent’s safe house the next. Weapons specialists are not only highly trained in our own weaponry, they are very knowledgeable in weapons systems that are used all over the world. In addition to being sent in harm’s way, Special Forces are often called upon to train friendly military forces all over the world. They live amongst them, speak their language, eat their food, and while doing so, gain their trust. This also helps these soldiers tactically: Imagine the local villager whose child was just immunized by the Special Forces operator going back to the clinic that spec ops engineers and medics built for them and sharing valuable intelligence with them. The Special Forces team then goes to take out the people that want to do us harm. These language-trained, culturally sensitive soldiers have earned the moniker of “warrior diplomats.”
In today’s conflict environment, we see unconventional and asymmetric threats such as state-sponsored terror and counterinsurgencies. Using unconventional warfare against these threats is the optimal solution because Special Forces are trained to do just that.
A core mission of Special Forces is to train indigenous forces throughout the world. Governments worldwide are clamoring for Special Forces to train their armies. When their armies are fully trained, that means our own military does not have to deploy overseas and protect our national interests.
We need soldiers that can adapt to any situation, and do it quickly. Conventional forces take time to change. The relative small size of special operations forces make it easier to adapt. The military has historically been a top down organization, and it often takes a Herculean effort to change quickly. One of the characteristics that SFAS Instructors look for is the ability to adapt to any situation thrown at them.
Special ops are the best equipped soldiers to fight the War on Terror. In today’s atmosphere, it is sound policy to put more emphasis on what works best. Not to say that less emphasis on conventional forces do not do well now nor will our entire military continue to be the best fighting force in the world in the future, but if we want to eradicate terrorism worldwide, special operations forces have the tools to do this most effectively.
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