Defense Media Network

Interview with Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, USA, Commanding General, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)

Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland assumed command of U.S. Army Special Operations Command July 24, 2012. Previously, Cleveland was commanding general of Special Operations Command Central at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., from 2008 to 2011. Cleveland commanded Special Operations Command South from 2005 to 2008, and from 2003 to 2005 he served U.S. Army Special Operations Command as the chief of staff and later the acting deputy commanding general.

Cleveland commanded 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) from 2001 to 2003 and served as commander, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-North, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Cleveland served with the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Carson, Colo., from 1995 to 1999 when he served as the group executive officer, group deputy commander and battalion commander of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne). From 1993 to 1995, he served as an action officer in the Special Operations Division on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and later as the Special Forces field grade assignment officer.

A Special Forces officer, Cleveland served with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Fort Davis, Panama, in 1987, where he was a detachment commander, company commander, and battalion operations officer until 1990. Cleveland began his Special Operations career with an assignment with the 441st Military Intelligence Detachment, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), Fort Devens, Mass.


John D. Gresham: What is the current status of USASOC, and what has been your personal focus since taking over from Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland?

As we transition into the post Iraq and Afghanistan environment, our mission must be clear. We are tasked with providing the nation with the world’s premier special operations units, capable of executing special warfare and surgical strike operations while simultaneously supporting joint force commanders worldwide.

Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland: As we transition into the post Iraq and Afghanistan environment, our mission must be clear. We are tasked with providing the nation with the world’s premier special operations units, capable of executing special warfare and surgical strike operations while simultaneously supporting joint force commanders worldwide. To do that, USASOC needed to build a strategic framework and create a roadmap to get there. Last year, we put the vision on paper in the form of ARSOF 2022 and shared it with the command. ARSOF 2022 serves as the blueprint for this change and focuses on specific areas [in which] I felt USASOC needed improvement to better enable seamless application of combat power across the spectrum of conflict.

First, we needed to address a key capability gap for “high-end” UW [unconventional warfare]. By “high-end” UW we mean the full range of conditions for unconventional warfare, such as where resistance movements are just beginning and operating clandestinely themselves, the occupying power is highly capable, limited safe havens exist, and/or where the degree of risk is exceptionally high.

Second, we needed to mature the Army SOF profession. For more than half of the 25 years USASOC has existed, we will have been engaged in constant combat, and what we are learning is that combat is a great accelerant for learning and maturation. We now have these increased roles and responsibilities, not at just the tactical level, which is what we have been very good at. In fact, we have been created to provide that to the nation – high-end formations that provided strategic effect. We now have matured into a role where we are providing campaign level effects, and that means that we have a presence now and there is a need for SOF thinking – what I would call SOF operational art – at the operational level, that thing that ties tactics to strategy. Now there are ties in there that are uniquely SOF that represent, in my view, an art form as to how we combine surgical strike capability and special warfare capability, and conventional capabilities. That is where the future is headed, and USASOC will help lead in that future.

Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland

Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, USA, commanding general, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC). USASOC photo

Lastly, we want to knit two seams – the seam with the conventional force and SOF and the seam with the interagency and SOF. We are focused on improving interdependence at the “seam” between ARSOF and conventional forces with CTC [Combat Training Center] rotations, RAF [regionally aligned forces]/Global Response Force relationship, and professional military education. We must improve interdependence with our interagency partners, particularly in operations outside declared theaters of armed conflict.

Within this framework we have six priority areas:

  1. Invest in Human Capital: Simply put, people are more important than hardware, but it’s much more involved than that. We want USASOC to field a diverse, regionally expert force with the world’s best trained and educated special operations soldiers that are capable of addressing uncertainty.
  2. Optimize SOF/CF [conventional forces]/JIIM [joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational] Interdependence: We used the term “interdependence” on purpose, suggesting each of these partners is successful only when we all are successful. In short, USASOC optimizes the force multiplying potential of partnership with the Army and interagency to provide the nation with seamless combat power. ARSOF brings something different to the table: an expertise in navigating the human domain – that totality of the physical, cognitive, social, cultural, and information elements affecting and influencing human behavior. Special operations forces are uniquely assessed, selected, trained, educated, and equipped to affect and influence human behavior to enhance stability and fight and defeat adversaries. Inshort, SOF is the force of choice to achieve results in the human domain.
  3. Operationalize the CONUS Base: When soldiers and units rotate back from deployment, we need to keep them directly tied to those who remain in theater, supporting them as they further our objectives and carry on the fight. We have an enormous talent pool back [in] CONUS that should be leveraged by those who are directly engaged, a pool of capability that can provide timely and expert reach-back support. We have regionally expert forces that need to provide continuous, proactive, and responsive support to their respective joint force commands. Nobody should “sit on the bench” here in the U.S. while we have soldiers and units deployed.
  4. Develop SOF Capabilities at the Operational Level: Who will write the campaign plans for places like Yemen, Colombia, and the Philippines? USASOC forces provide expertise to enable operational level headquarters in their effort to tie tactical capabilities to regional or national strategies.
  5. Facilitate SOF Mission Command: How will we employ and command our forces in the current and future operating environment, forces whose skills have been honed over the last 12 years of war? This priority is directly related to a command-wide redesign effort – creating a scalable, tailorable, two-star headquarters that is able to achieve SOF mission command at the operational level in support of the TSOCs [theater special operations commands] and joint force commanders.
  6. Optimize Resourcing and Commodity Areas: USASOC will rebalance its portfolio while getting better, not bigger. At the heart of this is making the most of what we have and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. It involves looking at everything across the USASOC enterprise – vehicle fleets, aerial delivery, technology, aviation platforms, and soldier systems.


You mentioned the concept of SOF operating in the human domain. Can you elaborate on what you mean?

The concept of the human domain and strategic landpower comes from our own evaluation of where we need to go and what have we learned over the last 12 years. What came out of that were some new frameworks and models that will not only serve USASOC well, but also generate and stimulate the thinking that’s necessary to shape the future of our Army. I think SOCOM, and certainly ARSOF’s role as the main proponent of SOCOM, will become increasingly important to the future beyond Afghanistan and Iraq. But we can’t do it alone. The Army’s got to be there with us. There’s a larger strategy that’s starting to come from the idea of a Global Landpower Network, which is an extension of the Global SOF Network. The Global SOF Network provides the foundation; the Global Landpower Network includes the Army, the Marine Corps, and SOCOM. This is what the Strategic Landpower Task Force is about, and that, in turn, is part of a Global Defense Network that includes all services, all security branches of government. A lot of that’s come from our thinking here.

Strategic landpower offers us the ability to learn what we needed to learn from the last 12 years-plus of combat and also figure out how to better apply the landpower assets from the Marine Corps, Army, and Special Operations Command. What strategic landpower is about is the ability to prevail in the population-centric human domain and add to that the ability to dominate in the land domain that comes from our Army – the world’s finest combined arms maneuver force. Putting the two capabilities together gives you, as a framework, a more complete picture of the security spectrum the landpower forces represent. That’s important, because what we want to do is make sure that strategic landpower is understood in today’s environment. It is radically different than it was even on the tenth of September, 2001. There have been significant advances in interconnectivity of populations because of technology, and the Internet – Facebook, Twitter, Social Media – and the connectiveness of countries because of globalization. On top of that, we have the international community, international criminal courts, and the international rules of conduct that constrain traditional landpower tools in certain environments. You can’t go into a city any more without extracting a huge cost on the world stage. You have to look and make predictions. What we are arguing is that we need a different framework, and strategic landpower allows us to do that. It allows us to say there is still relevance in fighting and winning the nation’s wars and responding to contingencies, but there is also a need for developing new tools and processes and procedures to fight in this human domain sphere.

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John D. Gresham lives in Fairfax, Va. He is an author, researcher, game designer, photographer,...