History has taught us that no matter how hard we try, the future will always remain uncertain. Even the most advanced organizations and industries will struggle to predict the future and get ahead of the next bow wave. We mastered predicting tomorrow as long as it looks like yesterday. Where we have historically gotten it wrong, though, is looking far into the future. Some fear change, but those organizations that embrace it and actively seek it will thrive in uncertain times. The United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) is a learning organization, made up of the finest women and men our nation has to offer. People are our priority, and they are our competitive advantage; their creativity, commitment, and energy are a constant that we rely on in an ever-changing world. The faces and names standing in our formations change over the years, but their determination and dedication to our nation remains unwavering. All volunteers for America, these soldiers willingly embrace change, thrive on uncertainty, and readily stand watch to protect our way of life.
No one will be able to predict the exact time and place of the next crisis or conflict. The problem set of tomorrow will catch everyone by surprise, like the attacks of 9/11 or the pandemic of 2020. Failure to predict is not an excuse for a failure to be ready. Army Special Operations relies on three lines of effort – People, Readiness, and Modernization – to build irreversible momentum towards establishing the force of tomorrow. We cannot go this alone. Our interagency partners, international partners and allies, industry and academic colleagues, and joint service teammates all play a crucial role in protecting the nation.
We provide the nation with the world’s most capable Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF). ARSOF soldiers excel across the broad spectrum of operations in the most demanding, complex, and uncertain environments imaginable. We take the fight to the enemies of our nation. Our success rests upon the invincible will, utmost professionalism, and exceptional competence of our highly trained men and women. We empower our people, build readiness to prevail in competition and conflict, and modernize at scale and pace.
Throughout the history of Army Special Operations, our people have always provided us a competitive advantage over our adversaries and competitors. The 35,000 men and women who make up U.S. Army Special Operations Command solve the wicked problems, endure the immense hardships, and innovate at the point of need. They are truly world class, and they are doing amazing things around the globe every single day.
Prioritizing people recognizes that they deserve every possible advantage. It means we resource them with the ability to reach and maintain optimum levels of physical, mental, and spiritual health. We create environments that encourage creative problem-solving at all levels, with leaders willing to underwrite the risk associated with innovating at speed. All of this is built on a foundation of mutual trust between our soldiers and leaders. It also means that we take care of our families and that we will forever honor our fallen and their precious Gold Star Families.
Prioritizing our people also means that we have an obligation to provide them with exceptional leadership at every echelon from their first line supervisor to commanding general officer. We recently took on initiatives to ensure our critical tactical-level leadership positions are filled with the right people to lead our force. These programs combine assessment and mentorship for our officers and non-commissioned officers to be successful and to prepare them to lead in the right ways.
Two examples out of the Special Forces Regiment are the Team Sergeant Assessment and Preparation (TSAP) Program and the Field Grade Assessment Program (FGAP). Over the last year, we’ve run five week-long iterations of the TSAP at each of our active duty Special Forces Groups. The Special Forces Team Sergeants are the most influential leaders in a Special Forces unit and the backbone of the organization. Comprising a series of physical, psychological, leadership, technical skill, and tactical proficiency events, the TSAP enables Special Forces Battalion and Group leaders to develop a deliberate developmental plan for each individual and make better- informed decisions on future assignments.
In parallel, we also implemented a similar program for field grade officers to ensure well-equipped leaders at the Special Forces Company level. Over the last two decades, these officers have often found themselves leading battalion-sized elements dispersed across vast areas of terrain to accomplish incredibly complex missions with little formal education on how to effectively do so. Administered during Officer Intermediate Level Education, FGAP assesses recently promoted majors’ past development and future potential, and provides them with opportunities for targeted mentorship. At their core, these programs will ensure competent, confident, and engaged leaders are in the right positions at the right time to create an environment that allows our men and women to be at their best.
We expect leaders across the Army Special Operations enterprise to lead with conviction, with purpose, and with compassion. We don’t need mascot leaders. Whether on Ranger fire teams, 160th SOAR aircrews, Special Forces Companies, Civil Affairs Battalions, or Psychological Operations Groups, our leaders must have vision and energy – we see these as the two most important components of leadership. Leaders must have a vision for where their organization needs to go and how it will get there. They must also have the energy to stay excited, inspire others, and see the plan through.
We also expect our leaders to identify and mitigate risk. Not just tactical risk associated with conducting airborne operations or live-fire ranges. We expect our leaders to think about and speak in terms of operational and strategic-level risk. Assessing risk is always based on any number of assumptions about the environment, the threat, our actions, and our capabilities. These are assumptions that can – and do – change over time. Our leaders must reassess those assumptions every day, because when conditions change, so does the risk calculus. Continuous leader assessment, mentorship, and development across our formations at echelon ensures we are preparing and equipping people to think in those ways.
Leader selection programs in each of our units identify those individuals to whom we will entrust the lives of America’s sons and daughters. Many of the qualities we look for begin long before they enter military service. The Human Performance and Wellness Directorate at USASOC expands on that foundation and enhances the capabilities of ARSOF soldiers. They are aggressively searching for systems and technologies that will improve our lethality, endurance, longevity, health, and cognitive performance. We are actively looking at anything we can do to help our soldiers become smarter, stronger, and faster both physically and mentally. We will continue to identify talent through selections and assessments that further our pursuit of disciplined, talented, and lethal soldiers.
Like every large organization, identifying talent and sustaining their professional development creates recruiting and retention opportunities. USASOC treats all soldiers with dignity and respect regardless of where they came from. We will leave no talent on the table. Success of individuals in our units is based only on their ability to perform and their passion for service to each other and to the nation. We know that a diverse force makes us stronger and more capable to meet the uncertain and ever-changing demands of tomorrow. We’ve never been more confident in the leadership, vision, and drive of our next generation of warriors.
USASOC continues to evolve, modernize, and innovate for success in both competition and conflict. The drawdown in Afghanistan marks a visible shift toward a focus on out-competing our adversaries on non-traditional battlefields and setting conditions for overmatch in largescale combat operations. For nearly two decades, Afghanistan has served as the central focal point for our Counter Violent Extremist Organization (C-VEO) efforts. A generation of American and allied warriors have dedicated blood and sweat to that fight, and we remain committed to denying terrorists the ability to attack our homeland. Retaining the initiative in this critical effort requires us to proactively posture small teams of special operators at the point of need before a crisis compels action. Our global presence consistently positions us in more than 70 countries, conducting more than 200 missions, often in places where violent extremists and great power competitors operate to undermine our national interests and those of our allies and partners. This access, placement, and network of networks created through global, sustained partnerships makes us a significant force multiplier in support of ongoing competition for the nation. There is no better force of choice for competition or the C-VEO fight.
As we continue to evolve in the information age, we will need to reorient industrial age practices while retaining the core of what has always made us special. Our Combat Training Centers (CTCs) must serve as both an innovation lab and shared classroom to learn from and inform our Army warfighting sisters and brothers. We must train aggressively in the information space, reinforcing the value of ARSOF information warfare capabilities with our conventional peers to build experience and confidence employing them outside of the training environment. To accomplish this, we need a live-fire range for our information warfare operators in a virtual training environment, and it needs to be part of our CTC rotations.
First Special Forces Command is already experimenting with cross-functional teams that will harness the individual strengths of our units and employ them collectively for exponentially greater effect. We are investing in technologies that minimize our signature and safeguard our presence. Our teams must be survivable, lethal, mobile, and connected while operating throughout denied areas in any future operating environment. We must be able to process a large amount of real-time information and deliver precision organic fires all while staying undetected. Sensor integration, signals management, and organic ISR are paramount to our survivability.
Incremental changes in technology do not make up for our inability to predict the future. Our modernization efforts must yield exponential changes in our equipment and processes. To be ready to fight on the next ridgeline, we must adapt at a pace and speed faster than our competitors. USASOC achieves this by powering down procurement decisions to the lowest possible level. Our culture is one of daring innovation and we are not afraid to fail – as long as we fail forward.
We are pursuing low probability of intercept and detection, high bandwidth, resilient communications networks; assured precision navigation alternatives when global positioning system is not an option; and any technology that provides “digital camouflage.” ARSOF operators must be able to communicate in contested environments and influence our adversaries all while maneuvering undetected or operating with plausible deniability. ARSOF warriors are ready to test new theories, break prototypes, and provide timely tactical feedback to industry and academia on emerging technologies. Through our partnerships, our men and women will have the right equipment and capabilities that they need to maintain our competitive advantage against any enemy – today, and well into the future.
Now more than ever, we need to break down bureaucratic barriers to innovation so that we have the right equipment and capabilities to maintain our competitive advantage. Outcome-based and process-oriented acquisitions will add value to our teams, aircrews, and assault forces. Investments in our people, their readiness and training, and the things they use to shoot, move, and communicate must focus on providing them with modern, rapidly upgradable, and scalable technology that will ensure the success of USASOC to meet its mission for the Army and joint force.
The future will forever remain uncertain, but we have the utmost confidence in the men and women of USASOC. They have the trust and confidence of the nation, our senior leaders, and most importantly, the American people. Our country’s greatest minds are passionately working to support them with the equipment they deserve at the point of need. This collective spirit of service to our nation represents all that is good in America. USASOC’s promise to the nation remains steadfast:
“We will protect the Nation, Without Fear, Without Fail, Without Equal. Sine Pari.”
* This article was edited for style and consistency.