Army special operations entered its eighth decade of service to the nation as U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) began 2012. American special operations may be said to have begun in 1942, with the standup of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The first of the Ranger battalions stood up the same year and would “Lead the Way” in every American war since. It was also a year of significant transformation at USASOC, with changes in leadership and organization abounding.
The most important of these occurred on July 24, when two living legends of Army special operations forces (SOF) literally passed the flag of USASOC leadership from one to the other. In a ceremony led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, Jr., nominated to become deputy commanding general of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), passed his command flag to the commanding general. Odierno then passed the flag to Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, completing the transfer of command. Cleveland is the latest in a string of combat-proven leaders to command USASOC, having led Task Force Viking in northern Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. In addition, on June 14, 2012, Command Sgt. Maj. Parry L. Baer handed over his duties to a new USASOC senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. George A. Bequer, of the Special Forces (SF). In addition, the deputy USASOC commanding general, Maj. Gen. Kurt Fuller, was relieved by Maj. Gen. Paul J. LaCamera. Finally, in 2012, USASOC acquired something new in its leadership pool: a foreign political adviser from the U.S. Department of State became part of USASOC. Dennis Hearne, a 27-year diplomatic professional, joined the command team to provide better coordination and advice on diplomatic matters to the command. This strong leadership is helping USASOC grow in size and capability as America enters its second decade of a global war against terrorism and violent extremists.
John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (JFKSWCS)
JFKSWCS experienced command transition in 2012 as well, as Maj. Gen. Bennet S. Sacolick turned over command on Aug. 16 to Maj. Gen. Edward M. Reeder Jr., former commander of the Army Special Forces Command (Airborne).
“For our force to succeed, we must produce special operators who are highly trained in warrior skills, but more importantly properly educated,” Sacolick said of JFKSWCS. “We educate our special operators to work with indigenous people in a culturally attuned manner that allows us to bridge language barriers, open lines of communication, and connect with key political and military leaders in a way that is both immediate and lasting. When we invest in the minds of our soldiers, we’re rewarded with an ever-increasing return. Our mission at [JFKSWCS] is to build a well-educated, character-based special operator.”
JFKSWCS Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Ferdinand Irizarry II continued to serve throughout 2012, while the job of JFKSWCS senior enlisted adviser continued to be held by Command Sgt. Maj. Ledford “JR” Stigall.
“Army special operations forces are asked to work deep in enemy territories, in small numbers, without overwhelming firepower, under the most difficult of conditions. The weapons they use are their imaginations, guts and extensive experience.”
The pace of work at the JFKSWCS remained high in 2012, and that might be described as “normal,” if anything done there actually is. The schoolhouses were full throughout 2012, conducting a tightly packed schedule of qualifications and assessments, exercises (like Operation Robin Sage) and field exams to make sure the candidates were ready for their new assignments, and an impressive range of supporting courses to fill out the core classroom/field work. One major addition to the Special Forces Qualification Course (the famous “Q Course”) was the inclusion of military free-fall training to the requirements for graduation. The JFKSWCS plans to train more than 350 SF candidates in military free-fall parachute jumping in 2013, adding to their existing jump qualifications.
U.S. Army Special Forces Command (SFC)
In 2012, SFC also changed commanders when Reeder left to command the JFKSWCS on Aug. 15, and handed over command to Brig. Gen. Christopher K. Haas. Another combat-tested SF leader, Haas commanded 1st Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group (SFG), in Southwest Asia, including Iraq in 2003. Supporting Hass in 2012 was SFC’s senior warrant officer, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas D. Frank, and SFC’s senior enlisted adviser, Command Sgt. Maj. William B. Zaiser.