Army Special Forces headcount: No Mas

An article in yesterday's Army Times discussed Lt. Gen. John Mulholland's latest plans for U.S. Army's special operations forces. An excerpt from the article:

"I'm not particularly interested in growing Army special operations forces any bigger than it is today," said Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Army special operations forces are expected to finish their currently planned growth by 2017 and at that point, "we'll be pretty well postured," Mulholland said.

This is partly because growing Army SOF force structure comes at the expense of the larger Army, the three-star told a Sept. 21 conference hosted by the Institute for Defense & Government Advancement.

"I don't think you'll see SOF growth across the force, not just in the Army," Mulholland said.

It seems as if it is not just the Marine Corps that is complaining about how SOF recruiting drains the best NCOs from the general purpose forces.

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review sets a goal of fielding about 660 special operations teams across the entire SOF community.

The article goes on to detail by region the current worldwide distribution of Army Special Forces manning and missions.

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PaulG: Regarding your comment about autonomy--I think that individuals with the capacity to operate autonomously are drawn to the organizational structure of SOF units. When we start offering autonomy as a "carrot" to bring folks to the SOF environment, I think we begin to invite trouble. The ability to conduct effective and responsible autonomous operations is a trait that potential SOF operations must possess. Further, I don't think you would find many operators that made the decision to leave the GPF because of professional development and interesting deployment locations. The key to developing capabilities across the force, regardless of MACOM is EDUCATION. Until the GPF, and SOF to a degree, understand and invest in professional education, we will continue to under-resource our entire force. The first step in doing so, at least in the officer corps, is a complete review of the career progression model laid out in DA Pam 600-2.

The numbers of NCOs required to grow SOF is a small percentage of the number of NCOs in the GPF. SOF NCO requirements for ASVAB, DLAB, TIG, TIS, and..oh by the way...complete SFAS and other training keeps the numbers small. Expressions like "the best" are too subjective to be accurate. SOF gets no female NCOs and is by and large caucasian...many of the "best" are in other groups not represented in large numbers in SOF.

And if the GO/FOs of the GPF want to keep their "best" in the ranks it's about leadership, responsibility, and operational focus. Fix yourself before you start complaining about SOF recruitment.

This is a basic numbers game, not a function of training, (or headgear). The most critical component to building effective SOF comes during selection. You pick the right guys and the training is just the icing on the cake. You pick the wrong guys and no amount of training will get you there.

As the force gets smaller (and it will get smaller), you lose the raw numbers required to draw from to grow SOF. Simple math. There is nothing particularly surprising in LTG Mulholland's announcement.

As to "the best" NCOs and officers, only a fraction of your most capable leaders have the combination of inclination and mindset to get into SOF; there has always been, and always will be, the majority of the best in the conventional force. It is just the percentages that change. Figure (very rough) 20% of the conventional force and 80% of the SOF force would meet that criteria.

Mother Army gets her revenge though, as there is only one personnel system for both forces, so we lose a lot more great leaders to natuaral attrition in SOF than in the conventional force. If the Army really wanted to do something significant in regards to SOF it would allow SOF soldiers to be managed separately once the step across that line and allow the USASOC commander to manage his force the same way each of the 54 Adjutant Generals in the National Guard manage theirs.

I'm not holding my breath, but you never know, perhaps someday.

Along the same line of thought, have the same opportunitits/access to training that would enhance the professionalism of the general soldier. Enhanced curruculum development would surely raise the knowledge quotient and operational capacity of the regular Army for those interested in the process.

Perhaps the Army and Marines should ask themselves what it is that attracts the best NCOs to SOF, then try to provide it in the general purpose forces. I can think of three things right off the top of my head: increased autonomy, more and better opportunities for professional development, and more interesting assignments.