Lost Opportunities with a New SOF Career Course

Lost Opportunities with a New SOF Career Course

Gordon Richmond

The October 2015 issue of Special Warfare magazine carried an article by CPT Shawn Stangle, wherein he outlined the Special Operations Forces Captain’s Career Course (SOFCCC) concept and the advantages that he believes it to confer upon ARSOF.  It is my contention that the new career course model is ultimately detrimental to the Special Forces Regiment. It deprives SF captains of some of the best training the Army has to offer and denies them exposure to a peer group from other branches, services, and partner nations that would otherwise nest with USASOC’s ARSOF 2022 vision.

Before 2012, Army Captains and First Lieutenants who had been selected for entry into the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) attended the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course (MCCC) at Fort Benning, Georgia.  Officers selected for entry into the Civil Affairs or Psychological Operations qualification courses attended any available captain’s career course-regardless of branch.  MCCC is a 22-week course for Infantry and Armor officers, the first half of which is spent on company operations and troop leading procedures, the second on battalion staff operations and the military decision-making process. The course required a permanent change of station (PCS) move to Fort Benning.

The new SOFCCC is three months long at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  This has the definite benefit of saving taxpayer money—$7 million per year, according to CPT Stangle’s article.  A shorter career course and no additional PCS had the net effect of getting ARSOF captains to graduate sooner, which means more time for utilization in operational billets. Captains move from their initial assignments directly to Fort Bragg, which saves them and their family the inconvenience of a relatively short PCS move to Fort Benning. Finally, SOFCCC has ARSOF instructors and a more ARSOF-driven curriculum, which is intended to standardize the captain’s mission planning procedures and doctrinal competencies before starting their ARSOF qualification courses.

One of the ARSOF 2022 priorities is to optimize SOF and conventional force (CF) interdependence.  Special Forces deploy and fight as Operational Detachment-Alphas, led by captains.  With this in mind, I believe there is no single person in our formation more important to imbue with the SOF/CF partnership than our SFODA commanders.  Attending MCCC allowed future SF officers, regardless of their previous branch, to mix with Infantry and Armor officers, as well as a small cohort of officers from a cross-section of other branches in the Army, sister services, and partner nations.  On a personal level, it allowed me to network with other captains who are now company commanders or staff officers in conventional brigade combat teams. As a result, I know a captain in every Army Division, at minimum, and they know a captain in SF. This is a great resource to be able to reach out and talk about upcoming deployments, training center rotations, or overseas exercises with the conventional force involved.

CPT Stangle wrote that SOFCCC provides a “cementing of relationships” between SF, CA, and PSYOP officers, which “allows for continued collaboration throughout their careers.” Had I attended SOFCCC, my SF peer group would be the same group of captains for the 18 months of the SFQC after graduating SOFCCC. It is true that I would have met more Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations officers. However, I think SF’s interoperability with our ARSOF brethren is inherently better than that with CF. ARSOF officers collaborate out of necessity-often working within the same company-sized element in CONUS training and overseas. We do not have the same working relationship with the conventional Army. By setting a professional standard in MCCC with our CF peers, we set the precedent that SF is an elite, professional force and negate some of the negative sterotypes that can have an adverse effect on our autonomy and freedom of maneuver. Our ultimate goal is to develop a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the Army and expand our network of SF proponents. Isolating ourselves in a SOF-specific course will not help, in this regard.

From a tactical perspective, MCCC graduates understand how the combined arms fight works and how light, mechanized, and stryker units are employed and their effects integrated in offense, defense, and stability operations. This is essential to creating the well-rounded and well-connected SF officer that has to work effectively alongside and sometimes nest his efforts with CF.  While SOFCCC instructors can provide more specific insight and training tailored to detachment command in the ARSOF world, they cannot match the MCCC instructors’ experience of commanding conventional companies. CPT Stangle wrote that SOFCC provided “an advantage in uniquely preparing assessed students for their branch qualification course.” I contend that the SFQC for officers should require no preparation course.  If such a thing is required, it would seem to make more sense to restructure the 18A MOS phase of SFQC, instead of trying to recreate the effects of MCCC.

My recommendation is that SF officers attend MCCC en route to SFQC to continue to get the training for company and battalion-level operations that will enable success.  The Special Forces Regiment should put its best foot forward by sending top-performing senior Captains and junior Majors to serve as instructors at MCCC, which would further CF/SOF interdependence, as well. I do not dispute that the new SOFCCC model saves taxpayer money, that it spares ARSOF captains and their families an additional PCS move, nor that it enables captains to move more quickly through the SFQC. However, the money and time saved with the new SOFCC pale in comparison to the loss of the opportunity to build relationships with CF officers and the opportunity to understand how they fight.


CPT Shawn Stangle’s article, “SOFCCC: Special Operations Forces Captain’s Career Course,” can be found in Volume 28, Issue 4 (October-December 2015) of Special Warfare, via the magazine’s online archive.

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In my opinion, MDMP has been replaced by "bolstering." Commanders direct a change or a specified course of action and then the staffs gather data to support the decision. The key difference is that the decision comes first, rather than resulting from a thorough process. I am not an advocate for bolstering. Bolstering regularly produces flawed, personality driven policies that have to be reviewed with every change of command. Or, as Mr. Martin has noted, the policies are cemented by the bureaucracy and organizational politics.

I am short on the energy required to discuss the ARSOF CCC, but it's good to see that an ODA Commander was willing to open the dialogue.

101st Ranger....then the entire push by the former JCoS towards the concept of true Mission Command in 2012 where the Commander creates the environment of a fear free open dialogue between Commander and his staff in order to foster trust has then totally failed....and while everyone mouths the word MC all they really mean is the IT/comms processes....

Bolstering anyone can do..requires not even from a LTC or a COL....much in the way of battle space intelligence/experience....bolstering is often substituted by leading through fear....and in the current battle space called non linear warfare that signals abject failure....

Going into combat against a now thoroughly proven non linear battle space requires full attention by all involved and if there is no fear free dialogue you are doomed to failure....as this new non ;inear combat uses literally everything being thrown at you at the same time..decisions must come fast and well thought through on multiple levels and sorry there is just not a single LTC/COL out there capable of pulling that off....why because the officer training up to now does not thoroughly emphasize non linear warfare....

Just my humble unknowing opinion....

All including comments below.

First, I am wondering where the idea that “..top notch…” instruction is not being provided. After all the SOF CCC is part is a ‘Center of Excellence’ also. I do hope someday we make a rank above commanding general where an Army officer can make changes to Army training and doctrine.

I just want to clear up a couple items for a cleaner conversation.
1.The bureaucracy has caught up and the slots are being formally set up. However, unlike the 18A Phase instructors there is not a formal benefit for promotion when the boards meet.

2.The CCC does not teach tactics it teaches doctrine and planning; other phases teach tactics. I doubt the other regiments or any general is going to publicly say that only ‘trigger pullers’ know how to plan. The CPTs at the SOF CCC are on the same timeline as MCCC CPTs so the level of experience if not the experiences themselves are the same. My first MCCC instructor was an un-tabbed CAV officer, the BN phase instructor was a Ranger tabbed IN officer. I was wearing 2 tabs and had more schools than both of them combined and I was not the most schooled student in the class. We still learned a lot about planning from both of them. If I follow the logic stream correctly, all SAMS instructors should be triple canopied combat arms officers with combat experience.

3. The students do not need to be “re-taught MDMP” the 18A Phase. This phase is part of the initial MDMP training. The SOFCCC itself is shorter because the CPTs get the rest of their training MDMP in their Alpha phases. This gives them the same amount of training as MCCC graduates. This would be like saying we should cut Benning Phase because the students have to be ‘re-taught’ patrolling in Swamp Phase. It is a continuation of the training. An argument could be made that the students are getting 2 months less training than CPTs of my generation. That however, is a different argument. Based on the lack of planning I have witnessed at the field grade level and above for both real world missions and as an OC/T at JRTC, I would argue the entire Army needs more planning training. At least a class on why they actually should plan. I outlined some of this in a SWJ article.

As for CF connections this is a back and forth. I have heard both sides bring up the same point argued in opposite directions. I wonder though if after a few years at West Point/ROTC/OCS, Airborne, BOLC, OBC, LT time, and other schooling (Airborne, Ranger, Sapper, SHARP, and peers that drop out of the Q) you have not gotten to know a couple of CF personnel is another few months in Benning going to shift the scales?

I am not saying improvements should not be made for example if the Army is going to keep all the separate CCCs then maybe the foreign officers should go to the SOFCCC. Maybe all the CCCs should be combined, then everyone would meet everyone. Maybe this is where the conversation should focus. We need a deeper solution section it is only a couple of years before CPT Richmond commands the graduates of a CCC. Who knows CPT Richmond could even get orders to teach at a CCC.

In the interest of full disclosure I do teach at the SOF CCC so there may be some bias, so use the salt appropriately.

Based on the lack of planning I have witnessed at the field grade level and above for both real world missions and as an OC/T at JRTC, I would argue the entire Army needs more planning training. At least a class on why they actually should plan. I outlined some of this in a SWJ article.

I find this comment extremely interesting for the following reason....

In 2012, I happen to be presenting Mission Command..."the creation of a fear free dialogue to build trust pushed by the Commander"..in a Aviation CCC and the group was being lead by a MAJ who had been a OC at the NTC when I was there....who had missed his CCC because of being at the NTC...who thoroughly had exercised MDMP for over 3.5 years in the desert and who forced his CPTs to respond to my questions.

When I mentioned the MDMP process and asked who in the class knew any of the MDMP processes...not a single hand went up......

From then until I left Grafenwohr in Aug 2013 every unit in USAEUR that I worked with never fully understood planning nor really how to use MDMP...but once they worked their way through it and continued to practice their planning reached a really solid level...but then the old Commander and Staff would rotate out and new individuals would come in starting the process all over again....it was just one endless treadmill and nothing moved forward because of the repeating treadmill....

WHO did appreciate MDMP was the Russian Peacekeeping Brigade Staff and the Russian Military Academy that we taught t them in 2012/2013 in the Atlas Vison exercises.

That was in fact the failure of the concept of MC....because eventually Leavenworth took over MC but as a IT focused concept not a focus on building trust and fear free dialogue inside a Staff and their Commander....

NOW in 2016 it is interesting to see that nothing has really improved....just how strange is that????


1- From what I understand, the SOCREB/POM submission has not made it past SOCOM, much less DA/TRADOC- so the slots for CCC have not been approved nor authorized.

2- The feedback I received from 18A students in the last 2 years was that Troop Leading Procedures- a tactical level tool- was being taught at SOFCCC and at times it was hit or miss whether the instructor had actually used TLPs in the field before in such a way as to add to the instruction beyond reading power point. That was what I meant by "tactics."

3- In terms of being retaught MDMP- I'd say that things may have changed in the last roughly 8-18 months, but, prior to that they were having to be retaught MDMP, as per the 18A instructor feedback to the CG- which prompted the attempt to get the course pushed back for at least half to the Maneuver CCC, which ultimately did not happen.

As for CF/SOF interactions- I guess I don't follow your logic. If only a few years at ROTC/the Academy is all we need, then why have any CF/SOF interaction at all beyond that? I personally have many more POCs from when I went to the MCCC than I do from ROTC. Most of those I knew in ROTC are out now. The MCCC contacts I have made were invaluable later overseas- and still are. The percentage of those folks still in and in positions that are valuable to my position are much higher. Maybe I'm a one-off, but I doubt that...

I'd also add that traditionally, from my perspective, MCCC instructors were made a priority fill within the Army. Not so much at SWCS. I'm assuming that won't change anytime soon- regardless of whether the slots become authorized or not (which, I'm wondering how they will during a downsizing of the Army...).

Dave- I have talked to three Commanding Generals in the last three years- and all acknowledged to me that the SOFCCC was a mistake and wished they could undo it. Unfortunately, once something like that is incorporated, it is very difficult to change. The 2nd and 3rd order repercussions of changing anything having to do with the pipeline- unless it produces faster results- while we are at war is almost impossible.

Originally conceived to meet the terrible triple demands of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the 4th BN growth- the SOFCCC sacrificed CF-SOF relationships as well as top-notch instruction and much-needed CF education for faster processing into the Q courses.

The problems I have personally witnessed with this are many, just 2:

1- the course was, and is still to my knowledge, done out of hide and thus the best instructors aren't available- there have been instructors at times who had just graduated their respective Q course themselves. CA officers from AG branch teaching tactics to Ranger-tabbed infantry officer SFQC students.

2- SF officers getting to the SFQC were having to be re-taught MDMP and planning, as the instruction was not sufficient. The result has been a lot of re-training in the 18A course as well as lots of issues in the planning phase of Robin Sage.

When these issues were reported to multiple general officers, there were attempts to get at least half of all students to go to the Maneuver CCC. These efforts were defeated due to bureaucracy and the time and effort these kinds of changes take- but, mostly it was because of the reality of the pipeline interruptions this would cause- the war needs bodies and we just can't take the pain in the short-term for the long-term gain this would provide...

I also 100% agree with your comment reference career management timelines. All of our decisions have to take that into account- which is really, really sad. We can't manage our ARSOF careers with sense- instead we have to manage them as a massive bureaucracy would...

Regarding your last comment about management timelines, and I would add that the KDPs (or check the block jobs) are exactly why an officer heavy Special Forces Regiment will never be an ideal organization for UW. We need to separate SF from the military into a hybrid (OSS type) organization if we're serious.

CPT Richmond is speaking truth to power.

I am in no position to judge this course as it was implemented after I retired. There are of course merits to this course especially if it includes a deep dive into unconventional warfare for the junior SOF leadership. On the other hand if conventional and special operations force interdependence is important than this moves away from that.

I think my SF career benefited from serving in mechanized and straight leg infantry units (3d ID in Germany and 2d ID in Korea to include serving as a Brigade Plans officer in Germany writing a brigade GDP plan and serving as an infantry company commander on the DMZ in Korea), the Infantry Officer Advanced Course, as well as SAMS. (And I was able to do a deep dive into UW doing an MMAS in CGSC and one of my two monographs at SAMS on SOF - the other on the catastrophic collapse of north Korea)

But when I did my year in purgatory as the Chief of SF Officer assignments I learned the math behind the timelines for development of SF officers (which is of course the same for all Army officers). The timeline for promotions drives everything and that is why this SOFCCC makes sense (in addition to the fiscal sense as CPT RIchmond points out). The faster we get Captains through the pipeline the better (and remember that the 2006 QDR drove the requirement to grow from 270 ODAs to 360 ODAs (which we could not accomplish thus we had to reorganize the 4th battalions of all 5 SF Groups)) so that means a corresponding increase in officer throughput in the SF qualification course (and the same applies to the CA and PSYOP qualification courses as both forces grew significantly post 9-11). But as CPT Richmond notes the opportunity for developing special operations and conventional force interdependence is reduced.

The only way to overcome management by timeline and move to true talent management and provide significant broadening opportunities is to do away with year group management and the fixed promotion timelines in DOPMA. This applies to more than just SOF of course. But I am not holding my breath.