Small Wars Journal

Elite Special Forces in Danger of Cracking as Demand is ‘Outpacing Capacity’

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 2:08pm

Elite Special Forces in Danger of Cracking as Demand is ‘Outpacing Capacity’ by Rowan Scarbourgh, Washington Times

America’s in-demand global force against terrorists is showing signs of stress and appears to be gliding toward a decline in readiness, says a Pentagon budget overview on special operations forces.

With the end of U.S. military operations in the Iraq War, the thought was that fewer deployments would give some relief to special operations forces after a dozen years of overseas fighting.

But the 2015 budget overview says demand for special operations forces is up, not down.

It talks of “significant stress on the force” and notes that the demand for Delta Force troops, Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos is “outpacing capacity” and has “initiated a downward trend in SOF readiness” this year…

Read on.


Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/13/2014 - 2:50am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

There is a great difference in this current SF vs the "older generation of the 60/70s"---IMO this goes to the fact that it was fully UW and one did not care what Group one was assigned to and if one went to VN or not.

There was so much more going on in the FID world that kept everyone busy--especially if one was in the 1st, 8th or 10th.

Then there was the mistaken belief years later that everyone went to VN---the 5th was at the really high point (1970/71) over approximately 3500 in end strength and that included the CCN/CCS/CCC and the various other Projects.

Also what was not known is that many who were assigned to the 1st, 8th, and 10th often never made it to VN.

Inside SF in those days VN vets were just another group that made "done" something just in another part of the world. SF did get to pull the trigger in a lot of other places that never made the headlines not just in VN.

Those of us in VN were often jealous of those in the 8th or 10th as they travelled the world.

Those in the 1st had it the worst as they would pull six monthers in VN a couple of times and then would get hit with a full tour as the six monthers did not count as a full tour in VN.

Also one should not forget and I am puzzled by the various articles---we were able to keep the "business" going with far less in manpower vs what there is now in place---maybe it is how they are managed/structured where the problem lies.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 11:15pm

In reply to by Wyatt

They will get over it. There is a lot more to do in Special Forces than Afghanistan (but they will still likely get to Afghanistan)

Where is the soldier graduating the Q course that doesn't want to go to afghanistan as soon as possible? The only ones I'm aware of have been there in previous units. In group it may be different but here in the course guys are mad because they are afraid they won't get their piece.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/13/2014 - 5:49pm

In reply to by RantCorp

RC--you bring up some things I had forgotten due to time---most of the SF teams were not as they are now completely deployed as a team but rather a composite of individuals coming and going from all the Groups.

The advantage I still say over the new model of deployments is that at least 50% of the teams were holdovers so there was a continuance of experience from the area and the fighting so the newest techniques were always transferred to the newcomers.

Secondly there were some married but more in the senior NCO ranks which actually balanced well with the younger unmarried NCOs as we looked to them for their experiences in SF and from prior VN deployments and I think they thought we were all crazy which at times in the evenings we were.

Yes it was hard to go forward either married or unmarried but surprisingly easy when the dirt hit the fan---remember in say 69-71 most of the VC units had been badly beaten up on and we were facing major full strength NVA units in BN or larger engagements. I do not know how many times I wished for a company size engagement but my recon company always followed if we moved forward with them.

There is an old saying in a conventional fight not taught at Bragg at that time-sometimes engaging saves one even if out numbered and surrounded--to survive to fight another day as a guerrilla you have about 1 minute to make a decision to attack and or withdraw and we never even in SF questioned another team member if the decision was made to withdraw as we all made similar decisions.

It is what say 44 years later and I still know those that were killed and or wounded---those that survived and went home are actually harder to recall.

Other times based on necessity we would throw a recon company against a full BN and on one occasion I even engaged a REGT to get a 1st Cav (Gary Owens) unit off the landing zone they were trapped on.

Reference the PTSD IMO it is in effect the 24 hour ability to stay in touch with those behind that are causing much of the problem---we only had mail and if one was in Saigon it was then a actual radio telephone with a short time span.

Those of us in certain SF teams had the ability to do 7 on and 5 off meaning 7 days on recon 5 off and in the off days we travelled where ever the US Embassy plane would take us. So one could actually tune out---SF had as well our own hotel in downtown Saigon with steaks served on the roof top watching tracers flying over the Saigon river, the Command Liaison Detachment for the Saturday night poker games, your own Company NCO club for Friday/Saturday all nigh partying, and the ability to hop copters to visit other teams. And on radio watch one could talk to the entire A/B teams via secure radio rely. So we were well informed as to losses and who was surviving literally day to day.

We had as well our PTSD problems but it was tied to the constant fighting and the average loss rate in the 5th of over 50% KIA/WIA in say 70/71.

If I remember my SF history correctly the 5th was the highest decorated SF unit.


Thu, 03/13/2014 - 2:52pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw wrote,

'Marriage failure rates were high, but at that time the majority of the team members were single and not married due to the ops tempo and there not being much support for families in the old Army days nor where the salaries high enough to support a family.'

For the life of me I can’t imagine what it to be like to be deployed if you are married. I would have thought it impossible if you have children. The possibility to speak with your children on a nightly/weekly basis strikes me as a complete PTSD train wreck waiting to happen.

In my 24 months in Afghanistan I think my Mom wrote me six times that I’m aware of and I wrote back about the same. The suggestion Ops would let us speak to family would have freaked most of us out.

I had the chance to reread some of my letters home after she died and they were all full of lies which rendered them pretty pointless.

Like my father and my grandfather I do not enjoy reunions so I avoid them. I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember many faces of the dead anymore except for two. The one difference between them than all the other dead was I had met their children before they were KIA.

I have often wondered if I had known then what it was to be a father, as I do now, would I have ordered them forward.

I seriously doubt it.


Outlaw 09

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 5:06pm

Just an opinion from the past---when it was just individuals rotating in an out of teams instead of whole teams deploying as say during Iraq and AFG individuals did not get worn out as they knew there was X amount of time between the next war assignments usually then two years between one year tours. SF in the old days was surprisingly able to handle VN (5th) and still maintain the 1st, 8th, and 10th missions.

For those FID type missions then entire teams deployed which was handled at the same time as the war replacements that were coming and going. Sometimes yes the teams deployed understrength but due to the cross training as many carried multiple MOSs (to include ROs) the FID missions still were successful.

Puzzled by the comment on increased suicides ---even at the height of VN --alcohol and drugs yes---but due to PTSD that the system did not want to recognize and that was after coming back. Suicide was not known.

Marriage failure rates were high, but at that time the majority of the team members were single and not married due to the ops tempo and there not being much support for families in the old Army days nor where the salaries high enough to support a family.

Since the entire Army seem to go to whole units in the deployment process vs the individual replacements there seems to be the standard same problems across the entire force. That shift was done as a direct reflection on the problems supposedly seen in VN.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 4:37pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Agreed. We need to look much harder at the nature and purpose of our deployments to find the cure to our current weariness, rather than simply seeking to reduce the number and duration.

But commanders need to apply greater discipline as well. Navy and Marine Services are much better at implementing a force preserving rotation of deployment, recovery and training than the Army has proven to be. Sometimes we are own worst enemy.

Dave Maxwell

Wed, 03/12/2014 - 4:21pm

We need to be very careful here. The knee jerk reaction to the "stress on the force" will be to cut back deployments. While that is necessary and fine for some special operations forces (and we should keep in mind that jointness does not equal sameness even within special operations - Delta, Special Forces, SEALs, Rangers, Civil Affairs and PSYOP forces are not interchangeable despite the bean counters who want to count "SOF Teams" ) for those forces that conduct special warfare there is a need to sustain their deployment tempo not only to support persistent engagement but also to sustain regional expertise. Furthermore, most soldiers who came into Special Forces, Civil Affairs, and PSYOP did so because they want to deploy and work in foreign countries with indigenous forces. While the force may be tired form Afghanistan and Iraq, that does not mean that forces conducting special warfare do not want to deploy. While perhaps counterintuitive to some I think we will face a real morale problem among certain forces if their deployments are scaled back too much in response to the cries of the "stress on the force."