Lost Opportunities with a New SOF Career Course
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.