Small Wars Journal

Redesigning Army Special Operations Forces Talent Management for the 21st Century

Wed, 04/27/2022 - 1:05pm

Redesigning Army Special Operations Forces Talent Management for the 21st Century


By Maj. Gen. Patrick B. Roberson, Maj. Stuart Gallagher, Maj. Kyle Martin, and Maj. Wes Dyson


If you have been in the Army for any length of time, you have heard one of the many adages touting the importance of people in the organization. Two that immediately come to mind are “Mission first, people always!” and “People first!” Similarly, in the special operations community there are a series of guiding principles entitled the Special Operations Forces (SOF) Truths - the first of which states “Humans are more important than hardware.” In Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF), we could take this a step further, “humans are most important.” As with any organization, it is one thing to acknowledge the importance of people, but the true measure of importance is evidenced through action. Both Army special operations and the Army writ large are on a quest to better focus on people and improve how talent management is conducted throughout the force.  

USAJFKSWCS Students Awarded Green Berets

Picture taken from DVIDS

Title: USAJFKSWCS Student Awarded Green Berets

Photo by: K. Kassens

United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School


The Army, by its very nature, is a people-centric organization. According to the fiscal year 2022 President’s Budget Highlights, the Army budget totals $173 billion. This number includes funding to recruit, train, employ and retain soldiers in support/defense of United States’ interest(s). As a testament to the importance of its people, the Army Chief of Staff, General James McConville, stated, “Winning matters, and People are my number one priority. People are our Soldiers – Regular Army, National Guard and Reserve – their Families, Civilians, and Soldiers for Life – Retirees and Veterans. We win through our people, and people will drive success in our Readiness, Modernization and Reform priorities. We must take care of our people…” This emphasis has yielded an official “People Strategy,” placing people as the number one priority. In support of this initiative, the Army stood up the Army Talent Management Task Force, which addresses a comprehensive reform of personnel management within the organization. Additionally, it has also instituted a series of programs such as the Army Interactive Module 2.0 (a tool that assists with officer talent management), flexible career options and leader assessment programs such as BCAP (Battalion Command Assessment Program) and CCAP (Colonels Command Assessment Program), used to determine an officer’s fitness for command and strategic leadership.

These are all solid initiatives that have already begun to benefit both the people and the Army overall. In this same vein, considering the large amount of time and money invested into ARSOF soldiers (Special Forces, Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs), the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School or SWCS has also begun to develop a talent management program approaching the Army people strategy from a slightly different angle. The official mission of SWCS is to “recruit, assess, select, train and educate the U.S. Army Civil Affairs, Psychological Operation and Special Forces by providing superior training and education, relevant doctrine effective career management and integrated force-development capability.” SWCS talent management began with the question, What if we could collect data on a soldier starting at assessment and selection, continuing as he/she moves through his/her respective training pipeline resulting in a report card that would not only assist the soldier in self-development, but also promote better placement and mentorship upon arrival to his/her gaining unit?

Interestingly enough, this concept is already being executed in other special operations organizations such as the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). In fact, MARSOC shared their talent management concept with SWCS at a meeting approximately a year and a half ago encouraging further development. SWCS adopted the concept and set up a joint venture with special operations students studying at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California. Working in concert with SWCS over the course of the past year, Maj. Kyle Martin and Maj. Wes Dyson provided the academic rigor required for the initiative, developing what is now referred to as the ARSOF Talent Management Profile.

Using a custom designed data collection program that extends to every course in every training pipeline, performance data is collected on a soldier from the day he/she is recruited by the Special Operations Recruiting Battalion. As the soldier moves through the program, key data are collected from each of the courses attended, then aggregated into a final report. This report includes a series of categories assessed as critical to future success in ARSOF. The first category is behavioral, which includes mental ability, social intelligence, personality and attributes. Attributes are broken out further to include: initiative, teamwork, interpersonal skills, effective intelligence, physical, determination and dependability. The second section is interpersonal which includes a word cloud drawn from peer evaluations. It also includes a psychometric linguistic analysis of all peer review comments. The third section includes the peer rankings themselves, which show how the soldier ranked in relation to his/her peers throughout the program. The fourth section is physical performance, which measures the soldier’s physical fitness testing throughout training. The fifth section is cognitive, which is a compilation of all academic and tactical testing compared to the population average. The sixth and final section is a personal input section that allows the soldier to write a paragraph about himself/herself highlighting anything he/she wants the cadre/leadership to know – This can include, but is not limited to, personal experience, skills and education acquired outside of the Army.    

The first pilot is scheduled to be conducted with Special Forces students spring/summer of 2022. Talent Management Profiles (TMP) will be developed throughout training and generated upon graduation. As the soldier prepares for permanent change of station, the TMP will be provided to each graduating soldier for his/her review. Feedback from the report will be gathered by SWCS from the students and changes made as required. Moving forward, the intent is to provide a version of the TMP to gaining command teams in the operational force. Again, feedback will be gathered to refine the TMP in order to meet operational needs. After the pilot is fully implemented in the Special Forces pipeline, it will be collectively reviewed by SWCS and operational leadership, and refined accordingly. Once updated, the TMP will be rolled out to both the Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs pipelines as well.

As helpful as this new talent management tool will be when fully implemented, it is only a first step. For the future, SWCS is also in the early stages of building a more longitudinal program that will capture a soldier’s performance from cradle to grave – from entrance to exit from ARSOF. This is a much more ambitious project that will require significant coordination with the operational force. However, when complete, the product will provide a more comprehensive tool for soldiers and leaders alike, while also better informing how the enterprise recruits, assesses, selects and trains it personnel. With this focus on talent management, SWCS will be better postured to make data-informed decisions regarding the future structure and composition of ARSOF training, ultimately providing the best product possible to the operational force and our nation’s defense.    

As the largest producer of special operations personnel in the world, there is no resource more important to ARSOF than its people. As such, it is imperative that SWCS continue to develop and invest in the most modern-day systems, technologies and products that optimize the recruiting, assessment, selection and training of America’s best and brightest – elite soldiers that will ultimately be responsible for fighting and winning the nation’s future wars. The Talent Management Profile is just one more way that this charge will be met.


About the Author(s)

Major Wes Dyson is a Marine Special Operations (MARSOC) Officer with experience in operations and training with conventional and SOF forces. He recently completed his Master’s of Science degree in Applied Design for Innovation at the Naval Postgraduate School where he researched ways to use performance and psychological data in SOF Talent Management.

Major Kyle Martin is an Army Special Forces Officer assigned to 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne). He recently completed his Master’s of Science degree in Applied Design for Innovation at the Naval Postgraduate School where he researched ways to use performance and psychological data in SOF Talent Management.

Maj. Stuart Gallagher currently serves as the Chief, G3/5 Plans and Analysis for the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Operations Center and School His former assignments include: Senior PSYOP Observer Coach Trainer at the Joint Multinational Training Center, Hohenfels, Germany, Commander, Bravo Company, 6th PSYOP Battalion, Ft. Bragg, NC and Military Advisor to the US Department of State, Washington D.C. Major Gallagher is a graduate Marist College holding a degree in Russian Area Studies and National Defense University holding a Masters of Arts in Strategic Security Studies.

Maj. Gen. Patrick B. Roberson is the Commander and Commandant of the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. His former assignments include: Commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Iraqi Resolve, Deputy Chief of Staff, United States Army Reserve Command, and Deputy Commanding General – Operations, 1st Special Forces Command (Airborne), where he also served as the Deputy Commanding General for the Special Operations Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve. Maj. Gen. Roberson is a graduate of Minnesota State University and Advanced Military Studies War College Fellowship.