Special Forces are awesome. That’s pretty hard to deny. Movies showcase how absolutely inferior the average American is to Special Forces commandos in every single quantifiable measurement related to awesomeness. Some of the most popular videogames, from SOCOM to Call of Duty, allow us to pretend to be awesome by way of playable avatars. Literary characters like Jason Bourne show us that books are not only brutal weapons for fighting would be assassins, but also mediums for living vicariously through awesome fictional special operatives. There is not a whole lot of reason to really question President Obama’s fascination with the Special Forces.
Recent articles by The Diplomat, Newsweek, and other sources have highlighted growing reliance on the US Special Operations Forces, including Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets and Rangers, and the Marines. Everyone knows about Seal Team Six’s successful Bin Laden raid and their amazing sea sniping skills. Less known is that in October of 2011, President Obama announced that up to 100 Green Berets would be sent to Uganda to help train regional forces to combat murderous rebel groups like the Lords Resistance Army. Or that in January of this year, Special Operations Forces rescued two hostages and kill nine Somali pirates in a nighttime helicopter raid. According to ridiculously named pirate witness Bile Hussein, “The raiders came in very quickly, catching the guards as they were sleeping after having chewed the narcotic leaf qat for much of the evening.” Awesome.
As their use and success rate continues to climb, the Obama Administration and the Pentagon have indicated that the draw down in conventional forces brought on by political and budgetary considerations will likely be offset by an uptick in SOF related missions. In fact, the USS Ponce, a decommissioned 40-year-old battleship, is currently being retrofitted to act as a floating “mother ship” to deploy SEALS, Rangers, and other special forces in the Middle East, as necessary. This awesome mother ship of awesome commandos jumping on fast boats and doing things that are awesome really only exposes the tip of a very awesome iceberg though. The Pentagon is reporting that it plans to build dedicated floating bases in a number of strategic regions to help facilitate and coordinate Special Forces operations by 2013.
From a purely logical standpoint, the transition towards Special Forces makes practical sense. The American populace is generally uneasy when it comes to full scale, brute force destruction, and the loss of human life that generally accompanies it. Thus, the surgical precision of Special Forces showcases the US as not only the most powerful military force on the planet, but the best trained, capable, and humane.
Some have urged President Obama to exercise caution in his use of Special Forces though. Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno, of the Center for New American Security, says that the emphasis for the SOF should be “quality, not quantity,” and that SOF resources can easily become overstretched. “Its manpower has nearly doubled, its budget has nearly tripled, and its overseas deployments have quadrupled,” reports Barno. Furthermore, an article last week in the Washington Times interviewed an unnamed spouse of a special operations member, who lamented that “the pace of deployments for the past decade has been relentless… and it has taken a toll on both of us and certainly on our marriage and on his relationship with our children.”
While the use of SOF rightly represents an extremely important facet of future American military planning, President Obama stands in a precarious position. Plans to add 8,800 SOF troops over the next four years (2,500 this year, 2,300 in 2013, and 2,000 in 2014 and 2015) will actively strengthen our stock of mission capable specialists, but there exists a real risk of diluting its strength in exchange for numbers. President Obama and all future leaders will need to guarantee that US SOCOM continues to create the most feared deployable commandos in the world, if they hope to use them to their full advantage. In the meantime, many, including this author, often confuse fact and fiction when it comes to the awesomeness of our special operatives. While I’m sure plenty of SEALS, Rangers, and Marines share many qualities of Dutch from Predator, the rest likely are affected by battlefield fatigue and stresses from home. I love reading about helicopter raids on shanty pirate forts as much as the next person, but like tennis elbow, over use and under preparation can have detrimental effects on your game.