WASHINGTON, DC (Terri Moon Cronk) – U.S. Special Operations Command’s personnel continue to learn, evolve and adapt to an operational landscape of rapidly shifting power based on competition and conflict, Socom commander Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel told the Senate Armed Forces Committee March 8, 2016.
Such an atmosphere between state and nonstate actors is “increasingly ambiguous, transregional and multidimensional,” Votel said in a defense budget hearing, in which Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, U.S. Central Command’s commander, and Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command, also testified on the posture of their combatant commands.
“This past year, we focused on gaining a deeper understanding of today’s gray-zone challenges, and we’ve restructured our operational rhythm to focus on the transregional nature of violent extremist organizations,” Votel said.
And in today’s complex security environment, he added, the demand for special operations force skill sets remains understandably high. “Your support for Socom is more important than ever,” the general told the senators. “[Special operations forces] cannot be mass-produced in times of need.”
People: Socom’s Biggest Asset
Votel said nearly 10,000 special operations men and women are deployed or forward-stationed to more than 80 countries on any given day.
“They fill combatant-command requirements that span the range of our congressionally delineated core activities, from behind-the-scenes information gathering and partner building to high-end, dynamic strike operations,” he said.
Socom’s personnel are its greatest asset, Votel noted. “They are adaptive, bold and innovative,” he added. “They allow us to see opportunities early and routinely deliver strategic impacts with the smallest of footprints.”
Operating in Shadows
Special operators are quiet professionals who work in the shadows, Votel said. Their missions are some of the U.S. military’s most difficult, said he told the committee, citing Navy SEAL Senior Chief Petty Officer Edward C. Byers Jr., who was honored by President Barack Obama last week with the military’s highest award, the Medal of Honor, for his courage and heroism when rescuing an American hostage in Afghanistan in 2012.
And most recently, Votel noted, Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew McClintock, a Green Beret, lost his life after providing urgent medical care to a wounded American teammate and then entering intense fire to secure a medical evacuation landing zone for his wounded comrade.
“His courageous actions cost him his life, but saved the lives of his teammates and ultimately turned the tide of the engagement,” Votel said, adding that Byers and McClintock depict the stories of thousands of special operators who perform “our most challenging military missions.”
“Their emotional, social, psychological and physical health is in good hands, thanks to you,” Votel told the Senate panel, thanking them for their devotion to the well-being and resilience for the men and women of Socom and their families. “We are very grateful for your enthusiastic support.”
And while the nation’s investment in special operations forces is important, Votel said, Socom remains “extraordinarily dependent” on service-provided capabilities and capacities to perform its missions.
“Alongside our colleagues in the services,” he said, “we are grateful for the budget stability forged out of last year’s agreement and remain hopeful for similar stability beyond 2017,” the general said.