Andrew Feickert Specialist in Military Ground Forces
Special Operations Forces (SOF) play a significant role in U.S. military operations, and the Administration has given U.S. SOF greater responsibility for planning and conducting worldwide counterterrorism operations. U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has close to 60,000 active duty, National Guard, and reserve personnel from all four services and Department of Defense (DOD) civilians assigned to its headquarters, its four components, and one sub-unified command. The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) directs increases in SOF force structure, particularly in terms of increasing enabling units and rotary and fixed-wing SOF aviation assets and units. USSOCOM Commander Admiral Eric T. Olson, in commenting on the current state of the forces under his command, noted that since September 11, 2001, USSOCOM manpower has nearly doubled, the budget nearly tripled, and overseas deployments have quadrupled; because of this high level of demand, the admiral added, SOF is beginning to show some “fraying around the edges,” and one potential way to combat this is by finding ways to get SOF “more time at home.”
Vice Admiral William McRaven has been recommended by the Secretary of Defense for nomination to replace Admiral Olson, who is retiring this year, as USSOCOM Commander. Vice Admiral McRaven’s concerns included impacts on readiness as a result of high operational tempo for USSOCOM forces. High operational tempo is having a negative impact on language and cultural training and also has made it difficult for SOF personnel to attend requisite schools and training that are necessary to maintain proficiency in a variety of areas. In addition, a lack of access to U.S. based rotary/tilt wing aircraft needed to train air crews and SOF ground forces is also having a detrimental impact on training.
USSOCOM’s FY2012 Budget Request is $10.5 billion—with $7.2 billion in the baseline budget and $3.3 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget, representing an increase of 7% over the FY2011 Budget Request of $9.8 billion. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees recommended fully funding the President’s $10.5 billion budget request and added additional funds for other programs.
On January 6, 2011, DOD announced that, starting in FY2015, the Army would decrease its permanently authorized endstrength by 27,000 soldiers and the Marines would lose anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 Marines. In addition, starting in 2012, the Air Force will reduce forces by 5,750. Because USSOCOM draws its operators and support troops from the services, it will have a smaller force pool from which to draw its members. Another implication is that these force reductions might also have an impact on the creation and sustainment of Army and Marine Corps “enabling” units that USSOCOM is seeking to support operations.
Another potential issue involves initiatives to get more “time at home” for SOF troops to help reduce stress on service members and their families. One of the major factors is that SOF has neither access to nor the appropriate types of training facilities near their home stations, thereby necessitating travel away from their bases and families to conduct pre-deployment training.
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