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Why Special Operations are 'Special'

  • Published
  • By Col. London Richard
  • Air Force Special Operations Command
Overseas Contingency Operations and the related armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and throughout the world have challenged and modified our approach to SOF force structure and doctrine. However, both operators and enablers have always been vitally important for mission success.

Even before designated Special Tactics missions in Afghanistan, special operations teams often accomplish battlefield preparation, reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence collection/analysis. Special operations lawyers help determine which targets can be attacked under international law. Cultural specialists help determine the best targets for attack while avoiding those with strategic contraindications. Special operations finance and equipment development experts help equip our teams with the most effective technology in the world. Special operations personnel teams ensure the smooth flow of troops as well as information and support to families, so deployed troops can remain focused on the battle. Security forces and Explosive Ordnance Disposal protect assets and personnel. 'Medical Special Operations Surgical Team' and 'Special Operations Critical Care Evacuation Team' assets are prepared for life-sustaining support. Water and sanitation experts ensure the health and safety of our forces.

Bottom line: every Air Force Specialty Code is critical to the training, support and delivery of special operations mission success. As a vital AFSOC team member, you are part of an elite, proud heritage and one of many specialists that bring skilled, focused, motivated and potentially lethal forces to the fight.

"Commando" is a term that describes a small, elite military force performing important missions in high-threat environments. Because these forces often operate behind enemy lines and in isolated conditions, they often must quickly make critical decisions without command advice or direction. Thus, these highly-skilled warriors must be intelligent, mature, independent, aware of the "big picture" and wise in their decisions. They must also have the passion and commitment for their mission that keeps them focused - even when senior leaders are not present.

The term "Special Operations" is used to describe small unit actions carried out with speed, surprise and aggressiveness. Because special operations are performed by relatively small teams, each team member is critical to mission success.

Special operations teams cannot afford to lose the skills and capabilities of even one individual. Through the shared expertise, sacrifices and synergy of its members, special operations teams are able to achieve successes larger conventional forces cannot. During each conflict, small teams of specialists in personnel, finance, airpower, weapons, logistics, maintenance, life support, medicine, civil engineer, intelligence and other areas prepare air and ground operations to achieve mission success.

"AFSOC Warrior" is another term we often use to describe those individuals who are smart, committed, mature, skilled and display the leadership and courage to make wise decisions, sometimes under intense pressure. That term recognizes the critical importance of every team member and every professional skill set.

When special operations commands were formalized, the U.S. Congress affirmed four facts we have long known. Air Force Special Operations Command added a fifth fact to recognize the critical contribution non-special ops forces contribute to missions. Collectively, these have become known as SOF truths.

1. Humans are more important than hardware.
2. SOF cannot be mass produced.
3. Quality is better than quantity.
4. Competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies arise.
5. Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.

These truths have not changed, and OCO demands have demonstrated time and again how we collectively accomplish our goals. The presence of smart, mature, courageous and skilled leaders in all AFSCs will always be the most crucial factor in our warfighting success. You are the weapon system -- everything else is just a tool.

Editor's note: this article was also authored by retired Col. Carroll Green.