SOF Truths...Relationships truly matter
By Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Caruso, Command Chief, 27th Special Operations Wing
/ Published January 21, 2011
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- I mentioned in a previous article that I would discuss with our base populace about what it means to be a special operations airmen and how special operations forces truths should intertwine in our lives and our work at Cannon. I start this week's article with a quick background on the truths and then a highlight of the first truth. I will focus on the other truths in the coming weeks.
The five Special Operations Forces Truths:
1. Humans are more important than hardware.
2. Quality is better than quantity.
3. Special Operations Forces cannot be mass produced.
4. Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
5. Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.
John Collins, a retired Army colonel, authored truths. He enjoyed a second career in the Congressional Research Service, and in 1987 found himself writing a publication titled "United States and Soviet Special Operations" for a House Armed Services Committee.
Oddly enough, Colonel Collins was not a special operator. The report he wrote "had to do with what special operations are all about," he later said. The truths were born out of the "SOF Imperatives" and originally included a fifth truth: "Most special operations require non-SOF assistance." However, this truth was lost for about 20 years, until Adm. Eric Olsen, our current SOCOM Commander resurrected it in September 2009. Ever since they were brought to light, the truths became the mantra for only our special forces teams and over time, the basic fundamental guidelines for all special operations forces from all the services to follow.
Much like the Air Force Core values, the SOF truths should guide us in day-to-day activities as well as strategic planning and vision. They remind us that successful special operations activities require long term and specialized training and planning. The truths guide us to grow our people deliberately, both professionally and personally, and to be ready whenever and wherever we are needed and usually with little notice.
Our first truth centers around people. "Humans are more important than hardware." This is not to say that people should always come first, so let's not be confused here. I have never been one to say "people come first" instead, its "mission first and people always".
The first SOF truth embodies the idea that relationships are paramount in any endeavor. "Humans are more important than hardware" means that before we can employ a new weapon or a new piece of equipment, we have to understand one another's needs and objectives and get to know each other. It means we have to form a team before we move on to a mutual mission goal. It means being respectful and professional to each other, regardless of our role in the mission. It means treating each other with values that encourage teamwork, trust, goodwill and creating a family atmosphere in the work center.
A good example is the operations and maintenance relationship here. In 2010 the operations group and maintenance group leadership spent countless hours working on this relationship. Both teams took time to understand each other's challenges, and both found a common ground to focus on with respect to the mission. More than anything, they created a cohesive team. I believe that because of this, our maintainers have been able to produce incredible increases in launch reliability rates in the last six months and our operations Airmen have a much better understanding and greater knowledge of what it takes to launch a fleet of aircraft (some of which are 40 years old) night after night. In fact, our CV-22 Aircraft Maintenance Unit boasts the best reliability rates in the fleet.
It all comes down to relationships and humans. Whether it's the mission support group building and growing our infrastructure and processes, or the medical group's outreach programs for access to local and regional care givers, any goal or mission we set out to accomplish in the special operations community is always based on a good relationship, deep trust and excellent teamwork.
The first SOF truth also reflects our need for motivated and highly capable airmen. During the last seven years or so, we received and incredible influx of new recruits straight into SOF. This is a direct result of the rapid growth in our capabilities. Our AFSOC leaders clearly understood what they were doing and frankly, we didn't have a choice if we were to accomplish the mission and gain an advantage in Iraq and Afghanistan. Regardless of the demographic, whether we have young or experienced airmen, by following our first SOF truth, and standing by the other truths as close as possible, we continue to cultivate and create an excellent SOF force at Cannon.
Is this harder to do and does it take longer? You bet it does, but that is what makes us special...it's what makes us better, faster and stronger than a conventional force. Even with the extremely young force we have here, I have seen an incredible improvement over the last year in the way we approach problems and how we relate to one another across the various groups and units. Our teamwork is getting better, and in turn, our missions are executed with more efficiency and precision with every passing month. Can we do better? Absolutely, but we must remember that we are growing our own SOF culture from scratch, and these things simply take time.
In summary, as we go forward and grow our airmen and educate them on what it means to be in AFSOC, I ask that supervisors at all levels take time to talk with their people, treat them with respect and trust them. Teach them well, and tell them why it's important to be on the special operations team. Teach them to understand other people's perspectives and why they are here. Make sure they understand our role in the big picture. Talk to them about the SOF truths and all things SOF. By living and teaching your airmen about what "humans are more important than hardware" really means, they will understand just what a crucial role relationships play in everything we do at Cannon.
In turn, we become a stronger, more agile and more capable special operations organization.