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TAMPA, FLA. — US Special Operations chief Adm. William McRaven has been on a mission this past year to humanize the soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines under his command, taking great pains to emphasize their training and advising roles and never failing to mention his operators tend to be older, college educated and have families.
“We. Follow. Rules,” he sharply told a think tank audience in Washington recently. “Most of those rules have been written in blood.”
He continued that theme today in Tampa.
In his strongest statement to date about the psychological health of his operators, McRaven said that under the crushing operational tempo of the past 12 years “the force is frying at a rate that I’m not comfortable with at all.” As a consequence, taking care of his troops and their families are his highest priority.
A report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments released last week reported that those assigned to Special Operations Forces (SOF) units often experience symptoms of PTSD at twice the rate of general purpose units.
“We intend to change the narrative, if you will, of special operations,” McRaven told the crowd at the SOFIC conference here. The plan is to connect his Theater Special Operations commands to one another by creating a global SOF network that can share intelligence across the global network
Having the commanders in different parts of the globe share information is more critical than ever because “there’s no such thing as a local problem anymore. If you have a problem in Mali, I guarantee that you have a problem that will manifest itself in Europe. If you’ve got a problem in Europe, you’ll have a problem that’ll manifest itself in the Far East ... you can’t run from a local problem.”
He maintains that “the world is linked and therefore we need to be linked; we’ve got to build the network and defeat the enemy network.”
But that, of course, is easier said than done.
McRaven is trying to change the door-kicking image of his SOF operators, and the way he plans to do that is by reaching out to work with allies.
“The way you’re going to solve a lot of problems is by building the host nation’s capacity to deal with the problem,” he said. “And the best way to do that is with a small footprint that speaks the language, that is culturally attuned, that is cost effective, and is networked with everybody else in the SOF community so you can get information and support whenever you need it.”
Such talk has made some in the State Department and the geographic combatant commanders uneasy, but McRaven has been relentlessly selling his vision for well over a year.
He took pains to explain even to this friendly audience that while becoming more globally active, his operators “will not do anything without the approval of the geographic combatant commander and the chief of mission” from the State Department.