SECDEF visits home of Army Special Operations for first-time

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http://news.soc.mil/releases/News Archive/2008/October/081024-02.html

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, Oct. 24, 2008) – Special Operations Soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., showed off their expertise for a special, first-time visitor to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Oct. 23.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates visited USASOC for the first time since taking his current post in December 2006. Gates, who has said Special Operations Forces are the connective tissue for the U.S. military in the War on Terror, had the opportunity to talk with Army SOF Soldiers during his visit.

Accompanied by Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner, commanding general of USASOC, Gates was able to observe a USASOC capabilities demonstration and briefing, which presented some of the most advanced equipment and tactics used by Army Special Operations Forces.

Wagner, who escorted Gates through the demonstration and briefings, said they spoke of how SOF units in all branches of the military could better cooperate with each other and intelligence community organizations.

“[We] are fighting a war, and no one organization is fighting it alone,” Wagner said.

Gates brought a unique perspective to the meeting. A former intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam, Gates was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency, working his way up from operations officer eventually to the Director of Central Intelligence.

The two also spoke regarding the current state of ARSOF and future growth of the force.

After the demonstration, Gates sat down for lunch with a group of NCO and officer SOF operators. Speaking directly with servicemembers is how he gets some of his best ideas, Gates said. He also noted that morale seemed high amongst those he met.

“[These Soldiers] believe they have been successful in Iraq,” he said. “There is nothing for morale like being successful. So my perception is … morale is very high, and I think it’s in no small part because of the success that’s been enjoyed, but also by the fact that they know the American people support them.”

Later in the day, Gates was met by Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko, commanding general of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne).

Repass and USASFC(A) Command Sgt. Maj. Mario Vigil escorted Gates through a Faces of Special Forces display. Gates was able to speak with SF Soldiers representing each specialty on an Operational Detachment-Alpha team. Here Soldiers showcased some of the unique equipment required by each SF military occupational specialty.

To display the type of sophisticated communications equipment used while deployed, Gates also received an operations brief from a SOF sergeant in Afghanistan through a secure video teleconference.

After meeting with the SF Soldiers, Gates was accompanied by Csrnko on a tour of the school’s state-of-the-art Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center. There he was able to witness life-saving training procedures taught to SOF medical servicemembers throughout the entire Department of Defense.

Approximately 1,400 students from Army Special Forces, Civil Affairs, Rangers, Navy corpsmen, Marine and Air Force Special Operations pass through the JSOMTC annually before deploying across the globe with their fellow SOF operators to provide world-class medical care under austere conditions in the most remote locations.

The 75,000 square-foot JSOMTC facility is also home to the Naval Special Operations Medical Institute and Operating Location E for the Air Force’s 16th Special Operations Wing.

Gates’ last stop while visiting USASOC facilities was the 4th Psychological Operations Group’s Media Operations Complex, which he toured with Col. Curtis Boyd, 4th POG commander. Gates was greeted by several tactical psyop Soldiers who demonstrated some of the equipment they use, as well as Soldiers from a Mobile Information Support Team.

Soldiers from the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion, the 4th POG’s psyop dissemination battalion, provide media expertise in the production of print and audio visual products for the MOC. Since June 2003, it has produced more than 30 million printed products, 300 videos and 10,000 hours of radio programs in support of psychological operations throughout the world. Its daily operations continue to enable psyop reach-back support in multiple theaters in a wide variety of psyop missions worldwide.

“Our efforts within the 4th PSYOP Group are designed to show various foreign audiences that the ideology and actions of violent extremists are not in their best interests,” said Lt. Col. Richard Springett, 3rd POB commander. “So, we are using the tools of ideological engagement in many nations to create an environment that is hostile to violent extremism.”

“We provide development, production, distribution, archival and post-production capabilities for products designed to communicate alternative visions to and divert potential recruits from violent extremist organizations worldwide,” he said.

During his tour of the facility, Gates was able to witness this process first-hand. He watched as multimedia specialists worked on a real-world psyop product for use in Africa, allowing him to see Soldiers directly affecting the War on Terror.

“It can best be described as a product that will help insulate a particularly vulnerable audience from the voices that call for violence and extremism,” Springett said.

Overall, Gates said meeting with Soldiers and seeing them hard at work training was the highlight of the visit.

“The best part of the day is that I’ve met some incredible Soldiers, and I’ve seen various kinds of specialized training,” he said. “These people are in the forefront of protecting our country, and I am just very proud to be associated with them in any way.”

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates receives an operations brief from a Special Forces sergeant while touring on Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 23, 2008.
(DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison)
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks with Soldiers from the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) during a visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 23, 2008. The 4th POG is the U.S. Army's only active-duty psychological operations unit, whose main task is providing psyop support to Army Special Operations Forces. (Photo by Spc. Tony Hawkins, USASOC PAO)
hires_081023-F-6655M-013a.JPG

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates receives an operations brief from a Special Forces sergeant while touring on Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 23, 2008.
hires_081023-F-6655M-016a.jpg

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates receives a sniper weapons brief from a Special Forces sergeant while touring on Fort Bragg, N.C., Oct. 23, 2008.
 

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http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2008/10/mil-081024-afps04.htm

Gates Gets Update on Army Special Ops Capabilities, Challenges

WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 2008 – With arguably the most heavily stressed troops anywhere, the commander of Army Special Operations Command updated Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday about ongoing missions and progress in growing the force to keep pace with ever-increasing requirements.

Army Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner briefed Gates during his visit here about ongoing operations and progress in boosting manpower across the Army special operations community. This elite force includes Special Forces, Ranger, special operations aviation, psychological operations, civil affairs, signal and combat service support soldiers.

Wagner said he and Gates talked about the “quality of the people and their dedication to what they are doing,” and the contributions they are making in the global war on terror. They also discussed improved coordination between the intelligence communities and the military – an initiative Wagner told reporters is “enabling us to do things much more effectively and efficiently, and saving the lives of soldiers.”

Army special operations forces are deployed to 45 countries around the globe, with about 80 percent of those troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We’re heavily deployed … [and have been] continuously engaged since the beginning of the war,” Wagner said.

In fact, most of his troops have been deployed 30 to 70 percent of the time since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks – more than even the most heavily taxed conventional forces. So, as he talked with Gates yesterday about ongoing missions, the discussion moved to the critical next question: How can Army Special Operations Command keep up the pace of operations without driving this highly skilled force into the ground, or out of the Army altogether?

A saving grace -- one Wagner said he credits Gates with supporting -- has been authorization to grow the force 43 percent by 2013. “That’s pretty significant,” he said, noting that he has 5,000 more people now than in 2001.

All five active-duty Special Forces groups will receive an additional battalion, beginning with the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky. In addition, each Ranger battalion will get an extra company. Reconnaissance and intelligence forces will be upgraded from detachments to companies. A new special operations aviation battalion, at Fort Lewis, Wash., brings additional capability to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

Meanwhile, Wagner cited “dramatic increases” in the command’s civil affairs and psychological operations forces. Historically, the lion’s share of both organizations has been in the Army Reserve, but Wagner said both the active and reserve components are boosting their numbers.

The 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, the only active-duty civil affairs unit, went from 208 soldiers in 2001 to almost 900 today. In addition, plans call for an additional civil affairs battalion dedicated to U.S. Africa Command, and one or two more 32-man companies within each other battalion. Ultimately, Wagner said, he expects the number of active-duty civil affairs troops to increase to more than 1,400 by 2013 or 2014.

Psychological operations also have experienced “phenomenal growth,” Wagner said, from just under 1,300 troops in 2001 to more than 2,132 authorized today. That number will increase by almost 150 in fiscal 2009, but Wagner said it could go as high as 2,740.

Even while adding 5,000 authorized slots in the last seven years, Army Special Operations Command increased its unit strength from 97 percent in 2001 to more than 100 percent today, Wagner said.

“The recruiting piece is not a problem,” he said. “There are lots of people who are fully qualified and want to join the force. We still are very selective in who we allow to come into the force, and we are able to grow and still meet all those standards.”

Gates got firsthand exposure to the force’s capabilities yesterday as he talked with the troops about their experiences, their training and their missions.

He told reporters he was particularly struck by the level of questioning he received when he had lunch with about 10 Special Forces noncommissioned officers. “They talked about problems,” he said. “They asked me about my view of the challenges they were going to face down the road in different countries. The meeting was very geopolitical.”

Also impressive, he said, was the depth of their language capabilities. One soldier Gates met speaks both Korean and Arabic. Another speaks three different Arabic dialects. “All of that is really impressive,” the secretary said.

While he is gratified to be able to attract new recruits, Wagner said, he’s far more interested in retaining the highly skilled, combat-experienced ones he already has.

“Our job is not recruiting,” he said. “It’s the retention of senior-grade people, because our force is about senior people.”

Special Forces troops are typically more senior than those in other Army units, he explained. Soldiers typically join the force at the sergeant first class or captain levels. The typical Special Forces NCO is 33 years old with 12 years of service; the typical warrant officer is 39 years old with 18 years of service. A full one-third of Special Forces soldiers are eligible to retire.

The challenge, Wagner said, is to keep these soldiers in the Army despite repeated deployments and heavy operational demands.

“These people have put their lives on hold for seven years,” Wagner said. “Most Americans are at home every night. These people have spent between 30 and 70 percent of their time deployed since the towers were struck.”

Another challenge is the big dollars the private sector is willing to pay for their skills. Wagner called financial incentives the Army offers “very important to retaining the force,” but said he’d like to see them raised even higher.

“Take a warrant officer pilot with 25 years flying,” he said. “How much is he worth to you? How much would you pay to keep that guy from his 25th to his 30th year, and how much does it cost to replace him?

“The cheapest thing you can do, and the most right thing, would be to pay him enough to make him stay from the 25th to the 30th year,” Wagner said. “He deserves it. And we need him.”

Whatever incentives the Army pays its special operators, Wagner said, it’s less than they deserve – and not really the reason they stay on duty.

“Ultimately, they stay with the force because they believe in what they are doing and they think it’s important,” he said. “And if we think what they are doing is important, we ought to recognize it.”
 
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