WARRIOR LEADER: Air and Ground Mobility in Afghanistan, SOF Workload


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice


Command Sergeant Major George Bequer graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1984. Upon graduation, he was assigned to Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 722, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Special Force Group (Airborne), where he served as a junior weapons, senior weapons, and senior engineer sergeant until 1989. He was then reassigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group as a company TAC until 1990, and then served as an instructor/writer at the Special Forces Weapons Sergeant Course until 1992.
He was then assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th SFG (A) (CIF) Panama as an assaulter on ODA 791 and as a sniper SO leader and operations and intelligence sergeant on ODA 796 from 1994 through 1996. He assumed duties as the team sergeant of ODA 773, Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th SFG (A), from 1996 through 1999. He was further assigned as the first sergeant of Group Support Company 7th SFG (A). Bequer was selected for the U.S. Army Sergeant Major Academy in 1999, attending class 50. After graduation, he was reassigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd SFG (A) (CIF) where he served as a company sergeant major from 2001 through 2003. Selected for CSM in 2003, he has served in the following CSM positions: CSM 4th Battalion, 1st SWTG(A), CSM 2nd Battalion, 7th SFG(A), CSM, 7th SFG(A), and CSM, Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan from 2003-2004 and 2008-2009. He is currently serving as the CSM, Special Operations Command Central [SOCCENT].
In addition to completing noncommissioned officer professional development training at every level, his military education includes completion of the basic airborne course, ranger course, special forces qualification course, jumpmaster course, naval gunfire course, special forces operations and intelligence course, special operations target interdiction course, basic instructor course, combat lifesaver course, basic military free fall course, U.S. Border Patrol tracking course and KEYSTONE.
His awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Defense Meritorious Service Metal, Meritorious Service Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Army Commendation Medal with five oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Army Superior Unit Award, Good Conduct Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, National Defense Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with three oak leaf clusters, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon and the Northern Atlantic Treaty Organization Medal. He has earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Master Parachutist Badge, and the Military Free Fall Badge.

Q: Sergeant Major, could we start with an overview of Special Operations Command Central [SOCCENT] and how you would characterize the past year? Obviously Iraq and Afghanistan figure largely in your AOR, but can you briefly touch on what else is going on in the AOR?
A: Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this great command. I am grateful for the chance to educate your readers on our mission and the magnificent servicemembers we lead who are performing that mission.
SOCCENT is a subordinate unified command in the busiest combatant command in the Department of Defense. The vision of the SOCCENT commanding general, Major General Charles T. Cleveland, is to build, command and fight the finest multidiscipline joint/combined Special Operations Command in the Department of Defense. Our forces proactively seek out, counter or defeat threats to the U.S. and its interests in the CENTCOM area of responsibility [AOR] by executing SOF campaigns that maximize partner nation and interagency capabilities and U.S. unconventional warfare. On order, we rapidly deploy a joint task force headquarters capable of commanding both special operations forces and conventional forces.
During the past year, we have been responsible for the planning, preparation and command and control of all theater special operations forces in the AOR—in, as you mention, Iraq and Afghanistan—but also in every country in every stage of the defense cooperation spectrum, including the Central Asian States, Pakistan, Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Lebanon. We work with our partners and allies essentially executing foreign internal defense missions, military information support operations and civil military operations. Out of 20 countries in our AOR, SOCCENT has a permanent presence in 12 of them—a direct reflection of our commitment to the persistent, habitual relationships we have in theater.
When I think about the past year, I am humbled by the work our operators and support personnel are accomplishing in these varied, vast areas. It is truly impressive and I am continually amazed at the work ethic and Herculean efforts I see accomplished everyday in the most austere and difficult conditions.
The relevance of special operations forces continues to grow as we demonstrate their abilities to deal with the complex threats that we face today. Our success is largely due to the fact that our theater special operations forces are built to fight, win and dominate in the complex, human-centric environment that characterizes warfare today and into the foreseeable future.

Q: What is the command structure with the commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq and how does that work for mission allocation and planning?
A: Early in his tenure, the commander recognized that Iraq and Afghanistan both had ample theater SOF expertise at the tactical level, in the form of the combined joint special operations task force. These formations are the absolute best at what they do. What was missing, however, was theater SOF expertise at the operational level, namely at ISAF and USF-I.
To fill the void, we fielded two one-star-level commands: Joint Forces Special Operations Component Command–Iraq and Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command–Afghanistan. These two headquarters represent theater SOF and their by-with-and–through perspective in host nation senior leaderlevel engagements, and in the U.S./coalition boards, centers and cells that help shape the operational campaigns—campaigns that are in many ways, very SOF-centric.
It’s important to remember that nobody looks at the theater the way theater SOF does. The two theater commanders are able, from the theater special operations command level, to better support these [commands] by owning, in part, their requirements.
We have similarly pushed extensions of the TSOC into Pakistan and several other critical countries where we have theater SOF working with partners across the range of SOF operations on a permanent to nearly-permanent basis. This distributed command and control allows the TSOC to get a JSOTF-like effort from tailored command and control nodes without the normal footprint. We continue to test the bounds of what can be done in these nontypical campaign environments.

Q: As far as both the numbers of people and the number and types of missions, what do you see as the trend for 2011—more or less assets, more or less activities?
A: It’s impossible to see accurately into the future, and I wouldn’t speculate anyway—but I will tell you that I see no shortage of work in the future for SOF. Because of the very nature of our business, we are always in demand—whether that’s in major combat operations or in pre/post combat stability operations. SOF operations are pivotal to success in both large-scale conflicts and in SOF training and advisory missions with partner nation forces in establishing regional stability.

Q: Partnerships are important all around the world. Could you reflect on some of the relations with your international special operations colleagues in the Middle East?
A: We have found that most of the countries in our AOR eagerly seek out opportunities to train together. Unfortunately, while we take every opportunity to increase our engagement with our international special operations colleagues, available U.S. forces remain constrained because of commitments to the two war efforts. Operating with indigenous populations, or simply increasing our periodic interaction, has led to many of these colleagues becoming true friends over the years, but more importantly, has opened many doors which had previously been closed to us.
Our partnered SOF efforts serve as prime examples of what I’m talking about. The premium that theater SOF places on knowing the indigenous population’s history and culture, as well as our expertise in special operations skills, allows our operators to develop the confidence and trust that is critical to the theater SOF approach to war fighting. To operate in this environment, we require skilled leaders capable of developing and executing SOF campaigns that center on fighting with forces of that specific country. World-class training facilities such as the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Centre outside of Amman, Jordan, give us a place where we can come together to train and sharpen critical SOF skills.
Q: What are some initiatives you think are important to improve and grow these relationships?
A: Conducting enduring engagements with our international special operations colleagues is a critical element in growing and improving our link to the partner nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Levant and other countries in the AOR. Strong, professional bonds with all of our special operations forces counterparts open new opportunities to engage at the operational and tactical levels. Ultimately, enduring engagements enhance and shape partner nation SOF capability and relationships, which improve U.S. and partner nation security in the region. Our SOF elements focus on what is required, based on combined analysis with our partner nations.
As an example, in Jordan, we conducted the first SOF staff talks in June 2010 between SOCCENT, USSOCOM and Jordanian Special Operations Command [JSOCOM]. We see this initiative as one we must sustain, and one we would like to see mirrored in our other partnerships where the U.S. government wants to help improve their SOF at the institutional level. The SOF staff talks were the first service staff talks between special operators in the history of U.S. engagement in the AOR, and they helped us to further our relationship across a broad variety of requirements. Discussions like the SOF staff talks lead to improvements in our relationship that will help in expeditionary SOF war fighting in the future.
Q: The United Arab Emirates is an important hub for Middle East security. What is being done to strengthen the ties between the special ops forces of both countries?
A: The best thing you can do to keep a relationship strong is to work hard toward a common goal together. We do that every day in Afghanistan, and through our command and control node at Joint Special Operations Task Force–Gulf Cooperation Council. We conduct continuous and sustained training with the United Arab Emirates’ Special Operations Command, and we each have contributed liaison officers who live, work and communicate side-by-side every day in the offices of our respective headquarters. We routinely share ideas and viewpoints, both in informal settings and in professional forums, such as this year’s SOF Regional Conference in Abu Dhabi. The April conference, which we will co-host with The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, is titled Strengthening Regional Partnerships for the 21st Century, and will include SOF leaders from across the AOR. The United Arab Emirates provide an incredibly great service toward the fight against violent extremism, and we expect that our partnership will remain mutually important and mutually rewarding in the years to come.

Q: There has long been a special relationship with Jordan—King Abdullah himself was at one time the commander of Jordanian Special Operations Command. Do you expect this relationship to become even closer and how can you help make that happen?
A: I expect our relationship with Jordanian special operations forces to do nothing but improve. We are able to continue improving our relationship through a candid understanding of what U.S. and Jordanian requirements are, and subsequently working hard to ensure that they are met. In order to make our partnership even closer, we hope to foster future immersion opportunities between U.S. and Jordanian SOF such as Jordanian NCOs traveling back to the U.S. for training and working toward better access for U.S. special operations officers to the Royal Jordanian Defense College. Our SOCCENT liaison team, which includes an officer living in Amman on permanent change of station status in order to provide long-term continuity to JSOCOM, is currently working to strengthen the new relationship between Jordanian special operations and NATO SOF headquarters, as well as advise SOCCENT on other measures that we believe will help JORSOF optimize their force and their contribution to regional stability.

Q: How have U.S. special forces met the challenge of a continuing presence in Iraq during the drawdown and the increase in regular force levels in Afghanistan?
A: This really is a question for the force provider—not us. We are the consumer of trained and ready forces. With that caveat, I will tell you that challenges of force structure in Iraq and Afghanistan persist due to the high demand for special operations forces, and the formations that support them in rotation after rotation. Deployment tempo is high and corresponds to the high demand for SOF. In Iraq, reliance on SOF has actually increased as U.S. forces transition to stability operations. We know that reliance on us will remain high as forces draw down and prepare to leave Iraq by December 2011.

Q: What is the availability and readiness of rotary wing assets you have at your disposal?
A: Our Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component has operational-level control of several U.S. Navy HH-60 helicopters, as well as several U.S. Army special operations MH-47 and MH-60 helicopters. These units support special operations missions throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, we are supported by some conventional CH-47 Chinooks, as well as HH-60s and AH-64s from our partner nations.
To sum up, we have sufficient rotary wing assets to accomplish our mission, but we can always use more. An effective variety of airframes provided by each of the U.S. military services and some of our international partners support the full range of humanitarian and military missions we are charged with performing. The maintenance and associated availability rates of the aircraft have been excellent, which is a tribute to not only our maintenance force, but to the logistic system that makes use of multiple supply channels to get parts and materiel wherever and whenever we need them. Could we use more aircraft? Of course—but our current availability of rotary wing aircraft adequately supports our strategy in theater.

Q: What are your biggest mobility issues in Afghanistan? A: I’ll break this answer down into two parts: ground mobility and air mobility.
With regard to ground mobility, we are seeing great success with the RG family of MRAPs. They are required as a basic mobility platform for SOF formations across Afghanistan. The RG MRAPs weigh more than the standard M-ATV, which reduces the chance of the vehicle being flipped during a sustained blast to the underbelly, and it was built to withstand a higher net explosive weight before a hull breach is experienced.
The RG MRAP is not always the ideal mobility platform for all areas and mission sets in Afghanistan, however. They are restricted by the tight terrain associated within areas of Afghanistan like Oruzgan, East Paktika, Bahglan, Nangarhar, Nuristan and Khost provinces. The SOF mission set associated with village stability operations also precludes the use of oversized, heavy RG MRAP platforms which physically can’t get to or successfully operate in small/remote villages located on top of mountains, in and around soft/loose dirt, or because it presents a militaristic presence that intimidates or too closely resembles conventional formations.
The ideal situation is to provide each SOF formation with an array/menu of tactical and non-tactical mobility platforms because they will ideally select several in order to accomplish each mission set. The RG family of MRAPS, the Oshkosh M-ATV, the M1113/M1165 GMV, the Kawasaki Tyrex LT-ATV, the indigenous motorcycle, and/or the up-armored non-tactical vehicle are all potentially-required mobility assets that support the current SOF foreign internal defense, Afghan local police and village stability operations missions being executed in Afghanistan today. With regard to air mobility—I will start with a five-year-in-themaking success story: short takeoff and landing [STOL] aircraft. Especially in Afghanistan, we require these specialized aircraft because many of our operations take place in areas without road access, and as you saw from my answer to your previous question, because it is optimal to travel using airlift in many instances. Large, full-size airfields are not widely available near operations and outposts, necessitating the need to land in smaller and more restrictive spaces. The STOL has the ability to use these smaller areas, and STOL airdrop is a timely and expedient way to execute infiltration/exfiltration and resupply. In order to receive aerial resupply, a SOF element has to move to the selected drop zone, clear it of potential hazards and secure it. A team-size element clearing and establishing security for a drop zone is a challenge due to its limited size. Add to this challenge the fact that recovery operations often require materiel handling equipment to quickly recover bundles we drop—one A-22 bundle of JP-8 fuel, for example, weighs 1,600 pounds—and you have a complicated, dangerous mission. These moderate-risk, lengthy, manpower-intensive operations are reduced if dedicated STOL or rotary wing aircraft are available to conduct air, land or sling-load operations directly into a village stability staging area in lieu of airdrops.
Mobility issues in Afghanistan will continue to be difficult no matter what because of the tyranny of distance and terrain that continues to present operational and logistical challenges for special operations forces. Mountain passes and underdeveloped road networks create challenges for us, and provide an additional layer of protection for the enemy.
Despite all of these difficulties, the sustainers [who make up only 4 percent of the entire CJSOTF populations] are getting the mission done, requiring constant engagement in order to resupply operators without a loss of effectiveness. Here are some facts and figures from the CJSOTF in Afghanistan alone that illustrate what I mean: In 2009, the CJSOTF dropped 7 million pounds of cargo during 250 airdrop missions using 4,726 bundles. In 2010 the CJSOTF dropped more than 19 million pounds of cargo during 875 missions using 14,516 bundles. The CJSOTF culminated in the month of November 2010 dropping 2.3 million pounds of cargo, 1.9 million pounds of which were rigged from our two facilities in Afghanistan.

Q: Any closing thoughts about the people you have operating in SOCCENT?
A: I am tremendously proud of the efforts our operators and support personnel are making, both in theater and at our headquarters facilities, both forward-deployed at SOCCENT Main and at SOCCENT Rear in Tampa, Fla., to effect the results I’ve witnessed in the last year. This is the busiest TSOC in the inventory, and our OPTEMPO shows no sign of slowing down. I am continuously amazed at the standard of excellence that I see displayed every day by these selfless servants of our nation, and by their honest desire to serve a cause greater than themselves—the security and defense of the United States. ♦