Friday, October 3, 2014


I am one of the lucky ones.  I’ve led a life that was of my choosing.  It was not perfect, as I am not perfect.  I have made my choices, and for what those choices were worth, I’ve accepted the consequences.  I suppose it would have been nice if I had been born into a family where my parents encouraged me, and helped me achieve a greater potential, but as I look back, they shaped me into who I am.
As a conflicted teen and young adult I was not a very smooth individual, and perhaps that is true to this day.  I lacked the confidence to be myself, but for some unknown reason I knew who I was, and what I must become.
Fate, or the hand of God, has brought me to this place and this time.  I see the future and I remember the past; I find myself fulfilled more in the passing of knowledge than in the achievement of fame.  Perhaps, just perhaps, because I embrace a philosophy of stoic resolve that creates a comfort in being a quiet professional.
So let’s talk about some truths, or more correctly some Special Operations Truths[1], for I think they are valuable reminders not only for Special Operations, but also society.
Truth 1:  Humans are more important than Hardware
This is really the core of what makes Special Operations different from the conventional force, and if business and the government embraced it would reflect a significant philosophical shift in priorities.  For the USAF this is probably the hardest idea to grasp, for if you trace back to our foundation we’ve always been about technology.  Given a choice between getting the right people and getting the newest aircraft we will always choose aircraft.  Not once in a while, but every time.  We may talk about our people, and reflect on the value of our people, but they seem always to come second to the technology our leaders need.
And isn’t that true of business as well?  We seem to lose sight of the fact that a corporation is made up of individuals, with hopes and aspirations.  When the top of the corporation makes it about themselves and their lives they forget about the workforce that has grown the business and hopes for success so they can continue their lives.
Truth 2:  Quality is better than Quantity
One of the things that has characterized Special Operations has been its relative size to the larger organizations.  This truth is embraced by the US Marine Corp and has been at its core since 1775.  Looking back to Roger’s Rangers, Francis Marion, on to the Rangers, Raiders, and Air Commandos of World War II, we see getting the right people, training them to the highest standards and expecting excellence in their performance will pay dividends in ways that no one expects.  We see the same thing with a group of airman who, despite the oppression of the military in the 1940’s rose up to become legendary in their ability to protect the bombers they were assigned to escort.  Of course I am referring to the 332nd Fighter Group.
As a society we celebrate those small organizations that rise to the top, how do they do it?  What separates a Tesla from a GM?  What makes Honda different than GMC?  What has allowed the companies of Kia and Hyundai to rise above Chrysler and Ford in profitability?  Fifteen years ago Hyundai was viewed as a disposable car, I don’t think that is true today.  Why?
Truth 3 and 4:  Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced. Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur.
If you accept that quality is more important than quantity then obviously the screening and selection of the best will result in a time consuming processes.  One of the things that troubles me about our society is we think we have to treat all people equally and a child’s self esteem demands they win or be recognized for playing.  The special operator will dig deep within themselves and when others will surrender and go home, they will not allow themselves to fail.  This quality is what separates those who show up and those who succeed.  Expecting that you can find and nurture these attributes whenever you want leads to a false sense of accomplishment and failure.
Unfortunately we American’s have never understood this and have allowed those rare and unique people to be cast aside by the politicians who can never understand the mindset of those who would sacrifice their life for a friend.
What I see in the self-centered world of our business is that corporation leadership does not understand these truths any better than our politicians.  They will, without consideration of the skills, release the experienced personnel who’ve made the business in the hopes of hiring a cheap replacement.
Finally, truth 5:  Most Special Operations require non-SOF experience.
This speaks to the idea that as a small force Special Operations cannot do everything itself and expect to be successful.  I assume it was also recognition to appease those who would feel threatened by the elitism of a special unit.  If we look back to the Raid on the Son Tây prison camp we see a great example of how the US Navy flew diversionary raids to get the radar systems looking in the wrong direction.

[1] There are a number of possible sources for these, it seems reasonable it came from a 1987 Congressional report, and is authored by USA (Ret) COL John Collins, although I’ve heard them attributed to others.

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