Socom Commander: Forces at Forefront of National Security Operations


Thirty years after its founding, the U.S. Special Operations Command is more relevant than ever in addressing the evolving security threats facing the nation, Socom’s commander said today in a congressional hearing.

Air Force Special Tactics airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing conduct close air support training during Emerald Warrior 17 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., March 2, 2017. Emerald Warrior is a U.S. Special Operations Command exercise during which joint special operations forces train to respond to various threats across the spectrum of conflict. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo
Air Force Special Tactics airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing conduct close air support training during Emerald Warrior 17 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., March 2, 2017. Emerald Warrior is a U.S. Special Operations Command exercise during which joint special operations forces train to respond to various threats across the spectrum of conflict. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo
Air Force Special Tactics airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing conduct close air support training during Emerald Warrior 17 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., March 2, 2017. Emerald Warrior is a U.S. Special Operations Command exercise during which joint special operations forces train to respond to various threats across the spectrum of conflict. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo
Emerald Warrior 17
Air Force Special Tactics airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing conduct close air support training during Emerald Warrior 17 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., March 2, 2017. Emerald Warrior is a U.S. Special Operations Command exercise during which joint special operations forces train to respond to various threats across the spectrum of conflict. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo
Photo By: Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo
VIRIN: 170302-F-IJ878-0634

"We have been at the forefront of national security operations for the past three decades, to include continuous combat over the past 15-and-a-half years," Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

"This historic period has been the backdrop for some of our greatest successes, as well as the source of our greatest challenge, which is the sustained readiness of this magnificent force," he said.

The hearing, titled Three Decades Later: A Review and Assessment of Our Special Operations Forces 30 Years After the Creation of U.S. Special Operations Command, included Theresa Whelan, the acting assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict.

'Stark Reminder' of a Command at War

April was a particularly hard month for the command, as it lost three of its members in combat, Thomas said.

Army Staff Sgt. Mark R. De Alencar died April 8 from injuries suffered in a firefight in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, and Army Rangers Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas died April 27 as a result of small-arms fire in Nangarhar.

"This comes on the heels of 16 other combat fatalities since I assumed command a year ago, and is a stark reminder that we are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future," Thomas said.

First Priority: Win the Current Fight

There are approximately 56,000 active duty, 7,400 reserve and guard, and 6,600 civilian personnel across the Special Operations Forces enterprise, Thomas explained.

VIDEO | 00:40 | Special Operations Commander Explains Goals

Approximately 8,000 Special Operations Forces are serving in more than 80 countries. They are working with international, interagency and Defense Department partners in support of the geographic combatant commanders' priorities, he said.

Socom’s first priority is to win the current fight, which includes defeating Islamic extremism, countering Russian aggression, preparing for contingencies in Korea and various security operations to defend the homeland, Thomas said.

Other key efforts are continuing to transform the enterprise to remain relevant in the rapidly changing security operation, and taking care of the command's people and their families, he said.

Long-Term Strategic Approach

Both Thomas and Whelan thanked Congress for its support to the command, which is headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

VIDEO | 00:33 | Special Ops Forces Counter Transregional Threats

Whelan, whose agency provides policy oversight for special operations and stability operations capabilities, said Special Operations Forces now face advanced transregional threats that demand greater levels of coordination and collaboration.

A long-term strategic approach is needed to defeat terrorists and their networks and ideologies, she pointed out. Sustained funding and flexible legislative authorities have been instrumental to these efforts, she told lawmakers.

"We will win the fight against [violent extremist organizations] and protect our citizens' vital interest, allies and partners," she added.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)