By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2014 – At U.S. Special Operations Command, taking care of special operators and their families, using technology to increase the safety of exacting special ops, and expanding partnerships of all kinds worldwide are priorities, the Socom commander said here yesterday.
In his morning keynote address at the National Defense Industrial Association’s 25th Annual Special Operations/Low-intensity Conflict Symposium, Navy Adm. William H. McRaven described recent efforts on behalf of what he called “the finest special operations forces in the world.”
At Socom, he said, “we have spent the last year knitting together this incredible expanse of [special operations forces] talent into the global SOF network. We instituted a disciplined battle rhythm, [and] video teleconferences that allow me as the commander … to talk to senior leaders and [noncommissioned officers] around the world every week to ensure they are getting what they need to do the mission.”
McRaven said Socom is bringing more allies into headquarters, expanding its U.S. liaison efforts overseas, realigning special operations talent to Theater Special Operations Command and redistributing manpower from the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan.
“Most importantly,” the commander added, “we continue to work with the geographic combatant commanders to ensure Socom is providing the best trained and equipped SOF operators to meet the needs of the region.”
Socom’s No. 1 warfighting priority is and will remain Afghanistan, McRaven said, noting that he sees progress each time he returns to the country thanks to the work of U.S. service members, the International Security Assistance Force and partnership with the Afghan security forces.
“Afghan security forces are good, and thanks to our SOF investment, they are getting better,” he added.
Afghan soldiers and police now protect their fellow Afghans, and local police are the first layer of defense against the insurgency, especially in rural and remote areas, McRaven said.
“No matter the size of our presence there next year,” he added, “our future [military-to-military] engagements with the Afghans will remain vital in the region.”
Because of lessons learned in Afghanistan, some of them learned the hard way, the commander said, Socom established a program called the Tactical Assault Light Operator-Shooter, or TALOS, program, sometimes called “the Iron Man suit.”
The TALOS program is a collaboration of efforts, he said, involving 56 corporations, 16 government agencies, 13 universities and 10 national laboratories. The goal is to give operators lighter, more efficient full-body ballistics protection and beyond-human strength. Embedded antennas and computers will provide user-friendly, real-time battlefield information.
Integrated heaters and coolers will regulate the suit’s temperature and embedded sensors will monitor the operator’s core body temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, body position and hydration levels.
If an operator is wounded, the suit’s final version may be able to administer the first oxygen or hemorrhage controls.
“The TALOS project is leveraging the expertise of leading minds throughout the country to redefine the state of the art in survivability and operator capability,” McRaven explained. “We're already seeing astounding results.”
Three prototype suits are being assembled, and in June will be delivered to Socom. They will be rigorously evaluated to produce a deployable combat suit in August 2018.
The TALOS team also will host a Monster Garage-type event to pair the creativity and ingenuity of local garage tinkerers with the expertise of professional engineers, designers and craftsmen to build components for the suit, potentially even a complete suit, in a collaborative environment, the admiral added.
“This unique collaboration effort is the future of how we should do business,” McRaven said. “If we do TALOS right, it will be a huge comparative advantage over our enemies and give warriors the protection they need in a very demanding environment.”
Because he sees education as a critical factor in producing the nation’s finest special operations warrior, McRaven said, in the past year he approved a plan for the Joint Special Operations University to become what he called “the internationally recognized, regionally accredited, degree-producing SOF university that our special operations forces deserve.”
Much of the advanced education will help operators become regional experts, he said.
“If we want to be value-added to the regional combatant commanders, SOF operators require the ability to think, assess and rapidly respond at the tactical level while always considering the strategic implications,” McRaven said. Such operators need more language training and an understanding of the historical, political, sociological, economic and geographic underpinnings of the region, he added.
And because the forces rely heavily on noncommissioned officers, Socom is developing a world-class NCO education program. The Joint SOF Senior Enlisted Academy has been online for two years, with a resident and nonresident professional military education program for senior NCOs, McRaven noted.
“Ultimately, however, the future of SOF lies in how well we take care of our men and women and their families who have shouldered the burden of 13 years of sustained combat,” the commander said.
On Feb. 21, McRaven said he will sign a memorandum of agreement with the Agriculture Department that will enable Socom to access more than 100 land-grant universities to conduct research and implement programs to support and promote the well-being and resilience of U.S. Socom service members and their families.
“The recent passing of the 2014 [National Defense Authorization Act] gives the Socom commander authority to use SOF funds to support family programs,” the commander said.
The three-year pilot program authorizes Socom to use up to $5 million a year to supplement service-provided programs or develop innovative programs that meet family needs, he said, adding that the focus will be on building and maintaining resilient, fully functioning families.
Socom also is working to increase the predictability of its deployments and standardize the time a service member is deployed, he said.
For special ops warriors who are wounded, injured or ill, McRaven called the Socom Care Coalition a gold standard in nonmedical care. The program supports the entire family, and the advocacy is for life, according to the coalition’s website.
“The Socom Care Coalition serves a multitude of roles,” McRaven said, “acting as advocates and liaisons, connecting service members and families with charitable organizations and or federal entities to fill gaps the government traditionally does not fill.”
Socom’s future is full of challenges and opportunities, the admiral said, and the world is a difficult place where a handful of men and women of talent, character and commitment can make a huge difference.
“On any given day in the special operations community, over 10,000 of America's finest soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and DOD civilians are engaged in more than 70 countries around the globe, supporting the geographic combatant commanders and the chiefs of mission,” McRaven said.
“If we continue to carefully select our warriors, train them to the highest standard, equip them with the finest tools and demand the best from them,” he added, “then wherever they go they will be a tremendous resource for our policymakers, our diplomats, our geographic combatant commanders and our nation.