Special Operations: April 9, 2004


Although America's SOCOM (Special Operations Command) isn't taking many combat casualties, it's still taking a beating because of the war on terror. Despite increasing their training program, the U.S. Army Special Forces is having a hard time maintaining its strength. The Special Forces school now turns out 550 new operators each year, up from 450 before September 11, 2001. But the Special Forces, and the other cutting edge components of SOCOM (Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Air Force and Marine commandos, civil affairs troops) are suffering from non-combat losses. Troops are eligible for retirement, at half pay, after twenty years, and many more (SOCOM won't say how many more) are taking that option rather than staying in for 30 years. Not all of these retirees are taking higher paying jobs in the security and military training industries. Many are just worn out from too much time overseas. There are also losses to accidents and disease, brought on by operations in combat zones. This has not killed a lot of operators, but it has put hundreds in the hospital, on sick leave or retired because of permanent damage. So the Special Forces are no where near their full strength of over 6,000 troops, and are apparently closer to 5,000. The SEALs are also trying to expand from 800 to over 1,000 operators, but are suffering from the same problems as the Special Forces. 

But the worst hit SOCOM component are the Civil Affairs. There are now thirty Civil Affairs battalions. These are actually company size units, with under 200 troops each. But only one of them is active duty, the rest are all reservists. While it has been possible to raise lots of new Civil Affairs battalions, there is a limit (two years) to how long reserve troops can be called to active duty for each national emergency the president declares. Congress has to authorize what is called a 10 USC 12301(a) Full Mobilization. This allows all the reserves to be mobilized for the duration of the emergency, plus six months. Currently, the plan is to form more active duty Civil Affairs battalions, asking for reserve Civil Affairs personnel to volunteer for active duty. This will still be tough going, as an active duty Civil Affairs battalion will spend more of its time overseas. While the civil affairs troops are not the tough combat types that populate the other key SOCOM units, they are essential in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In the next five years, SOCOM wants to increase it's strength by 3,700. This is going to be difficult as long as so many troops are out in combat zones, and leaving military service when they get back. It takes years to train replacements, and there are not that many qualified candidates.


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