Outgoing USASOC commander sees growing demand for special operations
The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
Army special operations forces will continue to be extremely busy even with operations in Iraq over and Afghanistan winding down, the commander said.
"We can only satisfy about 50 percent of demand out there ... for special operations forces," said Lt. Gen. John F. Mulholland, who steps down this week as commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg. "As the Army, we are half of our nation's special operations capability. ... There was no 'peace dividend' with Iraq going away."
Although the long-term future in Afghanistan is uncertain, Army special operations continue to be in high demand with their ability to conduct counterterrorist strikes, train Afghan commandos and special forces, and work in villages, he said.
Mulholland on Tuesday turns over command to Charles Cleveland in a ceremony at 8:30 a.m. on Meadows Field at the headquarters. The host will be Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff.
Mulholland took command of USASOC on Nov. 7, 2008. Cleveland was commander of Special Operations Command-Central, which oversees U.S. special operations forces in the Middle East.
The three-star command has about 28,000 people, including soldiers and civilians. The command has about 8,300 soldiers and 1,300 civilians on Fort Bragg. The soldiers have been constantly deployed in the decade since the 9/11 attacks.
"The health and well-being of our force will continue to be an area of concern, and a concern that grows every day because every day is a new red-letter day, a new milestone that has been crossed for how long we have been engaged in combat and our requirements around the globe," he said.
The headquarters is responsible for training, developing and preparing units for deployment overseas. The units range from Special Forces, who specialize in training foreign militaries, to Rangers, who conduct small-scale raids in high-risk and politically sensitive areas. Special operations helicopters carried Navy SEALs into Pakistan on the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed.
Civil affairs soldiers are the military's specialists in dealing with civilian authorities and populations in foreign countries. Military information operations soldiers are trained to communicate with foreign populations.
The Military Support Operations Command has been established on a provisional basis to oversee soldiers in the specialty formerly known as psychological operations. Those soldiers handle mass communications from leaflets to electronic broadcasts to influence people in foreign countries to support U.S. objectives.
"We would like to see that established as a one-star headquarters," Mulholland said. "That's still a work in progress. The Army has been very supportive of us, but the Army is wrestling with its own manpower (challenges)," he said.
The Fort Bragg-based MISO command has 2,360 members and is scheduled to grow to 2,700, according to a fact sheet.
The Army will bring a member of the Senior Executive Service into the USASOC headquarters, he said. Senior executives are the civilian equivalent of military generals. The command has added a science adviser, Dr. John Morgan.
Mulholland will become deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base at Tampa, Fla. He will work for Adm. William H. McRaven at the four-star headquarters that oversees Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine special operations forces.
"We ask them to do the most dangerous missions against the most treacherous enemies," Mulholland said. "They've got to be healthy in mind and body and soul, and they've got to be trained, equipped and educated, commensurate with what we are going to ask them to do."
Mulholland said he is concerned about the health of "a force who wants to be gone" and their families.
Behavioral and mental health are as important to the command's "warrior athletes" as the physical aspects, he said.
U.S. Special Operations Command has an initiative aimed at human performance and resiliency, he said.
"We have to protect this force," Mulholland said. "We have to protect these families."
Special operations forces have fared well financially in recent years, but the overall military is facing certain budget cuts and even larger automatic cuts if Congress does not act to stop mandatory reductions that automatically begin in January.
"There's still questions to be answered about the financial future and the impact it will have on the force," Mulholland said.
In the future, special operations forces will be more involved in situations overseas where the State Department is in charge rather than the Pentagon, he said.
The United States is increasing its focus on the Pacific, and special operations have had a long-term presence in South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, Mulholland said.
Future problems will include proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and well-armed, well-financed transnational criminal organizations such as the drug cartels in Mexico, he said.
"It's going to be in countries where the United States ambassador is the senior U.S. government representative," he said. "The challenges are going to require a lot of nuance."