Whenever the word "diversity" is uttered, especially within the special operations community, it elicits grumbling from some, often with good reason.
For what ? Because serving in a special operations unit has always been a voluntary decision. Not a question of origin.
It is not possible to assign people to Special Forces A-Teams, Navy SEAL Teams, Army Ranger Battalions, MARSOC Raiders or Air Force CCT Teams . Both men and women must volunteer to serve there and, most importantly, be able to pass the strict selection and assessment requirements and the various qualification courses required.
Additionally, the TF community, particularly the Special Forces branch, has traditionally made diversity its goal. Operational units didn't care and still don't care if an operator is black, brown, yellow, red or white.
It is therefore ridiculous to try to criticize the French Special Operations Command (COS) for not having a "diverse enough" environment, as some do.
Critics will point out that diversity numbers are lower in the FSOs and try to attribute this to the fact that FOS executives unfairly disadvantage minority candidates.
This brings up the dreaded word 'standards', which we could talk about and have talked about ad nauseam. The bottom line is that the standards must remain intact for SOF candidates to accomplish their particular missions.
What sets Special Forces apart from their counterparts is their linguistic ability and hard-earned reputation for building and maintaining relationships with our allies and partners. The main thing is to be able to communicate with our partners in their own language and to understand and respect their culture.
Since their inception in 1952, the Special Forces have made language capability an important part of their mission, as it was essential to be able to recruit, train and lead guerrilla forces against a Soviet invasion in Western Europe.
Many of the early FS operators came from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) or were recruited under the Lodge-Philbin Act. These men came from Europe, spoke the language and knew the areas of operation where the teams would be assigned.
One of the reasons the 7th Special Forces Group has been so successful in its own area of operations is the plethora of candidates from Latin America who have gone through special forces training. These NCOs and officers were the big winners of the group with each deployment.
Last week, I spoke with Col. (Retired) Stu Bradin, Founder and President of the Global Special Operations Foundation (GSOF). We discussed calls for diversity in SOCOM and we talked about our former 7th ASG A-Team where the number of Spanish, African American and Native American operators outnumbered white operators.
women and special forces
Some of the best OSS agents were women who jumped into occupied France, set up intelligence networks, built guerrilla forces and conducted combat operations against the Germans. Yet when it comes to women, the conversation opens up a whole different Pandora's box.
Many active duty and SF veterans don't want women on A-teams for the simple reason that the vast majority of them wouldn't be able to handle the extreme physical demands of the profession. They also fear that the standards (that nasty word again) will be lowered. But the number of women in the A teams will never be high due to the physical rigors of the work.
Special mission units are a different topic, as women are already assigned to them. Additionally, with the changes looming for SOCOM, which is beginning to focus on close conflict, these units will require SF operators to conduct missions not only in rural areas, such as Afghanistan, but also in areas with a high population concentration. Therefore, women and native speakers of targeted countries should be a target for recruitment.
Language requirements create diversity in the special forces
One of the criticisms leveled at the special forces is that their language capabilities have eroded. While this may be true, the overwhelming combat operational tempo that SF A-Teams faced during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan made maintaining language skills a low priority.
SF A-Teams oriented to Latin America, the Far East, Africa and Europe found themselves constantly deployed and focused on direct action missions, which should only be a part of the mission of the SFs. Moreover, they were working with people who spoke a totally different language from the one they found in the area of operations (ZO).
Special Forces have always considered diversity to meet their needs
Special forces have always adapted to the national security imperatives of a given era and will no doubt do so again. And they will seek to further diversify their force to meet their needs.
During our interview with Bradin, we discussed the GSOF Imperatives 2021 report. We focused on the topic of recruitment and retention, because as the FOS Truth says, "Humans are more important than hardware." As the report says,
"Many components of the FOS are struggling to recruit and retain people - the most valuable asset of the FOS. In addition, the FOS are looking for greater diversity and people with skills from cultures not widely held within the current force. The Lodge-Philbin Act was a U.S. federal law, passed in June 1950, that permitted the recruitment of foreign nationals into the U.S. military. If they successfully served five years with an honorable discharge, U.S. citizenship Congress should consider a modern Lodge-Philbin Act designed to recruit a diverse and robust number of men and women for special operations, drawn from nations critical to the national security strategy of the United States and better suited to even support irregular warfare.”
In conclusion, Congress wants SOCOM to do what it has always done, which is to find the right person for the job and train them to the standards. Forcing SOCOM to do a “Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Plan 2021” is just an excuse to try to put exact numbers into the equation. It will not happen.
The Armed Forces have always done a great job of recruiting the right people. That's not going to change. Wars change and the right people for the next one may be different from those who fought the last one. But as teams evolve and return to the fundamentals of SF, language and cultural capabilities will be catered for as they always have been. And there will be a lot of diversity.