At a time when U.S. special operations are devising plans for the mission of accepting women into the male domains of SEALs, Green Berets and Army Rangers, the terrorist-fighting community is facing a looming readiness problem.
The new challenge is tucked inside President Obama’s 2017 defense budget. It states that U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and its 69,000 personnel are up against “training challenges” and is seeing “minor impacts to the forces’ ability to accomplish missions” that could grow worse.
Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs face some limits on training due to cutbacks in fleet and training range operations, according to a budget overview document sent to Congress last week.
As this happens, SOCOM is looking at a spring deadline to begin tryouts for integrating women into teams where 85 percent of men oppose the move, according to a Pentagon-sponsored survey by the Rand Corp. Nearly 90 percent say that blending the sexes will lead to lowered physical standards for missions in which high endurance and brute strength are vital. Some male warriors are so opposed that Rand scholars labeled them “extreme.”
Special operations forces are deploying at one of the most frequent rotations in history during the war on terror, begun Sept. 11, 2001. After conducting hundreds of manhunts in Iraq against al Qaeda, they are back in that country preparing for raids on the Islamic State terrorist army.
Special Operations Forces (SOF), who kicked off the invasion of Afghanistan a month after the 9/11 attacks, remain in that theater. They also are deploying to North Africa and other regions to conduct counterterrorism training and occasional raids.
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“We are a force who has been heavily deployed over the last 14 years, and our military members, civilians and their families have paid a significant price, physically and emotionally, serving our country,” Army Gen. Joseph Votel, SOCOM commander, told Congress last year.
Training for these precise covert missions is critical.
SOCOM’s budget is remaining steady at about $10 billion. But the money crunch comes from the four services that contribute funding for special operations personnel and training time.
The Pentagon’s budget next fiscal year is $523 billion, not counting overseas war costs. That is about the same spending level as fiscal 2016 and less than the $528 billion of five years ago.
“One of USSOCOM’s greatest concerns is the potential impact of fiscal reductions in military departments’ readiness, which directly affects SOF,” the Obama budget says. “The USSOCOM has already witnessed reductions to the military departments that negatively affect SOF in a variety of ways.”
In other words, if the Army and Navy cut training time or operations, it means less access for commandos.
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Navy SEALs, the budget says, are already “seeing training challenges associated with lower fleet asset availability, which impacts readiness and interoperability.”
It further states: “The Marine Forces Special Operations Command is experiencing reductions in access to some important school seats. The U.S. Army Special Operations Command is seeing a reduction in the military training specific allotment as well as reduced staffing at heavily used ranges. If further Military Department program reductions become necessary, SOF is likely to see more negative impacts to its capabilities.”
SOCOM spokesmen did not immediately have cost figures for the looming women integration.
While he works out details with each service, Gen. Votel asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for a slight delay for submitting a plan to the Pentagon for how the command will let women try out for about 15,000 previously closed military jobs.
One challenge will be indoctrination programs to make sure skeptical male commandos accept them.
Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, said the warrior culture change is worse than budget cuts.
“Men in special operations forces do indeed have another reason to feel stressed, for reasons worse than budget cuts and stepped-up deployments,” she said. “Vertical cohesion, meaning mutual trust up and down the chain of command, has been shattered by USSOCOM leaders who are failing to defend their interests at a time when Pentagon authorities are imposing social experiments that will cost lives and missions in special operations forces.”
Ms. Donnelly also criticized the command for allowing Rand researchers to label those adamantly opposed to women in SOF as “extreme responders.”
Leaders, she said, “turned deaf ears to politically incorrect opinions about gender integration that were expressed in official surveys and focus groups.”
The Rand report illustrates the opposition.
“Based on our survey of SOF personnel, opposition to opening SOF specialties to women is both deep and wide, with high levels of opposition across all SOF elements,” the scholars wrote. “This opposition is also deep-seated and intensely felt.
“The principal sources of this opposition [include] the belief among SOF that women do not have the physical and other capabilities to meet the demands of their SOF specialties,” they said.
A Green Beret told survey conductors: “This endeavor is a complete waste of time. Filling out this survey is yet another example of how administrative issues, such as sensitivity or gender training or other surveys, will take away from my training time. I could list hundreds of reasons why women cannot do the job that a Green Beret is required to do, but as I only have 1000 characters, I will choose the one that I think is the most important. A woman cannot physically do what I can do! I weigh 225 pounds, and 280 pounds in full kit, as did most of the members of my ODA. I expect every person on my team to be able to drag any member of my team out of a firefight. A 130 pound female could not do it, I don’t care how much time she spends in the gym.”
Said a Marine Corps special operator staff sergeant: “I’ve zipped up body bags on men and women. And with men, I could eat Cheerios after. But with women? The smell of burned hair. I can’t smell it anymore, I can’t stand it. I can’t even fire up Pop Tarts because it reminds me of the smell of burned hair.”
Meanwhile, Army recruiting offices will conduct a new set of gymnastic tests to help determine what military jobs a recruit is physically capable of performing, beginning this summer.
Prospective soldiers will be asked to run, jump, lift a weight and throw a heavy ball — all to help the Army figure out if the recruit can handle a job with high physical demands or should be directed to a more sedentary assignment, The Associated Press reported.