By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
April 25, 2007 – As it observes its 20th anniversary this week, U.S. Special Operations Command continues to face more demand for its forces than it can accommodate -- a challenge the command's deputy commander reported yesterday won't abate even with more special operators in the pipeline. SOCOM is slated to grow by about 6,300 members in fiscal 2008, boosting its strength to 54,000 military and civilian positions, Navy Vice Adm. Eric T. Olson told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
This growth, nearly all within the reserve components, includes nearly 1,900 soldiers to make up an Army Special Forces battalion, three Ranger companies, and nearly 800 additional civil affairs, psychological operations and support troops. Naval Special Warfare will add about 400 members, and Air Force Special Operations Command will grow a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle squadron and establish a distributed common-ground system.
In addition, the new Marine Corps Special Operations Component established in 2006 will increase from its current 1,500 members by nearly 550, Olson reported.
This growth rate won't reduce the high stress on the current force or its current presence in Afghanistan or Iraq, he said. Rather, it will enable SOCOM to expand its presence in parts of the world where it's currently underrepresented.
Olson urged the senators to support the $6.2 billion fiscal 2008 budget request that boosts retention initiatives for senior enlisted operators and ensures current and incoming special operators have the equipment they need to do their jobs. "It's important to sustain a balanced force as we grow, so we must retain our experienced people as we train new accessions," he said.
The budget request also includes more aircraft, prepositioned ship- and land-based equipment, and precision-guided munitions. It also will provide more Special Operations Force Warrior Systems, with body armor, helmets, weapons, ammunition, night-vision optics, individual- and squad-level radios, and other items, which Olson said "optimize success while minimizing casualties."
As the command monitors the challenges of a growing force and aging equipment, it's continuing to demonstrate its capabilities confronting terrorism and helping nations around the world bolster their own defenses against terrorist intentions, he said.
Created by Congress to organize, train and equip special operations forces, SOCOM has paid big security dividends over the past two decades, but particularly during recent years. As its members support war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're also facing off against emerging terrorism in the Philippines, Colombia and other parts of the world through training and assistance programs, he said.
In operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, special operators conduct direct-action missions daily and capture or kill terrorists and violent insurgents nightly, Olson told the Senate committee.
But equally important, he said, are the command's indirect actions worldwide that are crucial to building a global environment that shuns terrorism and embraces stability and security.
"We know that we cannot kill or talk our way to victory," he said. "Our actions must demonstrate our values and be convincing locally, regionally and, ultimately, globally."
That makes it essential that U.S. forces develop meaningful relationships with coalition partners that provide a stepping stone toward building their capabilities and encouraging them to resolve threats within their own borders, he said.
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