A sea change is coming to special operations.
After 20 years of relentless combat operations, organizations are taking a hard look at their mission sets, who is in the formations and how the job treats them.
Special Operations Command has openly discussed its imminent shift from counter-terror to near-peer competition in recent years, but at the same time, another major shift is underway in the military writ large: a new focus on attracting and retaining women in every career field, a renewed focus on preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment, and the first department-wide efforts to crack down on extremism.
“I present our update to the American people with humility,” Rear Adm. Hugh Howard, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. “Humility, sharpened in combat losses, mission failures and imperfection. Humility that drives our sense of urgency to learn, to evolve, to come back stronger and even more committed to the missions our nation asks of us.”
Howard’s testimony came the same day his command unveiled a new plan for structuring SEAL units, decreasing the number of platoons and making those remaining larger, as well as an intensive new screening process designed to select for higher-quality leaders.
“We are implementing innovative approaches to directly reach candidates that might not think of joining our team, and how our candidates solve their first problems in the Navy, alongside a diverse cohort to authentically build mutual understanding, empathy, and respect,” Howard said Wednesday.
The SEAL community has been under an intense spotlight in recent years, as the war-crimes trial of retired Chief Special Warfare Operation Eddie Gallagher dominated headlines, alongside scandals involving drugs and sexual assault.
Those incidents, as well as others involving Army Green Berets and Marine Raiders, prompted an internal SOCOM review that found leadership lacking in an organization obsessed with combat deployments above everything else, at times hamstrung by its own hubris.