By Sean D. Naylor – ArmyTimes.com
In a recognition of special operations forces’ reliance on their conventional partners for “enabling” capabilities such as intelligence analysis and engineering, U.S. Special Operations Command head Adm. Eric Olson is rehabilitating a long-lost “truth” that acknowledges the contribution non-special ops forces make to missions.
SOCom and its subordinate commands have long touted four “SOF Truths” that encapsulate the command’s self-image.
These four statements have become enshrined in special operations lore, frequently quoted by special ops officials. But few special operators know that the SOF truths were written by a non-special operator, or that a fifth truth went missing for more than 21 years.
The author of the SOF truths was John Collins, a retired Army colonel who enjoyed a second career in the Congressional Research Service and in 1987 found himself writing a publication titled “United States and Soviet Special Operations” for a House Armed Services Committee subcommittee chaired by Rep. Earl Hutto, D-Fla.
The report “had to do with what special operations are all about,” Collins said. “When we were through, Hutto wrote the forward to this report — I wrote it for him, he signed it. Having gone back through everything I’d done, I came up with the five SOF truths. Those were the tailpiece of what Hutto signed.”
Those “five SOF truths” included the original four, plus a fifth: “Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.”
The details of what happened next are murky, but by 1988 then-Brig. Gen. Dave Baratto, the commander of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C., was wrestling with the challenge of how to codify special operations’ unique “operational considerations.”
“SOF was new and it was joint and my job was to try and incorporate those [considerations] across all services,” Baratto said. That led Baratto and his staff to draw up a list of “SOF imperatives” that sought to articulate what made special operations forces different from conventional forces.
The SOF truths “came up as sort of a derivative of that, and I don’t know exactly where they originated … but they sort of went hand in hand with the imperatives,” Baratto said, adding that his staff “may have” picked up the truths from Collins’s ghostwritten introduction signed by Hutto.
But Baratto, who retired as a major general in 1995, remembers discussing the SOF truths “and whether we ought to codify them and embrace them as an institution” with Wayne Downing, the general who took command of Army Special Operations Command in 1991. Downing, who died in 2007, was receptive to the idea, Baratto said.
However, Collins’ fifth bullet about most spec ops missions requiring “non-SOF assistance” made an early exit in the debate.
The first Collins knew of SOCom’s adoption of four of his five truths was in 1993, while he was researching another special ops report, this time for Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Bill Cohen, R-Maine.
“The first stop was Fort Bragg and the Army Special Ops Command,” where Downing was still in charge, Collins said. “And Wayne gives me a dog-and-pony show of slides and … very proudly he pops up a slide with the ‘SOF Truths’ on it — four of them.
“I said, ‘I think they’re great — I wrote ’em.’ ”
“The fifth truth got dropped simply because … it said special ops needs some help,” he said.
“I have told everybody I can get my hands on since then that it’s too bad the fifth truth got dropped,” he said. “Its omission encourages unrealistic expectations by poorly tutored employers and perpetuates a counterproductive ‘us versus everybody else’ attitude.”
Olson apparently agreed with Collins, because after a December e-mail exchange between the retired colonel and the four-star, the admiral said that he was re-instating the fifth truth into the SOCom canon.
Olson explained his reasoning in a statement e-mailed via Col. Tim Nye, the SOCom spokesman:
“The SOF Truths have provided time-tested guidance to the special operations community for daily activities as well as long-range planning. When they were originally penned, there was a fifth truth that was never published — ‘Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.’ It’s being included now so that we all understand the importance of force enablers and the contributions they make to mission success. To think otherwise would levy unrealistic expectations as to the capabilities SOF bring to the fight.
“The operational effectiveness of our deployed forces cannot be, and never [has] been, achieved without being enabled by our joint service partners. The support Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy engineers, [explosive ordnance disposal] technicians, intelligence analysts, and the numerous other professions that contribute to SOF, have substantially increased our capabilities and effectiveness throughout the world.”