In the midst of a Defense Department review of U.S. Special Operations Command, including a dissection of the organizations ethics programs, the four-star in charge of all American special operations troops is calling for an in-house analysis starting in the new year.
In an email to the force sent Wednesday morning, Army Gen. Tony Thomas alluded to a raft of alleged criminal activity that has put his special operations forces in the headlines in recent months.
“A survey of allegations of serious misconduct across our formations over the last year indicate that USSOCOM faces a deeper challenge of a disordered view of the team and the individual in our SOF culture,” he wrote.
Thomas and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Owen West are calling for a 90-day review to focus on the organization’s core values and identify where they might be falling short.
“Left unchecked, a disordered value system threatens to erode the trust of our fellow comrades, our senior leaders, and ultimately the American people. Correcting this trend will take committed leadership at all levels of our command and personal moral courage by all,” he wrote.
The message came the day after a New York Times report alleged that alcohol may have been involved in a vehicle crash that injured one U.S. operator and killed a French service member over the weekend.
Beginning Jan. 1, SOCOM is tasked with:
- Reviewing programs of instruction for places to re-emphasize core values, including SOF selection and non-SOF training for SOCOM support personnel.
- Reviewing the previous year’s worth of command climate surveys for trends related to SOF culture.
- O-5 and above leadership will “conduct personal and direct engagement” with their troops, make note of any cultural issues that come up, and report them to the chain of command. Reports will be consolidated and passed along to Thomas with suggested corrective actions.
- Launching more research into the relationship between operational trauma and behavioral health issues.
“No component or command has escaped this trend, and all of us will feel the disproportionate and negative impacts of these incidents on our mission and our people,” Thomas wrote. “For this reason, I am calling all of us to rapid and focused action to begin to identify and address the underlying causes, to prevent further erosion of trust in our force, and to ultimately produce a more effective special operations force for our nation.”
The guidance comes two weeks after Army Special Operations Command boss Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette sent his own memo to his troops, urging them to take a look at problems in their own formations.
“It is incumbent upon our leadership down to the team-room level to intensify our emphasis on SOF values and character,” he wrote. “Service is a privilege, and this privilege is grounded in a culture of accountability and professionalism that extends far beyond program compliance.”
The Defense Department’s SOCOM review is due to Congress on March 1.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.