Mladen Rudman is a staff writer for the Northwest Daily News, a Freedom Newspaper in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. — One of the keys to taming insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan is ensuring that each country has a military that can handle itself, said the man in charge of all American special operations forces.
Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, the Special Operations Command’s commander, visited Hurlburt Field on Tuesday. He spoke at the Joint Special Operations University and then ran a gamut of briefings. The Air Force Special Operations Command at Hurlburt reports to the SOCOM commander.
Brown was updated on AFSOC initiatives such as standing up a new special operations wing at Cannon Air Force Base. He also heard about the command’s manpower and equipment needs as it and the rest of the country’s special operations forces prepare to grow.
Though Army, the four-star talked good Air Force.
“AFSOC is key to the global war on terror and SOCOM’s efforts in the global war on terror,” said Brown.
SOCOM, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, is the Pentagon’s lead counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency unit.
The general stressed that his Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and Air Force air commandos not only fight, but serve as combat advisors.
He praised the 6th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt because it teaches foreign air forces airpower tactics that can be used to defend borders or silence insurgencies.
“It’s a very exciting but very demanding mission and, quite frankly, I tell you we’re very, very proud of the work they’ve done,” Brown added.
The 6th SOS is expected to double its size as AFSOC expands.
It, like the rest of the special operations units across the country, is growing.
By 2013 America’s covert warfare warriors are expected to be some 20,000 stronger, though more than half of that growth will happen when Army Reserve civil affairs and psychological warfare soldiers become regular Army.
Special operations forces will have more ways to collect intelligence. For example, the 16th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt has set up an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.
There will be more AFSOC combat controllers and pararescuemen, too.
When the Air Force command gets its dozen new MC-130s, they’ll need aircrews. Four more AC-130U gunships have been, or will be, delivered and AFSOC plans to buy 50 CV-22 tilt-rotors.
Air commandos infiltrate and pick up SEALs and Green Berets behind enemy lines during war, so moving the Army 7th Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Eglin Air Force Base is a good idea, said Brown. Where the Green Berets will be located remains undecided, but Duke Field south of Crestview is a strong contender, he said.
The SOCOM commander said special operations forces are facing the busiest operations tempo in their history because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite ceaseless rotations, the general said his troops have had “unbelievable success,” including training Middle East soldiers.
“When an Iraqi or Afghan battalion hits a target, there’s traditionally a 12-man (Special Forces) team or a SEALs team that is advising them and helping them perform the mission,” Brown continued.
He smiled and resorted to talk of team effort when asked about the role Special Forces played in the air strike that killed terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on June 7 in Iraq.
The general has traveled to Southwest Asia and talked to troops. He characterized morale as good.
“They like what they’re doing,” Brown said. “That’s why they signed up to come into special operations forces and the armed forces in general. I don’t think morale is a big issue for them.”
He acknowledged that rotations have been tough on families, saying the military owes them much gratitude.
The four-star expects special operations forces will be contributing to the fight in Southwest Asia for some time to come.
“We’re going to be at it for a while,” he said. “SOFs bring to the battlefield the unique kind of skills that are necessary in this type of war.”
And local air commandos and their special tactics brethren at AFSOC are integral parts of that fight, he continued.
“The growth at Hurlburt Field is just phenomenal, as it should be,” Brown concluded. “This is a special operations base that’s a gem.”