WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2014 – To combat the demands on the nation’s special operations forces, U.S. Special Operations Command has made its Preservation of the Force and Family initiative a priority, the program’s director said yesterday.
Speaking at the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Resilience Summit in Falls Church, Virginia, Navy Capt.
Thomas Chaby said the program for the joint command’s 67,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines centers on prevention by building resilience and giving troops the tools and strategies they need to navigate combat’s challenges.
The program’s task force came up with a holistic approach to address the problem of pressure on the force and their families, to maintain and improve readiness, operational effectiveness and the immediate and long-term well-being of the force.
“There are unique challenges in special operations, [and] our commander felt we needed to formally address them,” Chaby said. “After 13 years of battle, we have assessed that our force is frayed.”
The program’s focus now is to look ahead as special operations forces continue to operate in a dangerous world. “There’s really no end to where we are right now,” he said of challenges the force faces, noting that service members stationed overseas face the stresses of not getting adequate sleep and being far away from their families, among other issues.
Using Defense Department resilience builders to meet the needs of special operators, Chaby said, Socom is looking at factors such as strength and conditioning, athletic training and nutrition to extend operational readiness and to retain special operations service members onboard as leaders.
Typically, special operations has a high retention rate, with operators serving 20 to 30 years, Chaby said. “The demands on the body are tough, and most extensive at 15 to 20 years [into their careers], when they’re [approaching] key leadership positions.”
If special operators break down then, there are few on whom to fall back, he added. “We’re trying to preserve that investment,” he said. “It can take five years to create guys who can go downrange and do what they need to do. The average age for an officer is 34, and enlisted, 29. In key leadership positions, they’re approaching 40 years old.”
An assessment showed a “huge delta” between special operators with characteristics consistent with alcoholism, drug addiction, anxiety and depression and seeking the care they need, because of the stigma of seeking behavioral health care, Chaby said.
“Sometimes there’s a double or triple delta, and that’s unacceptable,” he said. “There’s a culture in the military, and it extends into unit cultures.”
Socom leaders have prioritized stripping away the stigma attached to seeking help, Chaby said. “They challenge and educate their leaders every chance they get and say, ‘Getting behavioral health care is a good thing,’” he added.
And while room remains for cultural improvement, “we’re making progress,” Chaby said.