The Special Operations Liaison Officer program places special operations troops at U.S. embassies around the globe to develop long-term relationships with key partner nations through persistent and culturally-attuned engagement. The program has surged to 24 SOLO billets supporting 31 countries, and continues to grow adding six more countries in 2022.
In February of 2022 after Russia invaded Ukraine, the SOLO assigned to an eastern flank country was able to assist about a dozen U.S. citizens, allies, and Ukrainians to safely leave Ukraine when war broke out around them.
"I worked side-by-side with my host nation special operations colleagues to not only help get people out of Ukraine, but to pull in a nexus of special operations multi-national and NGO partners to identify needs in Ukraine," he said. "We were then able to figure out the best way to get the equipment and humanitarian aid where it was needed most."
The Ukraine support effort is one of hundreds since the SOLO program began in 2006. The program was created because U.S. Special Operations Command wanted to be proactive in building relationships and collaborating with foreign partners.
"You can't surge trust," said Mr. Paul Sotomayor, deputy SOLO branch chief. "In 2006 we needed special operators who spoke the language, understood the culture, and established relationships to create an enduring presence to advise and assist on SOF activities within those countries and to collaborate on challenges. The SOLO is the single in-country point of contact for all U.S. SOF activity within a partner nation."
On any given day SOLOs communicate directly with foreign ministers and chiefs of defense, host nation SOF commanders, as well as ambassadors, and other high-level officials, said U.S. Army Maj. Greg Czyzyk, SOLO Branch Chief.
"SOLOs enable us to do things we wouldn't normally be able to do," he said. "Partner nations consistently tell us that the SOLO program is making their SOF requirements come to fruition, which would otherwise just be a wish list."
Beyond SOF requirements, the lines of communication that SOLOs provide allies and partner nations are crucial, especially during a crisis.
In August of 2021 when the U.S. was pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, USSOCOM SOLOs stationed around the globe worked with their assigned allied and partnered nations to execute non-combatant evacuations of their diplomatic personnel, as well as Afghan nationals.
"We allowed for real-time communication to occur between allied and partner nation leadership which guided ministerial-level decisions during that crisis," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Caleb Landry, SOLO assigned to Canada. "By providing American operational and strategic intent to the allies and partners we were able to assist in our assigned countries effectively marshaling their resources, coordinating embassy evacuation plans, and aligning our SOF task forces in support of the withdrawal."
Another example of SOLO engagement providing in-time advise and assist support to partner nations was after a U.S. MQ-9 Reaper fired a missile killing Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani who led the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force. Since the attack was unilaterally conducted by the U.S. there was an instant request for more information when the news broke about the attack.
"SOLOs were available to pass information and facilitate meetings so partner nations knew how to posture post attack," said Landry.
"The SOLO program has been wildly successful, and continues to grow," said Czyzyk.
In late summer of 2022, the SOLO program will include the first-ever enlisted member, an E-7 who will be assigned to Sweden and Finland, he said. The program is also open to females SOLOs and they intend to have their first female SOLO soon. Opening the program to a larger talent pool allows the program to be more robust and better suited to align with strategic competition objectives.
An ideal SOLO candidate should be a mid-career SOF or SOF enabler with future assignments left to utilize the skillset and experience gained from a SOLO assignment, he said. The program is open to all branches of services for enlisted, warrant officer, and officer personnel. Active duty, Reserve, and National Guard troops are welcome to apply as well. Candidates should have language and culture experience in addition to extensive SOF operational and staff expertise, he said.
The SOLO assignment is a two to three-year accompanied overseas tour. USSOCOM sends out a solicitation message to the services in late summer with a SOLO selection board meeting in November each year. For more information about the SOLO program, email Gregory.firstname.lastname@example.org.