With a mandated boost in special operations forces manpower imposed by Congress over the past couple of years, the services are predictably having a tough time getting the right people in the numbers they require.
What the Virginian Pilot reported today about the difficulty the SEAL community is facing finding frogmen to fill out their teams isnt really all that new. But theres a line in there that should raise some concerns and some interesting questions - over the roles and missions of the SEALs.
The article noted the SEAL community cant meet its recruiting goal, and for good reason. The demanding nature of BUD/S comes with an exorbitant wash-out rate: only one in four will make it through. That, coupled with the expansion of the special operations ranks throughout the services has made it tough to pin on more SEAL badges.
The 14 young men gathered in a parking lot at Little CreekNaval Amphibious Base came in two basic shapes: thin and muscular, and thick and muscular. Huddled on a patch of grass, they stretched backs, legs and arms as they braced for a physical and mental onslaught intended to test their bodies and psyche.
The calm erupted when a chiseled special operations sailor dashed toward the group with the speed and malice of an NFL linebacker.
"You're going to fail!" he screamed.
But why is it that the Navy needs more SEALs?
According to the report, its because the SEALs most crucial mission of training foreign militaries is causing a strain on the Teams, leaving them less time to train and sending veterans out of the service for more predictable and lucrative assignments with private military companies.
SEALs are stretched so thin and strained by the most vigorous deployment schedule in their 45-year history that defense experts warn about their readiness and ability to contain hot spots around the world. These days, nearly 90 percent of Special Forces deployments are focused in the Middle East, leaving other volatile areas unchecked.
Special Forces are needed to train small foreign units to quell terrorist threats within their national borders, Vice Adm. Eric Olson, deputy commander of Special Operations Command, told senators during an April hearing.
It's perhaps the commandos' most crucial mission, he said: "We know that we cannot kill or talk our way to victory."
Now, I understand that training foreign troops - whats known in the spec ops world as foreign internal defense - to head off the rise of insurgencies and extremist alternatives is a mission for all commandos, including SEALs. But Army Special Forces was founded on this mission and is one of their key strengths.
That mission, coupled with unconventional warfare raising insurgent armies and employing them to meet U.S. national security goals have been the Green Berets stock in trade since the 60s.
While they are acutely trained to play in a wide realm of spec ops missions, the SEALs are undoubtedly one of the most skillful direct action forces in the U.S. military. If you want to take down an oil platform or execute a raid in the maritime realm, its the SEALs you call. I know theyve played a not insignificant role in training foreign militaries, but to call that their most crucial mission in the global war on terrorism seems like overkill.
The Marine Corps has a new cadre of special operators trained specifically to work low-risk foreign internal defense missions. The so-called Foreign Military Training Units have deployed to Africa, South America and Eastern Europe and as they continue to stand up, should be able to take the strain off of other special operations communities so others can concentrate on the hard cases and on hunting bad guys.
If the SEALs continue to suffer such potential mission creep, stand by for more hardship in recruiting and lets hope the pressure from on high doesnt result in a relaxation of standards. SEALs are finely-tuned instruments and its worrisome if their optempo is suffering for jobs others could do with less strain.