In response to ADM McRaven's article and my comments below I had this exchange with a friend and colleague that allowed me to provide further thoughts on this.
Great comment but I suspect that what the Admiral said and what he meant didn’t shake hands here. When he says “in and out…quickly” I think he means “in quickly” to take advantage of fleeting SFA/FID opportunities and “out quickly” to take care of preservation of the force issues. He gets the persistent presence thing real well.
In general, however, he’s right. Our strat lift for SOF (or for anyone for that matter) in PACOM is broken. My teams became adept at moving themselves and their gear to some very remote places by plane, DHL, ferry, and dug-out canoes….okay, I made the last one up. But it still stands that PACOM is difficult to traverse, infil, and exfil.
Thank you for your comments. I certainly understand well about moving in PACOM. It has never been good for SF. I spent 20 years watching teams move around PACOM by commair and non-military, non-standard air. Except for JCS exercise funded airlift using STRATAIR it is for the most part cost prohibitive. SF and SOF (less national mission forces with dedicated air) in general will never be able to make use of STRATAIR because we are too small and it is not efficient for the Air Force to move us (unless we pay the SAAM costs - and JA/AAT air is not always good because we cannot always line up our training and of course it can easily be diverted to higher priorities leaving our guys out on a limb - or on the proverbial deserted island). Intra-theater air is useful and of course SOF air in theater is very responsive. The Asia focused SOF (primarily 1st SFG) know how to get around in PACOM and up to 9–11 we had SFODAs doing it routinely (and in large measure they have continued to do so despite being somewhat distracted with OIF/OEF deployments.) But let me push back on your comments a little more.
First is FID is by nature and definition long duration and we should never be thinking in terms of "fleeting" FID opportunities (and I will not use SFA because that has been a waste of a lot of trees developing that concept when FID is sufficient and useful). FID is not simply conducting a training event with the host nation military. It has to be part of a broad and comprehensive strategy to support achieving national security objectives.
Second, the preservation of the force argument is also an important discussion. But we cannot think about the Asia-Pacific region in terms of the Afghan/Iraq paradigm and the way we employed SOF there. To be effective we need long duration SOF presence and I remain pretty confident that the Special Forces Soldiers are very happy to sign up for long deployments in Asia (as long as they know they are supporting an effective and comprehensive strategy). That is one of the traits that Special Forces selects for. And of course this is also why I advocate the stationing of more SOF in theater. We have to be very careful about the one size fits all cookie cutter solution for SOF – e.g., while we want to capture and exploit lessons learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, we have to ensure we use the right lessons for the right situations. The preservation of the force issue we will have for our Asia apportioned forces will not stem from employing SOF in theater for long duration but rather from not employing them long enough to make a difference. I think the idea of getting in and out quickly for FID is a misunderstanding of the nature of Special Warfare and its subordinate elements of FID and UW. I am afraid that SOCOM wants to think in terms of Afghanistan and Iraq and apply those ideas to Asia and I think that is a mistake. Frankly, SOCOM is going to need some people with SOF Special Warfare experience in Asia to prevent it from employing SOF from an Afghan/Iraq paradigm. As I heard Ola Mize (retired SF Colonel and MOH recipient) once tell a group of new SF Soldiers there are only two places for an SF Soldier to be – either deployed for long periods of time with indigenous forces or back at SWCS at the schoolhouse training future SF Soldiers.