Global Force Synchronization To Counter Threat Adaptation
General Joseph L. Votel attended the United States Military Academy and was commissioned in 1980 as an Army Infantry Officer. His initial assignments were to the 3d Infantry Division in Germany where he served as a Rifle Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, Battalion Adjutant and Rifle Company Commander.
Following this tour, he was assigned to Headquarters, Allied Forces Southern Europe in Naples, Italy, and the NATO Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) in Sarajevo. He commanded the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry (Light) at Fort Drum, N.Y., and was subsequently selected to command the 1st Ranger Battalion at Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA. Following attendance at the Army War College, General Votel commanded the 75th Ranger Regiment and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq.
As a general officer, General Votel served in the Pentagon as the Director of the Army and Joint Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Defeat Task Force and subsequently as the Deputy Director of the Joint IED Defeat Organization established under the Deputy Secretary of Defense. He also served as the Deputy Commanding General (Operations), 82nd Airborne Division/CJTF-82, Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan, and was subsequently assigned as the Deputy Commanding General of the Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C. His most recent assignment was as the Commanding General of the Joint Special Operations Command.
General Votel is a graduate of the Infantry Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, United States Army Command and General Staff College, and the United States Army War College. He assumed command of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in August 2014.
A&M: After being at the helm of SOCOM for the past nine months, can you tell us about the priorities you have established for the Command?
GEN Votel: I assumed the role of commander for an organization that was already operating at a very high level and pace. That said, no path, especially the right one, is ever straight. That is why we are continually checking and adjusting the azimuth we are on to ensure we are on the right path to accomplishing the right objectives that are essential for the success and long-term health of SOCOM and Special Operations Forces (SOF).
I have established five priorities to ensure everyone in the command understands what I see as the essential objectives for USSOCOM and SOF. The first priority is to ensure SOF maintains the readiness level required to accomplish the missions the nation expects us to accomplish. We will maintain that readiness level by developing the right people, with the right skills, and providing them the right capabilities to meet current requirements as well as the requirements that will emerge in the future. This means we must remain faithful to the first SOF Truth—humans are more important than hardware. We will remain faithful to the first SOF Truth by investing in our people to ensure they have the right skills, the opportunity to develop their talents, and have equipment that will enhance their capabilities.
Second, we must successfully play our role to ensure the nation effectively deals with today’s national security challenges to keep our citizens safe. We can do this by following the strategic guidance and serve as the global synchronizer for the planning of special operations and the provider of SOF in support of the geographic combatant commanders (GCCs). When the GCCs are successful, we are successful. When the GCCs win, the nation wins.
Third, we must continue to build relationships in order to increase our situational awareness and understanding. The greater [these are], the better we will be able to offer realistic, effective options for policymakers. We must continue to build relationships to ensure our network development outpaces that of threat networks. This has already had a positive impact as shown by the relationships SOCOM has developed across interagency and coalition partners. Each have strengthened our ability to coordinate on matters such as hostage rescue, the movement of foreign fighters, international training, and developing the capabilities for responding to shared threats.
Fourth, we must prepare for the future by investing in SOF that are able to win in an increasingly complex world. Adaptability is key, and we must be an innovator of strategic options. This means we will focus on developing concepts, training, doctrine, education, and research that are future-oriented and challenge current operational thinking.
The fifth priority is the foundation, the essential underpinning, of the other priorities and everything else. We must preserve our force and their families. We must ensure their short- and long-term well-being. People—military, civilian, and families—are our most important asset. We have always prided ourselves in the way we have taken care of our people, but after more than a decade of war their well-being and resiliency is our primary concern and focus. In order to preserve our SOF and families, we are taking a holistic approach that focuses on human performance, psychological performance, and social performance of not just our service members but their families as well.
A&M: Understanding that you have a role and responsibility that spans the globe, and after hearing about your focus on preparing for the future, what is your chief concern about the future regarding emerging trends in the global security environment?
GEN Votel: My chief concern is the rapid rise of "gray zone" security challenges. Those are the challenges that fall between peace and war on the spectrum of conflict. Globalization, particularly the exponential spread of technology and information, is leading to the diffusion of power and impacting the global order in new and dangerous ways.
Previously, state-to-state interactions dominated the global strategic environment. Today, we face a national security landscape populated by a range of newly networked and empowered state and non-state actors executing strategies designed to avoid traditional military responses. We can say for sure that such challenges will help define the security environment through the mid-term, but their ambiguous and changing nature makes them extremely difficult to predict.
The scale of societal change we are witnessing from the Internet and the growth of computing power is phenomenal. It is a change that is greater and much faster than the impact brought about by the invention of the Gutenberg press. We must be able to collaborate, adapt, and innovate more rapidly than the forces that threaten our collective well-being.
A&M: What is SOCOM’s most significant operational readiness challenge?
GEN Votel: Given the growing asymmetric threats to U. S. national security, SOF will continue to be in high demand. SOCOM’s greatest readiness challenge is meeting the current demands while also ensuring our forces have the time required to rest, refit, and retrain. There is careful balance between meeting the current requirements and preparing for future challenges.
To meet this challenge, we are taking advantage of existing training opportunities and funding sources by aligning Special Operations and Conventional Forces (SOF-CF) for training and exercises. Integration, interoperability, and interdependence, or SOF-CF I3, is critical to maximizing not only our potential, but helping the services prepare for this challenge as well.
Today, SOF-CF I3 is yielding exceptional results. Increased permission training and coordination, frequent joint exercises, the mutual exchange of liaison officers, and a host of lessons learned have directly resulted in the successes we have come to realize on the battlefield. But there is always room for improvement. We must continue to look forward to seize and capitalize on opportunities as they materialize.
A perfect example of these types of opportunities exist when we start to discuss the difference in pace and speed of operations. GCCs and CF operate at a slower pace than SOF at the tactical level of C2. We must continue to address [this] in exercises to mitigate this difference.
Another great opportunity for enhancing SOF-CF I3 is to develop and conduct more deliberate training and education plans … between SOF and CF. One of the most frequent impediments has been the lack of experience and understanding of each other’s missions, capabilities, and limitations.
A mechanic can’t get the maximum benefit from the tools in the tool box if he or she does not understand what the tool is designed to do and its strengths and limitations. Frankly, USSOCOM has an obligation to educate our CF brethren about the full scope of our abilities so they understand how to best leverage our capabilities in future conflicts. Professional military education about SOF needs to be part of initial officer training and incorporated into officer and noncommissioned officer [education] at all levels. To this end, more and more SOF and CF are modeling the"Train Like You Fight" mantra. From the team level to division headquarters, we have learned that you can’t wait until you are on the battlefield to learn how to work together. As previously mentioned, joint training and exercises at the Joint Training Centers have yielded amazing results.
A&M: How is SOCOM maximizing its relationships with existing international SOF commands and building new partnerships?
GEN Votel: Since 2012, USSOCOM has deliberately worked to strengthen partnerships with our international counterparts in order to enhance information sharing. We have done this by enabling regular communication and coordination through liaison relationships and the utilization of improved multinational communications infrastructures. Currently, 12 nations are represented at SOCOM, with three more to arrive in the coming months. Such a liaison presence facilitates robust communication with partner SOF and has proven its worth in its ability to coalesce partnerships rapidly around problems and build communities of interest related to potential challenges in the future. As a complementary effort, SOCOM also invests in U.S. SOF liaison positions abroad.
Going forward, we will continue to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new ones through our liaisons and our nation-to-nation agreements that facilitate information sharing. SOCOM already has many tools at our disposal to improve collaboration and coordination with our partners. It is imperative that we exercise these tools and continue to push the boundaries of what is possible. Our ability to confront the dynamic threats we face today depends on our ability to maintain existing momentum and further our ability to share information and communicate globally as partners.
From an information technology standpoint, we work closely with the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence (USD-I) and the Defense Information Support Agency (DISA) as they mature enterprise-wide capabilities. Using the help of USD-I, we have expanded the use of their classified U.S. Battlefield Information Collection and Exploitation System globally. This provides us with a unique capability to bring partner nation senior leadership into our planning processes. On the unclassified side, we utilize DISA’s All Partner Access Network to help us manage a broad international network of special operations partners.
A&M: Is there anything you would like to leave readers with?
GEN Votel: Commanding this tremendous organization of quiet professionals is one of my greatest honors. I have had the opportunity in my first months of command to get out and see SOCOM’s men and women both here in the states and across the globe. From Afghanistan to the Philippines, they have inspired me with their dedication and selfless service. They are truly one of the things that make this country great, and I am in awe of them and what they accomplish.
As much as I am in awe of the men and women of SOCOM, the true heroes are the families. The families and the sacrifices they make are what enable us to face the challenges and provide for the nation’s and our fellow citizens’ security each and every day.