Below are a crusty old retiree’s thoughts on the brouhaha over social media allegedly being used as a medium for “bullying and harassing of a minority female special tactics trainee” at Hurlburt Field, where Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) is headquartered.
Social media’s anonymity, immediacy, and megaphone characteristics seem to have completely obliterated what used to be the tried-and-true system we relied upon to address such episodes.
I’m speaking of the chain of command which in my view remains the most effective tool to ensure unit cohesion, maintain good order and discipline, resolve personnel conflicts and issues, and communicate.
Feel-good story from Hurlburt Field: Against the odds: Three Maryland sisters serving at Hurlburt Field at same time
How many links, each one staffed by someone in a position with specific responsibilities, were rendered moot as illustrated by this episode?
For some perspective, AFSOC is presently staffed with almost 18,000 people, 15,700 military and 2,300 civilian serving all over the globe.
Because of this reality, and the present political/social climate (I believe), “The Boss” himself (AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. James Slife) was forced to widely communicate his, and thus the command’s perspective.
Evidently, the mission of special tactics front-line warriors has changed, resulting in a “training pipeline evolution.”
I’ll assert here, stipulating I’m a crusty retiree, run-of-the-mill senior noncommissioned officer, and former first sergeant and maintenance superintendent, the special tactics mission has not changed very much; I explain below.
I’ve deployed with special tactics guys, “snake-eaters” we lovingly called them, and treated them with great deference. They worked quietly at the sharpest, smallest part of the tip of the spear, and I stayed out of their way.
I wasn’t afraid of them, I simply knew of their furtive world, and that yes, they were a step above and ahead of me.
I bumped into a neighbor (special tactics) in Panama during Operation Just Cause, and it was the first time I’d met him in uniform.
As I approached his small group, he stepped out and moved the conversation aside. The first thing I noticed was that his leather name tag contained only his first name and blood type.
This was neat to know and I let him know that if he ever needed a pint, I could help out.
Being a flight line maintenance technician at the time, my name tag on the other hand contained the standard full name, rank, and “USAF.”
He basically told me to ignore him if I ever saw him again; that’s just how it had to be. I understood, wished him safety, and a hope to see him back home.
What is their mission today? What was their mission? Has it changed, requiring evolution of how people are trained?
Blake Stilwell wrote the best publicly available example of “the mission” in a Dec. 26, 2021, piece titled, "The story behind the hostage rescue in Iran," at https://www.wearethemighty.com.
That piece has stood the test of time, still describes the mission in my mind, and is compelling!
On the night of April 1, 1980, CIA officers flew Maj. John Carney Jr., a USAF combat controller, to a small strip of road in the South Khorasan Province, Iran, a location infamously known forever as Desert One.
Carney installed infrared and strobe landing lights, tested the hard-packed sand to ensure it was suitable for landing of 11 special operations aircraft, and then got the heck out of there.
Carney was alone in the Iranian desert in 1980, in enemy territory, and still had to safely and covertly exit that hostile, remote country.
Had he been captured, he surely would have been treated much worse than the heroes slaughtered and paraded through Mogadishu streets in 1993, “bullied and harassed” if you will.
I’m sure if asked today, he’d demur and tell you he just “did his duty.”
In my mind, that was, and remains, the type of mission to train for.
The article quoting the AFSOC commander highlighted “bullying and harassing” of a special tactics trainee, a female minority.
I think this episode checked every box today’s social and political addicts crave, really.
As I said earlier, these quiet professionals serve at the tip of the spear, usually at great risk of capture, torture, and death; that’s (part of) the mission.
I love and admire everyone who volunteers to wear our nation’s military uniform; they are the only people between us and such aggressors as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
Some career fields in the profession of arms have as an occupational hazard being bullied and harassed, a fact of life.
William J. Roberts is a retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant and Fort Walton Beach resident.
This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Special tactics profession and hazards go hand in hand | Guestview