Ceremony Pays Homage to Special Ops Command

While it was a change of command ceremony for Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, today, the real stars of the ceremony were the men and women of the command who serve as the point of the spear around the world.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III; Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, the outgoing commander; and Army Gen. Brian Fenton, the incoming commander, all concentrated on the people of the command and what the U.S. owes to its “silent warriors.” 

All this comes from “special operations truths” – a code promulgated in the 1980s — with the first truth being that “humans are more important than hardware.”

“I know that your SOF [special operations forces] truths are unique to this command, but they also drive at something that’s fundamental to our entire military,” Austin said during the change of command ceremony. “It’s this: The United States has the strongest fighting force in the world, and it’s not because we have superior weapons — although we do. It is not because we have better tactics — although we have those, too. Ladies and gentlemen, we are the world’s strongest fighting force because our people and the values that our people stand for are far and beyond what everybody else brings to the table.  

“Our strength is our people,” he continued. “And at Socom, I’m proud of the way that you prove that every single day.” 

Milley – a special operator himself – also emphasized this, saying the change of command ceremony really is about people. “Socom, as we know, creates and develops the most elite forces from across the joint force and integrates their skills into all the domains of space, cyber, air, land, maritime and subsurface,” he said. “Socom provides globally integrated capabilities for every geographic combatant command, and this capability is not something that you can create very quickly. There are no shortcuts.”  

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He said the U.S. Special Operations Command is “the world’s most credible and capable force.” These forces work to further U.S. goals and values, and they work alongside allies and partners around the world to ensure peace and give enemies pause, he said.  

The command has more than 5,000 troops deployed in 80 countries. Socom personnel were among the first in Afghanistan and led efforts to take down the Islamic State.  

The general said the U.S. Special Operations Command is “always at the intersection where freedom meets fear. Special operations forces are always at the point of the spear. They are literally at the edge of liberty. Our enemies around the world take note of what our operators do; it gives them pause. It changes their calculus.” 

The sacrifices these special operators make is amazing, he said. “These men and women execute some of the nation’s most complex and dangerous missions that most will never hear about,” Milley said. “They do it at night; they do it in horrible weather. They do it against fanatical enemies, and they are risking it all on every objective in the bloody crucible of ground combat. Sometimes, you may hear about the mission or what they accomplished, and oftentimes you never will. They don’t do these missions for glory. They do it for you. They do it for us. They do it for America. And they do these missions consistently and routinely without complaint.” 

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Austin noted the ceremony occurred on the one-year anniversary of the end of the war in Afghanistan – a conflict where special operators played an outsized role. “I remain enormously proud of the U.S. military’s professionalism and bravery over 20 years of war, proud of the work our NATO allies and partners who supported our hope for a better future for the Afghan people, and proud of this command’s relentless fight doing what only … special operators can do,” the secretary said. “It was [the] quiet professionals of Socom who were among the first on the ground in Afghanistan in 2001. And when I led troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and served as a Centcom [U.S. Central Command] commander, I relied on special operators and support teams for your skill, for your precision, and for your bold determination to confront any threat anytime.” 

Special operators must remain vigilant, the secretary said. They are changing the focus to today’s security environment, where China is the pacing threat for the U.S. military and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues an unjust and unprovoked war on neighboring Ukraine.  

Terrorists are still a threat, as well, and special operators cannot put away the skills they learned through the costly battles of the past 20 years, Austin said. 

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