NAVAL SPECIAL WARFARE COMMAND, Coronado, Calif. — With no fanfare, U.S. special runnings commandos head out on long, hazardous and secretive operations to snatch or kill militants or to advise allies in combat. They shoot it out with ISIS radicals in Syria or expend months tracking al-Shabab in Somalia.
And then they come home from months at war — sometimes with blood still on their boots, one man said — and softly slither into bed beside their partners, depleted and grim-faced. They say nothing and begin preparing for the next mission.
But after 15 years of war and no end in sight, even the most severe humen — they’re almost all men — can pause.
“Our people need help with ameliorating their judgment, form and tone, ” Army Lt. Gen. Tony Thomas wrote to Congress last-place month, shortly before he was confirmed to lead the U.S. Special Operations Command, which oversees all U.S. special actions pressures.
It was a rare public acknowledgement of the pressures these “operators, ” in military parlance, are under. But “its just not” the military’s firstly recognition of the problem.
For several years, SOCOM has been taking amazing steps to restore and strengthen its operators’ battered physical and mental condition.
They are battling with questions as age-old as war itself: How can the human body be developed to absorb the repeated physical punishment of fighting and still act far above the ordinary? How can even elite fighters brave the cumulative effects on psyche and atmosphere of extreme stress and relentless showing to extinction and demolition? How can the damage to their partners and kids be prevented or mended?
The refutes will help determine how the United States grubs in the longer crusade against Islamic State partisans and other extremists.
In recent discussions, most hustlers, spouses and support staff — at the Naval Special Warfare Command in Coronado, California; the 1st Marine Raider Battalion compound in Camp Pendleton, California; the Army’s 10 th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson, Colorado; and United states air force special functionings groups — expected not to be identified by name and declined to be photographed. But they spoke openly about the sorenes and costs of “peoples lives”.
“Our first three years[ of wedlock] he was gone 30 months, ” one maiden said of her husband, a special enterprises officer. She remembered fondly that she’d fallen for him because of his giggle. But the working day she realise he hadn’t chuckled for years. Their life, she said, “was all about the mission. Our 3-year-old announced herself to sleep every night for four months, announcing that’ my daddy doesn’t love me, my daddy can’t find me! ’”
Once, dwelling after a long and challenging engagement deployment and in the middle of an controversy with her, she said, “he jump-start out of the car and ran across four lanes of freeway and jump-start a barrier and took off.” Shocked, she sat there thinking,’ Where do I find him? What do I tell the children? How do I go on? ’
In another dialogue, a 29 -year-old pilot wept when describing recent missions in which noncombatants were caught “in the wrong situate at the wrong time.” “We were trying to do the right thing, ” he said, “but the situations are so complex and dynamic that we cannot — everything is … not good.” He’s been in treatment for sadnes, he said, for seven months.
But the mission doesn’t stop while guys mend. Even at a steady tempo of deployment, there aren’t enough hustlers to meet demand. Two operators in their 50 s are still being moved downrange. And the gait of deployments is intensifying, with new battlegrounds in Syria and Libya.
A few years ago, scares set off. As Adm. William McRaven took authority of SOCOM back in 2011, a fatty report territory on his table. A legendarily tough Navy SEAL commander, McRaven had led the team that captured Saddam Hussein and later administered the effort to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. But this report left him deeply disturbed.
It was a world-wide inspect of the 69,000 special operators and support staff, plus their families, detailing the wear and tear of what was then a decade at war. The report was anecdotal but substantial: pervasive instances of divorce, domestic violence cases, drunkard driving, sadnes and sleep difficulties; outbreaks of enraged savagery; chronic physical ailments and hurting. Suicides rocked the community. And funerals seemed constant: Since 2001, 471 special operators have been killed in action and 3,745 have been wounded, many left fight with traumatic brain injury.
“The salient point was that such forces was frayed, but I recognized that such studies had started 18 months earlier, ” McRaven , now chancellor of the University of Texas system, told me. Almost certainly the situation had gone worse, he reputed. “We were requesting guys going to go into hard duel much more frequently. The report had recommendations, and I turned to my staff and said we’re gonna enforce every one of these and as rapidly as we can.”