The US special operations community faces a morale challenge as the shift from direct combat operations to non-kinetic campaigning in the era of great power competition raises questions about their roles and significance.
According to Rear Adm. Jeromy Williams, commander of US Special Operations Command Pacific, there is a “moral challenge” within parts of the US special operations community. The shift from direct combat operations in the Middle East to a focus on “campaigning” in the era of great power competition has left some personnel questioning their roles. Williams acknowledged that the transition to non-kinetic special operations responsibilities, such as training and establishing relationships with foreign partners, poses challenges for operators with less experience in competition. However, Gen. Bryan Fenton, head of US Special Operations Command, stated that he has not personally seen or heard of any morale issues. While counterterrorism and crisis response operations continue, the White House and Pentagon have shifted their attention to nation-states like Russia and China. Partner relationship-building has become a renewed focus, and the importance of partnerships and trust-building was emphasized as a means to counter global threats. Some leaders on a panel acknowledged the need to reassure special operations personnel about their importance in the new strategic landscape and to emphasize the significance of their missions.