By Spc. Tony HawkinsOctober 24, 2008
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, Oct. 24, 2008) - Special Operations Soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., showed off their expertise for a special, first-time visitor to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Oct. 23.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates visited USASOC for the first time since taking his current post in December 2006. Gates, who has said Special Operations Forces are the connective tissue for the U.S. military in the War on Terror, had the opportunity to talk with Army SOF Soldiers during his visit.
Accompanied by Lt. Gen. Robert W. Wagner, commanding general of USASOC, Gates was able to observe a USASOC capabilities demonstration and briefing, which presented some of the most advanced equipment and tactics used by Army Special Operations Forces.
Wagner, who escorted Gates through the demonstration and briefings, said they spoke of how SOF units in all branches of the military could better cooperate with each other and intelligence community organizations.
"[We] are fighting a war, and no one organization is fighting it alone," Wagner said.
Gates brought a unique perspective to the meeting. A former intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force during Vietnam, Gates was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency, working his way up from operations officer eventually to the Director of Central Intelligence.
The two also spoke regarding the current state of ARSOF and future growth of the force.
After the demonstration, Gates sat down for lunch with a group of NCO and officer SOF operators. Speaking directly with servicemembers is how he gets some of his best ideas, Gates said. He also noted that morale seemed high amongst those he met.
"[These Soldiers] believe they have been successful in Iraq," he said. "There is nothing for morale like being successful. So my perception is ... morale is very high, and I think it's in no small part because of the success that's been enjoyed, but also by the fact that they know the American people support them."
Later in the day, Gates was met by Maj. Gen. Thomas R. Csrnko, commanding general of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and Brig. Gen. Michael Repass, commanding general of U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne).
Brig. Gen. Repass and USASFC(A) Command Sgt. Maj. Mario Vigil escorted Gates through a Faces of Special Forces display. Here SF Command showcased their most important resource, the SF Soldier, and some of the unique equipment required by each SF military occupational specialty.
"Special Forces Soldiers provided Secretary Gates with an insiders view of their unique training and capabilities, but more importantly the Secretary of Defense was able to hear first hand accounts from the men on the ground about the positive impact SF teams are having globally," Vigil said.
To display the type of sophisticated communications equipment used while deployed, Gates also received an operations brief from a SOF sergeant in Afghanistan through a secure video teleconference.
After meeting with the SF Soldiers, Gates was accompanied by Csrnko on a tour of the school's state-of-the-art Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center. There he was able to witness life-saving training procedures taught to SOF medical servicemembers throughout the entire Department of Defense.
Approximately 1,400 students from Army Special Forces, Civil Affairs, Rangers, Navy corpsmen, Marine and Air Force Special Operations pass through the JSOMTC annually before deploying across the globe with their fellow SOF operators to provide world-class medical care under austere conditions in the most remote locations.
The 75,000 square-foot JSOMTC facility is also home to the Naval Special Operations Medical Institute and Operating Location E for the Air Force's 16th Special Operations Wing.
Gates' last stop while visiting USASOC facilities was the 4th Psychological Operations Group's Media Operations Complex, which he toured with Col. Curtis Boyd, 4th POG commander. Gates was greeted by several tactical psyop Soldiers who demonstrated some of the equipment they use, as well as Soldiers from a Mobile Information Support Team.
Soldiers from the 3rd Psychological Operations Battalion, the 4th POG's psyop dissemination battalion, provide media expertise in the production of print and audio visual products for the MOC. Since June 2003, it has produced more than 30 million printed products, 300 videos and 10,000 hours of radio programs in support of psychological operations throughout the world. Its daily operations continue to enable psyop reach-back support in multiple theaters in a wide variety of psyop missions worldwide.
"Our efforts within the 4th PSYOP Group are designed to show various foreign audiences that the ideology and actions of violent extremists are not in their best interests," said Lt. Col. Richard Springett, 3rd POB commander. "So, we are using the tools of ideological engagement in many nations to create an environment that is hostile to violent extremism."
"We provide development, production, distribution, archival and post-production capabilities for products designed to communicate alternative visions to and divert potential recruits from violent extremist organizations worldwide," he said.
During his tour of the facility, Gates was able to witness this process first-hand. He watched as multimedia specialists worked on a real-world psyop product for use in Africa, allowing him to see Soldiers directly affecting the War on Terror.
"It can best be described as a product that will help insulate a particularly vulnerable audience from the voices that call for violence and extremism," Springett said.
Overall, Gates said meeting with Soldiers and seeing them hard at work training was the highlight of the visit.
"The best part of the day is that I've met some incredible Soldiers, and I've seen various kinds of specialized training," he said. "These people are in the forefront of protecting our country, and I am just very proud to be associated with them in any way."