Humans Not Hardware: Families Key to Special Forces Success

By Mr. Richard L Rzepka (USAG Okinawa)August 28, 2015

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TORII STATION, Okinawa (August 22, 2015) -- Humans are more important than hardware.

This is a Special Operations truth rooted in the notion that people are the essential element in the often imprecise chemistry of combat. Humans, not machines nor technology, win wars.

The SOF truths were once thought to be solely applicable to the warfighter who wages unconventional war in far-off lands -- alone and unafraid. However, the armed forces, and in particular Special Operations, tend to evolve during periods of prolonged conflict. After 14 years of sustained combat, the old adage, "If the Army wanted you to have a wife, it would have issued you one," has finally faded from the psyche of the service.

Today the Army and its special operators find themselves placing priority on preserving the force and its Families. The 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group recently held its annual Welcomefest at Torii Beach to strengthen the bonds between the unit and the Families that are its touchstone.

"Our Battalion's high level of operational readiness is a direct result of our strong Families and our robust Family Readiness Group," said Lt. Col. Joshe Raetz, Commander of the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group. "This one event, and the many volunteers and even more participants, exemplify our FRG. Each one of our spouses supports a Soldier and each Soldier has a critical mission to help our unit win for our Nation," he said.

The Welcomefest, which was hosted by the Family Readiness Group with support from the local Special Forces Association, featured a variety of activities for both young and old, including: a live band, bouncy houses, and food trucks along with school and sports physicals conducted by some of the finest medical professionals in the Army.

"Fun gatherings, friends, and quality time strengthen any Family's morale, in turn making work lives more enjoyable and productive," said Laura McIndoe, 1-1 SFG FRG co-lead and communications chair. "When Soldiers know their Family is taken care of, they can focus properly on their job, and at the same time make friends with other people within the Battalion they might not get to meet on a daily basis," she said.

As a military spouse, McIndoe understands first-hand, the unique challenges and problem sets that Families face while their loved ones serve both home and abroad. While SOF and their Families are resilient by nature, there is an increased awareness in the community to address the pressures on the force and Families.

"Military spouses in [1st Battalion] learn through their stationing here that they are or can be quite independent," said McIndoe. "At times it does get lonely, stressful and a bit overwhelming not having their spouse home six to nine months throughout the year," she said. "Having a close knit [Battalion] Family helps alleviate these stressors, as spouses have learned to rely on each other for help, guidance, friendship and the occasional weekend trip abroad together."

Since the months shortly after 9-11, the special operations community has carried a heavy load. It is not uncommon for today's operators and their Families to have persevered through multiple deployments and training cycles, while attempting to maintain balance at home. The number of double-digit deployments across SOF formations has become increasingly common and even the norm. In 2012, SOCOM made the health of the SOF community a top priority.

"…We cannot win the current fight without preserving the force and its Families," said Adm. William H. McRaven, then-SOCOM Commander . "We've been at war for more than 10 years; and while the SOF community is resilient by nature and remains steadfast to its mission, the cumulative physical and emotional strain requires careful attention and action."

The resulting action to create a SOF-specific set of support programs has actualized as the Preservation of the Force and Family Task Force, which seeks to create synergy across four domains: human performance, psychological performance, social performance and spiritual performance, according to SOCOM.

Unit functions like Welcomefest support POTFF requirements by continuing to shield and support warfighters and their Families while placing maximum import on their combined contributions to the mission.

"As one of the most deployed battalions within the Army Special Forces Regiment, we covet the support and health of our Families," said Maj. Pat, whose last name is withheld for security purposes. "A healthy, happy and well taken care of Family equals a focused and disciplined Soldier," he said.

For many Veterans of the Special Forces Regiment, taking care of Soldiers and Families doesn't end when they unlace their boots and take off the uniform. Many choose to continue to serve the community through organizations like the Special Forces Association, whose mission, in part, is to promote the general welfare of the Special Forces community.

The Special Forces Association, Chapter 2 on Okinawa, seeks to do just that.

"The SFA hosts events for unit members with or without their husbands present," said retired Special Forces Soldier and Chapter 2 member, Jose Castro. "That is the most important thing we can provide the Families … that the SFA will and can take care of them when the unit cannot provide what is needed or unable to have the resources due to regulations or circumstances," he said.

The association on Okinawa recently demonstrated their commitment to the force by donating funds to assist a retired 1-1 SFG Soldier who is suffering from a critical illness while living overseas.

"We reached out through our network to spread the word of his illness, and facilitated the raising of funds to offset his medical expenses," said Castro. "To this date, we have two retired Chapter 2 members assisting him by being by his side in the hospital where he is still in critical condition."

By adhering to a strict commitment to Families and through the assistance of groups like the SFA, the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group continues to put people first while remaining at the tip of the spear.