Over the course of a week this past October, Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) regional development planners brought together U.S. Embassy country team members and special operations force providers for the annual Operations, Activities and Actions (OAA) Conference.
The conference is designed to establish requirements for Special Operations Forces (SOF) activity within the European Command area of responsibility (AOR) and to develop initial force proposals to source those requirements. While some SOF operations develop due to no-notice contingencies, coordinating and building partnership capacities actually takes a lot of planning over an extended period of time. In fact, the OAA Conference is actually just the beginning of a 14-month process that eventually ends with international engagements for U.S. SOF within Europe. This year’s conference focused on future engagements for fiscal year 2013 and re-addressed planned engagements for fiscal years 2011 and 2012.
According to Col. Joseph King, SOCEUR Regional Development Branch Chief, it is critical to gather all of the right players in the beginning. “To do it right, you need country-specific expertise embodied by country team personnel and SOF-specific expertise, which is found in the SOCEUR staff, SOCEUR components, and U.S. Special Operations Command force providers,” he said.
Additionally, the conference provides SOCEUR the opportunity to explain priorities and thought processes to supporting units to receive “buy in.” It also allows subordinate units to provide input to SOCEUR on their concerns and limitations regarding engagements in the European Command AOR.
“Given competing global demands, our priority going into the conference was to communicate reasonable expectations as to force availability from 10th Special Forces Group,” said a 10th SFG (A) operations officer. “Uncertainty with respect to force requirements in the Central Command AOR inevitably makes it difficult to predict force availability in 2013.”
The uncertainty of an ever changing world is a challenge that SOCEUR planners must address, so flexibility must be integral to the process.
“It's always tough to guess what the future will hold, but it's a fundamental requirement for planning,” said King. “It's also important to build enough flexibility into the plan to be able to adapt to unforeseen changes in the environment. Fortunately we have a spectrum of engagement options, some which require a longer lead time than others. We try to use the more fluid engagement options, typically those which use our own forces, to dynamically adjust the long-term plan to meet changing near-term demands.”
In order to ensure SOCEUR is meeting the needs of allied and partner nations, regional specialists conduct breakout sessions with country team personnel during the conference. These sessions are particularly important since it is then that the SOCEUR staff validates whether to commit to new initiatives or not.
“I discussed one of our new long term objectives for one of our Eastern European allied nations and the Country Team did not agree with it,” said Cmdr. Bill Denton, one of SOCEUR’s regional development leaders. “This helps to guide our focus and not waste time.”
These sessions also serve to broaden the discourse concerning partner engagements and SOF development since ambition can sometimes be the enemy of international realities.
“On occasion we on the SOCEUR staff overshoot goals for a particular country's SOF,” explained King. “The interaction with Country Team reps during the conference often keeps us in the ‘zone of the possible.’ Sometimes there are political, economic, or other variables we just don’t see that country teams bring to our attention.”
When all elements come together, catalyzed by already strong relationships and through the course of close coordination, the effects can be tremendous.
For four cold weeks in February and March 2010, a team of U.S. Army Green Berets from 1st Battalion, 10th SFG (A) trained alongside a team of Polish soldiers from the 1st Special Forces Regiment of the Polish Special Operations Forces Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany to hone their collective skills.
Speaking about the training opportunity, the U.S. detachment commander said, “There is no better way to serve as combat multipliers than to conduct realistic combined train-the-trainer events that reflect our charter to work by, with, and through our NATO partners in preparation for future Foreign Internal Defense engagements.” He continued by emphasizing that as our ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) SOF partners in Afghanistan play a larger role in support of coalition operations around the world, our ability to counter global threats exponentially increases.
And the engagement was born from an OAA Conference Workshop more than two years prior, when SOCEUR planners, country team representatives and 10th SFG (A) leaders submitted the requirements to European Command. The requirements were then submitted to the Joint Staff for Secretary of Defense approval where funding and authorities came all the way back down to the Soldiers on the ground who conducted the training.
The results of the most recent conference also promise to continue further SOF development. Both the Czech Republic and Hungary are among nations that have been identified in SOCEUR’s Aviation Foreign Internal Defense Mobile Training Team strategy. Working together, SOCEUR planners and country team representatives identified two major training opportunities for fiscal year 2013.
“We’re expecting to have 14 privately contracted instructors with up to three JSOAC-E [Joint Special Operations Air Component-Europe] officers’ oversight to conduct these engagements,” said Lt. Cmdr. Dan Silbermann. “This particular package is just for the Czech Republic, and we are looking forward to expanding it to other countries for development of Special Operations Aviation Task Units capable of deploying to ISAF as well as any contingency operations in support of SOF.”
Europe is home to some of the most capable and willing SOF partners on the globe. One look at the composition of ISAF SOF tells the story better than anything someone at SOCEUR can say or write, and the OAA Conference is a crucial milestone for developing the ties that bind U.S. and international SOF.
“The OAA Conference has always been a collaborative ‘roll-up-your-sleeves’ effort,” concluded King. “The week-long face-to-face meetings hugely facilitate the subsequent visits, phone calls, and emails that keep the process on track until the ultimate goal is achieved – greater SOF interoperability between U.S. SOF and our European allies and partners.”