Head of SOCom lays out vision at MacDill conference

He stresses winning, and taking care of the people sent to fight.
Published May 24 2016
Updated May 25 2016

Just 53 days into his new job as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas laid out his priorities for the MacDill Air Force Base headquartered command.

Thomas, who rarely speaks in public, addressed a wide range of topics during a speech and a separate question-and-answer session at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference at the Tampa Convention Center. It was the first time Thomas has attended the event.

"I am very simple," said Thomas, whose command is tasked with providing trained and equipped special operators and coordinating the global war on terror. "I am a simple infantry man. My morning mantra waking up is winning, transforming and people."

Winning, said Thomas, is all about accomplishing what "we've been asked to do. And we've been asked to do a myriad of tasks, not just the ones you're all familiar with … counter-ISIL …and al-Qaida."

There are commandos deployed around the world, said Thomas, "doing a whole range of special operations missions we've been asked to do and every one of those, in my mind, is a no-fail mission because we've been asked to do it.

"Are we supporting them adequately? No," said Thomas. "Have they been integrated with partner nations? No. And we can do better there. Winning first and foremost is the priority."

Transformation is important to tackle the next threat, whatever that is, he said.

"If it's not already right up beside us, how are we adjusting, preparing for that?" asked Thomas. "A lot of what we do now is not apropos to future threats. We know that. That's a tough balance. We'll be ready for the last war if we stay focused like that."

In its people, SoCom has "a phenomenal capability," said Thomas. "In fact it is the industry standard … the best talent America has to offer."

But taking care of those people is key, said Thomas, echoing concerns by previous SoCom commanders about a force that has been frequently deployed.

"Over the course of time we have developed some great procedures, but it's in the further development and sustenance of those individuals that I think we can and must do better," said Thomas. "Our force, by nature is long in the tooth. Older. Sixty-six percent of our force is married and the families are part and parcel of their success."

However, "arguably, we as the Department of Defense and we as special operations were late to focus on 'Hey, about the rest of that package?' Because if the spouse ain't happy, and the family ain't happy, it is unlikely that we are going to have an operator for life who is going to be able to do great things for us in the long haul. So we are putting our money where our mouth is in terms of sustaining them over the long course of their career."