The Special Operations Truths

Since 1988, a few short maxims, the Special Operations Forces Truths, have distilled the essence of what SOF means, does and is. The irony is that they were not written by any of the many legendary special operators: we do not receive them as part of our inheritance from Bank and Volckmann, Yarborough or Singlaub. They weren’t drafted by Bull Simons or Dick Meadows. They were written by a non-SOF retired colonel working in his second career as a researcher for Congress.

The Truths are:

Humans are more important than hardware.

Quality is better than quantity

Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced

Competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies occur.

Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.

They originally appeared in a report called United States and Soviet Special Operations by Congressman Earl Hutto (D-FL) in 1987, and they were written by a member of his House Armed Services Committee staff, COL (Ret) John Collins. Collins was looking for something that codified the essence of what special operations was, something that would resonate with stakeholders inside the SOF community (like operators) and outside the community (like Hutto and his fellow congressmen).

Soon, the staff of the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, whose commander BG David Baratto was looking to do exactly the same thing, brought him Collins’s Truths. The concise, axiomatic statements seemed to illustrate SOF perfectly. Baratto brought the Truths to Wayne A. Downing, commander of the Army Special Operations Command. Downing (aka “Ranger WAD”) was a certain type of officer common in the community at the time, focused on door-kicking direct action and uninterested in the other special operations missions. He was probably the one that deleted the fifth truth, but he signed on to the promotion of the first four, and as Baratto had wanted, the Truths were eagerly adopted by the guys in the field, and became a touchstone for planning, training, and day to day life in special operations. For twenty years the four Truths spread from the Army to the other services, and became  known and respected in the special operations community.

Admiral Eric Olson, then-commander of the joint-services US Special Operations Command, resuscitated the missing Truth after learning about it from Collins in 2009, and the Special Operations community embraced it fully. Olson sent the following comments to reporter Sean Naylor at the time: “The SOF Truths have provided time-tested guidance to the special operations community for daily activities as well as long-range planning.” After introducing the “lost” fifth truth, he said, “It’s being included now so that we all understand the importance of force enablers and the contributions they make to mission success. To think otherwise would levy unrealistic expectations as to the capabilities SOF bring to the fight.”

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