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SOCOM Commander: Serving Special Ops members and families, readiness among most important storylines for coming year

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory

WASHINGTON – U.S. Special Operations Command’s dedication to providing resources to its members and their families is “perhaps the most important” story that needs to be told by military journalists writing about Special Operations forces, said Gen. Joseph L. Votel, head of SOCOM, in an interview Wednesday.

After testifying before the House Armed Services Committee’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee about the SOF’s posture ahead of the creation of his command’s FY16 budget, Votel underscored this loyalty as a vital thread in SOF’s current story.

“Combat deployments come along with a lot of stress and a lot of invisible challenges,” he said in an interview. “We are very attuned to those and we are focused on those to make sure that we are doing the very best things we can for our people and their families to have those things offered.”

Votel’s testimony highlighted the burden that repeated deployments since 2001 has taken on SOCCOM’s uniformed and civilian ranks, as well as their families.

Other SOCOM storylines he said he’d like to see explored by the press are special operations’ contributions to supporting America’s objectives in areas where it is currently engaged, its future-minded approach to readiness and its capability to handle “very, very complex missions.”

“We want people to understand that SOF is ready to do the missions the nation requires,” he said in the interview. According to Votel’s testimony, special operations forces capabilities are uniquely tailored for gray-zone operations, which he described as existing “between normal international competition and open conflict.”

When asked what forms of nonmonetary support he felt SOCOM might need – since talk of the sequester’s impact on the military was a primary theme of his testimony – Votel stressed the importance of government funding of other service branches to SOCOM’s success.

“If there was one more dollar, we should give it to the services,” he said in the interview. “We are dependent upon the services to help us accomplish our mission, and, so, I would like to… make sure they’re taken care of, because I’m very dependent on them.”

In his testimony, Votel said SOCOM is “absolutely dependent upon” the other services for “mission support.”

Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) Michael D. Lumpkin echoed this concept in his congressional testimony, telling the subcommittee that “the changing nature of the threats we face today demands SOF attention and engagement through agile authorities that enable us to remain ahead of our adversaries.” Increased authorities, Lumpkin testified, result in increased capabilities.

Votel also told the subcommittee that he is concerned about international cyber and social-media-based threats to U.S. national security during his Congressional testimony, a point which could also be a compelling angle from which to report on SOF.

Watch the full hearing here:

To help you glean even more story ideas, check out Votel’s and Lumpkin’s submitted written testimonies from the hearing below.

Gen. Votel’s testimony:

ASD SO/LIC Michael D. Lumpkin’s testimony: