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Review finds no ’systemic ethics problem’ in Special Forces

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

TAMPA — The U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) should “reinvest in leader development and groom leaders with the required balance of character and competence” to address a problematic culture within its ranks.

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That’s one of the conclusions of a comprehensive review of U.S. special forces troops, which include the airmen of the Hurlburt Field-headquartered Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), and the Eglin Air Force Base-headquartered Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), part of the Army Special Operations Command.

Troops from both local units were among the active-duty military personnel interviewed during the five-month review ordered in August of last year by Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke. Clarke is commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, the umbrella command for all U.S. military special forces troops.

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The review came in the wake of a number of well-publicized issues of misconduct and ethical lapses among special forces troops, including some 7th Group personnel.

Among the issues prompting the review was the case of Army Green Beret Maj. Matthew Golsteyn of the 3rd Special Forces Group, charged with murder in the 2010 death of an Afghan man. Golsteyn was pardoned last year by President Donald Trump.

Locally, in 2018, a 7th Group Green Beret, since separated from the Army, was charged with murder in the shooting of his estranged wife. Former Sgt. 1st Class Derek McKinney is scheduled for trial next month in Okaloosa County Circuit Court.

Also locally last year, now-former 7th Group Green Beret Master Sgt. Daniel Gould pleaded guilty to drug trafficking in federal court and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Gould and others were involved in a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States from Colombia aboard military aircraft bound for Eglin Air Force Base.

The comprehensive review was done by an advisory team comprising former military leaders and academic experts, and a review team, comprising Special Operations officers, enlisted personnel and civilians.

In September, the review team spent a day at Hurlburt Field and another day at the 7th Group’s Camp Simons, where they talked to some of the 2,000 personnel either interviewed or included in focus groups as part of the review.

According to the report, the review team’s analysis “revealed that a USSOCOM culture overly focused on force employment and mission accomplishment creates the contexts or situations allowing for misconduct and unethical behavior ... .”

More specifically, the report concludes that a “high operational tempo” resulting from an ongoing, and at times misguided, reliance on Special Operations troops “challenges unit integrity and leader development ... .” Part of the problem, according to the report, is the practice of pulling individuals and small groups from their units, eroding unit cohesion and leadership.

The report contends that practice carries the potential for Special Operations units to deploy “with leadership and tactical flaws that have the potential to manifest into individual and group misconduct and tragic incidents on the battlefield and in forward deployed locations.”

The review team also “uncovered not only potential cracks in the SOF foundations at the individual and team level, but also through the chain of command, specifically in the core tenets of leadership, discipline and accountability.”

According to the report, a root cause of ethical lapses and other problematic behavior among Special Operations personnel may be a career path that, in some instances, segregates Special Operations candidates from other troops.

The report suggests that “these programs possibly foster an unhealthy sense of entitlement as a result of special treatment and facilities.”

The report includes a number of recommendations, including prioritization of leader development and accountability, further analysis of the assessment and selection processes for Special Operations troops and an increased presence of command teams among special operations units.

Additionally, the report recommends that USSOCOM create an implementation team to provide “structured and scheduled updates” to the USSOCOM commander to “ensure transparent accountability” as Special Operations enterprises work to address problems.

Lt. Gen. James Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, did not immediately respond to emailed questions about the review.

Calls with regard to the 7th Group were referred to Army Special Operations Command, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.