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Joint Special Operations University Press Publications



Special Operations Forces Transformation in the Future Operating Environment by Dr. Peter McCabe

In this edited volume, the authors pose solutions to Special Operations Forces’ (SOF) future challenges. Looking to the national defense strategy, this volume describes the role of competition in the future and the three ways SOF can compete, deter, and win. SOF must maintain their edge, and their transformation needs to be addressed at the individual, organizational, and institutional levels. This volume takes risk into consideration while addressing SOF transformation in three key areas: SOF roles and missions, culture, and great power competition. Both U.S. and Canadian SOF perspectives are outlined in this volume, and each chapter urges readers to consider how SOF might better compete short of armed conflict.

Occasional Paper

undefined The Culture They Keep: The Role of Legal Professionals in Restoring Accountability and Legitimacy to SOF Culture by Jason DeSon

In this award winning paper, Lieutenant Colonel Jason DeSon looks at Special Operations Forces (SOF) culture and how the legal professionals within the USSOCOM can help restore an ordered value system.  He asks the question, “If a disordered value system is truly the source of the current ethical and cultural shortcomings of SOF—where individual and team considerations come before ethical standards—then what role, if any, does the legal professionals of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps supporting SOF have in enabling the commander to overcome those shortcomings and promote a culture of adherence to those high standards of ethical and professional conduct?”  Lt Col DeSon proposes a four-step process to help clarify the SOF culture problems and develop solutions.  This paper will be of benefit to SOF leaders as they reinforce the very highest ethical and professional standards within the special operations community.


Complexity, Organizational Blinders, and the SOCOM Design Way by David C. Ellis and Charles N. Black

Complexity, Organizational Blinders, and the SOCOM Design Way (SDW) takes on the monumental task of explaining why the complex world is so difficult to comprehend and provides a way for navigating through it. The authors accomplish this utilizing U.S. Special Operations Command design techniques. This monograph is not just for the Special Operator or the Operational Planner. It is useful for anyone who is seeking out a better way to address problems that seem to have no solution. Dr. David Ellis and Mr. Charles Black provide the tools necessary to define the problem and develop an approach. The SDW needs to be seriously considered and put into practice if the community desires to make progress in complex and wicked problems.

Occasional Paper

Special Operations Forces as Change Agents by Jessica Glicken Turnley, Ph.D.

Dr. Turnley examines Special Operations Forces (SOF) through a cultural anthropologic lens to explore the socio-cultural aspects of the SOF community and their ability to perform as change agents. As the author explains in her introduction, "Well-positioned or particularly persuasive individuals from the SOF community have been able to use personal connections and social networks to catalyze and institutionalize change in a wide range of communities, stimulating individuals to coalesce around ideas presented through charismatic players." Through the use of historical examples, such as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II or the more recent Joint Special Operations Task Force - Philippines (JSOTF-P), Dr. Turnley guides the reader through explanations of organizational change and the modern day SOF operator who is creative and performs as a change agent within established bureaucracies. She arrives at the conclusion that, "SOF bring to the military the potential for change, realized through an ability to create, stimulate, and work through social networks and the power of individual personalities."


Military Innovation in War: It Takes a Learning Organization - A Case Study of Task Force 714 in Iraq by Richard Shultz


In this monograph, Dr. Shultz provides key findings on how organizational change and innovation by Task Force 714 dismantled al-Qaeda in Iraq’s networked secret organization. Dr. Shultz utilizes sound methodology to show how TF 714 was able to achieve this incredible transformation. Drawing from memoirs and in-depth interviews with several TF 714 leaders, Dr. Shultz further analyzes these sources through the use of analytic tools drawn from leading business and management studies focused on organizational learning and innovation. This monograph provides critical insights and lessons learned for U.S. Special Operations Forces and interagency partners who will establish, deploy, or support a special operations command and control organization. It is also a good historical case study and provides a foundation on how to adapt, innovate, and grow military structures into learning organizations to meet the future challenges of complex environments and our enemies.

Occasional Paper

Rethinking Special Operations Leadership: Process, Persuasion, Pre-existing, and Personality by Paul S. Lieber

In this paper Dr. Lieber describes leadership characteristics through the lens of special operations.  By exploring the importance of process, persuasion, pre-existing schemata, and personality nuances on special operations leadership training and execution, along with additional traits/characteristics necessary for success within them, Dr. Lieber extends beyond the traditional definitions of military leadership. The first section looks at process and adaptation to innovation.  Organizations must innovate, but it is the leader’s responsibility to make certain that innovation is both appropriate and matched to an established goal.  The next section explores the leader’s power of persuasion and the ability to nuance messaging and influence desirable opinions and consensus building.  He then explores pre-existing schemata and provides recommendations to avoid cognitive dissonance.  Finally, personality differences are described with a nod to exploiting teams comprised of diverse personality types.  Dr. Lieber is an award-winning scholar and practitioner on global strategic communication. Currently a resident senior fellow at JSOU, he previously served as the command writer for two USSOCOM commanders.

SOF Mixed-Gender Elite Teams

Special Operations Forces Mixed-Gender Elite Teams by William Knarr, Jessica Glicken Turnley, Dona Stewart, Rich Rubright, and Jason Quirin

On 24 January 2013, the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) rescinded the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule (DCAR) that excluded women from assignment to units and positions whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground. In doing so, the SecDef directed the opening of all occupational specialties, positions and units to women; the validation of gender-neutral standards for those positions; and establishment of milestones for implementation. In a March 2013 memorandum, Commander USSOCOM directed several initiatives as a result of the SecDef's DCAR rescission. While other studies examined individual performance and standards, the JSOU Center for Special Operations Studies and Research examined the effects on team dynamics. The challenge for this study was to determine if changing the gender component of Special Operations Forces elite teams from single-gender (masculine) to mixed-gender would affect team dynamics in a way that would compromise the ability of the team to meet a mission objective.


Strategic Culture and Strategic Studies: An Alternative Framework for Assessing al-Queda and the Global Jihad Movement by Richard H. Shultz

More than a decade after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda and a year after the death of Osama bin Laden, Dr. Richard Shultz offers an innovative analysis of that organiza-tion’s strategic culture.  His analysis upends the conventional wisdom that only nation-states can have a strategic culture, an internal process through which issues of strategic significance and intent are discussed, debated, refined, and executed. 


"We Will Find a Way": Understanding the Legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces by Bernd Horn

Colonel Bernd Horn’s monograph on the legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces (SOF) highlights the colorful history and heritage of SOF from a vital partner nation. Horn reaches back to the 17th and 18th centuries with the Canadian Ranger tradition. He recounts Canada’s entry into World War II and its SOF experience with the British-led Special Operations Executive.  He highlights a combined U.S./Canadian unit, the First Special Service Force, which trained together in Montana and fought alongside each other earning the moniker “Black Devils” by the Germans. Colonel Horn then continues to present day. He provides a brief but exciting recap of Canadian SOF history that not only enriches our understanding of SOF from a key ally, but also highlights the historic bonds and military experiences that our two great nations share. 


Cultural and Linguistic Skills Acquisition for Special Forces: Necessity, Acceleration, and Potential Alternatives by Russ Howard

Brigadier General (Ret) Russ Howard articulates the need for SOF to develop language and cultural skills capabilities that reflect the wider range of locales and ethnic groups in which SOF engage while carrying out their diverse missions. General Howard outlines various definitions of culture and highlights the relationship between cultural understanding and the ability to predict behavior on the ground--an invaluable asset for a SOF operator. Drawing on his experience leading the Special Forces Language School, General Howard explores the relationship between learning a language and culture, highlighting the implications for SOF. As USSOCOM and SOF rebalance the force for a posture of persistent presence in complex operating environments, this monograph is an important contribution to the discussion of how language and cultural skills capabilities should be defined, prioritized, and developed. 


Cross-Cultural Competence and Small Groups: Why SOF are the way SOF are by Jessica Glicken Turnley

In this two-part work, Dr. Turnley addresses first the relationship between cultural competency and language, closing the first section with a look at how cross-cultural competency is measured and assessed. The discussion addresses the ability to operate cross-culturally--long been touted as one of the hallmarks of SOF general and Army Special Forces (SF) in particular--and explores if and how the various service special operations components select and assess candidates for their ability to operate cross-culturally. Among other things, this will consider the unequal distribution of this competency across the SOF service components. The second part of this monograph addresses current interest in developing and transmitting knowledge about human terrain within the Department of Defense. As culture and its importance as a component of successful warfighting has risen significantly, the defense community as a whole has embraced the tenants of irregular warfare. This section further addresses whether there is a difference between the ways in which the General Purpose Force (GPF) and SOF develop and use cultural knowledge and considers whether an increased focus on irregular warfare forced GPF to adopt a skill set long at work within SOF, or if SOF retain either a special type of knowledge or a special way to apply knowledge more broadly held.


Innovate or Die: Innovation and Technology for Special Operations by Robert J. Spulack, Jr.

Like the well-known slogan, hydrate or die, Special Operations Forces (SOF) also must innovate  or die. Innovation may be crucial to SOF personnel’s actual physical survival, but die is also a metaphor for organizational oblivion: conformity and assimilation. One of the fundamental qualities of SOF that derives from the nature of the personnel and their organization is creativity. Dr. Spulak advances a concept for enhancing the rapid innovation that enables SOF to stay ahead of our adversaries on the battlefield. He takes a look at how SOF might innovate in ways that are different from conventional forces and emphasizes that “innovation for SOF is a function of the attributes of SOF personnel and culture.” Whereas the conventional General Purpose Forces must seek innovation within large organizations--often merely applying more of existing capabilities--SOF personnel have greater license to innovate during ongoing operations.  


Educating Special Forces Junior Leaders for a Complex Security Environment by Russell D. Howard

By exploring the SOF future strategic environment that includes globalization, demographic trends, competition for resources, transnational non-state actors, advanced technology, and emerging powers, Brigadier General (Ret.) Howard identifies "cultural competency" as critical to the development of junior Special Forces (SF) officers. The need for the SF operator, at once, to effectively interact with indigenous peoples, interagency counterparts, and transnational, nongovernmental players suggests that a new program of graduate level study is needed early-on in the officer's career. 


Retaining a Precarious Value as Special Operations Go Mainstream by Jessica Glicken Turnley

Jessica Turnley wades into the discussion with a short monograph on the concept of organizational identity or organizational culture and the difficulty of developing and, more importantly, retaining these in the face of changing organizational structures and institutional growth. Her discussion cuts to the heart of what it means to be SOF vice what it means to be a member of USSOCOM. In the current organization, they are not synonymous. A significant percentage of the command is made up of non-SOF members assigned from the various services. As the command grows, these "SOF enablers" will remain a critical element within the command and the SOF community at large. 


Implications for Network-Centric Warfare by Jessica Glicken Turnley

In this paper, Dr. Jessica Glicken Turnley helps the planner to consider the challenge of how a bureaucratically organized force might assess a network-centric enemy and develop appropriate strategies. Implications drawn here by Dr. Turnley relate to USSOCOM strategic priorities for winning the war on terror and ensuring a competitive advantage in the future. These priorities include leading the planning for the DoD Global War on Terrorism as well as command-specific counterterrorism operations. The paper also implies considerations for force readiness and developing USSOCOM's next-generation capabilities.