Amid a series of high profile misdeeds involving the US military’s elite Special Operations Forces, the head of Special Operations Command has warned all personnel of the dangers of unethical behavior and laid out steps to address the situation, according to an email obtained by CNN.
“A survey of allegations of serious misconduct across our formations over the last year indicate that (US Special Operations Command) faces a deeper challenge of a disordered view of the Team and the individual in our (Special Operations Forces) culture,” Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas wrote in the email sent last Tuesday.
“Left unchecked, a disordered value system threatens to erode the trust of our fellow comrades, our senior leaders, and ultimately the American people,” he added. Steps to address the situation will include a look at trauma and mental health, a review of ethics and professionalism programs and engagement with soldiers.
Thomas wrote the email in the wake of recent news that a US Navy SEAL was charged with murder as well as shooting at civilians, while serving in Iraq.
90-day focus period
Two other Navy SEALs and two members of an elite Marine Corps unit were also charged in November in connection to the murder of an Army Green Beret in Mali.
And former Army Green Beret Major Mathew Golsteyn, charged with murder for allegedly killing an Afghan militant suspected in the deaths of two Marines, has been in the news after President Donald Trump tweeted about his case, saying he was “reviewing” it. Golsteyn admitted to killing the Afghan individual during a 2016 interview with Fox News, an interview that prompted the Army to reopen an investigation into the incident according to a US defense official.
The official said that Golsteyn had received a letter of reprimand and had his Special Forces status revoked following the initial 2013 investigation into the incident.
Thomas used his email to outline a series of actions Special Operations Command will take, including “a 90-day focus period on core values” to include a review of training and education programs and “value-based decision making and reinforcement of moral courage.”
Looking for trends
Thomas also said the Command will seek to identify any trends from troop surveys within the last year that examine how members of the Special Forces see their jobs and units. Commanders and senior enlisted advisers will also talk to troops in their command to discuss the cultural climate and report their observations to leaders.
He said the command will also “pursue additional research into the connection and correlation between operational trauma and behavioral health.”
Thomas said these steps were in addition to a recently mandated requirement by Congress, which says the Pentagon has to review ethics and professionalism programs within the Special Operations Forces community.
“With respect to individual cases, if substantiated through our military justice system, these allegations represent a violation of the trust and standards required of all service members, but most especially special operations forces,” Thomas wrote.
“Furthermore, the serious allegations concerning our personnel are being discussed in the media, Congress, and the American Public,” he said. “The distraction, speculation and divisiveness created by these allegations increase the risk to our colleagues and the mission. As SOF professionals, we must all see this as a call to self-reflection, to consider who we are, what we stand for, and what we represent.”
“We must stand together and resist divisiveness stoked by private and public speculation without the benefit of the facts,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas also attached to the email a memo he and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict Owen West wrote last month calling on the elite units to “never give the American people or our allies cause to doubt our will to execute at the highest standards of tactical and moral excellence.”
The memo also warns Special Operations Forces to “remain vigilant” and “not allow a sense of personal entitlement or desire for privilege or benefit to cloud your judgment.”
It also cautions them against “temptations to be influenced by local norms” while operating around the world.