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Posted on Jan 31, 2022 Print this Article

Hold SOCOM Leaders Accountable for Female Commando’s Special Treatment Under “Diversity & Inclusion” Strategic Plan

Hold SOCOM Leaders Accountable for Female Commando’s Special Treatment Under “Diversity & Inclusion” Strategic Plan

According to an anonymous whistleblower letter that Air Force Times posted on January 13, Pentagon policy makers are promoting “diversity and inclusion” at the expense of high, uncompromised standards in an elite Special Operations Forces community.

The story centers on an unnamed female captain who began training with the Special Tactics Training Squadron (STTS) in 2018, hoping to become the first woman to join a combat controller team (CCT)

The female captain dropped out of physically demanding combat controller course exercises several times, but unlike male trainees having similar difficulties, Air Force officials kept extending special concessions to keep her in the program.  

The detailed anonymous letter reported eleven examples of special concessions that Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) had extended to retain the female captain in the combat controller course, even though she had not met longstanding standards and repeatedly dropped out of essential training events, such as rigorous diving exercises and solo land navigation.   

Air Force Times obtained performance forms, score charts and other items that appeared to support the whistleblower’s letter and submitted them for comment to AFSOC Commander Lt. Gen. Jim Slife

Gen. Slife did not refute specific allegations, citing privacy considerations, but he vehemently denied that AFSOC standards had changed, and claimed that while the standards remain the same, "norms" [how we bring trainees through the training pipeline] have "evolved."

Slife added that assertions are “. . . either factually incorrect or missing important context which would completely change the perception.”  This an equivocation, based on a half-truth.  

What General Slife calls “norms” and “context” did change in March 2021, when U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM or SOCOM) Commander General Richard Clarke released his Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan

CMR reported and analyzed the SOCOM woke mandate last year, warning of negative consequences that appear to be playing out now:

Twelve times on twenty pages, the SOCOM Strategic Plan asserted without evidence that “Diversity and inclusion are operational imperatives.”  These vacuous, unsupported words seem related to demoralizing turmoil in one of the nation’s most elite fighting forces, and probably more.

What Do Combat Controllers Do?

Air Force Special Tactics (ST) combat controllers often deploy as “one-man attachments to special forces teams,” such as Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Delta Force and Marine Raiders.  They are FAA certified, trained in scuba, parachuting and other special forces skills, and are additionally capable of establishing airfields in hostile areas, calling in air strikes, providing communications and other command and control functions, and evacuating fallen colleagues during perilous missions, often behind enemy lines. 

The female captain deadlifted 250 lbs. – an impressive feat – but Special Tactics Officers (STOs) must deadlift 300 lbs. – a test that is tied to ST mission requirements. 

Asked to comment on the case, former Space Force Lt. Col. Matt Lohmeier noted that a man who can lift 400 lbs. still may not be qualified “if he doesn't or cannot meet every single standard required of those outstanding warriors who successfully complete the entirety of the training. There is a certain mental toughness that cannot be dispensed with, which is why when someone quits the training, they are finished and don't get more chances.” 

Nevertheless, when the female captain self-eliminated from strenuous diving and solo land navigation events, AFSOC commanders repeatedly intervened to extend special career options to get her back in the ST training squadron.  In April, she will pick up where she left off. 

Bad Policies Have Consequences

Responsibility for these extraordinary concessions, if true, belongs to SOCOM’s “first ever” Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Richard Torres-Estrada, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Bishop Garrison, Austin’s Senior Advisor on Human Capital and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and SOCOM Commander Gen. Clarke.

In 2021 Torres-Estrada was removed from the job but his reinstatement coincided with release of the SOCOM Diversity & Inclusion Strategic Plan.  That document ordered ST commanders to “ruthlessly reassess our cultural norms” and procedures. (p. 12)

Now we are seeing “evolving” standards achieved under new norms that are not consistent with Special Operations Forces culture. 

The anonymous letter author claimed that instead of allowing the female captain to drop out and pursue a good career elsewhere, a combat controller school official informed the training staff that the female captain “WILL graduate . . . [whether] she meets standards or not.  Overall, [she] will gain a coveted ST beret and the title of the first female STO despite the negative effects it has on the rest of the ST community.” (A training command spokesman denied the allegation.)

High Attrition Saves Lives in Special Operations

Dropping out of ST training is no disgrace; 70%-80% of male aspirants do not make it through the three-year course, which is among the most difficult in the world. 

Finishing each phase of training without quitting is an essential qualification that is critically important for unit cohesion, which means mutual trust for survival.  Elite personnel embarking on tough missions depend on their team members to never quit, no matter what.

In her book The Company They Keep: Life Inside the U.S. Army Special Forces, Anna J. Simons, Ph.D., wrote about trainees who voluntarily withdraw (VW): 

“The VW is separated from the rest of the group as soon as possible.  They’re not demeaned, but they’re not coddled either.  No one tries to convince a VW that he might be making a mistake or that he should rethink his decision.  SFAS [Special Forces Assessment & Selection] is all about elimination.” (p. 68) 

SOCOM apparently overrode these proven cultural practices to meet new norms adopted in 2021: “Diversity and inclusion are operational imperatives.”  Relaxed training practices and redefined “norms” that protect favored trainees from failure are demoralizing and dangerous for everyone concerned.  

A confidential Navy source with first-hand experience explained to CMR in an email how this works:  AFSOC commanders have admitted that standards have “evolved,” which is true, since SOCOM changed mission requirements when it assigned priority to diversity and inclusion.  

A female trainee’s sex, not her level of accomplishment compared to others in the same community, is deemed the paramount factor.  New norms used to accomplish her graduation, therefore, forgive mediocre performance and voluntary withdrawals from tough training.  All that matters is passing a test indicating that she is “qualified.”

The source continued, “The fact that there are double standards in the training syllabus leading to that qualification doesn’t matter.  This is like two people being given a written test in which one is required to provide answers from memory and the other is given a list of the answers.  Both score 100% on the test and are called ‘equally qualified,’ but one knows more than the other.” 

In the Defense Department’s Diversity World, poor or marginal performance is the same as excellent performance that exceeds minimal standards. 

High-level policy makers see nothing wrong with this.  In their minds, discriminatory practices that put everyone at greater risk are called “additional opportunities to succeed.”  Promotable officers must show success in meeting diversity goals, so career self-interest increases the pressure to make the new norm “work.”

Officials deny that standards have changed, but special operators whose necks and missions are on the line see through the semantics.  New standards and norms were set by the SOCOM Strategic Plan: “Diversity & inclusion are operational imperatives.”  Pretentious words like these have consequences.   

Defensiveness About Diversity Mandates

Gen. Slife’s statement splitting hairs between “standards” and “norms” should raise questions about his own decisions as AFSOC commander. 

Denying that standards have changed, Slife wrote, “How we bring trainees through the training pipeline today is different than the way we brought them through the pipeline 15 years ago because our understanding of the best way to get trainees to meet standards and be ready to join the operational force has evolved.” 

Gen. Slife also attacked the integrity of the unknown whistleblower, writing: “Singling out a fellow service member for public abuse is bullying and harassment, which are unacceptable deviations from both our standards, our norms and values as airmen.” 

It is unfortunate that the unknown whistleblower felt it necessary to post an anonymous letter, but the Defense Department does not provide other options for calling out practices that could result in the loss of lives or mission failures. 

Controversial practices that rely on unsupported claims about the value of percentage-based “diversity metrics” (read, quotas) should not stand without challenge.

No one should blame the female captain for policies that she did not make.  CMR predicted in 2015 that women receiving special treatment to achieve social goals would be unfairly blamed for flawed policies made by high-level military and civilian Pentagon officials. 

In a written report forwarded to SOCOM commanders, the female captain did not mention any pressure from instructors to leave or “self-eliminate,” but she did recognize that changes in standards “invalidated me with a majority of my team.”  

AFSOC leaders have called for an investigation of how women are being treated, but they are not asking the right questions.  The issue is not about women; it is about priorities. 

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), a former Navy SEAL, stated on Twitter: “We cannot sacrifice training standards.  Ever.  Full stop.  If this account is true, our military needs to address it now.” 

The nation should not have to rely on whistleblowers to find out whether similar practices are being used in AFSOC or other Special Operations Forces communities. 

Instead of approving and funding the Pentagon’s small army of diversity-crats, Congress should challenge all military and civilian officials whose woke policies are turning sound priorities upside down. 

* * * * * *

The Center for Military Readiness (CMR), founded in 1993, is an independent public policy organization that reports on and analyses military social issues.

Posted on Jan 31, 2022 Print this Article