#083: US Army Special Operations Command & Green Beret Foundation – LTG(R) Ken Tovo

Wednesday November 23, 2022

Leaders are built in the Special Forces and sent all over the world, in the good times and the bad, to protect the American way of life; even if it means giving up their own.   Fran Racioppi travels back to the home of US Army Special Operations, Fort Bragg, NC, to meet with retired LTG(R) Ken Tovo, former commander of US Army Special Operations Command

From the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School’s Special Forces Museum, Fran and Ken discussed how Special Operations has changed over the 80 years since its inception, the strategic importance of the Special Forces Regiment in our national security and what it means to be a Green Beret in the peer-to-peer competition we haven’t seen since the Cold War. 

Today, General Tovo serves as the Chairman of the Green Beret Foundation where he continues his service to our special operators and their families. Green Beret Foundation is one of the only Veteran Service Organizations to receive accreditation by the Department of Veterans Affairs to aid in the streamlined processing of medical claims for former operators. LTG(R) Tovo recently received a lifetime achievement award for his service. 

Listen to the podcast here


About Lt. Gen. Ken Tovo

TJP 83 | Green BeretsLt. Gen. Kenneth E. Tovo was commissioned from the U.S. Military Academy into the Infantry in 1983. After serving his initial tour with the 82nd Airborne Division, Tovo completed the Special Forces Qualification Course and transferred to Special Forces. He served as a Special Forces detachment, company, battalion, and group commander in the 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

Tovo’s additional assignments included serving as a plans officer with 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta and Joint Headquarters Center (NATO); aidede-camp to the commander, Stabilization Force, Bosnia; chief of staff, U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC); deputy commanding general, Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR); deputy commanding general, 1st Armored Division/U.S. Division Center, Iraq; commanding general, Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT); and commanding general, Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan and NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (CSTC-A/NTM-A). Most recently, Tovo served as the military deputy commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Fla.

Tovo’s operational assignments include the first Gulf War, refugee relief operations in Northern Iraq, noncombatant evacuation operations in Sierra Leone, peacekeeping operations in Bosnia on two occasions, five tours in Iraq, and one tour in Afghanistan.


US Army Special Operations Command & Green Beret Foundation – LTG(R) Ken Tovo

De Oppresso Liber is the motto of the Green Berets in the US Army Special Forces. In my opinion, they are the greatest warriors, soldiers, and people the world has ever seen. People are committed to the mission and each other, and to winning at a level most others can never understand. Being selected for and serving as a Green Beret will always be one of the greatest achievements in my life.

Leaders are built in the Special Forces and are sent all over the world in the good times and the bad to protect the American way of life, even if it means giving up their own. The Jedburghs of World War II were the precursor to the US Army Special Forces. Many of the Jedburghs who parachuted to occupy France the night before D-Day went on to dawn the first Green Berets alongside President John F Kennedy.

Now, the Green Berets are part of the US Army Special Operations Command and include not only Green Berets but Army Rangers, the 160th of Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations. Even the best leaders need to be led. For this episode, I traveled back to the home of US Army Special Operations, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to meet with the retired Lieutenant General Ken Tovo.

General Tovo commanded US Army Special Operations Command. He’s led at every level of command, including serving as the Commander of the 10th Special Forces Group, my alma mater. He was the Commanding General of Special Operations Command Central and the Deputy Commanding General of US Southern Command.

As the epicenter of US Army Special Operations, Fort Bragg is home to the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School and the Special Forces Museum. Generals get stuff done, so I called in a few favors and sat down with General Tovo in the museum under the regimental flag of the First Special Service Force.

General Tovo and I discussed how special operations have changed over the 80 years since its inception, the strategic importance of the Special Forces regiment in our national security, and what it means to be a Green Beret. We also talk about selecting top talent and what the Army and America need from the next generation of special operators as we fully embrace the peer-to-peer competition we haven’t seen during the Cold War.TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

General Tovo serves as the Chairman of the Green Beret Foundation, where he continues his service to our special operators and their families. The Green Beret Foundation is one of the only veteran service organizations to receive accreditation from the Department of Veterans Affairs to aid in the streamlined processing of medical claims for former operators. As a Green Beret and in the lineage of the Jedburgh teams in the past, starting from this episode, the show will donate a percentage of all proceeds to the Green Beret Foundation.

General Tovo is the definition of a Green Beret and a special operator. Between this recording and its release, he received a lifetime achievement award for his service. Learn from my conversation with retired Lieutenant General Ken Tovo from the Special Forces Museum at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.

Subscribe to us and follow @JedburghPodcast on all social media. Check out our website at Learn more about Lieutenant General Tovo and get involved with the Green Beret Foundation at and on social media @GreenBeretFoundation. See what it takes to join our nation’s most elite group of warriors at

General Tovo, sir, welcome to the show.

Ken will be fine.

Ken, thanks for coming. I appreciate you coming down. You have spent a tremendous amount of time at Fort Bragg, and I asked you to come down here on a Saturday to sit here with me. I very much appreciate that. We are at the John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. We are in the museum. Shout out right off the bat to Roxanne for coming in and setting this up for us but it’s an absolutely phenomenal place. We are going to take a ton of videos and do a walkthrough after this.

It’s the heart of the Army Special Operations Community in many ways but certainly the heart of the Special Forces.

I also have to thank General Linder. Everybody always asks me who I look up to and who’s my mentor in life. It’s General Jim Linder all the time. I have to applaud and thank him for reaching out to General Beaurpere, the SWCS commander, and making all this happen. A huge shout-out, everybody. I don’t care what people say about the general officers. They make things happen. When it has to get done, they make the phone calls, and it gets done.

We have the 10th Group Mafia in action with General Beaurpere, you, and me. It all ties in, and we are going to talk about many different things. Let’s start for a second with you as we sit here in the home of Army Special Forces being at Green Beret but it goes so much further beyond that. You served as the Commanding General of USASOC, the US Army Special Operations Command. This is an organization that was started post-World War II by many of the Jedburghs.

Before we started, you talked about Colonel Aaron Bank, being at your graduation ceremony from the Q Course. These are the guys who started the lineage back in World War II and parachuting behind enemy lines. Setting the stage for what has become one of, and I would say, the most elite organization that sits on the planet. You’ve led them. You’ve led Green Berets, Rangers, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, PSYOPS, and Civil Affairs.

You started at West Point. You commanded at every level in the 10th Group, Commanding General of SOCCENT and Deputy Commanding General of SOCEUR. You are instrumental in Afghanistan and Iraq through many deployments. You also served as the Deputy Commander of US Southern Command, and I know I missed many but there are so many things that you have seen as a leader, the evolution of the Army, what you have done for special operations and continue to do as the Chairman of the Green Beret Foundation. We are going to get into it all.

I look forward to it.

It’s got to start somewhere. For you, it started at West Point. Why?

I was one of those kids who was always destined for the military. From the earliest memory I have, I originally was going to be a fighter pilot.

Everybody wants to be a fighter pilot.

I was into model airplanes.

Navy SEALs and fighter pilots. That is what everybody wants to be.

I have models all over my room. I was going to go to the Air Force Academy and be a jet jockey. In about seventh grade, when they did the eye test, I realized that I didn’t see as well as everybody else. My fighter pilot dream faded but I read almost exclusively military history growing up all through. I’ve read every book in our library on the Civil War, World War II, etc. I was destined for the military. The only question was going to be the branch of service. One thing led to another, and it was off to West Point.

West Point wasn’t even far from your house because you grew up in New York.

It’s 100 miles from my front door to the flag pole of West Point, which in the New York Metropolitan Area means anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.

It’s because you have to go through New York to get there.

You got to go through New York City. You got to go over the bridges. It’s a nightmare.

After West Point, you started in the 82nd. You were right down the street here on our dens. We took a drive through there. Talk about the 82nd and Fort Bragg because we are here. This is the home of everything. It’s not only the home of Special Forces but is the home of the 82nd Airborne Division. It’s an instrumental organization throughout the history of service to our US Military and the US Army. Talk about the 82nd Airborne at that time.

I reported in late ’83 and early ’84. The division was getting back from the invasion of Grenada. The battalion I joined had done a Sinai rotation for six months and had gone to Grenada. I did a quick one-month tour in Grenada when I reported in. Coming out of Infantry Basic Course, I was destined for my battalion. I reported to Fort Bragg. I reported on the day they had gotten a call from the support element that was still left in Grenada for months afterward.

They needed an officer to fill a job, and literally, I and one other lieutenant were called into the Corps G-1s office, and he asked the first guy, “Are you married? Is your family settled?” He said, “Yes, sir. I’m married. We are still looking for a place. I got two kids.” He looked at me and said, “Married or single?” “Single.” “Okay. You’ll be deploying tomorrow.”

I got my CIF issue. I deployed to Grenada. I made a phone call before I left to my sponsor, saying, “I’m not going to be there in the unit. I will leave tomorrow for Grenada. It took my future battalion commander about 3 or 4 weeks to fight through the system to get his lieutenant back. The 82nd was a dynamic place. It had just come off of this contingency operation in Grenada.

Being a paratrooper is an ethos all its own. There’s this sense of living part of history that stretches back to the jump in Normandy and World War II. You can’t move around Fort Bragg without the street names, the statues, and everything else building that core ethos that we are going to do hard things for the nation. It was a great place to start out as a young infantry officer.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

There’s so much camaraderie that goes on in that organization. Even if you look at the organizational design of companies, I’ve often found myself referencing organizations like the 82nd and the 101st, where you talk about the mission and the history that those organizations have had in defining America, who we are, and changing the world. If you can get organizations to think about where they’ve come from, what they’ve built, and the impact that they’ve made, and get everybody from the most junior person to the most senior aligned to that, it creates a powerful organization.

You also get inculcated in this feeling that you are carrying a burden of living up to the standard that came before you. You are inheriting the legend and the organization that was created by, in our minds, giants like Gavin. The guys who jumped in and every unit, every battalion’s got their pantheon of heroes from World War II and subsequent actions. You’ve grown up in this, “I got to live up to that standard,” and it drives you.

You don’t want to let it down. It’s like, “It’s not going to happen on my watch. I’m not going to be the one.” You took the run down from our dens to Special Forces one day and walked into the recruiter’s office. How come?

I didn’t make the final decision to come to SF until I was at the Infantry Advanced Course. I had been here in the 82nd.

Did you go to Benning?

I went to Fort Benning for what’s called the Captains’ Career Course. I had thought about SF for a long time. Back in my growing up days, on my bookshelf was Robin Moore’s, The Green Berets. I probably read it 6 or 7 times. I knew the stories, watched the movie, etc. It was always in my mind. When I was here, there was a little bit of rivalry between the 82nd and the Green Berets.

It still exists.

It was probably even more significant back then and in some ways from the 82nd perspective, at least. The guys that went down the street were fleeing something in the 82nd. They had gotten into trouble, and they were going to find themselves a job in SF. That was probably a characterization but it was also in the days before we had a branch. SF was a secondary specialty. As an officer, particularly but NCOs as well, you could be an infantryman in a conventional unit.

Go do an SF tour and come back out. It didn’t have the same level of professionalism as we developed over the years of the branch. I was at the captain’s career course. I am still toying with what my future would bring. I was open to going back to the 82nd. Certainly, I loved my time here or in one of the other light divisions. I didn’t want to go to the mechanized community. I didn’t want to spend time in a motorpool.

That’s where I started.

As I started having the conversation with the Infantry Branch about where they were going. They wanted to send me to a mech unit. I talked to a couple of other captains. My classmates were late for the course. Most of us are fresh captains. They had been a captain for a couple of years. They were coming out of the SF community. Infantry served in SF. Hearing their stories as well. It was a combination of things. The branch is telling me you are going to go to the mech community.

The guys are telling great stories.

The things I read about as a young kid. I talked to my wife. I said, “What do you think about this SF thing? I’m considering it.” In the end, we made the decision. “Let’s give it a try.” I was like, “We can go to Panama. We can go to Okinawa or maybe Germany.” There are a lot of exciting opportunities. She said, “Yeah, whatever you want to do.”

That was the last time you saw her for 30 years after you went to SF.

Some of the mythology about SF is that everybody who goes is going to be deployed forever. Divorce rates are outrageous. By the way, the divorce rate even now in SF is less than the regular Army and the society but the mythology is still out there. It is a lifestyle. There’s no doubt. You are making a commitment not only for yourself but your family. It is a demanding lifestyle.

[bctt tweet=”Special Forces are not deployed forever or face high divorce rates. Being in SF is a lifestyle. It is a commitment not only for yourself but your family.” username=”talentwargroup”]

If you look back at it, I would never change my decision to have gone, number 1) Into the Army and number 2) Into the Special Forces. That was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

There is no doubt. I never looked back.

You talk about some of the histories here. It has been 80 years since the concept of the first Special Service Force was presented. We are sitting here with a flag over our heads now.

This is the 70th year of the Special Forces itself. In 1952, Aaron Bank stood up the 10th Group.TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

SOF has been active in every conflict by the book since World War II. People will argue that there were elements in World War I that could classify as special operations or Special Forces but there’s so much that Special Operations have been involved in that we’ve seen, we haven’t seen or we will never know about that have shaped so much of the world.

I want to ask you because, as I mentioned, you commanded all Army SOF. There’s a variety of different units within Army SOF, and a lot of people don’t truly understand that. I love it when people are like, “What did you do?” I say, “I was a Green Beret.” “Is that like a Navy SEAL? I’m like, “No,” and then you realized they are not going to understand that, so you say, “Yes, it’s like a Navy SEAL in the Army.”

That’s usually my opportunity to launch or do a tutorial on the difference between Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

I want to ask you about that difference. They have different missions. When you command an organization like this, where everybody is good. Certainly, every organization has some bad apples but by and large, everybody is at the top of their game. They all want to get in the fight. They all want to support the nation’s mission.

They all want to be the first one in and the last one out. When you sit on top of an organization like this, and you start to have to think about lanes, roles, and responsibilities, how did you look at Green Berets versus Rangers? Also, I want to ask you about Civil Affairs and PSYOPS and their missions but let’s start with Green Berets and Rangers. How do you assess those organizations?

It is important to understand that, essentially, there are different tools for different jobs. The Rangers and you can roll in the Navy SEALs and some of the other forces that are similar that are very much out of the commando mode. They are straight up the middle direct action force. Their job is to take the hard target and go after a critical node but it’s very much a direct action. It’s, “We are going to do something directly against an enemy capability,” whether it’s a piece of infrastructure or a person. Their face-to-face focused on the enemy and destroying his capabilities in some ways.

Green Berets are almost unique in that they are focused, by and large, on changing something in the human domain. We are focused on a partner. We achieve effects on the battlefield or even before war breaks out in an environment to use the indigenous partners that we find and leverage to create an effect.

[bctt tweet=”Green Berets are almost unique because they focus on changing something in the human domain. They are focused on building indigenous partners to leverage an effect even before a war breaks out.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Early days of Iraq, the invasion, a couple of SF battalions out of the 10th Group worked with Kurdish Peshmerga of about 50,000 in total to hold 2/3 of the Iraqi Army that was positioned up in the North, so the invasion force coming out of Kuwait deals with fewer forces. We don’t have the combat power to hold thirteen Iraqi divisions in place. We got to find the combat power somewhere. We leverage the population, this Peshmerga force. They are essentially a paramilitary organization to help us accomplish our mission.

That’s our approach everywhere we go. A crude way to say it is to remember Mark Twain’s, Tom Sawyer. He gets in trouble with his Aunt Polly. He’s got to paint the fence on a Saturday morning. What does he do? He figures out how to encourage all his buddies to paint the fence for him. SF guys are that way. It’s how we leverage others to help us paint the fence, particularly if it’s their fence to paint. They’ve got objectives here too.

The Kurds in the North of Iraq had objectives. They aligned with ours, and Green Berets do that around the world. We are working in this human domain first to characterize it to understand what’s going on at the micro-tactical level. Develop influence with various segments of society and then use that influence to create partnerships that allow us to achieve US objectives.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“Green Berets are almost unique in that they are focused by and large on changing something in the human domain.”

That’s the concept of buy, with, and through. When we look at what you learn being a Green Beret, about leveraging those relationships, understanding people, and meeting people where they are in an ability to influence them towards a common goal, those lessons translate into anything that you do outside of the military leading any organization.

Going back to your question about, “What force or what role,” it’s important to understand that these are specialized capabilities. Special Operations Forces are focused on a specific purpose. It even starts with the selection and assessment of all the different tribes, as we sometimes colloquially refer to them as. We are looking for a certain kind of individual for these direct action forces.

They are more than willing to lead the charge up the hill and to be the first guy at the door of the building before they enter. Green Berets have got to be able to do the skills of that but are willing to do the hard work to do the same task, sometimes in a different way. I need to create a partner. I need to teach my partner how to go in the door. I need to teach my partner how to accomplish this raid, ambush or whatever it might be.

It’s a lot harder in a lot of ways but it creates what we call an indigenous mass. It takes a small number of US Green Berets to put much more capability on the battlefield but also do it in a way that often is more appropriate to the environment. It’s the indigenous people solving their problems instead of a whole bunch of Americans coming in and taking over.

There is sustainability in that over time, too.

A perfect Green Beret mission looks like going to a complex environment, developing some ways to solve it through an indigenous partner that you create the capability that they not only can deal with the situation now but that they are sustainable over time so that we can leave and they can still be an agent of stability in their own country without our help. That would be perfect.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“A perfect Green Beret mission looks like going to a complex environment…developing some ways to solve it through an indigenous partner.”

What about PSYOPS and Civil Affairs?

Much of the current modern-day Army SOF enterprise here at Fort Bragg started with psychological operations. When you look at what came out of World War II, the Jedburghs, and the OSS but a big component was this belief that you had to influence the thought process and the cognitive domain. The practitioners of the ’50s who were getting ready or already in the struggle of the Cold War with the Soviet Union understood that the cognitive aspect was important, particularly to try and influence populations behind the Iron Curtain, etc.

The whole ARSOF enterprise started first by recreating some of the psychological operations capability. They created the Guerilla warfare aspect by recreating what had been to Jedburghs and some of the other capabilities with SF, Green Beret Special Forces. Their role comes down to wielding information tools in this cognitive struggle.

In the end, war is a cognitive struggle. It’s convincing an adversary not to fight. We call it deterrence. If we do come to conflict, try and undermine their capability to carry the fight to a successful conclusion and convince their population not to support their government. All of these are cognitive acts, and the job of the psychological operations community is to understand the human domain to a sufficient level to be able to craft messages, themes, and narratives that achieve a military effect, undermining, deterring, etc.

If you look at the environment when we talk a lot about information warfare. We talk about the abundance of information that lives in our environment. Back in the day, in World War II and throughout the last 50 years, we didn’t have the amount of technology that sits in our hands over the last few years in the evolution that we’ve made. Now, information is so present in such mass that these types of influence operations become so much more critical.

A big part of that is not only quantity and volume. It’s also to access and reach. In the warfare of the past, nature hasn’t changed. It’s always got this cognitive aspect of, “I’ve got to convince my enemy that he’s defeated.” In days past, armies invaded nations, occupied them, put their boot on the neck, if you will, and said, “Give,” but you had to get them to that cognitive realization that fighting further is not going to be successful.

We need to surrender, appeal, and negotiate but you had to first occupy so that you had the access to transmit your message to the enemy population and leadership. You can now reach into your adversary as our adversaries have done to us to try and message within our information environment to achieve their objectives. Whether it’s the discontent in American society, undermining the credibility of leaders, etc.

It’s not the end-all-be-all because most societies have a level of resilience but it can certainly achieve some effects. One could imagine the Russians using information operations inside this country to sow enough discontent that we would be hesitant, perhaps, to fulfill our NATO obligations in the Baltic States that they invaded. Also, perhaps we would limit our support in the ongoing Ukraine confrontation. You could argue that’s already happening. Putin’s got the ability to speak almost directly to the American people. Our news media carries his pronouncements.

There’s an Army of Russian trolls out there on our internet who are putting in blog comments and everything else to try and limit how much the US does in support of Ukraine. All of that wasn’t possible before the digital age and level of connectivity. If you think post-World War II, we had Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. We had ways to transmit some messages that had an effect but the order of magnitude of our capability now is vast compared to radio-free Europe, for example.

Civil Affairs, in the broad conventional sense, exists because there’s more than just what lives in the Army Special Ops community. It is essentially a force that is designed to help mitigate the impact of military operations on the civilian populace where we are operating. The Civil Affairs within the ARSOF community are a bit more specialized than that. Part of this triad of Green Berets, Psychological Operations, and Civil Affairs operates within the human domain.TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

What Civil Affairs can do is help us characterize and map what the existing social structures are in a place we might need to operate to understand, for example, groups that might be adequate resistance potential. In the case of Green Berets having to do an unconventional warfare operation after somebody invades another hypothetical. Perhaps, you want to prepare for the potential Russian invasion of a country that’s currently a friendly nation. You might be able to use Civil Affairs to understand social structures like hunt clubs.

What their current civil defense network looks like. How do their emergency services operate? All things that the Green Berets will need to understand to leverage that as a resistance force and resistance architecture in case the Russians invade and occupy. It also feeds this societal understanding for the psychological operators to be able to pursue effective narratives. There is a synergy between these three organizations.

SOF imperative number one is understanding your operational environment. If you can’t understand fundamentally what’s driving people’s perspectives in their region, you are never going to get there.

Let’s go back to the 82nd. If the 82nd is going to do an operation somewhere, they will focus largely on their planning process and their study of the enemy force they are going to operate against. What are their capabilities? What are their dispositions? Where are they? Where aren’t they not? What’s their level of morale, training, etc.?

We will do some of that too but a large part of what this ARSOF team will do is focus on what’s the nature of society. What makes people tick? What are the strengths? What are the weaknesses? What are the fissures? In some cases, if we are trying to support that society or the government there, we are going to figure out what are weaknesses we can help mitigate.

What are the strengths we can take advantage of and accentuate? If perhaps we are in that reverse role of an unconventional warfare environment, we are trying to overthrow an occupying or oppressive power. We are going to look for those weaknesses and fissures in society and figure out how to drive a truck for them.

This is a very important part of what Green Berets are doing, and we’ve seen that all over the world. We haven’t seen that in a lot of places too. We haven’t talked about it. What about the 160th? We had General Hutmacher on in episode 17. It was easily one of our top episodes because I joked with him that you said at the beginning that you wanted to be a pilot but everybody loves helicopters.

Clay Hutmacher and I have a long association. In fact, he was my deputy at Army Special Operations Command for two years. We have a very close and good back and forth. Between the two of us and our aides, there was a constant running prank session going on. We can spend hours talking about I looked up one day in my office, and there’s a ceiling tile covered over with a picture of Clay Hutmacher.

We paid him back for that in spades. It was that kind of environment. I love Clay Hutmacher. He’s great. I’m sure he was an awesome guest because he can tell a story. He is funny and engaging, just don’t put us in the file next to each other because I can’t do it as much as Clay. The 160 is the premier helicopter pilots in the world. Their job is to get Special Operators to where they need to go and get them out again.

They can do it in the worst of conditions, both from weather, darkness, terrain, and enemy capabilities. They are designed essentially to penetrate enemy airspace if need be. Put an SF team behind the lines, a group of Rangers or other commandos on the X, if you will. Land them on the spot they are targeting, and then when their job is done, bring them out.

I called it one of the greatest projections of combat power that the world has ever seen.

It is an incredible capability, and it doesn’t exist alone. All of our capabilities exist within this broader network of the joint force under the Special Operations Command in Tampa. The 160 helicopters are limited by range unless they have the Air Force refuelers also to penetrate, refuel them in mid-air, and extend their legs.

It’s a symbiotic relationship in the SOF community. Everybody has got their piece that they are responsible for. Going back to the earlier question of, “How do you figure out who does what?” The challenge we have sometimes is that we get to this belief that any of the SOF tribes can do anything. This idea is that we are fungible. Good people can figure out the mission. To some extent, it’s true. We recruit for intelligence, complex problem-solving, and a bunch of different characteristics.

I can throw a Green Beret at a problem that is more designed for a Ranger, and they will figure it out but why would I do that? It’s because they will have to train to do the specialized capability. It is a function of making sure that our enthusiasm and desire are employed because all of our Special Operators, regardless of tribe, have a bias to action. They signed up because they wanted to do something. They want to be employed. Part of the leadership’s job is to make sure that we employ the right person and unit for the right task suitable to what they are designed for.

[bctt tweet=”Green Berets can easily be thrown at any problem and they will figure it out. They have the enthusiasm and desire to be employed regardless of tribe. They are bias to action and always want to do something.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I joked about the SEALs, and we saw a lot of that bleed over with the Green Berets and SEAL teams, and they thought, “You can plug any SOF unit into that training mission, and you are going to have the same effect, and you had some effect and similar effect. I wouldn’t say that you always had the same effect or the effect that you were generally looking for because they are not necessarily transferable. You don’t take a Green Beret team and necessarily have them do underwater demolitions at the same capability.

Part of that was a requirement of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had more tasks than we had units for. I commanded the CJSOTF for two tours in Iraq in ’06 and then again in ’07. Essentially, a bunch of SF teams, Civil Affairs, PSYOPS, and Navy SEALs spread across Iraq in 55 to 60 different locations doing a variety of missions that we can talk about if you care.

What you needed was three SF battalions because it was very much this human domain-centric mission. Characterize, understand the environment, develop partners and employ those partners out to target networks. We didn’t have enough SF battalions at the same time as we were fighting in Afghanistan.

The third SF Battalion was frequently a similar size organization of Navy SEALs. The Navy Seals were very much part of that direct-action commando force. Now, they are put in a role where we expect them to create partners, and develop Iraqi capabilities, whether it’s a SWAT team or a commando-like element or whatever it is they’ve been asked to do, and it’s not what they have been designed for. It’s not what they were selected and recruited for. Now, they are doing this FID, Foreign Internal Defense is a four-letter word. It’s messy. It fixes their shoes sometimes. It’s hard. It’s a painful way sometimes to achieve objectives by doing it through somebody else.

To some extent, we put the wrong tool to the job. They did a great job in a lot of ways because they had to adapt to it. They changed the character of their training cycle to meet this requirement. They adapted organizationally to do the task because we didn’t have enough of the purpose-built organizations to do it instead.

In the next conflict, Navy SEALs will be back to more core tasks of Maritime, underwater, etc. I would expect SF units not to be doing those things. Although we do have some level of Maritime capability, if I have a Maritime mission that requires a small team to do a precise thing, I want Navy SEALs. If I need somebody to work with an indigenous partner and create indigenous mass, develop networks, characterize an environment, worked inside this messy human domain, I want Green Berets.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

There are great examples of that. Think about the invasion of Afghanistan and the horse soldiers that we were talking about earlier. It’s a perfect Green Beret mission. The rescue of Captain Phillips on the Maersk Alabama and the halo onto the destroyer and sniper engagement are textbook examples that you watch. Even with your experience and years in service, you still look at it and get goosebumps, and you are like, “Wow, incredible.”

I can reach in my toolbox and bash a screw into a piece of wood with my hand. It was designed to be done with a screwdriver. That’s what we do sometimes when we have the exigencies of war but all other things being equal, we should use the right tool for the job.

You commanded SOF units prior to 9/11 and after 9/11. You were a huge part and an instrumental part of the evolution of all these units that we talked about throughout that time and the Global War on Terror. Can you talk about your vision for Army SOF as the commander when you commanded USASOC and what was that evolution? How did 9/11 and the Global War on Terror transform the priorities of SOF?

I started my Special Forces career as a young captain in the late ’80s in Bad Tölz, Germany. I had gone to the Q Course in ’87. I went to the Defense Language Institute to learn Polish. I already had German from school. I went to a unit, the 1st Battalion 10th Group forward deployed in Germany, that had a Cold War mission to put teams across Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain in the event of World War III.

My SF career started with a big binder that was the mission book for our team to parachute into a spot in Poland and take out a target to facilitate the air campaign against the 2nd and 3rd echelons of Soviets coming out of the East. We were supposed to raise Guerilla Armies in Eastern Europe, in Poland. It was highly survival. I won’t say it was a suicide mission but it sure seemed like that. Anyway, during my time in Germany, soon after I got there, the wall comes down, the Soviet Union falls, and Desert Shield Storm. We got involved in that.

I started my SOF career, my SF career, in an era of what we now call a Great Power Competition. It was the Cold War. It was us and the Soviet Union in a very bipolar world but then through the ’90s, it was the messy aftermath of the dissolution of this bipolar world. You saw Yugoslavia fall apart. I spent a lot of time in the Balkans, and then 9/11 comes. 9/11 changed the next many years for everybody.

Where were you? I asked that because everyone’s story is so impactful to them.

Do you know Fort Carson?

Very well.

We were down in the ISOFAC of the 10th Group Facility, where we had our battalion headquarters set up for an exercise. We had teams deployed into Wyoming and Montana. We were running Battalion X, and literally, on that morning, there was not a TV in the jock. These days, we don’t have a headquarters without a TV.

It’s seventeen TVs. It’s a wall of TVs there.

There are all the different channels, videos, and everything else. We didn’t have a TV on in there but there was 1 over in 1 of the other offices at ISOFAC, where you enter if you remember. One of the guys came in and said, “Sir, you got to see this. A plane hit the World Trade Center.” In the tiny little office now, everybody is crowded around watching this thing. We watched the second strike. I will say that we did the same thing everybody else did. We were glued to the TV for all morning talking about it, and that afternoon, we started planning. We were planning a configuration for this exercise but I said, “Where do we think this came from? It was either Iraq or Afghanistan.”

If that’s Afghanistan, that’s going to be the 5th Group because that’s their AOR, and if it’s Iraq, it’s also the 5th Group but we had a history in the North. Let’s start pulling out all the old files on what we did previously with the Kurds up in Northern Iraq, maps, etc. Who in the unit had experience there?

We started studying, and we probably did that for the first week, and then it became apparent that it was going to be Afghanistan. We sort of paused X on that, and then by that late winter-spring of 2004, we already knew there was a pivot to Iraq coming. We were all in Iraq all the time, really, for the next 10 or 15 years.

How did Iraq then change the organization? You then led the 10th Group at a number of different levels.

I was a Battalion Commander at that time. I got about 350 to 400 folks during the 9/11 period. I led that battalion under the auspices of our group headquarters, Commanded by Charlie Cleveland, a Colonel then, who was my predecessor at USASOC years down the road. He commanded the overall operation in the North. I was one of his subordinate commanders, and we focused for months on our role in the invasion. As I mentioned before, it was how do we keep 13 divisions, 2 cores of the Iraqi army in the North, so they don’t interfere with the invasion.

We eventually infiltrated Northern Iraq. We met with our partners in my sector. We also had an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization that was what the Kurds cared about that we had to deal with first. A group called Ansar al-Islam affiliated with Al Qaeda that we had to take out first. We fought the war with our Kurdish counterparts. We accomplished the mission. We went home and high-fived. It was a successful operation. We were fortunate not to have anybody killed in action. A few folks with minor wounds but by the time we left, you could also already see the seeds of a potential insurgency coming.

The group was back there within 6 or 8 months. I left command. I went on to SOCOM, and by the time I came back two years later as the group commander, the group had already had a couple of rotations during the insurgency phase. When I went back in early ’06, I was commanding the overall group and all the attachments with it that formed what we called the CJSOTF-AP, the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force-Arabian Peninsula. We were on a head-to-toe rotation with the 5th Group. In that role, we were very much involved in the counter-insurgency fight developing Iraqi partners to execute the fight and running operations to characterize the environment and understand our adversaries.

Who were the adversaries? I went there three times, twice in the 10th Group and once as a Platoon Leader in the infantry before that, and so many times, it was about, “Who are we fighting.”

At any given time, it wasn’t just Al-Qaeda in Iraq. There were dozens of Sunni-affiliated groups that shared some level of common objective in that they hated us. The Civil War started, and they hated the Shia militias more than they hated us in many ways, which allowed us to eventually pull some of them away from Al-Qaeda but we were also creating these Iraqi units to target them.

One of the little-known but most strategically important things accomplished in Iraq was the creation of the Iraqi Special Operations Force, which was essentially a purely Green Beret creation that developed the most capable and credible Special Operations capability in all of the Middle East. They prosecuted the war with our advice and assistance during our presence there. When we left at the end of 2011, and then ISIS came to town, Al-Qaeda in Iraq version 2, the only thing that saved Iraq as a nation was the ISOF. It was the only force that stood and fought and the military force that led the reconquest of all the occupied territory that followed.

I have about sixteen months with the 6th Regional Commando Battalion down in Basrah. That was my partner force for back-to-back rotations down there.

You see some of this hand-wringing after the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences in national security circles about, “Working through partners doesn’t work. We can’t create partner forces, etc.” That is incredibly false. The bottom line, as I point to ISOF every time and other examples around the world, around Green Beret history. You can do it.

It’s hard work, and you have to focus your full attention on creating the partner as opposed to doing it as a side job or expecting them to be at the rear end of your column and learning by doing, so to speak. To create a sustaining partner, you need to create a combat capability. You must create their own assessment, selection, training, education, logistics, and all those things that make a force. You got to do the whole package or else it’s not sustainable.

They bled right alongside some of our guys. We lost guys in that unit.

By far. I always tried to emphasize to our folks partnered with the Iraqi SOF and our other partners that we created there. Your goal is to continually move back into the stack. You may need to be the number one man when we start with this partner force because they need to watch you do it, and they don’t have confidence in their skills yet. At some point, you need to be the number 4 or 5 man, and eventually, you should be able to stay 100 meters off target and watch the Iraqis do it. Help them and bring in ISR and close air support so that Iraqi lives are fighting for Iraq. Not American lives leading the charge. They definitely bled.

Through this evolution of SOF, you also had during this time a massive amount of high operational tempo for the 160th. Rangers are doing three months on SOF.

With other special mission unit capabilities there. Everybody is all in.

What effect do you assess that had on the force in two ways? A lot of people will ask this question, and they will say, “On the health and the preservation of the force certainly is the big issue.” I want to talk about mental health later on when we talk about the Green Beret Foundation but also the amount of reps that an organization takes by doing this. Their level of proficiency has increased so much throughout the last many years.

The US Army as a whole has a good methodology for training. We’ve got national training centers that try and replicate as much as you can in a training environment the realities of combat but it’s only an image of reality. It’s not reality but when you then get into a combat environment and you are dealing with all the different factors that are involved in the realities of a thinking adversary who is trying to kill you, you learn or die. The military, as a whole but certainly our community sharpened our skills.

Regardless of Green Berets, JSOC or whoever it was, we had TTPs that we had developed in training that was based on previous combat and operational experiences but until you actually get into that particular environment against that particular enemy, you don’t know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. Part of the magic of our community is that we learn quickly and constantly. It’s a constant self-assessment to say, “We went out and did an operation tonight. We succeeded in doing X, Y, and Z, which we were trying to do but A, B, and C happened to us that we didn’t anticipate. How do we change that? What went right? What went wrong?”

It’s this ability to self-critique and say, “We can do better. Even when things go swimmingly, we can do better.” That’s what the cauldron of being in a combat environment for years forced an incredible amount of advancement and learning. Now, our challenge is how do we maintain that as we don’t have that same environment, and we have a whole new generation of folks coming into force that didn’t have the experience.

Also, how do you not get complacent too, during that time? As a Commander, you fought this a lot. I fought this a lot. In some regards, they are not necessarily wrong. They are coming in, and they are like, “I’ve been here 5 or 6 times.”

One of the things we emphasized because we are in this head-to-toe rotation. It’s essentially that you are home for six months of training. A little bit of rest after the last rotation. Take some lead, and then you are back into training for the next rotation. You’ve got to fight against this, “Let’s train against what we left,” as opposed to understanding. We always found this when you got back to Iraq on the next tour for 8 months because it was 6 off, 8 on with the overlaps. It was a different environment every time you came back.

Something had changed in the environment, and sometimes it was significant. One time, you leave, and we are running ops all over Iraq at our own decision. We decide the time, place or whether we do it or not. You come back on the next tour, and all of a sudden, you find out that, “The Iraqi government decided that they are in charge and sovereign. Now, we have to involve them in the process.” How are we going to do that? We are still guarding operational security. We went from essentially military operations to evidence-driven law enforcement like, “You can’t just pick the guy up.” I’ve got to have evidence. I’m going to an Iraqi court to get a warrant.

The judges had to sign off on commanders.

It’s no longer a military environment. If I’m going to have success in picking up Abu-bad guy off the streets, I need to keep him away in the prison system. That means I got to get them through the Iraqi criminal court, which means now I got to know how to collect evidence in a way and present a case much like law enforcement does traditionally.

Every time you came back, the environment changed. What we ended up getting into was how do we, in the off-rotation, stay connected with the guys who replaced us, and we started doing VTCs every week. Reports back and forth to stay connected to the mission so that they could help you feed your training cycle as they saw the changes that were coming.

It comes back to what you talked about before. The first SOF imperative is to understand your operational environment, and you got to understand that it’s a dynamic environment. This applies to anything in life. Nothing is static. If you are a businessman, you’ve got to be in tune with your operational environment and how it changes, whether because of something catastrophic like a pandemic or a recession but even in the best of times, my market is changing. My customers are changing. The needs, want, and desires are changing. How do I stay attuned to that to anticipate what is the changes’ effect going to be on my business? In our case, it was, “What’s the change going to be on our military operations, and how do we organize, train, and equip?

You talked about the feedback loop. You talked about the ability to look inward and understand what worked and didn’t. Now, I’m going to ask you. As you look back on the Global War on Terror, and I’ve said before, the war on terror is not over. Anybody who thinks that it is over is limited in different planning.

Unfortunately, it’s almost the background noise in the environment that is global strategically. Great power or whatever you want to call it, competition with the Chinese or the Russians. It’s an aspect of the environment now.

It still exists.

Yeah, and we still have to take it into account and do something about it.

What do we get right from SOF during this time? What do we do well?

From my perspective, I go back to things like the ISOF or the Commandos over in Afghanistan. We did a good job in partnering and developing these capabilities and creating an indigenous mass out of the population. Creating ISOF Commandos from an off-the-street recruiting program and then putting them through the process and creating preeminent warriors for Iraq. What it also validated to me, though, from a SOF perspective, a Green Beret perspective, is that the quiet work we do outside the combat zone pays as many or more dividends as what we do when we get employed.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“The quiet work we do outside the combat zone pays as many or more dividends as what we do when we get employed.”

I will give you an example. Both Iraq and Afghanistan were not US unilateral operations, particularly from the soft perspective. We had partners from around the world with us. For example, in Iraq, I had teams from across all the groups because they were partnered. The first group had a team up North because the Koreans were there. The 7th Group had a constant rotation with us because there was a battalion out of El Salvador down in the South.

If you look at the Afghanistan picture, we had all kinds of partners from Europe particularly but others. The UAE came to join. All the Eastern European countries had their SOF there. The Western Europeans as well, and I talk about this quiet campaigning work that we do over time but some of our best partners in Afghanistan from a special ops perspective were the Eastern Europeans who, when the wall came down, trained, developed, and in many cases, created the organizations with them during the ’90s, during the Partnership for Peace.

We had these constant rotations back and forth from the 10th Group to do a JCET here in Poland, go to this country, and help them stand up a special operations capability. You look at that quiet, peace time work, if you will, that yields partners on a battlefield in Afghanistan and Iraq many years later. That’s magic, and it’s not something that we often highlight as the value of Green Berets. Everybody can tell a war story, particularly after the last few years, and it focuses you on the pointy end of the spear combat action, which is such a small part of a Green Beret’s life cycle.

[bctt tweet=”Most war stories in the last 20 years focus on the pointy end of the spear of combat. However, this is only a small part of a Green Beret’s lifecycle.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Most of our time is spent in places like Columbia, helping them develop capability against the FARC, Peru or any of these many countries around the world or even in places that don’t have an internal threat. As I mentioned to Eastern Europeans, there was no real internal threat in the ‘90s but we were there already helping them make units and capabilities that they would help us with later when the time came.

It’s the shaping operation.

It’s an investment. I called it an investment strategy. You came out of the investment world. It’s an investment. I’m putting money, time, and energy into something now, into a partnership now if need be. Maybe not the hope because we didn’t want to go to Afghanistan but when I needed it later on, that investment paid off. That’s the way I look at most of what Green Berets do. We are an investment strategy. We are creating networks and relationships. We are creating a body of knowledge and partner capabilities as a hedge against an uncertain future when they might be needed.

Look at Ukraine.

We had been working with Ukrainians well before the Russian invasion in ’14 but since ’14, there’s been a persistent 24/7 365 effort, not just Green Berets, conventional as well but certainly, Green Berets. They are working with Ukrainians to both transitions from a Soviet-type legacy model of their military, particularly in their SOF, which was very commando-focused, and build this idea of a resistance mentality. Using a small amount of SOF can leverage your population to be a larger resistance element against a Russian invasion. You saw that investment strategy pay off when the Russians invaded again.

The Ukrainian men were taking their families to the border and coming back to join the resistance.

I will tell you that by all reports that SF’s effort to instill this resistance capability, as well as some psychological and Civil Affairs, work with them, paid dividends. We don’t get that from Green Berets patting themselves on the back. It’s from Ukrainian SOF sending videos and messages back over Signal and Telegram to the guys they were associated with out of the 10th group and some of the other National Guard groups saying, “All that stuff you taught us is paying off. Watch how we did this. Watch what we are doing in action.” That’s the best endorsement of the approach is when a partner says, “You made a difference with what you invested in us.”

What do we leave on the table? What do we miss? There were periods of time where I think, probably in both theaters where we got a little too focused on enemy action. Troll infraction, fighting at the tactical level, and not enough on the partner. Collectively as a military, we never answered the question of how we turn tactical success into operational and strategic outcomes for the nation. You look at all those years in Iraq, for example, and you got to say, “It’s not a lost cause by any case.”

Certainly, it’s not Afghanistan with the Taliban in-charge but all that investment in Iraq didn’t exactly yield what we hoped, which was going to be a solid US partner, a democratic nation focused on helping the rest of the Middle East to understand a different way of working. Some of that is on us. The military is a little bit too focused on the narrow task of the insurgent in the field. I will say there was much work. A lot of effort was made to try and support social structure and rebuilding but in the end, we probably needed more of that.

This is a human dynamic. We are trying to rebuild a country here in a new way and taking care of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and all the other insurgent groups and the Shia militias. Those were all important necessary things to do but they were not sufficient. We lost a connection to how we turn tactical victory into a strategic outcome.

When you talk about that, I’m reminded of a conversation with General Peter Chiarelli, where he talked about the whole government approach.

He is one of my bosses in my ’06.

His perspective is, “We missed on the whole of government approach where we were still so siloed in, ‘DOD does this. The State Department does this. The Intelligence Agency does this,’” and we never came together at the strategic level and said, “This is how we affect a goal 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.”

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“War is a national effort…not a military effort. It takes a nation to commit to a future.”

I would say yes. Certainly, at the strategic level, which I would classify as back in Washington, DC, where we lacked that synchronization to DIME, Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic, all the tools of national power wielded in a strategic way against a strategic plan to achieve outcomes over the long-term. At the local level, what I would call high tactical operational. I thought the interagency did overtime work well together.

The embassy team and the military team were sitting in the same rooms trying to solve the same problems and trying to play to each other’s strengths. You got that but you are right. To some extent, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Why did we not get the outcomes we wanted?” I don’t know that we ever defined them in a strategy.

My take on our experience in the Middle East for the last many years is that we fought a tactical action. We never had a strategy that answered the question of, “What do we want this to look like at some future point?” It’s this whole operational design. I’m in a current state. I am not satisfied with the current state.

I have to understand it but I also have to envision the future state I want to move towards, and then I’ve got to devise stratagems and resource them to get from now to this future state and change the environment. I don’t think we ever envisioned, at the strategic level, what we want this to look like when it’s all over. At a level of fidelity, that was something beyond. We want it to be peaceful and stable in the Middle East. That’s not workable as something that you can shoot a path to it.

That’s a lofty goal but that’s not a quantifiable metric that we work towards.

It’s the old song, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” We didn’t have a path toward future success. Part of it is because, to some extent, that’s got to come from the national strategic level, and guys like General Chiarelli, Petraeus, and others that were in command tried to take on developing that picture but, in the end, they don’t own all the resources to guide the nation.

The other thing we forgot was that war is a national effort, not a military effort. It takes the nation to commit to a future. We won the Cold War because the nation was committed to the effort and to a strategy that said, “Our very existence is threatened by the Soviet Union, and we are going to take a strategy of deterrents eventually undermining the Soviet Union through a lot of ways but we are committed to a goal.”

[bctt tweet=”The United States won the Cold War because the nation was committed to the strategy of deterrence and undermining the Soviet Union.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Let me ask you this because you went there and I wasn’t planning on going there but I have got to ask you now. When you look back on history, and you look at efforts in World War II, World War I, the Cold War, and to an extent, the first Gulf War, and then you compare those efforts against Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

It’s clear that when you mobilize the national effort and when everything about your national identity becomes about winning at all costs, we win every time. When we’ve gone in, “Let’s devote some effort to this. Let’s not mobilize the populace,” which we did after 9/11. We had that, and three teams won that war. We messed it up after that.

We didn’t mobilize the nation.

Yeah, as an economy and everything.

President Bush did a lot of things right but I will never forget that comment about the job of the American people to get back to their life as normal. Return to the malls or whatever but it almost came off as, “We’ve got a military to fight this Global War on terrorism. You can go back to your life.” To me, that was a fatal flaw that didn’t keep the commitment we had on 9/11, and 12 mobilized and focused. The population’s got to be mobilized to the effort, and that’s the job of national leadership.

[bctt tweet=”The entire US population must be mobilized so they can feel part of the war effort. That job is left to the national leadership.” username=”talentwargroup”]

They’ve got to be made to feel part of the effort. If you look at World War II and the victory guard, the aluminum drive, bonds, and everything, some of that was a necessary action to fuel the war effort. Some of it was merely to involve and touch everybody and make them feel a part of the overall drive to victory. That’s mobilizing a population, and we didn’t do that for the War on Terror. We did exactly the opposite. We said, “You don’t need to change your life. You can live the way you’ve war on 9/10 and return to that.

Will we learn?

Part of it is, I would imagine, a judgment at the national level on any of these efforts of, “Is this an existential threat that we need to mobilize the nation for,” whether it’s Vietnam or the war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Mobilizing the nation and all those aspects of power against this threat is a commitment and involves choices. It may sacrifice other priorities, etc. I can understand the tradeoffs and the balances but it goes back to Colin Powell, “If you are going to commit to the military, you ought to be serious about winning.”

It’s the Powell Doctrine.

I don’t know that I agree that every problem means that the answer is an overwhelming armored fist. Once again, we come out of that community that believes there are other ways, often with other people’s resources, to answer problems but it still requires the nation to be committed to the past and put those other levers of power into play. In many ways, the judgment was not an overall existential threat to the nation.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“Being a Green Beret is to live a life of gravitas. You do things that make a real difference.”

I have a video that was released by the 10th Group. I want to show it to you and talk about it here.

“I never wanted a normal life. I never wanted a normal job. I couldn’t stand the thought of a 9:00 to 5:00. You wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed, wake up and do it all over again at the same desk, in the same office, at the same town. For me, I wanted adventure. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be my best self and constantly strive for perfection. I wanted to work with individuals that felt that same way. We constantly push each other forward, never backward. I’ve always thought to myself, ‘I never want my kids looking up to someone else,’ and that is why I became a Green Beret.”

What does it mean to be a Green Beret in the US Army Special Forces?

I’ve seen that video a couple of times now, and every time I watch it, I want to join.

Me too. Start over.

That’s a magnificent way to describe a lot of things but to me, it means, at the core, I used to tell people that being a Green Beret is to live a life of gravitas. You do things that make a real difference for the nation and the people you are working with, and you capture some of that there. I love the line. “I never wanted my kids to look up to somebody else.” It’s magic. It comes down to me as this idea of gravitas. You are doing things that are going to make a difference in the history of the nation.

[bctt tweet=”Being a Green Beret is to live a life of gravitas. You do things that make a real difference for the nation and the people you are working with.” username=”talentwargroup”]

It’s a hard life. It is truly a lifestyle choice but I had a chance to be at the Special Forces Association Convention celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Green Berets and give the keynote speech at the dinner. One of the things I talked about was that Green Berets Special Forces are not a broken glass in time of war force sitting at home station training, waiting for the call.

They have been employed day in and day out for pretty much all their 70 years. They are doing this quiet work of preparing and investing so that the nation has different options in case of crisis. Some of them never come to play. Some of the investments don’t ever get called in but it’s the knowledge that you’ve done things on behalf of the nation that will make a difference.

You talked about wanting to join, and we did. We served that allegiance to the regimen will exist because it defines so much of who we are but unfortunately, we have to pass that to the next generation. We talk about characters a lot in the show. It’s a foundational element. We talk about these nine characteristics that soft uses to drive resiliency, adaptability, humility, integrity, curiosity, team ability, effective intelligence, and emotional strength.

You mentioned a number of these, as we have been talking. Each one of our SOF units uses different variations of these to recruit within their ranks. When you think about the assessment of building these teams when you think about what you look for in your teams, why are these characteristics so important? There are many different ones that we could choose from but what is it that defines these? Why does SOF use them in their assessment?

It’s a couple of things, I guess. First, I would say it’s the basic premise, and this is really across much of SOF. Certainly, it’s common across the Army’s Special Operations community that the person is the weapon system. We are not manning a tank, a plane or a ship and putting people trained to fight that weapon system. We arm the man or woman, hopefully, with the right technology and the equipment they need to do their job and facilitate it but, in the end, we are trying to assess and select a complex problem solver.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“We’re trying to assess and select a complex problem solver.”

Somebody who we can put into a messy, difficult environment who does what no technology yet can do, which is understand and characterize this complex environment of human emotions, ideologies, and challenges and come out with an appropriate solution to achieve a national objective. At the core, all of those characteristics then build towards this capability of the right kind of person that I can trust to put into this environment.

It’s often far away from the watchful eye of a senior leader. We always come back to the last twenty years of what we did in Iraq or Afghanistan but at the same time as those were going on, we were still doing this quiet work of campaigning elsewhere. In this case, you often have 10 or 12 Green Berets in a country who report to the embassy. There is no higher leadership. It’s a 25 or 28-year-old captain, a war officer, and ten NCOs, all generally in their 20s or early 30s who are the face of the US military in this country to solve a complex problem.

If you don’t have those skills or those characteristics in your personality, you are not armed for the environment, and you can often cause more harm than good. That’s why the characteristics are so important. I can train almost anybody to do a skill. Almost anybody can be taught to shoot a weapon, operate a radio or any other of the skills that we teach people to do but judgment, problem-solving, and team building in this emotional intelligence quotient, if you will. Also, that allows you to understand another culture, bond with them, and turn it into an influence to achieve objectives and outcomes. That’s a special mix of characteristics.

The next generation of soldiers is coming through the ranks. We talked a lot about 9/11. We talked about the global war on terror but many of the young soldiers who are coming in now, even the officers who tend to be a little bit older because they’ve gone to experience college and stuff, 9/11 was before some of their births, and at the very least, they were very young. They didn’t experience it as we did.

How is that changing the perception, and how is that changing how we have to approach recruiting and how we bring people into the organization because they don’t have that same sense that we did of, “I have to get out there and make an impact on the world? People did violence against our nation and our way of life, and I have to fight for my nation, stand up for what’s right, protect freedom at all costs.” For them, it’s a distant memory. It’s something they’ve seen on TV.

It starts with understanding and my assumption that in every generation, there is a group of young people that do want to do something different and achieve something special. They may not have formed that into a thesis, if you will. I know exactly what it is, and to some extent, you’ve got to find that person who’s not satisfied with the 9:00 to 5:00. It’s your video.

There is a whole set of folks out there that, in their upbringing or whatever their experience set is in their youth, teenage years, and early twenties, says, “I want to do more. I want to challenge myself. I want to see how tough I am or how good I am.” I think we need to find those people and bring them in. Part of it, though, is also then making sure they understand that we were motivated by 9/11. I was originally motivated by the challenges of the Cold War.

We all came for different reasons at the time but it’s important to understand that the nation always has adversaries. You look at the world now, and it’s actually much messier in a lot of ways, and it wasn’t a cold world, even after 9/11. After 9/11, it was very clear we were fighting this Islamic-driven ideology. That was Global War on Terror, if you will but it was a fight against the virulent and nefarious strain of Islamic ideology turned against the West.

There are adversaries now that want to undermine our way of life, and we are starting to acknowledge that more publicly but there’s no doubt in my mind that the ideology of the Communist Party of China is not consistent with the US and Western worldview of how the global architecture is structured.

If you believe that what we have in the US is worth defending, then you ought to find your way to a recruiting station, raise your hand, join and be a part of it. You can also go and take the Foreign Service Officer test and become a member of the State Department or find the local recruiting billboard for the CIA or any other capabilities that allow us to compete. Whether we realize it or not, we are in an existential struggle with two powers for sure that want to order the world in a way that disadvantages us and is much more in their outlook. That’s Russia and China. China is the one that worries me the most.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“We are really in an existential struggle with two powers, for sure, that want to order the world in a way that disadvantages us.”

Let’s talk about that because for so many years, we’ve called it the next battlefield but that battlefield is now. As you said, we are in this battle with Russia and China. To name some of these. Russia announced the annexation of four Ukrainian territories. They are now Russia. We haven’t seen actions like this since Hitler. China is threatening Asian partners. They are dominating natural resource extraction out of Africa and dropping hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens in Africa to gain a presence.

Iran continues to fund international terrorism. North Korea restarted nuclear operations. These countries are not poor. They are not desolate. They are not what we faced in Afghanistan, by and large. It’s a different threat. It’s not Iraq. It’s not a lot of those Middle Eastern countries that we’ve operated in for many years. They are what we call this near-peer. They have the technology. They have smart people. They have money and resources.

Personally, I’m not a believer in the near-peer terminology because it unsells the threat. China is not a near-peer. They are a peer. I would say the same for the Russians. In some areas of capability, we may be the near-peer. They have advanced past where we are from a capability perspective.

We had General Craig Whelden on. We talked about hypersonic technology because he’s working with a company called Velontra. China has surpassed the US in hypersonic technology because our last innovation was the SR Blackbird Aircraft from the ’60s.

I would hope we’ve got more than that but you are right. That’s an area where we are struggling to catch up but I would say there are other areas as well. If you look at their capabilities in the information domain and willingness to shape what we talked about before, this ability to influence foreign audiences and some of it is not a capability or a capacity issue. Some of it is a willingness to do it, orchestrate it, and have a vision, a narrative, and a strategy to work against.

This is where our democratic institutions somewhat work against us. We make national policy by consensus of the executive branch and Congress. That doesn’t make for agile development of an information strategy, certainly, in the employment of it but there are other areas as well where our adversaries have outpaced us. We spent a lot of time focused on the Middle East and ignored the developing threats, and they made up a lot of ground. Part of it was, frankly, we also had a fail strategy.

You look at China’s rise and much of China’s rise, arguably a lot of China’s rise was empowered by the US, and it started with the Kissinger-Nixon opening China with the idea of, “If we leverage China against Russia, it will help us in the Cold War.” We had a thesis as a strategy as a nation that if we helped them rise, built their economy, and brought them into a first-world economy, as I byproduct, they would also move away from communism and towards a more democratic society.

Even the believers in that strategy now have declared it a failure and said they were able to rise without ditching communism. Communism is strong as ever. At least the Communist party isn’t strong as ever. To some extent, we have ourselves to blame for the creation of China as an adversary or at least the powerful capability that China can wield because it’s driven by the vast economic power that we helped to create.

We are also in this interesting situation, and I will specifically speak. It pertains to China as well but we are seeing it in the news every day with respect to the situation in Ukraine and Russia where we are saying, in one respect, we are not directly confronting them, and then in another respect, we are pumping trillions of dollars into Ukraine and sending them weapons.

You have to ask yourself, “We are directly confronting them,” and now Putin is talking about threatening the use of nuclear weapons if we continue these actions. What is the danger, number one, in coming out and saying, “We are directly confronting you?” In the adverse, what is the danger in not coming out and saying, “We are directly confronting you?”

I spent a lot of time at USASOC as we were making this pivot as a nation to great power competitions, as we call it. We and SOCOM at large were pushing this concept of, “You have to focus on getting ready for peer-to-peer conventional conflict but you also have to recognize that great power competition historically isn’t marked so much by conventional conflict as by this level of competitive nature in what we call the gray zone.

This short of a head-on-head Russians fighting the US formations in Europe is much more about subversion, sabotage working through proxies because that’s how the Cold War played out. Generally, great powers don’t want to fight each other because nobody wins. If you look at the last wars of the empire, World War I and World War II. Britain is trying to defend their empire, and Germany is trying to get a piece of the pie. Who won? Nobody.

Britain won both wars and lost the empire that they were fighting for. Feeling the effects of rationing, etc. into the ’50s, they essentially bankrupted the country to fight this great power war. Any sane or rational person looks at a conflict with China or Russia with those same kinds of fears but the reality is that doesn’t prevent nations from still wanting to achieve their objectives. That’s what we’ve seen with Russia and China both. They are willing to take risks and operate in this environment and threshold below conventional conflict and do things that create advantage.

China is turning piles of rock into islands that can be militarized in the South China Sea. Is it an act of war? No, it’s not me shooting at you but it is creating a military advantage so that they can control the South China Sea and the sea lanes and, eventually, extend their influence and domain further into the South China Sea.

The question is when you look at what Russia and China do as a nation. The choice is, do we counteract this? Do we confront it or do we sit back and do nothing? Most sane national security experts say, “We see the trend here. They are changing the environment to their advantage and our disadvantage and that of our allies.” The question is, “What do we do? How do you do it in a nuanced way that achieves your objectives yet doesn’t lead you to what we all say we want to avoid, which is a catastrophic conflict head-on-head?”

Essentially, you are seeing that play out now in Ukraine. We haven’t put our own troops on the ground through our arguably surrogate, the Ukrainian military. They are fighting for their own nation’s survival but our willingness to empower and help them with intel, equipment, advice, etc. is exacting a toll on the Russians, which is hopefully going to stymie their expansionist campaign.

What’s the biggest threat now?

It’s the lack of national unity and understanding that there are things that threaten our nationhood and our sovereignty, and we are so focused on contemplating our naval that we’ve lost an understanding of the greater danger in the world. We’re fighting partisan politics at a time when we should be figuring out how to better develop the capabilities to compete with China and how to unify all the elements of national power.

[bctt tweet=”The biggest threat to the country today is the lack of national unity. We have lost the understanding of the greater danger in the nationhood and sovereignty of the United States.” username=”talentwargroup”]

The Chinese are robbing our industry blind for both economic and military gain, and we are arguing over, you fill in the blank. When you look at the things that matter to a nation, what are strategic leaders in Congress and the executive branch focused on? You got to scratch your head and say, “How does this contribute to the safety of America and the Western world?”

I’ve said that a few times. You look at some of these congressional hearings that are going on, and it’s like, “Why are we wasting time on this?” You brought up the elements of national power. I had it here in my notes, and that’s DIME, Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic lines. These are the things that countries and great powers used in varying forces. How they approach each one of these is what defines their national power, and how do they leverage them to achieve their strategic aims?

We talked about being challenged, and you brought it up here because we are being challenged, both foreign and domestic, and you mentioned the term the World Order, and this World Order is being challenged. We talked about this in a number of episodes. Why does America have to continue to lead from the front on the global stage?

The question needs to be asked in America, “Does the World Order as it exists now benefit Americans and our allies, and do we want to maintain it? There are some who argue that North America, with its Canadian and Mexican partners, would survive just fine as a regional power and could protect America.


I won’t call it isolationism but it’s a stepping back, a retrenchment, if you will. If you read Peter Zeihan in his latest book, he is saying, “America could survive economically. The World Order is crumbling for a lot of reasons, partly because America doesn’t want to enforce it anymore.” Since the end of World War II, Bretton Woods, America, and the US Navy have made the world safe for all trade. We opened our markets and said, “As long as you side with us in this World Order, you can trade with America. We will buy your products. We will protect the sea lanes and make the global economy run. We will use the US dollars.”

His argument is that it’s an unnatural state and doesn’t need to continue if we choose not to. We’ve got essentially energy independence. One of the reasons we’ve maintained the World Order is that we needed foreign energy. We don’t anymore if we choose to use what we have naturally. The question first is, “Do we want to maintain the order?” If the answer to that is yes, I personally think it is still yes because of the picture he paints, and it’s a book worth reading. It’s something like, “The end of the world is only the beginning.”

It’s an interesting economic and demographic view of the world as well as a little bit of policy but the question, assuming that it is and the answer is, “Yes, we want to maintain the World Order, not only for the benefit of the US but for the benefit of the world.” You have to say, “There are places where we have to draw a line. There is a competition we have to enter.” The Russian and Chinese vision is much different for the world. The Chinese vision is a World Order dominated by China and the Chinese Communist Party. We’ve seen enough of how that works that we probably don’t want that for us or our allies.

Therefore, you’ve got to say, “How and where do we stop their growth and development of capability and influence outside their borders and their region?” Ukraine and Russia have brought this to a very sharp point, and you would still hear. There are voices in America now that say, “Why are we spending billions to arm the Ukrainians when there’s so much that we could do with those billions here at home?”

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“All our power as a democracy springs from the people.”

Certainly, we are a democracy. We should have that dialogue. The national leadership should be able to make the case, “We are doing this because it’s in these national interests. This is the natural evolution of things if we allow Russia to succeed here.” That has got to be part of that conversation we had before of strategic leadership owning the responsibility to mobilize the nation against purpose. I’m not sure we’ve done that.

That’s exactly what I was going to ask you because we spent a lot of time here in this conversation talking about the strategic vision that has to exist from to unify the nation. When you look now, you have to ask yourself the question, “Have we committed to a strategy?” Certainly, on different sides of the aisle, we probably have not but we have to start to think about who we want to be and how we are going to choose and then mobilize our populace.

Mobilize these elements of national power to achieve that aim. I asked you the question, “Will we learn?” I would argue that this battle that we are in is not the battle of tomorrow. It’s here and it’s a present. It has been here, probably taking us a little too long to realize we were here but this is one that we can’t lose, in my mind.

We talk about mobilizing all the elements of national power. At its essence, all our power as a democracy springs from the people. We often jump to coordinating and making sure our economic sanctions, our diplomatic outreach, and our military actions are synchronized against the objective but in the end, we often forget the fact that it has to be explained to the American people and they have to commit as well.

[bctt tweet=”We often jump to making sure our economic sanctions and diplomatic outreach are synchronized against a military objective. However, we forget how to explain them all to the American people.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Once again, we go back to World War II. We were an isolationist country leading up to World War II and even in the opening years of World War II. It took presidential leadership and, arguably, the event of Pearl Harbor but without national leadership mobilizing us to the World War, we were attacked by Japan, and yet, we embarked on a Europe-first strategy. We mobilized the people for both a war against Japan and also the Germans and the Italian exes-partner. That’s national leadership.

I look at this too in terms of, “What war do we want to fight next?” Many times, it feels like we don’t want to fight the same war.

Just to be correct, the war we want to fight next is no war. We don’t want to fight. What we are looking to do is how do we deter? I don’t want my sons to have to fight or their sons. When you talk about why should we be engaged now? The purpose of engagement now is to preserve the interests of the US and our allies in a way that deters our adversaries from ever creating this choice between fight or lose. That’s what you are seeing in Ukraine. It’s that if we don’t support the Ukrainians and help them stop Russian action now, where’s the next place?

Our kids fight the Russians again.

We watched them invade Georgia, and we arguably did nothing. We’ve watched them exert influence with cyberattacks in places like Estonia, essentially bringing the country to its cyber knees, so to speak, and we did nothing. We watched the invasion of the Crimean Peninsula and then Eastern Ukraine. We put in some sanctions, but essentially we moved on. We lost the bubble in a lot of ways, and yet, their actions continued to build. The question is, “If not here, where?”

Let’s talk about the Green Beret Foundation. You have been the chairman since July 2019, and we previously had Brent Cooper, who’s the Executive Director. I have enjoyed building a relationship with the Green Beret Foundation since I got out and also since we started the show. Affiliation with this organization is so important to me, and getting to know everybody there has been really one of the highlights for me over the last year and a half of building the show. First, I want to thank you and thank the Green Beret Foundation for all the support that they’ve given us, and we will continue to support the organization in every way that we possibly can.

The organization has made some tremendous strides over the last couple of years, most notably committing to supporting Green Berets of all generations. Initially, when the organization was created, it was very focused on post-9/11. That was front and center but that’s expanded out to the entire Green Beret community. There are a number of other pillars I want to talk about but in your words, what is the mission of the Green Beret Foundation? What’s the vision that you have for it over the course of the next couple of years?

We spent all this time talking about all the great work that Green Berets do for the nation but it comes at a cost and sometimes that’s the physical wounds of war. Sometimes, it’s the mental effects of war but it’s also the stress and demands of a hard training regimen. It’s the impact of a lot of time away on families, etc. In essence, we are here to help meet the needs that the official government organizations don’t meet. We are blessed.

We do have a great government support structure between government insurance, VA, and all of those things but there are still things that fall in the gaps, particularly given that the bureaucracy moves a little slower to accept cutting-edge treatments and procedures. We fund some of that for folks that are dealing with PTSD and TBI. We are also broadly supporting the overall organization with things like helping families and continuing education.

It’s hard for wives that move around a lot to take education through to a degree. We give out scholarships but we also are helping with family programs to alleviate the stress and strain of life. Probably the most significant thing we’ve added in the last year and a half is that we have been accredited by the Veterans Administration to be an accredited veterans service organization to help to transition service members and service members who are already out with their VA claims process.

This is where we are able to support Vietnam veterans and others. We’ve had an 83-year-old Vietnam vet whose wounds had deteriorated his physical capability to the point where he now needed a wheelchair, accommodation in the home, and the car. Our VSOs were able to look at his 1974 or ‘75 medical record and trace back the problems he’s dealing with now to wounds he suffered in Vietnam and re-adjudicate his VA claim all these years later and win him a much more significant benefit to help accommodate life now.

In short, part of the mission of the Green Beret Foundation is to take care of the Green Berets and their families, past and present, with these emergency needs but it’s also this philosophy. At least, my personal take on our mission is that Green Berets haven’t been specially selected or trained, and been to all this experience they have amassed is a national asset. These are the top 1% of the top 1% who serve in our military, and the nation needs to maximize their capabilities and service to society.

TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

“Part of this mission of the Green Beret Foundation is to take care of Green Berets and their family past and present.”

A big part of what we are doing is trying to make sure we take care of them while they are in service so they can do the work of the military but then help them transition well into civilian life afterwards so that they can continue to make a difference for society. The people who are inclined toward serving the nation, they’ve got great capabilities, skills, and solid character. Now, we need to figure out how to help them find their purpose and continue to serve the nation once they leave the military.

Transition is hard.

It’s hard for everybody. You’ve lived it. I’ve lived it. I’ve spent four years at West Point and 35 years in the service. I did okay. I reached near the top there, Three Star General, and you think, “How hard can it be to transition into the civilian world?” It’s damn hard, and the longer you stay, the harder it is.

We joke all the time that you have to figure out what you are going to be when you grow up. It doesn’t matter if you served four years. I did 13 years. You did 35 years, and you still are like, “I still get to go to work and jump out of planes. My ride to work is a Black Hawk helicopter. I get paid to shoot guns, climb mountains, and make an impact in the world.” One day, you turn in your ID card, drive off the base, look in the rearview mirror, and realize that everybody you know, all your friends, and your way of life are sitting behind that gate.

If you are disconnected from that closed-knit group of teammates and like-minded individuals and you are disconnected from purpose. I had a purpose. It was to get ready for the next mission. It was fighting the nation’s wars or whatever it was, we had a common purpose, and a group of high-quality folks focused on that purpose. To some extent, part of the transition and we work with other non-profits that zero in on this aspect. Step one of transition is, first, to leave well, and that’s part of the VA process. Don’t leave any benefits left on the table. You got to exit properly.

I’m six years out and still working with them.

We see that a lot with guys who, when they leave, they are so focused on getting a job that they don’t transition well on the bureaucratic side and document the fact that they’ve got serious back problems. My neck is fried from wearing night vision goggles for twenty years. All these different things that will come back to haunt them if they don’t get it documented in the process. That’s what we do with the VA process but then it’s, “How do you find the purpose of what you want to do when you grow up,” as we call it.

We do partner with some of the other organizations out there that are very focused on helping people that aren’t sure where they fit in the civilian world, how they can fit, and what they might want to try but it’s difficult. My last civilian job before entering West Point was scoring softball games for the local pounding wreck. Other than that, I do not have a lot of civilian work experience. You are trying to figure out, “Where do I fit?” Most of us end up talking to others who have gone before us, and you do the, “What did you do? How did you transition this?”

A lot of this is word of mouth. “Have you thought about this? Make sure you do this.” There’s a lot of informal mentorship going on. Part of what the Green Beret Foundation in doing in our transition line effort is trying to formalize that a little bit. Still rely on the network and all those people who have successfully transitioned but bring a little bit of structure and organization to it.

It’s important to note too and it didn’t exist when I was getting out but there’s now a Green Beret Foundation representative in each of the active groups.

We’ve put this trained Veteran Service Officer or VSO at each of the active groups too here in Fort Bragg because of the size of the enterprise here. They are that entry for all Green Berets. They are primarily there to help on the VSO transition or the Veterans Administration transition but they are also there as an advocate for all the other Green Beret Foundation services that we provide for the active.

They are also of regional because we’re trying to figure out how to provide our National Guard counterparts an entry point but also the retiree and former so that they know that, “If I have a VA problem or some other Green Beret Foundation program that I could access.” If I live in Connecticut, my regional rep is here at Fort Bragg. You have a name and a phone number to go to.

We were talking earlier, and I made the comment that you had the opportunity to lead the most elite forces and individuals in the world and that the world has ever seen. That’s not a subjective assessment. That’s a fact but they are also the most stubborn. They are also, in many ways, type-A. They are the last people in a lot of respects to admit that they are hurting or that they have a problem physically and mentally in so many ways.

The last few years have put a tremendous strain on so many of our special operators, and I don’t think any of us get out unscathed in some way. There has been a stigma for so long around mental and the ability of somebody to ask for help. Special operators, I think about the guys on my team, the guys at the group, at the battalion level who I worked with, who you can visibly see or have scars and need to talk about things and they won’t.

We are programmed in many ways to solve complex problems around the world. We look at ourselves and say, “I’ve solved the most strategic problems the world has ever seen. Why can’t I solve this problem for myself? I have to figure it out internally.” Instead of reaching out, we go internal. Where are we with respect to mental health? What do we have to do? How do we reduce the stigma? The reason why I’m bringing it up here is because I want everyone who’s reading to know that I don’t care if you are a special operator or a Green Beret. We are here. Make the call. Call me, call you, and call any of us.

At the Green Beret Foundation, we have opened a program focused on this, and it’s Andy’s Fund. People can donate specifically to that fund. It’s a restricted program, so you know that your dollars go to Andy’s Fund. That’s a mental health-focused program. We’re using the money to fund care for folks that are in need. It’s named for Andy Marckesano, who is a Green Beret who killed himself.

He is one of these typical Green Berets. Strong, powerful problem solver and leader. It shocked a lot of folks in the community when he committed suicide, and there are a lot like him, and you are right. We do have this self-reliant gene, if you will. When guys get physically hurt, they are always trying to power through, “How do I quickly get back to my team or company in the shortest amount of time?” At least with physical ailments, you can see it. You can understand it. Everybody accepts that.

He took a bullet through the chest. Whereas the mental health aspect, it’s invisible. It’s hard to quantify. It’s often hard for the individual to say exactly what’s going on, and you see this with the side effects of traumatic brain injury. Sometimes, they realize they are not right, and sometimes it’s their family that realizes they are not right or their teammates.

We’ve done a lot to try and address the fact that it’s okay to ask for help. We do want you to help, and part of this is getting the word out to the families as well. “We are going to take care of your loved one and make sure their professional career continues as best it can.” You are probably the first person to see that he or she is not what they were before this IED blast or before this traumatic experience, and raised the flag and say, “I think my husband or wife needs help. Here are the symptoms. Here’s what I’m seeing.”

[bctt tweet=”It is okay for former Green Berets to ask for help. They must let other people look out for their loved ones and make sure their professional career continues as best it can.” username=”talentwargroup”]

A lot of times, either through failure to admit something is going on or even the ability to understand that something has changed in their behavior, their mental aspect or this self-reliant, “I can power through,” approach, guys don’t ask for help in time. I’ve seen the suicide thing throughout my career. We had a lieutenant in the 82nd, my company over from us, commit suicide. It’s the first time I’ve seen it. It’s almost like a threat of continuity throughout my career. It’s touched my personal life as well.

We’ve got to do better as humans in understanding the people around us, seeing when they are in need, helping them recognize that they are in need, and getting them to the right resources. We are not alone in the military with this. The nation has a mental health crisis, and perhaps, the world. Certainly, we have it here in the US, and we’ve got to do better to figure out how to reach out to our fellowman and get him help.

What’s next for Ken Tovo now that it’s Lieutenant General R?

I’m doing a little bit of work. We talked about my non-profit work with the Green Beret Foundation, which takes up a fair amount of time. I sit on a couple of boards. I do some advisory work. I still do some work back here in the Special Warfare Center. I am a senior mentor at one of the courses they run here on strategy and operational design.

I also help out with the pre-command course, mentoring future commanders, Sergeant Majors, and Chief Warrant officers before they go into Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel level command. Other than that, I’m working hard to bring my golf handicap down and honing my fly-fishing skills. I continue to be in my son’s and my wife’s lives. Make up for time lost, if you will. I’ve got 2 grandchildren and 2 grandsons that have just moved back into the area like all things. Everything is a competition. I’m trying to win at the granddad game.

Ken, as we close out, Jedburghs had to do three things every day to be successful. We can call them habits, if you will. I call them foundational tasks or skills. They had to be able to shoot. They had to be able to move and communicate. Three things that you are intimately familiar with through your career but if they did these three things with the utmost precision, then they didn’t have to focus on them in their day-to-day. They could focus on more complex challenges that came their way. What are the three things that you do every day in your world to set the conditions for success?

You’ve got to have a purpose. You’ve got to know what you want to achieve. I’m a believer in goals and objectives, both short, medium, and long-term. You got to know what you are moving towards. You got to revisit the why, if you will, of how you are living your life at that phase. What are you trying to accomplish? You got to be focused.

It’s easy in this world to go down an internet rabbit hole. It’s hard. A lot of the work I do now is computer-centric like VTC, teleconferences, reading emails, and writing notes back. It’s easy opening another screen and gets away from work. I will check out my Yankee scores or something. There are a lot of distractions in our world, and you got to have a purpose. You must focus on the purpose and revisit, “What am I trying to accomplish? What are my goals? Am I moving toward my goals?

It’s this self-assessment thing, which is, to me, a part of the focus, “Where am I now? Am I reaching objectives? Am I making progress? Am I moving forward?” The last thing goes to know your operational environment comment from before but to me, it’s somewhat rolled up into education. You got to be a lifetime learner. You talk about things I do every day.

I start and continue through the day. My wife would accuse me that it’s one of my rabbit holes but I spend a lot of time trying to understand what’s going on in the world around me. I try and get some PTA on most days but the other thing I do is I’m reading through my news feeds. It’s the range. I don’t fall into an ideological vein in the information I take in. I’m looking at an ideologically spread view of the news. I try and stay more toward the middle because, frankly, the fringes are a waste of time.TJP - E83 LTG(R) Ken Tovo Former Commanding General, USASOC Chairman, Green Beret Foundation

I’m trying to figure out what’s going on in the world, particularly in those things in the national security environment, because that’s mostly where my work in consulting is. I try and stay in touch with things but I also read more broadly. I love technology. We are in an era in world history where we are about to turn asymmetric on the development curve and everything from artificial intelligence, data analytics, quantum, and bioengineering.

It’s an exciting time in the world, and all of those new technological fields can feed change in other areas. You got to be watching broadly where the world is going in a lot of different ways, demographics, economics, and technology to understand and anticipate, even in a narrow lane like the defense field, what the future might bring. Education is foundational to everything we do.

You have to know your why, your purpose, and where you want to go. The second is to be focused. Self-assess and make sure you are still on that path to achieving those goals. Three, be a lifetime learner.

You got to learn and grow in anything you do. It doesn’t matter what the field is.

We talked a lot about character. We talked a lot about what it takes to build special operations units and to serve in special operations. The impact that these organizations have had across the world, the impact that they’ve had on us in our lives and who we are, and how we define ourselves.

At the end of these conversations, I take these nine characteristics that sum up many things that we’ve talked about here. I think about the conversation I had with my guests and give them one. I think about the one that defines them, and every once in a while, I sit across from somebody where I can’t pick, and I don’t have one because the reality is they define them all across everything that they’ve done.

My situation as I sit here with you now in this Special Warfare Museum is that there is not 1 of these 9 that you exhibit in any more way than the other because to lead the organizations that you’ve led to defining the World Order in so much of the way that you have over the last many years of your career and the impact that you had on young officers and so many others like me, is truly inspirational. You have been and will be for a very long time and forever a legend in this organization.

Much of what we sit in here and we will walk through the halls here now, and your affiliation and name are on so much of this place, and I want to thank you. Thank you for joining me. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for instilling in me these characteristics and allowing and affording me the opportunity to serve in this regiment, which has defined my life and purpose.

You are welcome. I took a lot more from my 35 years of service than I gave. You know what I’m saying. It is truly the core of my experience. It formed who I am and who I was and will be for the rest of my life. We go back to why would young men and women want to serve now. It’s that effect. It makes you so much more than I ever could have been if I had gone to be at some 9:00 to 5:00 job. It’s everything that the video says. It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks again.


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