Even The Most Elite Teams Require Support Personnel

October 25, 2018 Updated: November 1, 2018

This is the fifth and final article in a five-part series on the “Special Operations Forces Truths.” The SOF Truths are five rules that are utilized as a guide for Special Operations units for strategic planning and vision. However, successful Special Operations soldiers also leverage these rules at an individual level in their own day-to-day activities.

Now, as more highly experienced and combat-tested SOF veterans are entering the business world than ever before, these five simple rules are being leveraged as force multipliers by leaders of cutting-edge industries to grow their people in a deliberate manner, on both a professional and a personal level.

If you or your organization is interested in becoming more agile, responsive, proactive, and effective than ever before, these are the Truths for you.

The fifth truth of Special Operations Forces is that “most special operations require non-SOF support.”

This fifth and final truth is unique in two regards: First, it doesn’t actually focus on SOF personnel. Second, it was suppressed for more than two decades.

The SOF Truths were originally written by Col. John M. Collins, an officer who was not a SOF operator but was asked to draft a list of unifying truths about America’s most elite fighting units. However, for over 21 years, only four of these truths were being promulgated to the military. Then, in 2009, the commander of the U.S. Operations Command (USSOCOM) brought the long-forgotten and ignored fifth truth back into focus.

“The operational effectiveness of our deployed forces cannot be, and never has been, achieved without being enabled by our joint service partners. The support Air Force, Army, Marine, and Navy engineers, technicians, intelligence analysts, and the numerous other professions that contribute to SOF have substantially increased out capabilities and effectiveness throughout the world.”—USSOCOM

Listen carefully. This is likely going to be hard to accept if you are the type of person interested in reading articles like this one. But the fifth SOF Truth boils down to this: You can’t do it all by yourself.

Sure, you can do it for a while and try to grind it out at an individual level. The thing is, grinding is just a form of controlled erosion; over a long enough timeline, it will wear you down. When a gear starts breaking down in a complex mechanism, the rest of the machine starts to wear down faster.

You and your team might be able to operate in a completely independent manner, without any exterior support, for an extended period of time. But no single operation ever truly occurs in a vacuum; friction, drag, entropy, and decay will eventually become a deciding factor.

“[I] wish that whoever enshrined the first four had retained number 5, which says ‘most Special Operations require non-SOF assistance.’ That oversight was a serious mistake in my opinion, because its omission encourages unrealistic expectations by poorly tutored employers and perpetuates a counterproductive ‘us versus everybody else’ attitude by excessively gung-ho members of the SOF community,” said Collins, now retired, in a speech to the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group, on Dec. 11, 2008.


Even on the best teams in the world, you will find yourself with a deficit in niche skills and talents. The top performers may be generalists, but you are going to need some people with skills that are specifically admin-based. Like doctors need nurses, Special Operations operators need backup support, and you will need to evaluate what your team needs, such as IT support, human resources, and accounting.

While you may have personnel who aren’t directly out there winning business and making those victories happen, it is foolish to think that you don’t need absolutely everyone in the organization fulfilling their duties if you are going to be successful. You have one mission and you need everybody to be on the same page to make it happen. Remember the SOF Truth that ‘humans are more important than hardware?” Your people are your most important assets. When it comes to your team, always choose quality over quantity.

You’re also likely going to run into situations where you and your team require outside help. This help could involve financing, supplies, or even your customers/clients. An arrogant attitude is not going to help you out when you need to suddenly ask for assistance. You have to cultivate those relationships before you actually need them. Just like trying to mass produce leadership, you can’t mass produce allies and assets after the fact.

“The SOF Truths have provided time-tested guidance to the special operations community for daily activities as well as long-range planning. When they were originally penned, there was a fifth truth that was never published—‘Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.’ It’s being included now so that we all understand the importance of force enablers and the contributions they make to mission success. To think otherwise would levy unrealistic expectations as to the capabilities SOF bring to the fight,” Admiral Eric Olson said in a statement to Army Times reporter Sean Naylor on why the fifth Truth was being reinstated into SOF doctrine.

Do What You’re Best At

The most important thing you can do is let each member of your elite team do what he or she is best at, while ensuring that you have the right partners in place to take care of the rest.

You’ve also got to take the ego out of play. Staying true to what you do doesn’t mean writing off your administrative staff because they aren’t out there on the “front lines” of the business. When you do things like this, you begin applying unrealistic expectations and undue burdens on your top performers. Just because they’re going out there and crushing it with the clients doesn’t mean they’re also going to be rock stars when it comes to accounting or HR work. They need you to do the right thing by them, so that they can focus on what they’re best at and not on the jobs you still haven’t hired for.

Expecting the best performance out of people is a two-way street; you’ve got to give them your best, too. That includes making sure you have the right people to support your entire team.

Chris Erickson is a combat veteran and former Green Beret with extensive experience deployed to various locations across the world. He now works in the communications industry. You can follow him on Twitter @EricksonPrime.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.