These are supposed to be tough times for the defense budget. But the U.S. Special Operations Command hasn’t gotten the memo. It recently proposed spending nearly $200,000 per hour on a retreat to teach its elite commandos how to be better dads.
As the cliche goes, it’s not just the soldier who goes to war, it’s his or her family, too. That’s especially true for the special operations community, whose families endure long periods of radio silence while knowing their loved ones are experiencing some of the harshest conditions war offers. And it’s why the military is spending big, big money on strengthening family “resiliency” for Navy SEALs.
“Resiliency” is the newest military buzzword for preparing families to handle separation anxieties. It’s also an expensive one. In July, the Navy gave a contract worth up to $44 million to a Seattle organization called Loving Families Loving Children Inc. for SEAL family training. That’s not all. U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) may have awarded another $7 million to teach SEALs to be better dads.
That’s right — all of this cash is for training. Loving Families Loving Children Inc. won’t design or produce any special software to keep moms, wives and kids in touch with their SEALs, nor any fancy platforms to run it on. It’ll instead design “resiliency assessment analysis, workshops and training programs.” The crunchy-sounding company gets $9,380,746 for designing such courses through 2012, with an option to extend till 2016.
As for the father-son training, $7 million in SOCOM cash went for just one “1.5 day” bull session. It was supposed to focus on “the father/son relationship, communication skills and the son’s development,” featuring classroom talks, a retreat, simulated exercises and “team building.” According to a SOCOM solicitation, training was scheduled for September 23-24 in a “‘Camp’ style lodging for 100 students.”
SOCOM hasn’t been willing to answer basic factual questions about that father-son module. But even if only 50 people showed up for it, that means the command might have spent as much as $280,000 per family, and $194,000 per hour on it.
There’s no doubt that Special Operations Forces are under unique stress. In Afghanistan over the past year, they conducted a staggering 1700 nighttime raids. Deployments have quadrupled since 9/11, resulting in a frank February admission from the former SOCOM commander that the elite commandos are exhausted. (Of course, that didn’t stop the SEALs from reaching their finest hour.) And the SEAL community recently experienced one of its most hellish days ever, as the Taliban shot down a Chinook in August, killing 19 SEALs.
In other words, given what the country asks of special operators, it’s perfectly appropriate for the military to look after their family lives. But the military has pre-existing programs for that as well. Strong Bonds is an Army spec-ops program to “increase individual Soldier and Family member readiness through relationship education and skills training.” In 2008, West Coast-based SEALs set up a Family Resiliency Enterprise program that, among other things, helped “newly reunited families reintegrate after deployments.” The private Special Operations Warrior Foundation has family programs, too. And then there’s the standard on-base stuff like couples’ retreats.
This is supposed to be Austerity Time, with the Defense Department pressed to make major budget cuts to close the federal deficit. But when Danger Room asked SOCOM for basic information about the expensive father-son training module — whether it really went down as solicited, where it took place, how many people attended, how much it ultimately cost — we were told that the Naval Special Warfare Command would treat our queries like a Freedom of Information Act request. Those cumbersome FOIAs can take weeks or months to process, if they’re not completely denied, as many are.
Attendees of the father-son SEAL counseling won’t go home empty-handed. The solicitation stipulates that its contractor must provide “student guides, pens, [and other] resources for post retreat relationship building.” And $7 million can buy a lot of pens.
Photo: Flickr/Marion Ross