SOF Truths

SOF Truths

The five SOF Truths have been a basic guide for special operations forces (SOF) when conducting daily activities as well as long-range planning. Additionally they are helpful to members of the Department of Defense, other organizations and agencies of the U.S. government, and conventional force leaders and staff – informing them of the differences between SOF and conventional forces.

The Five SOF Truths

Humans Are More Important Than Hardware.

People – not equipment – make the critical difference. The right people, highly trained and working as a team, will accomplish the mission with the equipment available. On the other hand, the best equipment in the world cannot compensate for a lack of the right people.

Quality is Better Than Quantity.

A small number of people, carefully selected, well trained, and well led, are preferable to larger numbers of troops, some of whom may not be up to the task.

Special Operations Forces Cannot Be Mass Produced.

It takes years to train operation units to the level of proficiency needed to accomplish difficult and specialized SOF missions. Intense training – both in SOF schools and units – is required to integrate competent individuals into fully capable units. This process cannot be hastened without degrading ultimate capability.

Competent Special Operations Forces Cannot Be Created After Emergencies Occur.

Creation of competent, fully mission capable units takes time. Employment of fully capable special operations capability on short notice requires highly trained and constantly available SOF units in peacetime.

Most Special Operations Require Non-SOF Assistance.

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, Marine and Navy engineers, technicians, intelligence analysts, and the numerous other professions that contribute to SOF, have substantially increased our capabilities and effectiveness throughout the world.

History of the SOF Truths. The origin of the SOF Truths are found in a report wrote for Congress by John Collins entitled United States and Soviet Special Operations in 1987. Collins, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and then senior defense researcher for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) was looking for bullets that reflected the essence of special operations forces. In his report there were five special operations findings. [1]

In 1988, MG David Baratto, the commander of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and Center, developed the SOF Truths as basic guidance for SOF units. An additional purpose was to inform the non-SOF audience on factors that made SOF distinct from conventional forces. It is reported that his staff (having read Collins report) suggested them to him. The fifth SOF ‘finding’ was dropped – “Most Special Operations Require Non-SOF Assistance” – and the end result was the “SOF Truths.” [2]

In 1991 Baratto briefed the SOF Truths to Wayne Downing, the commander of the Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) and he was receptive to the concept.

In 2009, Admiral Eric Olson, USSOCOM commander, added the 5th SOF Truth. [3]


[1] The five SOF ‘findings’ are found in the foreword (see page V) of the report wrote by Congressman Earl Hutto (D.-Fl.), Chairman of the Special Operations Panel, House Armed Services Committee. See United States and Soviet Special OperationsCongressional Research Service, April 28, 1987, Government Printing Office, (Washington: 1987).

[2] For a brief history of the five SOF Truths read “The Special Operations Truths”, Weapons Man, January 27, 2012. The blog about Special Forces and the world of weapons was authored by Chris Ryan – a former SF Weapons NCO until his death in 2017.

[3] The 5th SOF Truth was rehabilitated by Admiral Eric Olson, commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in recognition on SOF’s need for support by it’s conventional force partners. This fifth truth had gone unrecognized for over 21 years. Source is a news article by Sean D. Naylor published by Army Times posted on – “Adm Olsen Adds “Lost” 5th SFO Truth to Doctrine”.

References for SOF Truths :

United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM)

United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC)

COL (Ret) John Collins describes some of his work while a researcher for Congressional Research Service (CRS) and how he penned the SOF Truths in a report to Congress. See “The Warlord on Special Operations Forces”War on the Rocks, September 10, 2013.

SOF Imperatives. Somewhat confusing to the general reader is the establishment of the “SOF Imperatives”. There are some Internet resources that say the “SOF Truths” were called “SOF Imperatives” at one time. Additionally, some sources indicate that the “SOF Truths” were derived from existing “SOF Imperatives”. Currently there are twelve “SOF Imperatives” and they can be viewed on the website of USASOC.

About John Friberg 201 Articles
John Friberg is the Editor and Publisher of SOF News. He is a retired Command Chief Warrant Officer (CW5 180A) with 40 years service in the U.S. Army Special Forces with active duty and reserve components.