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Operating in the shadows, on battlefields few Americans hear about, the warriors of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) fight to keep America safe from terrorists and madmen. They fight Islamic extremists, drug lords, and third world tyrants in dangerous and difficult locations, from Syria and Libya to the Congo and South America. They stop suicide bombers before they strike and rescue hostages held in some of the darkest and most oppressive corners of the globe.
While I celebrate all of our service members as heroes, the operators inside SOCOM are a breed apart and take on our country’s most difficult missions. Since coming to Congress, I’ve been proud to work on a variety of issues in support of these brave warriors. We’re a better, safer nation because of the sacrifices made by these troops and their families. The least I can do in return is to make sure they always have the tools and training they need to accomplish their missions and come home safely.
When we hear about the exploits of SOCOM, it’s usually only the glorious few moments at the end of an operation that get attention. From the dramatic raid that killed Bin Laden to rescuing hostages held at sea, the media often focuses only on a situation’s final dramatic moments. What we don’t hear about, and should honor, are the months of toil and sacrifice it takes to accomplish these missions. Special operators aren’t made overnight. It takes years of training to develop these warriors. They grind through endless exercises, rehearsing and rehearsing again, all while honing their skills to a razor’s edge. There are no easy days in this community. The need to respond at a moment’s notice means the families of these operators must sacrifice, too, with countless dance recitals and baseball games taking a back seat to the needs of the nation.
Our special operations forces endure some of the worst conditions on earth to get to their targets and accomplish their missions. They deploy in dive teams from submarines in frigid waters and parachute from altitudes so high they need their own oxygen bottles to survive. Crossing burning deserts or impenetrable mountains are often just par for the course on their missions. Most of all, they do these deeds in the shadows, away from the public eye and recognition for their sacrifices. This secrecy is part and parcel of being in SOCOM, just part of the job. Yet, I’m unwilling to take their sacrifices for granted.
Our special operations forces have a long and distinguished linage. From the brave pioneers of the First Special Service Force to the Marine Raiders of World War II, today’s forces like the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs have a proud history of victory and distinction to draw upon. We must honor their stories, and their sacrifices. Too often, the media only pauses to mention these special operators when one of them falls on the battlefield. It shouldn’t take the tragic loss of a hero like Navy SEAL Charlie Keating, killed in Iraq fighting ISIS, for us to stop and honor these brave warriors. As Memorial Day approaches, I encourage each of you to pause for a moment and think about the sacrifices of not just the troops who so gallantly serve in the open, but also our special operators, fighting and dying in the shadows so that the rest of us may live free.
Col. Paul Cook (Ret.) represents California’s 8th Congressional District and currently serves on the House Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Natural Resources committees. He served in the United States Marine Corps for 26 years, earning two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal with a V for Valor.