Army Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III passed command of U.S. Special Operations Command to Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke Jr. during a ceremony in Tampa, Florida, today.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan presided at the ceremony.
Thomas steps down after 39 years in uniform and service around the world. Clarke comes to the command from serving as director for strategic plans and policy on the Joint Staff. Both are graduates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Thomas graduated in 1980 and Clarke in 1984. Both have commanded at all levels of the conventional and special operations forces.
Shanahan said Socom is on the front line of freedom. He noted special operators work in more than 90 countries around the world, though they make up only 3 percent of the joint force. “You are the lethal tip of our spear,” the secretary said. “By going in first and seeing every mission to the end, you enable more comprehensive military action and that translates into diplomacy and ultimately gives peace a chance,” the secretary said.
“The title Green Beret, Navy SEAL, Ranger, Air Commando, Marine Raider evoke admiration from your fellow citizens, comfort from our allies and partners and fear from our adversaries,” Shanahan said.
The secretary praised Thomas for the care he has taken with the people of the command.
“You have also driven relentless innovation across this command — modernizing and improving manning of our [special operations forces] and showing leadership in the Department of Defense in artificial intelligence, machine learning and beyond,” Shanahan said. “As a result, Socom has reduced ‘flash to bang’ — procuring the best equipment for our warfighters at the speed of relevance.”
Extraordinary Operational Tempo
Thomas said this is an extraordinary time of operational tempo for the military, and especially for Special Operations Command. “We have maintained a laser focus on our designated No. 1 priority task of countering violent extremists and played an integral role in our successful prosecution of that fight,” he said. “Right now … our teammates are on point for our nation in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Trans Sahel, the Maghreb, the Lake Chad Basin, the Philippines — everywhere ISIS and al-Qaida is, we are there taking it to them.”
Clarke will build on what Thomas has started at Special Operations Command and pledged to continue to explore machine learning and artificial intelligence, particularly. He said he will do this “all while maintaining the most asymmetric advantage that we have over our adversaries and competitors; and that is our allies and partners.”
“What I pledge is that Socom — working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our interagency partners and through the geographic commands — will remain focused on the current terrorism fight, but also to continue to developing capabilities and place emphasis on the longer-term threats.”
He said he wants to ensure the command can operate in such a way that sets the battlespace to make adversaries wary.