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News | Nov. 6, 2023

Special Operations Command North hosts second annual Special Operations Forces Symposium

By Maj. Ann Marie Annicelli Special Operations Command North

Special Operations Command North hosted its second annual Special Operations Forces Symposium at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson, Colo., Oct. 23-27, 2023.

This year’s event expanded on last year’s Arctic focus to include a holistic look at threats across the entirety of the U.S. Northern Command’s area of responsibility. The primary objectives of this year’s symposium were to strengthen relationships and develop a shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities of homeland defense within and approaching the USNORTHCOM AOR, while also evolving the role of special operations in globally integrated layered defense and deterrence.

North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM commander Gen. Glen D. VanHerck opened the conference by discussing the importance of integrated deterrence through global collaboration across geographic regions and the unique role SOF serve in what he deemed, “The most noble mission – the defense of North America.”

“Homeland defense starts forward with a global mindset that synchronizes integrated effects with our allies and other combatant commands,” VanHerck explained. “We need to generate effects day to day and in crisis and conflict. SOF have incredible value through relationship building and day-to-day campaigning and are uniquely qualified to deny kinetic and nonkinetic threats.”

More than 170 participants across 30 organizations and 8 nations spanning U.S. and foreign armed forces, SOF, U.S. Coast Guard, interagency, intergovernmental, commercial, academia, and think tanks attended the conference.

To ensure the participants focused on strengthening relationships, identifying required authorities to execute defense and security activities, and projecting capabilities required to effectively campaign, Col. Matthew Tucker, SOCNORTH commander, set the tone at the start of the conference.

“Our Homelands are no longer a sanctuary immune to disruptive activity that could threaten our way of life,” said Tucker. “Our strategic competitors seek to transform our former sanctuaries into isolated garrisons from which we cannot project the forces necessary to secure our collective interests.

"In order to address these facts, over the past two years, SOCNORTH focused on operationalizing SOF campaigning in the USNORTHCOM AOR to enhance domain awareness and strategic understanding, counter malign influence and activities, strengthen partnerships with allies and partners, and build warfighting advantage in support of globally integrated layered defense and deterrence of the homelands – to include Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas.”

To establish a common understanding of the USNORTHCOM operating environment, the SOCNORTH intelligence division provided threat briefs on competitor activity in the Arctic, North America, and in partner nations.

The conference was then broken into three regions - southern, central and northern. The southern working group explored areas for enhanced cooperation with our partners. In collaboration with interagency partners, the central region working group addressed vulnerabilities adversaries could exploit within North America that may endanger the U.S.’ ability to project power to a forward fight.

And, in the northern region working group, in support of the U.S. implementation plan for the National Strategy for the Arctic Region 2022, a key focus area for SOCNORTH, alongside participating nations from the United Kingdom, Canada, Finland, Norway, the Netherlands, and Sweden, the team advanced developing a SOF Pan-Arctic approach to defending the North American Arctic and European high North.

“During the conference, the northern region working group discussed pathways for pursuing deeper integration through exercises and operations to share best practices not only for survival in the high latitudes, but more importantly, effective defense of the region,” said Col. Ronald Anzalone, SOCNORTH strategy and plans director. “Through a pan-Arctic approach, we can collectively improve domain awareness, advance exquisite capabilities in the challenging Arctic environment, and strengthen the integration of tactics to disrupt or deny malicious activity in the region.”

The week presented an opportunity to refine existing and identify new concepts necessary for SOF to support the defense of North America and allies and partners. The working groups honed key activities and agreed to continued collaboration while SOCNORTH leaders ensured SOF are integrated into allies’ and partners’, interagency, and intergovernmental planning in the event of a crisis or conflict.

SOCNORTH plans and executes all-domain Special Operations to detect, deter and disrupt threats throughout the USNORTHCOM AOR, and generate positions of advantage for the Nation.