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Being SOF Operator is ‘nearly as tough as being a mum’

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Petra ‘Pam’ Malm is a former special forces soldier from Sweden. Once upon a time, she was the first female in the world to pass special forces selection and become a World’s first Special Forces female operator. Today, a 41-year-old female is contesting on Channel 4’s TV show named SAS: Who Dares Wins. In this TV show, civilians are going through gruel training in extreme weather conditions. The fourth season is filmed in the snowy Andes in Chile.

Petra Malm during one of her deployments - Being SOF Operator is ‘nearly as tough as being a mum’

Petra Malm during one of her deployments to Afghanistan (Photo: The Sun)

Petra Malm told her story in front of cameras and restored the popularity she had a long time before after she passed selection. She served in the Special Forces equivalent of the Navy SEAL in her home country after becoming the first female in the world to do so. Highly trained and super tough, she risked her life in Afghanistan eight times.

Pam was the pioneer of female warriors serving in the elite units in the world. It was in 2007. In an exclusive interview for the British Sun, she revealed: “I felt very proud to be the first woman to join. I passed the same tests as the men. Nobody could push me down. I ran as fast as they could, I carried the bags as long as they did and that was really important.”

As far as Petra is concerned, admitting females to the world’s toughest military units is a no brainer.

She said: “A woman can bring so much more to the team. Enemies look at you in a different way because you are female. You can go a bit further as you are so ‘innocent’. You can use it to your advantage.”

“I passed the same tests as the men – nobody could push me down.”

Unfortunately, not all of Petra’s male brothers-in-arms saw it that way. Some said they would refuse to be in a unit alongside her, while others scrutinized her every move, hoping she would fail.

She said: “After I had passed all the tests, some people thought it was great. They could see the bigger picture of what the unit could gain from having a female. But then you had some guys who didn’t think females should be there. It was a tough start for me and for the first six months I had a much rougher path than the guys. Everyone was looking at how much I could lift and how I did with the physical tests. When a female walks in and she’s done the same as the men, they feel kind of threatened and vulnerable. They got a bit competitive.”

Despite their hostility, Petra — who was known as ‘Pam’ in the unit — says she never hesitated or considered throwing in the towel.

She added: “Some guys did say horrid things. One said ‘I don’t want to work with you, I don’t want to be in the same unit as you’. That’s rough when you have done the same selection and training. I was sad inside but I kept going. I had to work harder than the men and I knew it was going to take time. I had to prove myself.”

“You need to have the inner motivation because otherwise, you are going to fail.”

Petra called time on her career after ten years. But it wasn’t the grueling training or the hostility of some colleagues that led to her decision. It was the arrival of her daughter, which meant the prospect of putting herself in a life-risking situation with a little one at home became too much to bear. She quit in 2017.

Petra, who did not want to give details of her partner, said: “When I got back after having my daughter, I didn’t think it was so fun. I had a resistance to the high-risk jobs and I felt I didn’t want to do it anymore. It was a really difficult period in my life. Being part of the Special Forces is the best job in the world and I worked with some amazing people. But once I became a mum, I realized ‘oh s**t I am done’. It took me a long time to see I was done but now I am glad I have given it up.”

Before joining the Swedish Special Forces, Petra Malm served for seven years with the regular Swedish army.

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Time for Change in U.S. Special Operations Command?

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Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military’s Special Operations Command has gained manpower and money as well as responsibility for an ever-wider range of missions. But now Congress is beginning to question, and push back against, the commando mission-creep.

At present SOCOM is the lead agency for U.S. military counterterrorism operations and security-force assistance. The latter involves U.S. forces training foreign armies and other proxy forces.

SOCOM in 2016 also assumed the lead role in combating the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a mission that previously belonged to U.S. Strategic Command. More recently, SOCOM became the lead command for America’s “military information support operations.” In essence, propaganda.

The command wants even more responsibility, according to CRS. “The current unified command plan stipulates USSOCOM responsibility for synchronizing planning for global operations to combat terrorist networks,” CRS noted.

This focus on planning limits its ability to conduct activities designed to deter emerging threats, build relationships with foreign militaries and potentially develop greater access to foreign militaries.”

USSOCOM is proposing changes that would, in addition to current responsibilities, include the responsibility for synchronizing the planning, coordination, deployment and, when directed, the employment of special operations forces globally and will do so with the approval of the geographic combatant commanders, the services and, as directed, appropriate U.S. government agencies.

Further, the proposed changes would give broader responsibility to USSOCOM beyond counterterrorism activities, to include activities against other threat networks.

But the world has changed in those nearly two decades. Congress increasingly has questioned SOCOM’s sprawling responsibilities and recently ordered two separate reviews of the command.

Lawmakers in part were motivated by reports of misconduct by SOCOM personnel as well as by SOCOM’s alleged participation in conflicts for which Congress did not provide authorization, specifically in Niger.

Four SOCOM troops died on Oct. 4, 2017 when militants ambushed their patrol in Niger in Central Africa.

“Prior to starting out on the ill-fated patrol, two junior officers, including an Army captain who remained at the base in Niger and the team leader, falsified a document to get approval for a mission to kill or capture a local ISIS leader,” CNN reported.

“That mission was never approved by the proper chain of command, according to [an official] summary. A much lower-risk mission was instead submitted and approved. However, the team was unable to locate the ISIS leader during their unauthorized mission.”

“Some believe this situation calls into question the adequacy of civilian oversight and control of U.S. SOF,” according to CRS.

The reviews of SOCOM that CRS mentioned will “take an introspective look at U.S. SOF’s culture, roles and responsibilities, adequacy of resources, organizational structure and the adequacy of training, education and personnel,” the research service reported.

“Some have suggested these provisions are a precursor for congressional and [Defense Department] actions to ‘rein in and reorient’ U.S. SOF from fighting terrorists to taking on nation-states, instead.”

Aware that U.S. [special operations forces] are overburdened and that there is a need to find the right balance between continuing to challenge terrorist organizations while simultaneously addressing growing irregular warfare threats posed by nation-states, policymakers will likely make good use of the two forthcoming congressionally mandated reviews.

It is possible that over the next few years, significant public policy debates on the future of USSOCOM and U.S. SOF will be undertaken, potentially resulting in a number of changes.

After 17 years at the forefront of the global military campaign against terrorism, policymakers, defense officials, and academics are questioning the future role of USSOCOM and U.S. SOF.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

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US SOF strengthen relationships with allied partners through combined training

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U.S. Air Force’s 7th Special Operation Squadron, assigned to 352nd Special Operation Wing, based out of Mildenhall, England, deployed to Bacau, March 10-15, 2019, to conduct mission essential tasks, and simultaneously, familiarize Romanian SOF with the CV-22 Osprey.

“The importance is not only for the commonality of our tactics, techniques, and procedures between US forces and partner forces but combining that within the NATO spectrum to make sure we are all operating in the same format,” said a U.S. Air Force Special Operations Capt., the mission commander for the training event and flight lead pilot . “Being able to get these staged drills out of the way now in a safe and effective training environment, allows us to be able to have the confidence to forward deploy in any contingency operation.”

The 7th SOS operates the CV-22B Osprey throughout the entire range of military operations in support of conventional and special operations. The 7th SOS executes this mission at night, in adverse weather, performing long-range insertion, extraction and resupply missions in hostile, denied and politically sensitive territories.

US and ROU SOF conducted day and night fast rope infiltration and exfiltration operations (FRIES) and low-level flying. These capabilities are something ROU SOF are (trained and) skilled in; however, this was their first time conducting FRIES out of the CV-22.

“Everyone here had used fast rope before, on different platforms, so they understood their techniques,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt., 7th SOS, special mission aviator. “One of the main differentiators from our side was just reminding them that the CV-22 creates a lot more downwash and it’s a much different experience when it comes to deploying out of our aircraft, compared to a conventional rotary wing aircraft.”

Through these pieces of training, SOF members demonstrate and strengthen partner nation relationships and air operations in the European Theatre.

“The ROU SOF was able to extend the CV-22 familiarization training invitation to other units that are not co-located here at Bacau,” said the mission commander. “So they were able to cycle through as many of their special operation ground forces as they could, during this timeframe.”

Along with developing combined leaders, this deployment gave the US SOF members the opportunity to establish professional development at the tactical level.

“I’ve been flying for the Air Force for 15 years, and all my training has been stateside, so even for me in the short time I’ve moved to RAF Mildenhall,” said U.S. Air Force Capt., an instructor pilot for the 7th SOS. “I’ve learned a lot working with Allied partners, whether it’s working through language barriers or just the different techniques. It’s eye-opening.”

The 7th SOS mission commander was very thankful for the ability to utilize the diverse NATO terrain and base resources to accomplish their objectives.

“The Romanian Government and Air Force Base here in Bacau have been extremely supportive with their ability to reach out to us and help,” said the mission commander. “They’ve been able to work on request, with short notice, to include base access, providing us workspace and just being very accommodating when it comes to airspace and tower-controlled patterns that they run here on the airfield.”

This collaborative training event allows each force to improve its individual and collective capabilities, and the 352nd SOW and ROU SOF will continue to train shoulder-to-shoulder in similar exercises.

“The biggest takeaway for me, is the Romanian partners are more than willing to host us, but they are thirsty to work with us as far as continued training,” said the mission commander. “Looking forward to coming back, not just in Bacau but into Romania in general, so that we can work in the dynamic air space that they have, and their terrain, but also working with the ROU SOF members who seem to be very much interested in working with specialized air power like the tilt-rotor Osprey.”

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