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“Noble Warriors ng Hukbong Katihan, kami ay nagpupugay
Kilala sa kapuluan, masigasig, maaasahan…
…Kami’y bihasa at mahuhusay, sa larangan dala ay tagumpay…” From: Ang Awit SOCOM
There is always a lift to my spirit every time the “Awit SOCOM” is played and it comes from knowing that I am part of an organization that is respected by my peers and feared by the enemy. Truly, having this certain pride stems from the knowledge that I and my fellow SOCOM warriors are among the most trained, most skilled and most motivated soldiers in the Philippine Army and has gone through the crucible of selection, recruitment and training unparalleled in our Armed Forces. The Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is a unique and often misunderstood Major Subordinate Unit (MSU) of our Philippine Army (PA) that requires personnel who are adaptive, motivated and possesses a high degree of professionalism that is fit for a dynamic organization.
This matter holds especially true in the implementation of the Army Transformation Roadmap that envisions a world class army that is a source of national pride by the year 2028. With this roadmap, SOCOM is envisioned to evolve further into a force that can execute missions on a moment’s notice whenever and wherever it is needed. In the light of this evolution, the Special Operations Command requires that it should be able to attract and recruit the best and brightest soldiers who can cope with the requirements of organizational change and help maintain SOCOM’s position as the Philippine Army’s cutting-edge for combat operations nationwide.
2. Scope and Limitation
This paper limits itself to the recruitment and hiring system for enlisted personnel currently being practiced by Headquarters, Special Operations Command. Recruitment and hiring for officers, the recruitment and hiring of enlisted women, Technical Administrative Service personnel and special enlistments will, likewise, not be tackled.
3. Definition of Terms
a. Special Operations Command – The Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is a Philippine Army Major Subordinate Unit that is tasked to organize, equip, support and sustain Special Operations Forces (SOF) in support of the AFP’s mission. b. Special Operations – Operations conducted by Special Operations Forces. Operations that are not within the limited scope of regular infantry, cavalry or artillery troops who do not have the training and equipment required for special operations.
c. Major Subordinate Unit – Units of the Philippine Army that are immediately under Headquarters Philippine Army in the PA organizational structure. These are the 10 Infantry Divisions, the Light Armored Division, the Special Operations Command, the Army Support Command, and the Training and Doctrines Command. d. Technical Administrative Service (TAS) – Branch of service comprising: Medical Administrative Corps, Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Judge Advocate Service, Veterinary Service and Nurse Corps.
4. Philippine Army Recruitment System in General
The Philippine Army is a force-provider tasked to develop, organize, equip and sustain Philippine Army units nationwide so that these units could be able to support and accomplish the mission given to them by regional force employers. Basically, the PA ensures that the troops it lends to other commands that are tasked to conduct peace and stability operations, would be able to perform tasks efficiently and effectively. This entails that the army should be able to procure men and materiel that are up-to standards. The right war materiel can be easy to come by with many suppliers vying to be chosen as the PA’s source of firearms and equipment – and with modern manufacturing techniques – these items are sure to be standardized with no single piece of equipment of the same make and manufacturer being inferior to another. Men, on the other hand, are a different matter. Each applicant for enlistment is a unique individual who can be lesser or greater than the one beside him. Thus, the Philippine Army has set several guidelines of recruitment to ensure that the men that the army procures are more-or-less of cut from the same mold in health, physical prowess and character.
In procuring personnel, the Philippine Army first determines a quota based on the projected attrition of personnel and the projected force requirement for the coming year. This quota is then divided among the thirteen PA MSUs where the recruitment process is begun. An applicant is first made to secure local clearances from their barangay, the local PNP and the NBI to attest that the person is known by the community and has no criminal case filed against him. Other documentary requirements are likewise required: Cedula, High School Report Card/TESDA Certificate/Transcript of Records, Certificate of Non-marriage and NSO Certified Birth Certificate. One then needs to take the AFP Aptitude Battery Test (AFPABT) and secure the certificate attesting that he has taken and passed the AFPABT. A physical fitness test is conducted to determine his physical capabilities, a medical, dental and neuro-psychological screening to determine the soundness of the person’s health, a drug test to ensure that the person does not use drugs and a Hepa-B test to screen out prospective candidates who have this ailment.
The Philippine Army Directive Physical and Medical Examination for New Entrants regulate this process and mentions the importance of taking these series of tests before they can qualify to enter the service and assigns responsibility to specific staffs in the conduct of these tests. A recruitment board composed of officers of a PA MSU determines the acceptability for recruitment of an applicant based on the documentary requirements and the tests that one has undergone. Each is then ranked to priority for recruitment and then issued orders for recruitment according to the quota given.
Upon being designated as candidate soldiers, recruited persons are made to undergo a three-month long Candidate Soldiers Course that introduces them to the rigors of military life and provides these recruits with the character, broad and basic military skills and education essential for a successful pursuit of a progressive career in the army. Upon completion of this course, each individual is given his serial number, which he will carry for life, made to recite the Oath of Enlistment in front of the Philippine Flag and his fellow soldiers in a closing ceremony. After a tearful ceremony witnessed by their families and their new found friends in the service, the new soldiers are shipped-out to their assignments where they will stay, without furlough or leave, for the next year.
5. The Special Operations Command
The Special Operations Command is a Philippine Army Major Subordinate Unit that concerns mainly in developing, training, organizing, equipping and sustaining special operations forces for the Philippine Army. Located at Fort Magsaysay, Nueva Ecija SOCOM commands and controls over six-thousand troops stationed in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao unlike regular infantry divisions who exercise command and control of their soldiers in a contiguous area of responsibility (e.g. 7th Infantry Division also based in Fort Magsaysay has an AOR comprising of provinces in Region III). SOCOM has three Major Subordinate Units, namely: the First Scout Ranger Regiment with competency in jungle warfare, target interdiction and direct action operations; the Special Forces Regiment (Airborne) with competency in unconventional warfare operations, airborne and waterborne operations, special reconnaissance and psychological warfare operations; and the Light Reaction Battalion with competency in counter-terrorist operations and close target reconnaissance.
The skill sets and unique character of SOCOM forces make it a high need-low density, readily deployable unit that is indispensible in all major campaign plans of the AFP. Related to this, the Command figures in every major conflict and confronts armed groups in places deemed as priority areas by the national government. With its soldiers possessing highly specialized skills and importance to regional campaign plans, SOCOM requires the recruitment of personnel who are above-average and with an aptitude for the service fit for a unit that is called upon to perform more compared to its peers.
6. The SOCOM Recruitment Process
As a rule, SOCOM follows the general procedures set by higher headquarters in the processing of Candidate Solider applicants, that is, he is made to secure the mandatory documentary requirements and undergoes the physical, medical, dental and neuro-psychological screening. However, the specialized nature of special operations requires that additional tests are conducted to determine further fitness of candidate for SOCOM. Upon submission of the required documents, applicants are scheduled to undergo the requisite Physical Fitness Test (PFT). AFPRG 165-362 Standards of Physical Fitness is a document that sets the standards of physical fitness for soldiers of the AFP and determines fitness through the conduct of the following tests: 2-minute push-ups, 2-minute sit-ups and 3.2 km run. Raw scores are transmuted via a table and the average is taken for the three events. To pass, one must be rated at 70%. For SOCOM, however, owing to the more physical requirements required for personnel of the Command, sets its passing average at 80%.
This is to ensure that applicants would be able to cope with the highly demanding training conducted for competency in special operations. To weed out candidates who have a lower aptitude than his peers, the applicant is then made to take the SOCOM Exam for Qualification (SOCOM EQ) that tests the IQ and knowledge of a candidate. Soldiers of SOCOM often operate for months on end with an array of special and sensitive equipment; they would also be interacting with people much more than the average soldier, hence, the need for a wiser soldier who can make decisions and have more motivation than regular troops. SOCOM soldiers are often made to forge through rivers in pursuit of the enemy. Hence, an additional test, a swim test is administered to prospective applicants. Failure here would automatically disqualify a candidate and he is advised to apply for soldiery in other units not specifically requiring this skill.
As a final test prior to recruitment, candidates are made to undergo a board interview where members of the selection board can interact face-to-face with the candidate and determine for themselves the veracity of documents and can gauge through their own eyes the acceptability of a candidate for recruitment. The results of all of these tests and screening are then collated and, as in the standard enlistment, candidates are ranked prior to the issuance of their training order under SOCOM.
Again, during the training phase, after the 3-month requisite Candidate Soldier Course or Basic Military Training candidates are given an additional 45-day training of either the Special Forces Operations Orientation Course or the Scout Ranger Orientation Course. Both of these seek to introduce the students to the uniqueness of Special Forces or Scout Ranger operations. After this additional course of training only then will SOCOM recruits be enlisted into the regular force. These additional steps in screening of candidates and additional introductory training help ensure that the new SOCOM soldier could be immediately competent in the job that is waiting for him in the field.
7. The Army Transformation Roadmap
In the pamphlet ARMY TRANSFORMATION ROADMAP 2028 (Philippine Army’s 18-Year Strategic Plan) it mentions that the whole Philippine Army needs to change anchored in the Performance Guidance System (PGS) the primary purpose of which is to transform the army into a credible, dynamic, responsive, capable and professional army committed to its mandate of serving the people and securing the land. One strategic objective of the ATR revolves around human resource management particularly, the PA is mandated to recruit and retain the best and the brightest personnel. This effectively directs all recruiting units to be active participants in securing personnel who are apt for the challenge of the modern battlefield. Unlike previous initiatives, the ATR makes full use of the balanced scorecard that assigns performance indicators to the strategic objectives. For recruitment, all personnel officers are required to note statistics on: 1) Quality Recruit Index and 2) Attrition Rate of Competent Personnel. They are also directed to ensure that the targets set for the years 2011, 2013, 2016, 2022 and 2028 are met.
8. Implications of the ATR to SOCOM Recruitment Policy
The realization that SOCOM personnel should be above the par, the Command has taken its cue from the strategic objectives that the ATR espouses. In a recent recruitment cycle, SOCOM has reviewed its policies to better attune its selection system so that debacles in recent combat operations traceable to misapplications of recruitment policies will not be repeated. This review included an investigation in the process of endorsement of prospective candidates, the screening of documentary requirements, neuro-psychological screening and the conduct of pre-entry training. As a result, the above mentioned systems were remodelled and are currently in its evaluation phase. To wit, recruitment for SOCOM is enjoying an exciting phase with the application of these new policies and systems.
9. Bugs to Fix: Pitfalls to Better Recruitment
Inadvertently, all systems aren’t as perfect as one would plan or hope for. The SOCOM recruitment and enlistment system is no exception. For one, it is tedious as it is lengthy with the added safeguards, controls and screening procedures built-in to ensure quality recruits. Still, old-style parochialism pervades in all aspects of the Philippine Army. It is a off-shoot of a commander’s need to put persons he trusts to positions that are critical in nature. This practice has carried-over to soldier recruitment particularly in favouring the bosses’ “bata”. Although, eventually the new recruitment system tends to diminish the effect of this for the large part stringent assessing and reassessing of prospective candidates, one or two still tends to get through the system to appease the boss.
Lastly, SOCOM gets its recruits from every corner of the archipelago unlike other PA MSUs who tend to get recruits from their particular geographical location. As SOCOM recruitment is centralized at the Command’s headquarters in Nueva Ecija, this entails that candidate for recruitment need to go and stay within the vicinity of Fort Magsaysay. This means cost – cost for persons aspiring to be a soldier – often to those who have little or no means of income. In the first place, that is why they applied for soldiery; to better their life and their family’s well-being.
This much being said, SOCOM’s recruitment system in hind-sight is a well-thought of method of truly attaining what is best and brightest for our Armed Forces. Its tediousness ensures that only candidates who have an aptitude to work in the field of Special Operations and have the motivation and character essential in the recruited into the Command. Again, SOCOM is an organization that requires only the best and brightest, armed with the ATR and the well-meaning officers and men of the Command, this desire to seek only those capable of living within the code of the Special Forces operator. PAM 3-20 Special Forces Operations says it most eloquently. Special Forces operators are never mass-produced, meaning: SOF should be discriminately screened and trained and only the most deserving of persons will be justly called a member of the Special Operations Family.
The process is undoubtedly long; but as Machiavelli has often been quoted, the end certainly justifies the means. If you are after the best product, then your building block should only be the best materials. Looking forward, although the system of recruitment still has its potholes, these kinks in the road towards professionalism has increasingly been becoming far and in between and with this trend, things will only look brighter for SOCOM and the Philippine Army. “…The moment I become a member of the Special Forces, I march, rise, run and endure all weather. Isolated or distant, I work to accomplish my mission even though I know I face death… If I fall, if my ashes are scattered among the four winds, then that is just part and parcel of my duty!” From: The Special Forces Doctrine