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Welcome back Special Warfare
Special Warfare magazine recently re-launched.
Special Warfare got me started. Required to write an op-ed for a class, I chose to write on combat diving for the journal of the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS). The idea isn’t that good, but this tiny vignette shows how branch magazines can help spur dialogue around niche issues of interest to the branch and help authors find their voice.
Truly, frustration with Special Warfare could be credited with the Harding Project.
When I had tried to submit subsequent articles or volunteer to edit for Special Warfare, I rarely received a response. This frustration led me to look into the health of Special Warfare as an outlet. As I have since found with other outlets, Special Warfare published fewer pages, less often, and with an increasingly erratic schedule since about 2010.
Figure. Special Warfare pages and issues from 1990 to 2022.
Rating the revived Special Warfare
While we cheer the revival of a branch publication, the Harding Project’s “Characteristics of healthy professional military journals” suggests Special Warfare could further improve. Across the six characteristics, I assess that Special Warfare satisfies only two.
✔ Publish quality content. The revived Special Warfare achieves marginal success with an interesting range of issues, but in a very small number of pages. The variety of articles cover issues like TRADOC’s 50th anniversary, SWCS’ first-ever heritage week, the induction of new distinguished and honorary members of the special operations regiments, and a note from the USASOC Historian’s office on ARSOF lineage versus legacy. However, the average legacy issue (46 pages) is more than three-and-a-half times longer than this 13-page re-launch issue.
✘ Reach audiences. The Special Warfare re-launch could have better engaged the special operations community. USASOC’s Twitter includes no mention of Special Warfare, though the SOF News site highlighted its return hoping the “Special Warfare magazine comes back frequently and as robust as past issues have been over the years.” Additionally, no command emails appear to have highlighted the release of a new issue. Branch magazines can only succeed if they reach and engage their target audiences.
✘ Balance of informative and argumentative. This issue included only informative pieces. On the plus side, it does include a solicitation for “academic work from students, professors, and cadre of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, scholarly, independent research from members of the armed forces, security policy-makers and -shapers, defense analysts, academic specialists and civilians from the U.S. and abroad. As a potentially negative signal, this call for submissions has cut down the article length from 2,500 to 3,000 words in older issues to 500-1,500 today. Here’s hoping future issues include more argumentative content that drives important discourse about special operations.
✘ Senior leader engagement. This issue includes no articles from special operations senior leaders outside the “From the Commanding General” section.
✘ Diverse authorship. This issue included no articles by Civil Affairs, Psychological Operations, or Special Forces soldiers, opting for articles written by public affairs teams, journalists, and historians. While these military and non-military authors deliver important insights, the lack of content from special operators hollows out the potential impact of this revived Special Warfare.
✔ Institutional support. Relaunching Special Warfare signals institutional support by the Special Warfare Center and School for reviving professional discourse. While outlets like the Irregular Warfare Initiative drive tough conversations about special operations, irregular warfare, and related issues, Special Warfare’s institutional support should make it a lasting and important place for special operations discourse.
In short, the revived 13-page Special Warfare looks more like a revived Inside SWCS than a true branch magazine. However, future issues of Special Warfare could improve by adapting the Harding Project platform.
Become a professional bulletin. Special Warfare is not listed as one of 15 professional bulletin. Aligning as a professional bulletin could ensure that potential Army modernization efforts also apply to Special Warfare.
Adopt a modern format. Rather than publishing on a recurring basis as a complete PDF, Special Warfare could meet audiences where they are: online. SWCS should consider adopting a web-first, mobile-friendly format with supporting social media to better engage contemporary audiences.
Improve the archives. As with other Army publications, Special Warfare’s history is hard to access. Both new and back issues are stored online as complete PDFs, when students and researchers are generally more interested in specific topics than what was published at a specific time.
Empower volunteers. Volunteer uniformed editors could better connect Special Warfare to the needs of the three regiments, while also building a capable cohort of communicators and expanding editorial capacity. To find volunteers, Army special operations is fortunate to have two associated Masters degree programs that could provide volunteer student editors. Special operations students attend a six-quarter program at the Naval Postgraduate School that could allow for overlapping junior and senior editorial cohorts. Likewise, the National Defense University offers the Joint Special Operations Master of Arts program at Fort Liberty. SWCS could recruit student volunteers in either or both of these cohorts to help solicit, screen, and edit articles.
Educate the force. SWCS could require that students in professional military education courses cite at least one article from Special Warfare to raise awareness of the outlet and perhaps consider submitting materials for publication.
Welcome back Special Warfare. I’m excited you are back.