Since this interview was conducted, Major General Lengyel was replaced as commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe by Major General Mark Schwartz. Major General Lengyel is now the deputy commander of Joint Special Operations Command, Fort Bragg, N.C.
Major General Gregory J. Lengyel was the commander of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR). SOCEUR is a subordinate unified command of U.S. Special Operations Command, OPCON to U.S. European Command, exercising operational control of theater Army, Navy, and Air Force special operations forces. Lengyel is responsible for SOF readiness, targeting, exercises, plans, joint and combined training, and execution of counterterrorism, peacetime and contingency operations.
Lengyel earned his commission in 1985 as a distinguished graduate of the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Texas A&M University. He is a career special operations pilot who has flown the UH-1H/N, MH-53J/M and CV-22B operationally, and has participated in contingency operations in Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. He has commanded the 21st Special Operations Squadron, U.S. Central Command’s Combined Joint Special Operations Air Component (CJSOAC), 1st Special Operations Wing, and the United States Air Force Academy Cadet Wing. He has also completed joint staff tours at U.S. Special Operations Command, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe.
His awards and decorations include: Defense Superior Service Medal with oak leaf cluster; Legion of Merit; Bronze Star Medal; Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters; Aerial Achievement Medal with oak leaf cluster; Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster; Joint Service Achievement Medal; and Air Force Combat Action Medal.
Q: As Russia has reemerged as a military force that it not in sync with virtually all of Western Europe, how has that affected the size and structure of SOCEUR? What is the command doing different today from two years ago?
A: The new security environment in Europe created by Russia’s actions in Crimea and other parts of Ukraine has not increased the size of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe’s in any significant way. We did make adjustments to our team and some of our activities, we have focused solely on the European theater, where in the past, we were split between Europe and Afghanistan, assisting partners as they prepared and deployed in support of the ISAF mission.
I don’t know if any of us would have predicted the current security environment that we face in Europe. If you would have asked that question only two years ago I suspect the answer would have been much different.
This year we also assumed the mission of the Special Operations Component Command for the NATO Response Force which has given us an opportunity to strengthen and improve our interoperability with ally special operations forces and develop long-lasting relationships throughout NATO.
Q: With the terrorist attacks in parts of Europe—in particular in Paris and Brussels recently—has that caused any changes to the routine business of SOCEUR?
A: These recent attacks have added emphasis to this important mission, but countering terrorism has been an enduring command priority which our team pursues with vigor and dedication. SOCEUR work and train with many partner counterterrorism forces, and we support many of the U.S. country teams in Europe with their efforts to counter the conditions that cause the spread of violent extremism.
Q: What is the relationship of SOCEUR to NATO Special Operations Headquarters? What is the level of communication and coordination taking place between the two?
A: NATO Special Operations Headquarters was created in 2010 as an outgrowth of the former NATO Special Operations Coordination Centre. With 26 NATO member nations and three non-NATO partner nations contributing personnel, the NSHQ facilitates training and planning among its participating countries, and acts as the coordinator for all special forces across NATO. The United States played a lead role in establishing the command, and as such, SOCEUR maintains a strong relationship, with numerous collaboration and coordination linkages, with NSHQ at all levels.
Q: With a general mission to build capacity among allies, how do you approach special operations forces that are more emerging and younger in their developmental process and those countries that have very mature special operations elements?
A: We work with each of our partners and allies on an individual basis to assist them in reaching their goals. For our emerging SOF partners we base our partnership development programs on their assessed abilities and assist them in developing plans and conduct training with them to reach their desired capacity from the tactical to the institutional level.
Over the past decade the capabilities and capacity of European SOF writ large has grown exponentially. Some countries didn’t have SOF capabilities in their military, and now they export special operations capabilities in support of bilateral and multinational missions overseas.
Other partners and allies poses peer or near peer capabilities, with these countries we conduct joint, combined training to maintain interoperability and build long-lasting relationships.
The mature SOF units across Europe are also involved heavily in the development of the emerging SOF partners.
Q: In particular tell me about the level of partnership and exchange with France Special Operations.
A: Our relationship with the French Commandement des Opérations Spéciales is a mature relationship and it is a partnership that has grown much closer in the last few years and crosses multiple COCOMs.
The French have taken a lead in counter-terrorism in the African Trans-Sahel and our efforts have been to enable their SOF efforts with intelligence collaboration and support; operational assistance and integration, and integrated operational planning.
Additionally, the French have been an effective and integrated partner where the U.S. has taken the lead in the Levant. SOCEUR has been integral to this relationship through efforts such as the support of AFSOC elements to conduct training and operational support in Africa to develop French Air Force Special Operations helicopter air-to-air refueling.
Q: Do you have a role in the security process surrounding the massive influx of immigrants coming to Europe through the southern frontier countries?
A: The migrant/refugee flow is definitely a concern for all of Europe and NATO and is something that SOCEUR is monitoring. SOCEUR’s key contribution to counter-terrorism efforts in Europe is done through partnership development, which we accomplish with advisors and trainers working with partnered forces at their request in order to develop tactics, techniques and procedures at the tactical level.
At the staff level, training and sharing occurs through subject matter expert exchanges and through combining staffs during bilateral and multilateral exercises.
All of these different venues, whether on a range or in a command post, provide all the participants with an opportunity share experiences and learn from one another and to build bonds that are vitally important.
Q: SOCEUR does not have a MARSOC component. Why, and do you expect that to change or stay as is?
A: While we don’t have a MARSOC component we do have Marines on the SOCEUR staff as well as representation from all of the other services from our military to include the Coast Guard. As far as the reason for not having a MARSOC component it is my understanding that it is due to their focus on the African and Pacific theaters and for that reason I don’t believe that we will see a MARSOC component.
Q: Is there anything unique about SOCEUR’s approach to support of the operator and their family, during all phases of the operator’s deployment—during and after?
A: SOCEUR and our components support our operators and their families before, during and after deployments.
We rely on a diverse resilience team to identify trends for the command and provide for the needs and gaps facing our special operations forces community. The team is comprised of an imbedded medical unit, a chaplain, multiple SOF-designated military and family life consultants which include a personal financial consultant, a family readiness coordinator, headquarters’ commandant and first sergeant and master resilience trainers.
This team is the initial touch point for all our servicemembers and their family members when SOCEUR prepares for, responds to and recovers from deployments. The team is capable of addressing every domain identified by the U.S. Special Operations Command and provides integrated care and support to members and their families in the areas of human, psychological, spiritual, and social performance.
The command also leverages community resources at each of the instillations we are based at and relies on a network of spouses who meet on a monthly basis and train quarterly to maintain a strong support framework in conjunction with deployments. The focus and care of our joint community is a priority at SOCEUR; individually we bring great talent and together we achieve immeasurable accomplishments.