In 1987, the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) opened its doors to pursue a congressionally mandated mission encompassing three areas: special operations, psychological operations, and civil affairs. Created by the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, the command was established at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. The USSOCOM soon discovered that it did not have the institutional capability to undertake the analyses required by its unique mission. They turned to a company whose good credentials had preceded it: Analytic Services.
ANSER began working for the USSOCOM in mid-1988 without an office or even a permanent presence in Tampa. Initially, most of the work was done by two ANSER analysts, George Thompson and Andy Harris, who traveled back and forth between Tampa and Arlington—spending most of their time in the latter (i.e., ANSER headquarters). The USSOCOM provided ANSER with two desks in a former Strategic Air Command alert facility buried halfway underground at one end of the MacDill runway. Nicknamed the “mole hole,” the facility came with a constant reminder of its proximity to the runway: all conversation would cease when an F-16 took off.
ANSER’s first work for the USSOCOM supported a vast, complex analysis called the Joint Mission Analysis (JMA). George and Andy—and, soon, a handful of other analysts appointed to the task—helped the command identify and prioritize mission requirements in time to influence its first budget submission. The complete analysis to be undertaken for the JMA was a much bigger task: to look at how USSOCOM’s forces could work closely with what were then the five U.S. regional unified commands (Southern, Pacific, Central, Atlantic, and European). The process involved analyzing requirements in a five- to ten-year period, measuring resources both available and projected, and highlighting the resulting capabilities and deficiencies. The complete analysis would take approximately two years.
When the first analysis (for the U.S. Southern Command) began in early 1989, ANSER realized that the job required full-time people in Tampa. They hired more research staff to work in the mole hole, to support USSOCOM daily. On 27 March 1989, ANSER created a Special Warfare Division to focus on the USSOCOM work. Dr. Carlos Mariño, a physicist-professor who had joined ANSER’s Health Systems Division in 1977 and advanced through various leadership positions to become the vice president for general purpose systems, was the acting manager of the new division. George Thompson was named the division’s “area leader” for special operations and briefed ANSER’s Board of Trustees that spring on the status of the JMA work.
By mid-1989, when the ANSER Tampa team began the second analysis (for U.S. Pacific Command), seven full-time people comprised the office. Later that year, when ANSER began planning for permanent office space near MacDill, the USSOCOM set up four trailers near the mole hole and offered to let ANSER use one of them.
The ANSER Tampa office finally settled in—and really started to sprint in their work—in 1990. Temporary office space set up off-base early in the year gave way, in late spring, to the first permanent office. (At the same time, ANSER continued to occupy space in the mole hole and its nearby trailer). In late 1990, ANSER’s USSOCOM team began the end of the first cycle of analyses on the JMA, simultaneously tackling the analyses of the three remaining unified commands.
It would be another year before that first cycle of analyses drew to a close, but that was the nature of the process for the JMA—labor intensive and time consuming. The magnitude of the analytical problem was bigger than the major regional conflict scenarios that the JMA team used, to discern how special operations might be applied for objectives or events resulting from those scenarios. The scenario-building included all peacetime engagement missions throughout the world that might also call for special operations.
Although they were planning a second cycle of analyses to build on the first, there was a sense among the ANSER Tampa team that their work would never be done. It was an optimistic notion. The United States’ role in the world was not static, because the world situation was always in flux, shifting priorities and changing technology. Subjects like counterproliferation and regional security would always be relevant. ANSER, in turn, would continue striving to remain relevant in its work for the Nation’s interests.
The ANSER Tampa team embodied that relevance into the 21st century. By late 1991, the Tampa office would grow to 22 full-time employees and involve an additional handful of ANSER analysts in Arlington. New USSOCOM projects would translate into new ANSER work, such as the maritime-mission modeling and simulation project that one team from the Tampa office completed—to USSOCOM accolades—in 1994. By 2000, a new iteration of the ANSER Tampa office would appear, supporting USSOCOM acquisition and logistics.
By 2001, the phrase “war on terror” would connect ANSER and Special Operations yet again.