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Basenshukai 11-26-2004 00:58

"FID" Series (Part 1)
NOTE: The following reflects the opinions of the author alone and does not reflect the opinions of anyone in the Department of Defense, Department of the Army, or anyone working for the US Government in any official capacity. All the names and locations have been changed, or modified, for security reasons.

"Foreign Internal Defense"


Time: 2257 (Local); 0357 (Zulu)
Place: Flying somewhere over one of the largest cocaine producing areas in South America

The constant humming of the MC-130’s four Allison T56-A-15 turboprop engines did little to coerce me to sleep. The cavernous interior of the aircraft was dominated by a single civilian vehicle – a Toyota Hilux Pick-up Truck –, two of my men, and three members of the aircraft’s crew. In the darkness I fumbled for the light button of my Suunto watch and illuminated the dial for a few seconds. It was nearly 23:00 local time and, by my calculation, a few short minutes before we began our descent. I tried to stretch on the cargo net seating to no avail. Sandwiched between my senior 18D (Special Forces Medical Sergeant) – dozing off to some MP3 tunes – and my long gun discreet carry case, I barely found restful sleep but still closed my eyes. I felt a presence near me and opened my eyes long enough to catch the dim red lights silhouetted by the plane’s load master. He extended both hands towards me: “Ten minutes!” He shouted. I took one more look at my watch and glanced over at the men. Both nodded an affirmative in my direction. The hum of the engines and the creaking of the chains holding our pick-up in place were the only noises we heard for the next five minutes.

Suddenly, the pitch of the engines changed dramatically and the aircraft angled forward in a very significant manner. My immediate instinct was concern; I hate delegating my fate to pilots, regardless of how much respect and trust I have in their abilities. I lit my Suunto watch once again and checked the altimeter; it began to plummet rapidly. The atmosphere in the aircraft began to change from a dry cold to very warm and humid. I could feel beads of sweat form on my forehead. I glanced over at the men, both fully awakened by the aircraft’s pitch, and extended one hand: “Five minutes!” With that we all pulled our M9s, placed them on safe, locked them to the rear and ejected the magazine. We checked that all 15 rounds were present, loaded the magazine and let the slide forward to drive a round home into the chamber. The M9s were placed on fire and holstered. We followed a similar drill with our M4s but placed them on safe. I checked for the spare 9 mm and 5.56 mm magazines in my 5.11 tactical vest and felt the rear pouch for my AN/PVS-7D night vision goggles (NVG). I pulled out my NVG, held it up to my eyes and worked the on/off switch. “Click”, a cellophane green light revealed details inside the aircraft. Another “click” and the infrared light shot out like a powerful flashlight. I put on the head harness and replaced the NVG to the rear pouch of the vest.

The aircraft straightened out, but only slightly. The engines revved even louder as I sat back and caressed the selector switch on the M4. I could see a few city lights in the distance through one of the portholes available across from me. As the aircraft landed, I saw the pick-up lurch forward and then ease back. The loadmaster quickly looked around the tires at the chains and headed back to the rear of the aircraft near the ramp controls. The two other crew members readied their M4s and put on assault vests. As the aircraft slowed to a crawl, the hydraulics began to whine as the ramp was lowered to reveal a pitch black runway and airport. We stood up and waited. Finally, the loadmaster came back towards the truck and began to unchain it from the fuselage assisted by my senior 18C (Special Forces Engineer Sergeant). The two crew members ran out of the aircraft and pulled security on either side. The load master peeked inside the pick-up one last time to ensure that the parking break was engaged and ran back towards the ramp. The engines were still whining loudly making this drill into a silent film as it drowned any other discernable noises. My 18D and 18C both followed the load master and assisted him in placing the ramps down to allow the vehicle to be driven off. I entered the pick-up, placed the M4 on the passenger seat and put on my NVG on the head harness. I revved the engine and began to back-up the vehicle ever so slowly. Finally we were out of the bird. “Patrick”, the 18C ran into the aircraft one last time and checked to make sure we did not leave anything behind, while “Kirk”, the 18D, checked that all the gear on the pick-up was tied down properly. When we were all together on the tarmac, I gave a thumbs-up to the loadmaster who returned it with a wave. The two crew members pulling security ran from both sides of the aircraft and joined the load master as the ramp began to close.

Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the aircraft turned, taxied down the runway and returned with a screaming run back to the air. Soon, we were drenched in sweat and standing in a pitch dark airfield in civilian clothes with nothing but our M4s, M9s and other miscellaneous equipment. The sound of the crickets returned and we spent a quiet three, or so minutes, getting used to the new environment. We stood each on one side of the vehicle with weapons at the low ready contemplating the next six months ahead of us in what the US Embassy’s Military Group Commander dubbed “the most difficult, and perhaps the most dangerous mission” in country this year. The darkness of the airfield was symbolic, in a way. This area was dark in other ways. There was no real intelligence available to us during the planning. We were not able to perform a proper area study for our planning process. No team had ever operated for longer than weeks at a time in this area and when they did, they limited themselves to a local Partner Nation (PN) military base and rarely explored anything outside of that. But, we were expected to work out of a firebase in the middle of an area recently contested by two opposing narco-terrorist groups. We were expected to operate in and near the town; and this town was run by one of the two narco-terrorist groups. The SF Group Commander’s guidance for Force Protection (FP) was simple: “Don’t fuck around with blanks, even during training … always carry live ammo down there.” Our company commander’s guidance was just as general, and justifiably so. He recommended to “be flexible” and to “let me know what you might need” because “we are not quite sure what you’ll have available”. This situation was “special”, which suited us just fine. Besides, the rest of the boys would be joining us soon.

Basenshukai 11-28-2004 21:49

"FID" Series (Part 2)
North, to our rear, we heard the clanking sound of a metal gate. In the darkness, about 200 meters away, we saw what seemed like PN military personnel escorting another Toyota Hilux through an access point. Between us and the approaching vehicle were a number of single engine aircraft and behind that, further from us, stood what appeared to be the main airport building – the only airport building. To our east, there was a fenced-in area and beyond it were several OV-10 Bronco aircraft followed by several Bell UH-1 helicopters. “Those are the other ‘gringos’ in this AO,” said Patrick. But, there was no activity there either. The other “gringos” were from a civilian contract agency that took part in some counter-narcotics activities. Many of the employees were former special operations personnel whom have worked this far south before. As part of the rules set by their employers, as well as for safety, the men were never allowed to wander into the town unless it was a very critical matter and they were escorted by a PN police convoy. I took a mental note of the place and decided that I would stop by in a few days to coordinate with them and get on the same sheet of music regarding FP matters.

All was quiet and dark, and except for the approaching blacked-out vehicle, there was no activity. We were expecting to be met by one of only two active-duty military Americans in the area. Their job was to advice and train the PN units and to report all activities to the US Embassy. However, due to the fact that the PN leadership rarely paid any attention to the suggestions that were given them, the team of two Americans was really acting as the eyes and ears for the US Embassy in any matters that the PN made visible to their advisors. The white Toyota Hilux approached us slowly until it was about one vehicle length from us. The driver stepped out and spoke in a conversational tone, “Captain?” He said with a very heavy Hispanic accent. “What’s up, brother …” I replied as I removed the NVG and head harness and put them away, “are you with the advisor team down here?” I asked. “Yeah, my captain could not make it. He left for ‘R and R’ and will be back in a few days. Anyway, why don’t you ride with me while the boys handle that pick-up truck? I’ll give you a quick orientation of the area while we drive.” I retracted the stock of my M4 and shoved it between my legs in the front passenger seat of the front cab of his vehicle and un-holstered the M9, put it on safe and placed it on my lap. I learned that the NCO was an E-7, or Sergeant First Class (SFC) from the US Army’s Southern Command (USARSO). He was actually from a National Guard Unit in Texas and was activated for the next year. His background was mechanized infantry. His accent was heavy like that of the Tony Montana character in the famous “Scarface” motion picture. Better still, he actually had a near-vertical two inch scar on his face on his left cheek. In my mental Rolodex he was placed in the “M” section for “Montana”; that’s how I remembered him. SFC “Montana” drove us through the urban center of the city and showed me areas of interest: where to buy food, where to get cleaning supplies, where to get building supplies, the local entertainment, and the “no go” areas. The town reminded me of similar places in Puerto Rico with the same multi-level home and business concrete architecture and pastel colors. Yellow seemed to be predominant the color of choice.

Most roads in the center of town were improved (asphalt) while many of the side streets were unimproved red clay. I could tell from the amount of red clay residue on the asphalted roads that the rainy season caused occasional flooding. As we drove the last stretch towards the PN military base nearby, SFC Montana pointed-out some flat expanse of land to the west, my right. “You see those hundreds of acres of land there?” He asked. I nodded an affirmative. “The left wing guerrilla group used to attack this very battalion once a week just four years ago.” I found that comment quite interesting. Did these attacks spur forth an offensive response on the part of the PN? “Well, what happened four years ago? Why did it stop?” I asked. “Well, the right wing paramilitary group moved in for the cocaine profits and visited the center of town … well; they visited for a while and then became permanent. Shortly after their visit many bodies could be seen floating down the river towards the east. They would gut them and the piranhas would eat them by the time they traveled four klicks. Support for the left wing group died right quick after that.” We arrived at the main gate of the military base only to be waved through. We were not scrutinized. Yellow flood lights bathed the area around the main gate. The soldiers looked poorly equipped with 5.56 mm Galil rifles that were so old that the bluing had worn off and they shined unsightly silver in the dim light. Their web gear looked pretty well torn apart and there seemed to be no one in charge at first glance. We continued up hill away from most buildings in the base while we passed a large HLZ that could accommodate some 15 helicopters. “So the army didn’t cause the change in the town? This was all affected by the paramilitaries? So, who runs the town?” It was more of a rhetorical question on my part. I knew the answer already. “Who do you think?” He answered, “the paramilitaries run practically everything here … the army doesn’t even ruffle their feathers too much.” He continued, “The guerrilla’s have no respect for the army, but they fear the paramilitaries.” he added. “Why is that?” I was curious for his analysis. “Well, the paramilitaries don’t follow rules in this war. You could say they are pretty ‘unconventional’. When the paramilitaries attack the guerrillas, they show no quarter. No one survives and many bodies are mutilated.” He briefly stopped the car, looked over at me, took a second or two, and finished his thought; “Anyway, the paramilitaries are effective in fighting the guerrillas. They also have a strange policy of breaking contact whenever they encounter the government forces. It’s like a strange unofficial, unwritten mutual agreement. The PN military don’t really mess around with the paramilitaries too much either.” It was an eye opening statement. SFC Montana changed gears and slowly drove the vehicle to a halt just ahead of us.

We arrived at the officer quarters were Montana, and his captain, had their place. “Just park your vehicle here and, I guess, you want to bring your sensitive items inside.” He recommended. There is an actual technical explanation as to what a sensitive item is, but, generally, sensitive items are those things that are of high tactical value, usually expensive in nature, and hard to replace. Essentially, everything we carried was a sensitive item except our clothes. We entered a cul-de-sac surrounded by three homes. The whole area was bathed in darkness except for the city lights in the distance. We were on high ground with respect to the rest of the town. It was obvious that the military base, occupied over sixty-years ago, sat on dominant key terrain. Patrick was driving our pick-up and followed right behind us.

He slowed down as he closed-in on me and I raised my left index finger and motioned in a circular fashion. That was the hand-and-arm signal for ‘park the vehicle but give us an out’. He parked the vehicle such that, if we had to leave in a hurry, we could leave unhindered. “Capi, we take all the gear inside?” Kirk asked. The men called me “Capi”. It was short for “capitan” which was Spanish for captain. In 7th Special Forces Group the term was used similarly to the term “skipper” in the Navy. “Yeah, let’s carry all that inside and get comfortable for the night.” I instructed. Kirk and I carried a large black plastic gear box with sensitive items while Patrick carried loose bags and other items. We were done in a few minutes and claimed our spaces for the night in the Spartan-like quarters. The place was largely devoid of furniture and the walls exhibited a very old yellowish coat of paint. Each bedroom had a standard-issue green cot. We pulled extras from an overstuffed closet full of miscellaneous equipment. The living room was dominated by a SATCOM radio and a new 27 inch television complete with satellite reception. We were glad to have a roof over our heads for the night. We were in a relatively safe area but slept with our weapons by our sides.

(To Be Continued)

Basenshukai 12-15-2004 00:11

"FID" Series (Part 3)

The next morning, we woke at around 0500, conducted personal hygiene and repacked our personal equipment. SFC Montana exited his room and announced that I would get the chance to meet the PN unit commander today. He filled me in during the ride to the brigade headquarters for this counter-guerrilla unit. The unit commander was a full colonel and was, apparently, friendly to US forces. He ran his operations fairly decentralized, in a physical sense. That is to say his operations were usually not contiguous at company-level and above. However, every aspect of the operations required authorization from him. If a company commander wanted to move his unit slightly to adjust to the terrain, he needed to call the ‘old man’. Such centralization is part of the Spaniard heritage of this Latin American army. The parochialism, the strict class-based system, the inter-service politics and the heraldry were all inherited from Spain’s old colonial occupation of this republic. Of course, the top brass carried itself in a way which was everything but egalitarian. We arrived at the brigade command post (CP) in a few minutes and parked our vehicles about 30 meters behind what seemed like a battalion-sized formation. From our vantage point, I could not see the speaker, but I could clearly discern his comments. I assumed that it was the brigade sergeant major from the topics he covered – personal appearance, uniform standards, personal conduct, etc. At their core, I thought, all armies are essentially the same; they all feed voraciously on discipline and varying levels of conformity. I was feeling pretty good about this organization. It seemed to have the right focus and was using the NCOs to maintain the welfare and discipline of the organization. We stood by our vehicles, not wanting to intervene with the formation, which was occurring right at the entranceway to the brigade headquarters. In a few minutes, the formation ended and the ranks began to break down into their particular work sections, et al. I walked towards the center of it all, closely followed by SFC Montana. My men waited by the vehicles. “Security” they said with a smile. Of course, I knew that they wanted no part of this activity as it was, essentially, officer business, and they preferred to keep a healthy distance. I was excited about meeting this intrepid sergeant major. When I walked closer to him, I was crestfallen. He was not the sergeant major; he was the brigade commander himself. I saluted and addressed him in the manner that his army addresses those of senior rank. As I listened to his standard greeting I wondered: What the hell was a full colonel doing addressing NCO issues directly to the soldiers. Where are the NCOs?

We entered the brigade tactical operations center (TOC) which was no more than a room, about 15 by 20 meters, with a few maps on the wall, tactical overlays, a quick reference board with call signs and frequencies and about four ancient-looking radios. There were two desks at one end, about six meters apart. One desk was for the communications specialist, a signal corps captain, and the other accommodated the brigade’s operations officer, known as the Staff 3, or S-3, for short. There was a buzz of activity in the TOC. There were about 20 plastic chairs, of varying colors, filled with assorted brigade personnel. About half were NCOs and half were officers. A few senior ranking officers from the brigade staff stood clustered around the communications desk. A soldier was tracing a tactical graphic in red on the map. SFC Montana and I moved to a corner, so as not to disturb the activity. I followed the tip of the soldier’s red marker with interest. Doctrinally, red is the color for the enemy. The marker made a large oval shape over a ridgeline and topped it with a single vertical line. “There’s a whole fucking company in there?” I whispered to myself. The friendly graphic showed the same symbol, in blue, situated at the foot of the hills occupied by the enemy with some real nasty restrictive terrain behind them. The friendly forces were backed-up against swamps. The look on the face of the brigade S-3 showed a bit of concern. He gripped the handset of one of the radios tightly to his face. “Have you begun to move yet, ‘Cobra 6’?” He asked. A few silent seconds passed and the radio filled with static and a disembodied voice sounded as if it was talking on the other end of a steel pipe. “Negative, we are pinned down against the terrain behind us … we won’t be able to move for some time, over.” Machine-gun fire could be heard at the tail end of the transmission and then it faded back to static and finally silence. “’Cobra 6’, ‘Cobra 6’ … you are to move to link-up with elements of the 26th … do you understand, over!” ordered the S-3. The silence filled the room, then static, then the metallic voice of ‘Cobra 6’ with the backdrop of sporadic fire, “I understand … will move as soon as …” There was a gap of silence. “…over.” The S-3 looked over at me and shook his head. “We always have problems with communications with this type of terrain.” He explained. “The problem right now is that he’s got two wounded, and one is critical … a young lieutenant … shot badly in the leg. He is bleeding to death and we can’t get him out.” He sighed. “Why not?” I asked. “Well, the weather here is good, so we can launch. But, the weather is pretty bad where they are at and to top it off, he’s about two kilometers from the nearest LZ.” I shared his concern. The stress in the room was contagious. “Well, I’m Colonel Saenz. I’m the brigade S-3.” He extended his hand with a big grin on his face. He was slightly overweight and had that ‘jolly’ look to him. I shook his hand and introduced myself by rank and full name. “I’m here for the training of one of your battalions. I’m from the United States Army Special Forces.” He looked at my name tag for a second and asked, “So, are you Puerto Rican?” “Yes, how did you know?” I asked. “Oh, your accent gave it away. You guys make it too easy – you don’t pronounce your “r” like we do. You guys think they are the letter ‘L’.” We both laughed at the comment. Then, his phone began to ring. He waved an enlisted soldier over while tending to the phone with the other hand. “Hello?” He answered the call. “Yes … hold on …” He muffled the phone with his hand and directed the soldier to take us to see the brigade commander and then waved us off. As we left he picked-up the radio headset in one hand, and the phone in the other. At about this time, his personal cell phone began to ring. “These guys live by multi-tasking”, I commented to SFC Montana as we were escorted outside to the office next door.

A medical evacuation helicopter – a UH-60 - flew overhead as we made our way to the next building. We paused and I followed it visually until it began to flare over the LZ. A trauma team was standing by. As soon as it landed, two soldiers spilled-out carrying a third who had his camouflage jacket ripped open and a haphazardly placed bandage, now soaked red, over the chest area. The soldier looked pale white and non-responsive. A fourth soldier came out limping with the help of a makeshift crutch made out of a branch. Lastly, one of the helicopter crew members pushed out what seemed like a body wrapped in a black plastic garbage bags and grey duct tape. It hit the ground and rolled over once. As soon as the body cleared, the helicopter lifted-off again. By now, the trauma team was tending to transport the wounded and a detail of four other soldiers moved the body onto an awaiting cargo truck. We had stopped moving by now, standing there, just watching the activity. “Busy day, huh?” I asked. “This is a busy week of operations and that body is a ‘G’, a guerrilla. That’s why they treated it like a sack of potatoes.” SFC Montana answered. “Those guys are from another unit in contact. Anyway, let’s get going.” He motioned towards the brigade commander’s building.


Basenshukai 12-30-2004 20:54

"FID" Series (Part 4)

The next building was about 40 meters up the hill from the brigade TOC. There were some of the usual landscaping efforts one sees in most military installations – pruned globular shaped trees and recently cut grass. The occasional scooter would race either up, or down, along the road leading to all of the administrative buildings and the soldier barracks. . Along the way, we exchanged salutes with all manner of soldiers; officers, NCOs and enlisted men. Most soldiers seemed fairly well disciplined. Their uniformity was another manner altogether. Some wore camouflage boonie hats while others wore patrol caps. Others wore no hats at all. Some wore shoulder insignias to units that they no longer belonged to. The one thing that I noticed right away, among the officers especially was the abundance of qualification badges. Most officers wore the distinctive insignia of their version of the US Army Ranger Course. However, they also wore all manner of SCUBA (Combat Diver Qualification), HALO, basic parachutist and counter-guerrilla warfare school badges. I also saw many soldiers wear a subdued patch of the US Army’s 1st Special Forces Regiment insignia. My men had made me aware that many soldiers feel that any course with the famed “Green Berets” was worthy of official recognition. The badges were not officially authorized but the practice was so prevalent among all levels that it was politely ignored. Oddly enough, the official beret for the counter-guerrilla forces, which have been largely trained and equipped by US Army Special Forces, was a green beret with a red flash.

We arrived to the brigade commander’s office and were greeted by a very tall and broad man of some 45 years of age. He looked the part of a combat unit commander and his office was largely bare, save the national flag, a picture of the current president of the republic and a small statute of the Virgin Mary. A captain worked as his aide and secretary. A staff sergeant worked as an assistant. He stood by his desk and came around to greet us. I snapped to attention and presented myself. “Relax, relax”, he said, “I want you to feel as though you are back home. Did you have a good trip on the way here, captain?” He asked. “Sir, so far everything has been great. We have yet to see where we will live, but I’m sure it will do.” I asserted. “Well, you know you will be staying at our Special Forces school a few kilometers from here, right?” He inquired. I nodded an affirmative. “Being that you are cut of the same cloth, you should feel right at home there. The commander of the school someone I know. He is a good man and you should have no problems with him.” He explained. The truth was that I was fully aware of who the commander of the school was and knew that he was going to present difficulties for us; and NO, we were not cut from the same cloth.

We already had a history with the PN SF school commander. Ruben, our detachment’s operations sergeant, most commonly referred to as the “Team Sergeant”, had completed the Pre-Deployment Site Survey (PDSS) for this mission about two months prior to our deployment to this location. The PDSS, akin to a reconnaissance, is an integral part of the mission planning process. During the PDSS, a small team drawn from the detachment – typically a key leader, someone in charge of logistics and a member of the detachment’s operations and training cell – visits the American Embassy, and the area of operations. During this time, the team makes an initial “on-the-ground” assessment of the mission and brings that information back to the detachment for further planning. Ruben met the current commander of the PN Special Forces School and found him to be an arrogant, uncooperative and chest-pounding individual. His priorities seemed to be in maintaining his image as the man in charge and not in the accomplishment of the mission. Like many senior officers in this Latin American country, our presence was not seen as a helping hand in their struggle against the guerrillas and narco-terrorists. Rather, we were seen as an intervening force pushing our own agenda, flaunting our vast resources and equipment for the sake of meddling with their military operational sovereignty.

“I know that there were some misunderstandings from the trip that some of your men made in preparation for this mission.” The colonel’s face was matter-of-factly in this statement. “Sir,” I interjected, “I have already decided to put the matter behind us and begin anew. I think that the problem here stems from the fact that the school’s commander has no direct command relationship with your chain of command. This will pose problems as his school’s purpose is to direct all of its resources towards the training of future commandos for your army. While I don’t want to begin with a negative conception of the matter, I’m afraid that we will see some difficulty in the near future.” The colonel looked down at his desk and thought for a second as he tapped a pen against a cup of coffee. “Look,” he said, “you know as well as I do that politics define a lot of what we do. But, I don’t subscribe by that; at least not always. There is a time and place for that.” He got up and walked over to a window, reached up to it, at about eye level, and pulled down a few blinds in order to see outside. “These men out there need training. Only you and your men can bring all that ammo and equipment for our benefit. I don’t want anything to get in the way of that.” He turned to me and looked me straight in the eyes. “I trust that you will do what’s necessary to make this happen. I just need to ask you one thing.” He let that moment hang out there for a few seconds. “If you run into problems, talk to me first … I’ll fix it”. I nodded but did not affirm anything. I did not want to enter into any agreements with him outside of our initial terms of agreement regarding training (these are more commonly known as Initial Terms of Reference – ITOR). The US Embassy’s Military Group (MILGRP) – composed of a team of US military professionals that assist the US Ambassador in all manners that concerning military affairs – had already come to an agreement as to the training needs of the PN unit. I was bound to that agreement and did not want to get into any adjustments prematurely. Also, I was duty-bound to report any and all incidents to my higher headquarters. On the one hand, as Robin Sage taught me, I did not want to come out and tell the colonel: “Sir, I will report every negative thing to the US Embassy without clearing it with you first, and that’s final.” Even though, that was exactly what I was going to do should it become necessary. On the other hand, I had to be able to fix whatever problems I had here, before it was necessary to go any higher. This would have the effect of keeping my own commander focused on the many issues he had to handle back at the capital without having to worry about me, and it would maintain my rapport with the unit commander for as long as was possible.

The rest of our meeting covered logistics and points of contact. We concluded our meeting with a handshake and a promise that we would meet again, at some undetermined time, in a more social setting. We exited the building and headed for our vehicles. “The big guy seems pretty straight forward.” I commented to SFC Montana. “These guys are all politicians first. Don’t forget that. But, yeah, he’s OK.” He said. Our next stop was the PN Special Forces School. The route there was on an improved asphalt road initially. As we got within four kilometers of our objective, we stopped at an intersection where a dirt road joined the asphalt road at a ninety degree angle. There was a large monument of the Virgin Mary at this intersection. “This”, commented SFC Montana “is the point of no return. Beyond this statue, due south, is guerrilla land. The road we are about to take was oftentimes ambushed by the guerrillas near a choke point we’ll pass through later.” At the intersection, there were bars that lined the dirt road. There was also a nearby gas station and beyond that, closer to the base we had just come from, was a public bath – similar to a public swimming pool. “OK, let’s get on with it.” I said. I signaled my men, in the vehicle behind us, with the universal hand and arm signal for enemy and pointed down the road. The guys nodded and I could see Kirk rest the muzzle of his SOPMOD M4 carbine on the door of the passenger side of the pick-up truck.

In about 30 minutes, we saw a very tall radio antenna in the distance. At about two kilometers, it seemed like it was about 45 meters tall. Shortly after that, we passed several choke points and finally a crude-looking obstacle course. Within sight of the firebase that housed the school was a sign: “Welcome to the Rural Special Forces School. All personnel and vehicles are subject to search. No passage is allowed between 1800 to 0600.” This was the formative school for this nation’s elite soldiers. “Elite”, however, is a relative term. The special operations community in this country has been mostly trained by US Army Special Forces. Unfortunately, this nation’s military rarely has the ability to sustain this valuable training and proficiency for the long term.


Basenshukai 12-30-2004 20:56

"FID" Series (Part 4, continued)
The Partner Nation’s (PN) Special Forces units are divided by the operational environment they operate in. The army, as the largest component of this country’s military, has the bulk of the special operations personnel. They are all selected by the same process and trained by the same school – the one we were to base ourselves out of. The selection process was not very selective but our standards. A candidate had to have a clean service record upon applying for consideration. Combat arms soldiers were preferred. A board would convene and go through the list of applicants. Political connections, military or otherwise, were oftentimes helpful and in this regard, officers had the advantage. Once selected for consideration, the soldier was to attend a selection course which lasted roughly 14 days. During those 14 days, the soldier performed a physical fitness test consisting of a 3 kilometer run, maximum push-ups and sit-ups in two minutes, respectively, and pull-ups. The selection also included a 20 kilometer rucksack march with about 45 pounds of equipment, a 100-meter pool swim and a battery of psychological exams. Upon completion of the selection process, the best candidates were chosen for training.

Their Special Forces school, our base of operations, consisted of a Vietnam-style firebase with concentric circles of mines, wires, defensive positions and watch towers. In some respects it also looked like the base camp in the 1968 John Wayne classic, “The Green Berets”. The qualification course was five months in length and included all of the specialties found in their detachments. Two weeks were dedicated on weapons, communications, combat medicine, intelligence, and demolitions. This training was executed during a specialization period of two weeks where each specialty group was separated from the others and conducted their training concurrently. After the two week period, the training detachments were re-assembled and executed an isolation exercise followed by a mission. The tail-end of the course was marked by a one-week survival, evasion, resistance and escape course. After this, the candidates were full-fledged Special Forces commandos for their army. Most of these men would then be assigned to one of several Special Forces battalions. These formations comprised what is considered as the “rural” Special Forces. As these new commandos entered their units, older and more experienced commandos were hand-picked to fill the ranks of the hostage rescue unit based out of the capital. The hostage-rescue unit is the best equipped and funded and is known as the “urban” Special Forces unit.


Basenshukai 02-26-2005 19:26

"FID" Series (Part 5)

We were immediately recognized upon entering the firebase as there were several PN soldiers, standing smartly by a long rectangular building. SFC Montana was the first to approach them. “Hey, captain, how are you?” Montana greeted enthusiastically. They exchanged a salute and then handshakes. Motioning towards us Montana added, “These are the guys I told you about.” I stepped forward and introduced myself and each of my men. The rest of the PN soldiers, NCOs apparently, stepped back and allowed their officer to handle the meeting. I was told where we were going to stay and were asked specific questions about the scope of our mission here. I kept answers to a necessary minimum but fulfilled the immediate need for information, which, no doubt, needed to climb up this PN officer’s chain of command. The PN captain was obviously fit and had the appearance of a habitual long distance runner. His posture was ramrod-straight and his manner was thoughtful and professional. My instinct perceived him as a politician, I’m not quite sure why. Nevertheless, I understood that the fact that I met him first meant that he was to be our primary point of contact in all matters. We were informed that his superior, the PN Lieutenant Colonel that Ruben had dealt with during the PDSS, was in the capital on official leave and would not return for two weeks. Also, we were given a quick tour of the site and shown our area – a dilapidated wooden building and a similarly kept open-air classroom. All in all it was not bad. SF can make due with nearly anything and construct a palace with it. After all was said and done, we set out to make ourselves a team house in anticipation of the arrival of the rest of the detachment.

Our first days in the Partner Nation (PN) Special Forces school base were filled with the work of building a non-existent team house. We were originally given lodging in an old, unused open-air structure made of haphazard construction. The wooden floor was mostly rotten and we accidentally put our boots through it several times. Just outside the wooden hut was a large goat named “Carlos”. A donkey, which was used to cart away the trash picked-up daily, wandered free throughout the school grounds grazing on any grass it could find. His handler also fed him at regular intervals. Several cats also resided inside the hut structure. Originally, the PN soldiers had a rodent problem, which they logically solved by bringing in several cats. The cats multiplied too fast for the school cadre, so they gave the nod for the neighboring naval infantry company – they shared the river’s side of the compound – to allow dogs as pets in order to counter the cat problem. In short order, they too multiplied and the firebase was replete with dogs. I wondered what predatory animal they would introduce next to counter the dogs. Perhaps resurgence in the rodent population would scare the dogs. Who knows? We secured our most tactically sensitive items in the firebase armory / supply depot. I was a bit uneasy with the arrangement, as I preferred to control these items. However, the armory / supply depot was the most secured facility in the firebase and was also relatively close to our own location. As we were storing our gear, we thought better of it and grabbed all our communications gear and kept it with us. If the firebase were attacked I wanted to defend these items, or have the ability to destroy them quickly. We hung mosquito nets on our cots and slept as best we could throughout the hot and humid night. At around 0500, I awoke with that strange feeling I always get when in a new, or strange, place. As soon as I remembered where I was, I reached down by my right leg and felt for my M4. I felt the selector switch with my fingers and then confirmed that the magazine was locked. I felt my way up to my M68 Aimpoint and checked that the light intensifier switch was to the lowest setting for “off”. As I was doing this, I had the eerie feeling that I was being watched. I slowly scanned from my left towards my feet and then my right. My heart nearly stopped when I saw what appeared to be two huge black eyes looking straight at me. My most primitive programming sent my nerves in full alert. My brain identified the eyes as those belonging to the freaking donkey! Since the hut we were in had no doors, the donkey came in to avoid the early morning rain. I sat up in disbelief, careful not to hit my head against the metal bar supports of the cot above mine. I reached up and cleared the mosquito net from my face as I placed my M4 over my pillow. I looked around and saw about seven kittens sleeping in the cot in front of where I was. The goat, tied to a small stick just outside the hut entrance, had stretched the rope as far as it could and managed to place most of its body inside the hut, save his head. I looked for my men and they were already awake and moving on the cots to the left. It was like living inside Noah’s Ark, or inside a manger. Whichever side of the Bible one looked, this place had a resemblance. I located my jungle boots and placed my bare feet inside them after turning them upside down and shaking them to remove anything dangerous. I got up and walked carefully while avoiding the gaping holes that revealed the bare dirt floor. Before stepping out into the rain, and heading for the latrines, I took another look at the current “team house” and shook my head. “Austere places …” I muttered as I headed into the dark morning.

We were up and about by 0700. Patrick, our 18C, diligently conducted a maintenance check of our pick-up truck. “Capi,” he said, “the roads ‘round here are going to kill this vehicle. It’s a four-wheeled drive vehicle, but it is not designed for this type of off-road punishment.” He warned. I gave Pat a concerned look. “Is anything broken?” I asked. “Not yet.” He answered. “Are we going downtown today?” Pat inquired. “Yeah, we will. After we take a look around the firebase and feel comfortable about the place. But, let’s make sure we secure our sensitive items before we leave. We might want to take some items with us.” I said. Patrick shifted attention back to the underside of the vehicle. “Well, where’s Kirk?” I inquired while looking around. “Oh, the sleeping ‘Delta’?” Patrick mocked, “I think he might still be in the hooch putting on his make up.” I smiled at the comment. Kirk, our 18 Delta (18D), the detachment’s Special Forces Medical Sergeant, was the newest member of the detachment along with the sole 18 Echo (18E), our Special Forces Communications Sergeant. The 18E would arrive with the rest of the detachment in a few weeks. Kirk came to us about four months prior to our deployment in the midst of our rotation through the six-week long Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course (SFAUCC). Kirk impressed us with his physical fitness and ability to learn quickly. This drew the biggest praise our Team Sergeant bestowed on any of us, “He’ll do”, he said, and we decided to keep him.

As the new guy, Kirk shared a quasi-Omega Wolf position with Raul, our 18E. As a result, the guys were always having a good time poking fun at two “new guys”. Not surprisingly, however, Patrick and Kirk were developing a close friendship and were rarely seen apart. The guys always had a certain penchant for humor, especially at the expense of each other. This quirk was particularly strong in this detachment. It is one of the things that kept us bonded together. The ability to accept criticism, even in its veiled form is essential in allowing us to better know each other. A Special Forces detachment is unlike any other small organization in the conventional inventory. A detachment is a tight knit, tribal, organization that, beyond the rigors of SFAS and the Q-Course, conducts its own subtle selection process. The men endeavor towards maintaining their individuality while maintaining the tight cohesion necessary for combat survival. The men know each other’s likes, dislikes, strengths and flaws. Each man knows how his fellow warrior will move inside a house during close quarter combat, or how his voice sounds on the radio when he’s distressed. But, this knowledge does not come easily. First names, or nicknames, not rank, are the norm. The men mentally probe one another’s knowledge and professionalism through a natural process of socialization unseen in any conventional combat unit. Off color jokes are the norm. Honest mistakes are exaggerated for the potential humor. No one is immune and save two things – a detachment member’s wife and kids – no topic is sacred. The result is a unit were the men truly care for one another like family and an organization so cohesive that it can withstand the most shocking forms of combat-related stress.


Basenshukai 03-06-2005 01:38

"FID" Series (Part 6)

The town of San Jorge was the capital of this vast department. The Partner Nation classified the different regions – what we would refer to as states – as departments. There were a total of 17 departments and we were in one of the largest in the southern region. Also, by virtue of the soil composition and the high incidence of rain throughout the year, the particular department where San Jorge was located accounted for nearly 27% of the coca plant yield in country for 2001 alone. As late as 1997, the area was largely contested between the right and left wing guerrilla groups. The right wing group, a paramilitary organization originally conceived to eradicate the left wing insurgent group, fought a very bloody campaign to acquire undisputed control. A nearby town is notorious for the massacre of about 25 of its inhabitants at the hands of the right wing paramilitaries due to the inhabitants' alleged relationship, however dubious or indirect, to left wing guerillas. People were brutally tortured and hung and their limbs hacked while they were still alive. The bodies were thrown into the nearby river for sheer shock value. This coupled with national army incursions into the area, wrested control away from the left wing group. The national army and the right wing paramilitaries fell into an uneasy symbiotic relationship. The right wing paramilitaries had unquestioned control of the department's capital city and, indirectly, tremendous influence over the surrounding land and landowners. Like any such organization, they thrived within the protective circle of collaborators, auxiliaries and armed support from within the legitimate national police and national army.

These facts were very well known to us and it provided us with tremendous motivation for increased situational awareness. The road towards the town was replete with choke points and lent itself for some very successful ambushes should the enemy have the courage to wager their existence in the area to touch us. Armed with recent months of intense training in shooting and combat convoys, as well as the best weapons and equipment in the area, we were a formidable force to challenge. Nevertheless, we were hundreds of miles from the nearest US SF soldiers in the region and had no reliable air support. An engagement would be costly for the enemy; I had no doubt, yet, would have to be over in seconds. Back at the US Embassy, we were advised to only carry concealed weapons down town and to blend in to the population. This was truly an unrealistic approach in my view. There was no way that a small population as homogeneous as this would overlook three very fit and light skinned men, with relatively long hair and above average height in their own backyard. Blending in was feasible in the capital, where the US Embassy was located. But, it was an unrealistic expectation in this very small and tight knit community. Our mere presence would set off immediate information requirements by the local paramilitary intelligence apparatus.

During our planning, we developed Courses of Actions (COAs) for the possibilities outlined by our available intelligence. The intelligence we did have was minimal and this led to few facts from which to formulate viable COAs. This led to logical assumptions based on pattern analysis. Our assumptions generated other questions which we expressed in the forms of Requests for Information (RFIs). Any RFIs that were answered, in turn, generated more COAs. We developed COAs for the most likely occurrences and COAs for the most dangerous possibilities. The unanswered RFIs could not yield enough solid information to generate into COAs, so this we rectified with well practiced battle drills. We anticipated that it was likely that the local paramilitaries would attempt to gather as much intelligence about us as possible; covertly. We also assumed that due to the vast economic interest that the area provided the paramilitaries, in terms of illicit drug production, they would be careful to not cause a direct engagement. Any direct engagement against US forces in the area, we felt, would force the “microscope” of the US Embassy to focus in this tiny, highly lucrative piece of ground – the paramilitaries would not want that. There was also the possible left wing guerrilla threat. As this area was right wing controlled, and occupied by a battalion of national army and a company of police, we felt that the most likely scenario for an encounter with a left wing guerrilla would be in the form of a suicidal individual – not very probable – or, a highly trained small “killing” cell, designed for just that type of job. The last possibility, while not likely, was the most feasible for that type of action. The most dangerous course of action would be for a left wing guerrilla to infiltrate the town and attempt to kill, at least, one detachment member.

This, logically, would necessitate a bit of surveillance on the part of the guerrilla organization, as well as some connection and support from any locals willing to risk life and limb to support a left wing objective. Our mitigation to this, then, would be to go to town fully armed, and overtly so. The “enemy” was going to notice us regardless, so, I wanted them to see us as a very hard target and as one that would cost a tremendous price to engage. Also, we were going to interact with the local population. Special Forces are the best special operations force in using the population to thwart an enemy and this was our purpose exactly.


Basenshukai 11-28-2010 03:35

"FID" Series (Part II)
[Note: After receiving about a dozen requests to resume posting the next installments in my series, I have finally "given in". Though I'm deployed, I will resume my "FID" series, as well as "The Experience" (which is about the SF Qualification Course). I hope you all enjoy it.]

Preparations for the training that we were supposed to execute were still ongoing. However, there was one glitch: Our DEPORD (Deployment Order) was kicked back at the Pentagon because - as I was told - it was written in the wrong format. This was well out of our hands, as the DEPORDs are written way above our pay grade. It seems that when we were actually deployed into the country, it was expected that the DEPORD would be signed shortly thereafter. It was not so. So we were "here", but were not authorized to commence our training activities.

In any case, it would be another two weeks before we were authorized to train our Partner Nation (PN) unit. Another glitch developed when the PN unit leadership informed us that they would not be able to commit a whole battalion to training. Only two companies would be available, and not at the same time. As a result, we would have two weeks free of these activities. But, we could now conduct detachment training, conduct a more thorough assessment of San Jorge, and, as my team sergeant would say, "improve our position". We had two brand new armored civilian SUVs; they still had the "new car smell". They had been delivered a few days subsequent to our arrival. They were delivered by special operations aircraft to the same unlighted air strip we inserted through on our first day here.

We had to practice driving them though the mud roads leading away from the PN firebase where we were staying and into the town, as these vehicles were much heavier than the stock civilian models due to their armor. Though the armored vehicles were more powerful than their unarmored twins commonly sold in the civilian market, one had to know how to handle their power at the right times. Otherwise, powerful spinning wheels could result in burying the vehicle into the mud. The route to the main road was replete with choke points and potential ambush sites. We had to consider these areas in planning our battle drills, and we did.

We rigged both vehicles with specially designed cargo straps made to handle more than twice the weight of each vehicle. These were placed both front and aft of each vehicle on designated attachment points. With these straps, we practiced evacuating either vehicle in an emergency; it is a technique we had practiced for in the past, but intended for use in Afghanistan. We took both vehicles to the nearby range and practiced entering and exiting each vehicle during live fire exercises. We practiced moving casualties from one vehicle to another using “Simunition” as the enemy "live fire". And, we worked up our vehicle occupant list so that each vehicle had a balanced complement of personnel.

For travel into the town, we formulated a three-vehicle plan. Our two SUVs would travel together, but at least 100 meters apart in the open road. When in the actual town, we would have one vehicle separate from the other and "roam" looking for indicators of an attack. Both vehicles had heavily tinted windows. Inside, there were four of us: The driver, the C2 and communications man and, in the rear the third and fourth man formed a heavily armed "counter-ambush" team. In the cargo space we had medical equipment, escape and evasion packs, extra ammunition and emergency communications gear. Our third vehicle - a regular HMMWV - stood by in the nearby PN army base, with the balance of our team and set up with more medical gear. When we had the senior 18C (detachment engineer sergeant) and another detachment member go out to shop for essentials (construction material, door locks, groceries, etc.), for example, one SUV would follow while driving slowly along the street as we all kept our eyes in a constant 360 search for threats from behind the pitched black tinted windows. The second SUV would travel in the surrounding blocks looking for anything that seemed "out of place" and we maintained constant communication. (To Be Continued...)

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