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Old 12-30-2004, 20:54   #4
Basenshukai
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Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: The Woodlands, Texas
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"FID" Series (Part 4)

COMMAND AND CONTROL

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.

(TBC)
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Last edited by Basenshukai; 12-30-2004 at 21:02.
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