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Old 12-15-2004, 00:11   #3
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Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: The Woodlands, Texas
Posts: 906
"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.

- Retired Special Forces Officer -
Special Forces Association Lifetime Member
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