Masters of Chaos, Chosen Soldier, and Teenage Boys

US Army Special Forces

Nobody can stand up to the US Military’s conventional fighting force using conventional tactics.  Yes, Russia and China have significant militaries and a fight with them would be bloody.  But it’s not likely we’re going to go to war with them.  Instead, as we’ve seen since the 1990’s, we’re likely to fight much smaller groups—Somali warlords, genocidal brutes in the Balkans, terrorist-supporting regimes like the Taliban, unstable dictators like Saddam Hussein, or Islamic extremists who aren’t associated with any nation. 

Those who do try to fight us conventionally get wiped out.  We saw that very clearly with Saddam Hussein.  Which is why the fight went underground.  In this type of war, when the bad guys are hiding among the good, we can’t just rush in and bomb the place to the stone age.  If we do, the local population will soon come to hate our presence and work against us.  And when that happens, we set ourselves up for defeat.

The best way to fight against insurgents is to ally ourselves with friendly portions of the populace who can identify who the insurgents are, which doors to kick in, and can actually kick those doors in themselves, if only they get some support and training. 

Because of this, a strong argument can be made that the US Army’s Special Forces are the most effective tool we have in winning the types of wars we’re likely to fight in the near future.

The US military has a number of special operations forces.  Those you’re probably most familiar with are the Navy SEALs, Delta Force, Rangers, Marine Force Recon, and the Army’s Special Forces (commonly known as Green Berets).  There are other groups like the Air Force’s Combat Control Team, the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations Group, and other black op units that the military doesn’t officially recognize. There is some overlap in the types of things these forces do.  However, each has its own focus, the thing it’s best suited for. The reason why the Army’s Special Forces are so valuable in our current environment is that one of their main missions, the thing they do better than anyone else, is conducting and fighting unconventional wars.

Along with all the other cool stuff that goes along with special operations work, Special Forces troops have to learn how to build rapport and trust because unconventional war is conducted through and by the indigenous population.  Special Forces troops not only have to know how to conduct high-risk missions, they have to be able to train others to do the same, which is why they are all required to learn a second language.  All this people work requires a more mature soldier.  And it shows: the average age of the SF operators is thirty-two, while the average age of a US Marine is nineteen.

I just read two fabulous books on the Army’s Special Forces.  The first is Masters of Chaos by Linda Robinson. Robinson was given unprecedented access.  She traveled with them to the front lines and was allowed to interview and report as no other had been allowed up to that point.  She starts with a brief history of the SF and their training; she then details missions the Special Forces carried out from 1989 – 2003, including their work in Panama, El Salvador, Kuwait, Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and the second gulf war.  My eyes were opened to the significant role they’ve played in all these conflicts.  It was absolutely fascinating.

The second book is Chosen Soldier by Dick Couch. Couch, a former Navy SEAL and CIA case officer, is the only writer ever given the privilege to attend the many months of Special Forces pre-selection, preparation, selection, and qualification training from start to finish.  He was given “full access to all training, venues, students, and training cadres.”  Couch did not merely interview.  He and his wife moved to one of the few residential structures on base at Camp Mackall in North Carolina.  Couch went out with the SF candidates to observe first hand exactly what they did, and, in a number of instances, do it with them.

One of the things I loved about this book are the personal bios given about the backgrounds of the various candidates.  They are not at all what you’d expect—everything from bouncers to engineers to one fellow who had a degree in and a passion for Russian literature.  I also enjoyed the details he gave about the training.  There are about 1.2 million people in the US Army.  Only about 5,000 of them are in the Special Forces.  When you finish, you have a good feel for the types of things they learn and why about 80% of those who volunteer for training wash out.

I couldn’t put either of these books down.  If you decide to read them, let me also recommend you download and read Army Field Manual 3-05.20 Army Special Forces Operations as well, which is the Army’s “keystone manual for Special Forces (SF) doctrine” that “describes SF roles, missions, capabilities, organization, command and control, employment, and sustainment operations across the operational continuum.”  You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/3ryt3o3.  For those who just want an overview of these forces, the Army has provided a great site here: http://www.goarmy.com/special-forces.html. 

The Boys of Laketown and Round Valley

Every school morning my wife and two oldest girls hunt.  They eat their breakfast perched high on a hill and watch for the quarry.  When it appears, a shout is raised, and the trio races to the car.  They blast out of the garage, perform an expert three-point turn, then Monte Carlo down the winding hill road.  Next, they attempt to set a land speed record on the straight shot into town, all in an effort to catch the big yellow school bus. 

Most days they make it.  The bus makes a few stops in town.  Sometimes they’re not so speedy and can only manage to catch the bus at its last stop.  Sometimes I join in on the hunt.  Most of the time I catch the bus at its last stop in town.  But this week I was quick enough to get them to the third stop in front of the middle school where most of the teens board the bus.  And I had the privilege to witness a class act.

The first time I arrived with my payload, all but two teen boys had already boarded.  We raced up to the bus, my daughters flew out of the car, and the two teenage boys from Round Valley stopped.  They did not get on.  They waited for my girls to hustle the length of the bus.  My girls got on, and the boys followed them in.

Odd.

The next day we got there a little bit earlier.  This time I witnessed ALL of the boys from Laketown and Round Valley stand and wait for all the girls to get on first.

What was this? 

I asked my girls about it.  They confirmed—it wasn’t a fluke.  While first initiated by the bus driver, the boys have the class to show this courtesy every day. 

Teenagers . . .

Bravo, Gentlemen.  Bravo.

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3 Responses to Masters of Chaos, Chosen Soldier, and Teenage Boys

  1. Hezekiah says:

    You’re totally making that up.

  2. Hezekiah says:

    The bus thing.

  3. John Brown says:

    Just anothher example of truth being stranger than fiction (grin)