Thursday, December 30, 2004

Let's *not* bring back the draft, OK?

I've had discussions with several people recently about bringing back the draft. I see it as just a small example of how much damage the whiny (read Howard Dean) wing of the Dems did during the last election. One of the sleazier tactics they used to try to energize the youth vote was scaring the bejeezus out of college kids with the promise that the bad Republicans had a secret plan to reinstate the draft as soon as the polls closed on November 2nd. Other anti-war types wrote editorials or even introduced bills in Congress calling for a draft to "spread the burden." (It seems that only the "working and poor classes" are fighting in this war. My participation was apparently a regrettable error - when we were inprocessing to go over, the colonel in charge of the mobilization effort (the MUIC, for the cognescenti) asked if there were any upper or middle class people in the audience who had inadvertantly been mobilized. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my country club membership card, and never did get it straightened out.)

The election's over, but everyone I run into who's under thirty is still jumpy. While it might be fun to tell them that "yes, there is a secret plan - they're announcing it in January," the reality is that a draft just isn't on the table - and shouldn't be. Rumsfeld was dead on when he pegged draftees as more trouble than they're worth. I'll go ahead and say it now so nobody misunderstands - in the past, almost all draftee soldiers did their duty honorably, many heroically, and their performance was, on the whole, just as good as volunteer soldiers. But, what today's army needs are highly trained, highly skilled specialists led by highly experienced NCOs and officers. Developing that requires motivation and time, and a higher percentage of career soldiers than was necessary in the past. None of that is available from an army composed of short term draftees counting the days until they're done.

Nobody, civilian or military, currently involved in running the military has either expressed support for the draft or done anything but explain why the draft is a bad idea when it was proposed from the left. So, all you college students out there fretting can stop worrying and get back to your perfect self-absorption. Its OK to let the grown-ups do the work of defending the country. But you should understand that some of those grown-ups are your age or younger.

Monday, December 13, 2004

How to be a green beret - at least in casual conversation

Little known outside the military community is the fact that well over half of everybody who has been in the Army in the past 30 years is a "green beret" - a deadly killer, trained to use every weapon known to man, and able to defeat hordes of enemy in hand to hand combat. At least, that's the impression I have based on my experience with the flying public over the last several years. A few weeks ago, flying out to San Diego, I again had the opportunity to sit next to one of these "green berets", while he regaled me with tales of his exploits and adventures in far-off lands (including Afghanistan - man, I had no idea things were so rough there.)

Most special operations forces veterans take this kind of thing very seriously; in fact, there are entire organizations devoted to tracking down and exposing this kind of phony (see On the other hand, I usually find this kind of person pathetic but vastly entertaining. As long as he's not misrepresenting himself in a way that will get people hurt (for instance, using alleged special forces credentials to get a job training people in survival or self-defense), I usually encourage my chance seatmate to tell me all about how tough Special Forces really is. Its a fascinating glimpse of what people who don't have a clue think about special operations forces. Unfortunately, most people make it way too easy to bust them out as phonies. With that in mind, as a public service, this blog presents "How to pretend to be a Green Beret." People not wishing to pretend to be green berets may want to use this material to bust out the fakers and encourage those phonies they encounter to wire their stories a little tighter.

"Hey baby, I'm a green beret"
Well, no, you're not - the green beret is a hat; its a mark of distinction worn by Special Forces soldiers. You are a Special Forces soldier, or Special Forces operator, or, simply, "in SF". (Note that someone referring to themselves as a "green beret" is suspicious, but not conclusive - some SF operators get tired of telling people they're in Special Forces and then having to explain that they're not in the army band.) One of the best responses I ever heard to the question "Are you a green beret?" was, "No, I'm a baseball cap."

"I was in the 117th Special Forces Brigade"
No, you weren't. If you're pretending to be a green beret, and you meet a real SF guy, or someone who's been around SF, they're going to ask you which unit you're with. Special Forces is organized into Groups, not Brigades, or Regiments or Divisions - each Group has 3 Battalions, each Battalion has 3 Companies. Each company has six (or sometimes fewer, depending on manning levels) "A-teams". An A-team (more properly, an ODA, pronounced O-D-A, and short for "operational detachment - alpha") is the core of SF existence. It's the team that goes out and performs SF missions. The company headquarters is organized as, and referred to as, "the B-team." Despite what operators on the A-teams think, "B-team" is not pejorative - its simply one step up the food chain in terms of organization. If a company deploys, the company headquarters typically forms an AOB, pronounced A-O-B, or "area operating base." The Battalion headquarters is organized as, but almost never referred to as, "the C-team" (you're just "at battalion). A deployed battalion will form an FOB, or "forward operating base." An FOB will usually control one or more AOBs, but may also run teams directly.

There are a few more esoteric places you could be assigned in SF, but at some point in your career, you will have been in Group. There are five active duty groups, each oriented towards some part of the world. 1st Group deals with the Pacific rim area, 3rd group with Africa, 5th with the Middle East, 7th with South and Central America, and 10th with Europe. With the war on terror, some of the Groups have operated outside their normal areas, but others have not - if you're going to claim recent combat experience in Afghanistan or Iraq, better get on Google and figure that one out. There are also two National Guard SF Groups - 19th and 20th. Ironically, most people refuse to believe that there are "part time green berets" and peg anyone who claims to be one as a liar or delusional. Members of the NG SF Groups have to meet the same standards and go through the same training as their active duty counterparts. Every one of the six NG SF Battalions has been deployed to Afghanistan. But, since you want people to believe your stories, its better to steer clear of the National Guard on this one.

Picking the right group to claim to be assigned to is important - if the real green beret sitting across from you is in the group you pick, he's going to expect you to have some mutual friends. Better to ask him first, and then pick a different one - of course, if both of you are faking it, just pretend you know some of the same people. You'll need to know where the Group is located - 7th Group is at Fort Bragg, for example, and 10th Group is at Fort Carson (Colorado.) Back to the 'Net to do some more research . . .

Or, if you want to sound authentic and cadge some sympathy for how bad life sucks for you right at the moment, you can tell people you're assigned to SWC (the Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg, NC, short for USAJFKSWCS - the United States Army John F Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School , and pronounced "swick", not S-W-C) Most active-duty career SF soldiers do a SWC tour, where they teach others Special Forces skills instead of being out doing SF missions, and for that reason most of them hate their time there.)

"I was in the green berets in the Marines"
No, you weren't - Special Forces is an Army organization. Pay attention here, 'cause this gets a little confusing: Army S.F. (pronounced S-F-> Special Forces) is one of the US military's SOF (pronounced sof - like soft, without the "t"-> Special Operations Forces) units. Other SOF units include Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, and Air Force Combat Controllers. Back when the services were putting together SOF, the Marines didn't want to play (because they thought their whole organization was "special"), so they don't have any SOF forces (an organizational reality, and not a slam on Marine Force Recon.) Now that SOF has proven its value in combat and is getting tons of money, the Marines have rethought that stance, but they don't really have a seat at the table yet.

"The training was really hard"
OK, you're right about that one - the SF qualification process is fairly intensive. I slipped through the cracks, though, so maybe you did too - and who knows, maybe you weren't thirty pounds overweight back when you went through. To wear the SF Tab (a curved strip of cloth that reads Special Forces and that is worn on the left shoulder above the unit of assignment patch; also known as the "long tab" to differentiate it from the shorter Ranger tab) you'll have to have graduated from basic and advanced individual training. Then, it was off to airborne school at lovely Ft Benning, GA,for three weeks of training in basic parachuting (by the way, you'll have learned static line parachuting there - where the parachute opens automatically - at altitudes of about 1250-1500 ft AGL. It doesn't last eight weeks, and you don't jump from 25,000 feet there - at least I didn't, although the guy I sat next to a few weeks ago told me he did.)

If you made it through jump school - and, since this is your fantasy life, of course you did - and you're claiming to have gone through after 1988 or so, you'll have had to have gone through SFAS next. SFAS, or Special Forcess Assessment and Selection, or simply, "Selection", is a three week pure suckfest. They're always screwing around with the format, though, so you're probably safe telling a wide variety of stories about things sucking - you walked a long way with a heavy rucksack, you didn't get much sleep, and you had to finish the 20 mile road march (which went to 26 miles) with stress fractures in your feet. Just remember, SFAS serves the same purpose as the SEAL's Hell Week, but they're selecting for somewhat different qualities, so don't file the serial numbers off of one of the Discover Channel's BUD/S documentaries and tell those as selection stories. Just memorize this line "I thought the land nav stuff sucked until we got to the team events." Most people didn't make it through selection - they were either medically dropped (those pesky stress fractures) or non-selected, or, most commonly, VT'd (voluntarily terminated.) But you did, so you went to:

the Special Forces Qualification Course - otherwise known as the "Q" course. This is where you became your studly green beret self. The format here has changed over the years as well, but it typically consists of three distinct phases - in the old days, they were phase 1,2, and 3, but that was too simple for the army, so, after playing with having a phase 2 and a phase 13 (phase thirteen - a combined phase one and phase three - ha! those jokers in administration are just so witty) they are now:

Field Phase - taught at Camp Mackall, NC, just outside of Fort Bragg, this is where you learned land navigation, patrolling, small unit tactics - all the basic infantry stuff you're supposedly better at than anyone else.

MOS Phase - taught at Fort Bragg largely at the SOAF (Special Operations Academic Facility, pronounced so-af - originally called the NAF("naf") or New Academic Facility until someone figured out it wasn't new anymore and they had to change the name. This is where you learned your specialty, if enlisted- medicine, communications, engineering or weapons - or learned to lead an A-team, if an officer.

Common Phase - this is where you put it all together, and learned to work as an A-team. This phase culminated in Robin Sage, a practical exercise in guerilla warfare.

After the "Q" course, but before you were fully qualified, you attended language school - also at Fort Bragg at the SOAF - and then SERE (pronounced "sear") school, where you learned the fine arts of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. Only after all that did you get to go to a Group. Unfortunately, contrary to popular belief, you didn't learn to fly a helicopter or a fighter jet anywhere in there.

You did get an 18 series MOS (a military occupational specialty in Special Forces.) An SF Group has a lot of people assigned to it in support roles - clerks, supply sergeants, parachute riggers, technicians - they're usually great people and they are in an SF group, but they're not SF, and they don't wear the SF tab. They will sometimes tell members of the gullible public that they're "in Special Forces," and let them think that they're actually "green berets", but you wouldn't stoop to that when just outright lying is much easier. Each SF specialty has its own MOS designator - communications is an 18E, for example - and you'll need to know which is which, so go check out and do some studying.

If you went through in the last several years, you were awarded a serial numbered "Yarborough" knife when you graduated. This is a custom designed and engraved knife named after the first SF General, William Yarborough. If you graduated before the knife was issued, you can buy one from the SF museum after they get a letter from SWC verifying your SF qualification - but you haven't, because they cost $270, and it pisses you off that new guys get them free while experienced SF back from combat have to pay for them. Either way, you got a "group coin" - a custom medallion representing your SF group - when you reported in. You're carrying that coin with you now in case you get "challenged" -if someone else with a SOF coin displays their coin, and you don't have yours, you're buying the drinks, bucko. Probably be a good idea to pick up a reasonable facsimile at an army surplus store somewhere just in case . . .

If you do want to pretend to be SF, I hope this helps - if there's enough interest, I may post some general purpose anecdotes about each phase of training to help you further along, but for now, if you memorize these simple facts, you should have no difficulty in simply appearing pathetic when you talk to a real operator, instead of both pathetic and amusing.

Back again

Sorry about the long break in posts - between the upcoming holidays and getting back to work, my time has been somewhat constrained. I will try to be better in the future, but I make no promises . . .