Category Archives: SF History and Lore

One Downside of a Much Younger, Latina Wife

michael_j_brownThe upsides are many and glorious. The downsides? You can get whacked. Michael J. “Brownie” Brown was one of those guys — you know, the guy who spent a lot of time in Hondo or El Sal and kind of went native. He had married a much younger Salvadoran woman, and that was what brought about his end.

On 16 Feb 13, Brown and his wife Nuri (or Nuy) Aquino Brown were ambushed in San Isidro, El Sal:

On Saturday night, a U.S. citizen was shot and killed in El Salvador. Michael James Brown, aged 53 or 55 [53 was apparently correct –Ed.], was driving a rental car along with his Salvadoran wife on a coffee farm in San Isidro. San Isidro is located in the municipality of Izalco, Sonsonate.

They were attacked by a group of 8 to 10 men. According to authorities, Brown died after being shot at least five times in the head and shoulder. His wife, who was injured but was able to escape, is now being held as a witness.

As of today, Salvadoran authorities do not appear to have a motive for the crime. The attackers apparently hid among the coffee trees until their targets approached. They were waiting specifically for Brown and his wife. The couple frequently travel between the U.S and El Salvador. $1,500 remained behind at the scene of the crime which leads the police to believe that robbery was not a motive.

The instigator turned out to be, not an ex-boyfriend of Aquino’s as the Salvadoran cops first suspected, nor the irritated organized-crime group behind a strip club from which Brown was reputed to help rescue enslaved girls. (They were irritated, but probably not homicidal; they have to get new girls all the time anyway as the old ones wear out). Those groups might have wanted Brown dead, too, but it was Aquino herself (whose full name appears to be Nuri Liseth Aquino-Torres) that had him whacked. By the time the detectives had enough evidence, she was living comfortably in Utah.

In San Salvador, they applied to Interpol for a Red Notice.

On 15 August 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), particularly the unsung agents of ERO, Enforcement and Removal Operations, put the habeas grabbus on Aquino, 28, and gave her the only charter jet flight she’ll get in this life.


The story now comes to an end. On 11 July 15, a Salvadoran court, having found her guilty, sentenced her to 50 years in prison. See you in a half century, lady. If you can’t do 50 years… just do the best you can.

One thing that produced suspicion was an ambush that left Brownie with many mortal head and upper-body wounds, and Aquino without any serious injury. Suspicion leads to investigation, investigation leads to adjudication, adjudication leads to incarceration. Q.E.D.

Moral of story, don’t go organizing murder for hire, it can interfere with your life plans, and if revenge you must have, isn’t living well a better revenge?

Brownie was a member of the SF community who served in Active, Reserve and Guard SF groups, and one of his former team leaders was there to see justice done.

El Salvador is still a troubled, violent land (although less so than Honduras), but the warring factions of the 80s have evolved into political parties contesting elections, and something like the rule of law is emerging. Unfortunately a lot of the little G and counter-G bands have also evolved into whackers-for-hire and itinerant highwaymen. All of the nations of Latin America are much more violent than the US is, and it’s anyone’s guess whether the coups and civil wars are causes or consequences of crime and violence.


This post has been corrected. We originally wrote “Immigrations and Customs Enforcement,” but the correct name for one of America’s most frustrated bands of criminal investigators is, “Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” We regret the error, and (unlike, perhaps, some of their overhead) appreciate their service. – Ed.

When Guns are Outlawed, only Outlaws will have Objects

question mark“Objects?” Yes, that’s what the story says: the victim was beaten to death “with an object.” (Whether it was a direct or an indirect object was unclear). Then he was thrown into a pit, buried under stones, and a new patio was poured over him.

Like Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart, he has risen, in a way, from this grave to point a bony finger of condemnation at his murderers. The Boston Herald, about a month ago (yes, this has long sat in the queue):

A Rhode Island couple was ordered held without bail Monday in the killing of a Massachusetts man whose body was found under newly poured concrete at the couple’s home nearly a month after he went missing.

Steven Pietrowicz, 39, and Michelle Morin, 40, were arraigned on charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and obstruction of a police officer. A bail hearing was scheduled for June 15.

Morin (l.) and Pietrowicz (r.) Not very photogenic, these two.

Morin (l.) and Pietrowicz (r.) Not very photogenic, these two.

Morin was arrested late Saturday in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she and Pietrowicz previously lived. She waived extradition Monday and agreed to be returned to Rhode Island to face charges.

Pietrowicz was already in custody on charges of domestic assault.

The body of 60-year-old Domingo Ortiz, of Worcester, was found Friday beneath a newly constructed deck adjacent to the home Pietrowicz and Morin were renting. The body was located in a four-to-five-foot hole covered by large rocks and a layer of concrete, police said.

Ortiz. Notice that there always seems to be a mug shot of the victim, too. How can that be?

Ortiz. Note that there always seems to be a mug shot of the victim, too. How can that be? It almost makes you think that murders are not randomly distributed.

Ortiz had been beaten with an object and his legs may have been tied up, police said. An autopsy had not been completed Monday

via Rhode Island couple charged in death of man under concrete | Fox News.

The victim was allegedly a friend of his murderers. This is a hell of a way to learn the lesson everybody’s mama was supposed to teach him, to wit, “Select your friends with care.”

Apparently their lifestyle involved chemical enhancers, and the murder happened under the influence of the oldest drug of all, good old Judgment Juice. A few details are buried in this story from WPRI-TV, Providence, Rhode Island:

“It is a brutal crime. Where someone was beaten repeatedly and then the body disposed of under a cement slab — I think that shows an indication of the animosity, if you will, or the heinousness of this crime,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.

Police believe the violence stemmed from an altercation during a night of drinking on May 5. Lynch said Ortiz had been last seen that day, getting into a car with the suspects in Worcester.

Investigators executed their first search warrant at the Douglas Pike home May 21, during which they found evidence of a fight, including broken furniture, blood evidence, and evidence of cleaning with a strong bleach product. Police could not discuss possible motives at this point in the investigation.

Pietrowicz and Morin confirmed the altercation, but told police Ortiz left the property on his own May 6, according to Lynch. Police believe Ortiz perished early that morning.

During that interview, the pair indicated that another couple was staying at the home while Ortiz was there, saying the man served time with Pietrowicz at a Pennsylvania prison. Investigators traveled to Pennsylvania last week to interview the couple, and obtained information which allowed them to secure a second search warrant of the Douglas Pike home.

Col. Lynch said the Pennsylvania couple are currently being treated as witnesses in the case. Additional charges in the case will be reviewed by a grand jury.

Morin also told police that she was beaten by Pietrowicz and showed them bruises. Police arrested him in Worcester May 27 on domestic violence charges, and he was held as a bail violator stemming from another domestic violence case involving a different victim.

Note the few details teased out there:

  • Pietrowicz at least is an ex-con in PA;
  • He’s also a multi-time loser on domestic violence charges;
  • He was out on bail at the time he murdered Ortiz;
  • Ergo, he’s a “prohibited person” three times over, which means he can’t buy guns the way you do or we do;
  • And yet… he managed to kill somebody with some everyday “object.”

Exercises for the reader:

  1. If every firearm in circulation was magically made to disappear the night before this crime, how would it have availed Ortiz? Would that have prevented Ortiz’s murder?
  2. If Pietrowicz, as a many-times-over violent offender, had been denied bail on his previous arrest, and thrown back in a cell to await proceedings, might that have prevented Ortiz’s murder?

The Garden of Eden (Bad Tölz) Remembers its Outcasts

SFCrestGreenFrom 1953 to 1968, 10th Special Forces Group was headquartered and stationed at Flint Kaserne in Bad Tölz, Germany, a lovely resort town on the Jsar River (as the locals spell “Isar”) in the Bavarian Alps. The Kaserne was a former SS Junkerschule or officers’ school; it had been the West Point-equivalent for the black-suited officers who became known, some as leaders of elite combat units — and many more as rebarbative war criminals.

From 1968 to 1991, one battalion of the Group remained here (1/10th) and the other two and most Group support elements were located in Fort Devens, Massachusetts. We fully expected that the old SS school (which had housed, along with Group, the legendarily chickenshit 7th Army NCO Academy) would be ground into dust, and something new built.

It would have been a shame, as it was a well-built and historic building, and those of us who’d walked its halls thought that, just perhaps, we had redeemed its honor.

The Germans apparently thought so too, and retained and rebuilt the building, adding a car park and other modern conveniences. Reportedly, it’s offices now, where peaceful people go about the business of business. The old family housing across the street has been less lucky, and it’s reportedly welfare housing for foreign asylum-seekers. But it’s still there, unlike a lot of landmarks from our Army days.

This week there was a ceremony, dedicating a statue:

Kind of amazing to think that the whole US Army in Bavaria falls under a colonel now. On the other hand, the Germans are probably glad to be free of the wives in Chryslers.

Hat tip, Don Bennett, via SF Association channels.

Assclown of the Ides: Nicholas George

Wow, this guy sounds like a story from right out of the movies:

With his chest full of ribbons, his arms full of stripes and the iconic green beret atop his head, it was hard not to notice Nicholas George at the Memorial Day observances in Oxford and Addison. [Mississippi — Ed.]

Pride. Respect. Loss. Pain.

The 54-year-old Oxford resident’s facial expressions showed the range and depth of his feelings as he watched the ceremonies with a certain reverence that can only come from a soldier who’s felt the sting of battle and fully understands the sacrifices that have been made.

“I’m here. My brothers aren’t,” said George, a sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank, who retired from the U.S. Army last year following 28 years of service.

via A Green Beret in our midst.

Right out of the movies, of course, because some extremely large percentage of it is bullshit. Bullshit worthy of its own Penn & Teller episode. But Mssrs. Gillette and Teller are not SF guys, so we’ll have to pick up their slack on this one, which is a pity, because they could probably take this guy down with much higher entertainment value. We lack their talent, but that’s OK, because a lot of this guy’s shtick is, to an SF vet or any vet, self-refuting.

Let’s start with his uniform.

Several claims staked by the uniform are obviously bogus. The first, two stars on a CIB: that means he’d have to be a WWII, Korea and Vietnam vet. He’d be 90 freakin’ years old. He’s 55. The Army has no record of him being awarded even one CIB, let alone three, and they’re quite certain he was not in WWII, which wrapped up about 15 years before he was born. Zug.

Then, there’s the beret. Green beret with a generic US Army flash? Thanks for playing, but this just might not be your game, kid. Zug.

Then, what’s an SF guy doing with an Infantry blue cord? Zug.

Finally, enlisted men always remember what side to put the branch brass on our collars with this handy acronym: USSR. “US” on side, right. He’s got it on his left side collar. Zug.

Sometimes reporters are so invested in their stories that they defend these guys. That didn’t happen in this case. The reporter, CJ Carnacchio, contacted by the SF Poser Patrol (which is apparently a real thing, and not a moment too soon), made an extensive effort, resulting in a new story featuring a bunch of new reporting, none of which seems to indicate George’s claims are true.

Special Forces Poser Patrol has a contact at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School (SWCS) at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Special Forces training and education occurs there.

“They checked records and there’s no record of him having graduated the Q Course in 1996 as he claims,” said Ole Senn, a former Special Forces soldier.

For example, George said he earned two Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and six Purple Hearts. If that’s true, all those medals will be listed on his DD-214.

This reporter contacted George on Monday about Special Forces Poser Patrol being unable to find his SFQC records.

“I’m battling this again,” he said.

According to George, “this isn’t the first time” someone’s been unable to locate his military records. He said he “ran into the same problem” dealing with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs before his records were located.

“No one’s able to track down my records for some reason,” George said. “It’s aggravating the hell out of me.”

This reporter requested to view a copy of his DD-214.

“I don’t have one on me today. It’s all packed up (with) my stuff,” George said.

Aww. But fortunately, his graduation certificate… packed up, too. (He told the American Legion a different sob story). Then, there’s the badges and awards:

The National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia has housed an exhibit since 2012 featuring a list of all the soldiers who have been awarded three CIBs. A plaque with the exhibit states, “The CIB Third Award is the most prestigious combat badge in the U.S. Army and one that is among the least presented.”

According to museum spokesperson Cyndy Cerbin, the list contained 325 names until last month, when it was updated and three more were added.

“Nicholas George is not among them, nor is he among the original 325,” she said. “We’re very confident our list is complete and official.”

Given George said he’s going to turn 55 next month, Cerbin said it’s “not likely” he could have earned a triple CIB.

“To have a triple CIB, you have to have served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam,” she said. “The only triple CIBs that are recognized in the museum are from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.”

With regard to George’s claim to have earned two Silver Stars, his name does not appear on an on-line list of all Silver Star recipients since Sept. 11, 2001. The site is maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense.

When asked when he earned the two silver stars he claims, George replied, “I can’t remember.”

We’re not making this up. He got two Silver Stars. For what? Beats him with a stick.

Oh, yeah, that sounds genuine. Like an $8 Rolex.

Guys, you do not want to lie to a reporter who knows how to do basic shoe leather reporting and telephone research. The guy will hand you your head, as happened in this case. So he’s a sergeant major? The Army has a school for that. It’s a lot bigger than SF school, having turned 120,000 police-call-area experts and reflective-belt inspectors loose on the Army over the years. And it has a record of every single one. And it has a public-affairs staff that answers the phone. Guess who hasn’t been to their school?

But that’s because he wasn’t doing the nonresident version of the course: records prove he didn’t do that, either.

And then, for the coup de grâce, the reporter asked George’s mother. Says Mom:

He’s lying. One hundred percent.

And that’s pretty much all you need to know about Nicholas George, SF legend — in his own mind. (Well, one more thing: his family remembers him spending a year or two in the Army but leaving with less than an honorable discharge).

Read The Whole Thing™, because Carnacchio tracked down not just George’s mother, but his brother and his estranged son, and each of them says in some colorful way that Nicholas George is as full of $#!+ as a septic service truck. In fact, read all three of CJ’s stories to see (1) how easy it is for a bullshit artist with a slick story to con a newspaperman, and (2) how a righteous reporter reacts when he finds out he’s been conned.

The Magic Rucksack

In Special Forces from 1960 to the mid-1980s, there was a capability called, among other things, “the Magic Rucksack.” (This weapon, and its mission, were prolific producers of slang and nicknames, most of which were as compartmented as the mission itself; it’s unlikely anyone knows them all). It was the Special Atomic Demolition Munition, SADM, a small nuclear fission weapon with a W54 selectable-yield warhead, detonated by timers. It was the smallest of a series of ADMs that specialist Army engineer units trained with.

This is the Medium ADM, "field-stripped." Components of the SADM were similar, but smaller.

This is the Medium ADM, “field-stripped.” Components of the SADM were similar, but smaller.

It fit a very, very narrow target niche. While the engineers’ wartime mission was to use their ADMs to channelize advancing forces into artillery and air “kill boxes” (any Ivans they actually nuked were not the main objective, but what a fisherman might call “bycatch”), to justify an SF SADM emplacement the target had to meet certain criteria. If you think about it, you can probably come close to what they actually were.

  1. Payoff. It had to justify being targeted with a <1-1kt nuke;
  2. Deep. Deeper behind enemy lines than artillery could reach; and,
  3. Not a good target for an air raid.
  4. Target placement achievable by SF ODA.

There were two ways to carry it, in its own container, which felt like it was designed by some pointy-headed nuclear physicist who’d never carried anything on his back in his life, or wrapped in a sleeping bag or poncho liner inside an ALICE or mountain rucksack (depending on period).  There was also a transit case for administrative transit; there’s no scale in this picture, but it was too bulky for field use by far.

Transit Case.

Transit Case.

This video is sometimes presented as SEALs or Marines, but it was a joint Army/Navy exercise. The men preparing the SADM for aerial delivery are wearing 1950s-60s Army uniforms and were probably engineer officers and NCOs from Sandia Labs.

SADMAs you might imagine, security around the weapon was heavy with even its existence being classified. Teams selected for SADM duty were given additional security clearances and briefings, and underwent considerable classroom training, including usage and employment information as well as hands on assembly/disassembly of mock-ups and simulators. There was never a full-mission-profile test with an actual warhead. Indeed, most SADM team members never saw an actual SADM, only simulators.

The M46 simulator matched the weight, bulk, awkwardness and shape of the actual weapon, and contained timers that worked about like the ones in the real weapon, except for the world-shattering Kaboom! at the end.

kaboomEven the simulator was a classified device. A classified manual described the usage, effects, tactical employment, and technical features of the weapon, and provided real timer drills; a companion, unclassified manual provided practice with the math and timers of a slightly different, notional ADM.

The security was breached by CBS News in the 1980s, and they aired a short film clip of a 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group SADM team in training in 1986. By that time, though, the writing was on the wall for the Magic Rucksack.

The SADM was probably a more fitting component of the battlefield mix in 1960 than it was by 1985. Precision-guided munitions such as cruise missiles were capable of hitting a lot of targets more exactly, and with less risk of interception, than a team of men crunching through the woods.

Moreover, by the mid-1980s, environmental problems had forced the shutdown of several  US nuclear-weapons facilities, some temporarily, some permanently. With scarcity arriving the same time that tactical and strategic nuclear modernization called for new warheads, the recycling of the fissionable material from the SADM’s W54 warheads was inevitable.

There are constant rumors that the SADMs were stored. That might actually be the case with some components of them, but it’s more likely the components were destroyed. (The same fate befell the engineers’ three sizes of ADMs). The fissionable material, the heart of any nuclear weapon, was needed elsewhere, and that more than anything wrote finis to the 25-plus-year saga of the Special Atomic Demolition Munition.

Four SF Videos for your Viewing Pleasure

We saved the best for last, so if you can only watch one, watch that one.

First, day combat equipment freefall jumps from 7th Group. Supposedly there are some Chilean NAVSOF in the mix, too.  It’s five and a half minutes long, just shot from in the airplane.

They’re basically going through the drill here, with a short drop (maybe a four-count), what a skydiver might call a hop-n-pop. One thing that’s striking to an old static line guy is the much lower level of Sturm und Drang, or just plain drama, compared to a static-line jump. It’s a lot more relaxed a way to go leaping from an aircraft in flight.

Well, that’s Army propaganda, but it’s relatively straightforward propaganda. It’s just the facts: just some pictures of a relatively routine training day in the life of a few HALO teams. (Of course, you do a lot of your jumps at night, but that makes for crummy film).

The next two examples are blatant Army propaganda, because they’re made by the Recruiting Command to entice young people to join up. (After them, we have a more serious film, so skip them if you want). They’re from a series of short films called Starting Strong, where they take a youngster who has an idea of what he or she might want to do in the Army, and give the kid (and vicariously, the viewers) a touch of training for that Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). (Aside: you gotta love the Army; they take a simple, three-letter word like “job,” and bloat it into a three-word, 29-letter buzzphrase that is useless until you cut it down to an acronym — of three handy letters, the same size as the jeezly plain Anglo-Saxon term it means. Lord love a duck).

In this one, an athletic youngster from Rockville, Maryland, Jeremy Stuart, goes to Fort Bragg to experience a little bit of the training life of a Special Forces Medical Sergeant, 18D. (We don’t remember a gym like that, but hell, we’re old and retired). He learns a little bit about trauma treatment and is tested on his skills. Then he meets a former 18D and sees what use he’s put his SF skills to in civilian life. The question is, will the kid join the Army? (We thought that it was a foregone conclusion, it’s a recruiting video for crying out loud. But it turns out these kids can and do make their own decisions, and not all of them decide to join up). There’s a secondary question, too: does he have what it takes to be an 18D?  25 minutes.

In this one, another kid, Conrad Carr, a pro surfer and a Mormon from Malibu (who knew that uniquely American combination was out there?) has to decide if he wants to go 18X or not. (That is, to enlist for the SF pipeline, with assignment based on “the needs of the Army” — usually to the 82nd Airborne — if not successful in SF).  Similar story arc as the previous, including the meeting with an ex-SF entrepreneur. 25 minutes.

And the best saved for last. A very recent, extremely good video on a single ODA in Afghanistan. Not Army propaganda at all. Guys from 3rd Group, quiet professionals all. Some combat scenes, some training, well-shot, -paced and -edited. Some good insights to Afghanistan’s SF and Ranger equivalents, the ANSF and Commandos. 45 or so minutes.

It is good to see Afghan units with lethality and initiative. Afghans are perhaps the most warlike race on Earth, so it has been an indictment of the world’s two greatest powers that both of them managed to recruit and train elements that would not and could not fight. That stage of the Afghan National Army seems to be past.

Of course, there was probably a time in the 1980s when our Soviet counterparts thought the same exact thing; we could probably tell each other some of the same stories, set 20 years apart in the same terrain.

Big Boy Rules: A Slice of Life in an Elite Unit

SF poster it says more about youA common SF expression in our day was: “Big Boy Rules are in effect.”

The implication of this is: authority has been delegated to you. You have a mission tasking. You are not going to be micromanaged: beyond the parameters of your task order, the time, place and mode of mission accomplishment is up to you.

In the US Army, where micromanagement is the only kind of management taught in professional leadership development schools, this is a rare privilege, but when you think about it, it’s an extension of the continuum of military life. Everyone starts out with no privileges at all, as a buzzcut, screamed-at basic trainee, as a childishly-bullied Academy plebe, as an aviation warrant officer candidate, or someone whose time is not his or her own.

Then, you get a few more privileges, like weekends off. You may still have someone who, in civilian life, would be trimming your hedges, who has some degree of mastery of your schedule and your soul, and your accomplishment of your daily duties may be prescribed down to how you fold your underwear, but you gradually have an increase in your sphere of personal control and action.

In SF your sphere of personal control and action is greater yet. A very small element or even an individual may be tasked with something that is much larger than he would ever be in the “real” Army.

This goes along with a great deal of flexibility in who does what, and who decides when it is done. Everyone is expected to keep a weather eye out for things that need doing, and just do them, as opposed to the Big Green culture where your task is done when you tell a boss. 

One day, early in his career, your humble blogger was sitting at a desk working on language maintenance. (Only in spy novels does someone learn a language fluently, in a few weeks, in adulthood. For the non-fictional rest of us, even the linguistically gifted, there is no royal road to competence in foreign languages, just drill and practice). In wandered Kris, the team sergeant. He looked over the team bay and announced it needed sweeping: and picked up a broom and began to do it.

Was he trying to guilt his newest newbie into tidying up? “Hell, I’ll do that, Kris. We don’t need to have E-8s driving brooms.”

SF Patch“Bullshit. You were doing something, I wasn’t. In SF, we play by Big Boy Rules. And anybody can sweep up the team room, and if it needs it, anybody should.”

In time, a new man comes to understand that Big Boy Rules means that both sides of the scale have to balance: you are free of petty micromanagement, but you had better be a self-starter. In SF, hardly anyone ever orders a floor swept, but it’s not supposed to look like it needs sweeping. Ever.

Likewise, when a bunch of stuff is on the truck and needs to be put in the team room, or is in the team room and needs to go on the truck, anyone handy helps. An officer who won’t get his hands dirty is an officer who just doesn’t come up through us, usually. (Nobody tells them this. The officers figure it out. A captain who sees a lieutenant colonel carrying one end of a heavy team box is a guy who never passes up the opportunity to carry an end himself from then forward, but it isn’t written down anywhere, and nobody tells him to do that. After that, if the boss leaves when there’s physical work going on, nobody doubts that it’s because he has a more important task elsewhere, because they’ve all seen him pitch in before. Big Boy Rules).

Playing by Big Boy Rules in the small things builds leader confidence that SF NCOs and junior officers can play by Big Boy Rules in the large things. It’s a wonderland for a competent, confident soldier, and no less for his commander, who can set the tone, set the task, and dismiss worries from his mind, knowing he’s going to come out looking good.

Compare and contrast another SF concept: “The Catch Me/Fuck Me Rule.” This is a very different thing. While Big Boy Rules unleash the individual’s creativity within the parameters of the law and behavioral norms, a CM/FM rule is something completely different: it unleashes subunit or individual creativity outside the bounds of normal constraints.

One vital thing every Second John in every armed service worldwide learns is this: never give an order that will not be obeyed. It undermines your authority, and it doesn’t accomplish the purpose of the order, anyway. A CM/FM rule works in the exact opposite way. A senior gives the order knowing it will not be obeyed, hoping and expecting it will not be obeyed, but sending the signal that those disobeying the order are on their own for any consequences.

It’s the real world, wink-and-a-nod equivalent of the self-destructing tape from the old Mission:Impossible TV show. It’s much more subtle than a declaration that if you’re caught, you’ll be disowned. But it amounts to the same thing.

In SF, we sometimes express this as, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’. If you get caught, you’re tryin’ too hard.”

CM/FM rules are normally the result of higher command pressure, often about something stupid. There is another whole post to be had in the deflection and management of stupid ideas. While we have our share of Oracles who would channel The Good Idea Fairy in the SF community, most of our stupidity tends not to be organic, but to originate in one of  three places:

  1. Big Green’s one-size-misfits-all policies, which are a cultural imperative even where they make no sense;
  2. Some midrank midwit taking it on himself to give the commanding general or National Command Authority something shiny;
  3. The Army’s institutional habit of advancing the intellectually-below-average to the grade of sergeant major.

Again, we do have our own stupid ideas, but most of them strangled in the Bear Pit of ideas at ODA and ODB level. This ruthless competition tends to improve our ideas over time, both as individuals and as an institution. Not that we’re perfect.

Sometimes, it’s a stupid idea and you still have to carry it out. “Wait, sir, I’ve won these guys’ hearts and minds in this valley, and you’re saying we have to bug out?” And sometimes, it’s a stupid idea and the whole organization reacts to the stupidity by issuing orders that will not be carried out, and then doing the right thing, regardless of the orders, and regardless of the fact you have to do the right thing sub rosa. CM/FM rules are, in fact, more subtle than the classic example, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” That’s a de facto order, to a soldier, as are most expressions of the Old Man’s preferences. CM/FM is doing the right thing, without orders, in contravention of orders that are explicit but wrong. 

These can be very small things. For decades, wearing sunglasses in the field was a CM/FM violation, because halfwit sergeants major (who have a strong influence on uniform policy) thought sunglasses look bad and non-uniform. So the VA spends millions and millions fixing old soldiers’ cataracts from UV exposure — but only when they get really bad and billions of productivity have been lost to old guys’ squintiness. The old soldiers who still have their factory lenses wore their sunglasses — under CM/FM rules.

The downside of CM/FM, of course, is that, if they catch you they you-know-what-you. And also, you have to be confident that the wink and the nod you received was actually the wink and the nod that was transmitted. If you’re wrong, you’ve not only done something that was technically verboten, but also something that was not what the commander actually wanted. In terms of communications theory, there is no error-correction possible in winks and nods.

And we told ourselves we weren’t going to write about Matt Golsteyn. Eh.

Of Scrounging and Dope Deals

A key character in the Robin Moore novel, and John Wayne movie loosely based on it, The Green Berets, was Peterson, the Scrounger. It’s very clear even in the movie that in SF culture, a Scrounger was a capitalized title. Now, the movie has numerous Hollywood departures from the real world of SF service in Vietnam, but the novel and script were based on immersion in period SF culture. One of the numerous things it got right was the degree to which Group in general and a deployed ODA in particular valued a talented, inspired Scrounger.

Now a very narrow reading of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (and before that, the Manual for Courts-Martial the UCMJ replaced) would probably define Scrounger as a variety of high crimes and misdemeanors, or UCMJ articles, not to mention the all-purpose judicial catch-all of Conduct Unbecoming. But what scrounging did, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, and back in garrison, is even out some of the unevenness in military logistics.

The military quartermaster effort is amazing. But it’s also centrally planned, like the Soviet economy. And like the Soviet economy, the key information gets bottled up and doesn’t make it to the far-away decision-makers. So you have a bunch of Seabees sitting on a large quantity of pierced-steel planking and other engineering materials, while the A-Camps are trying to dig bunkers in sand, sometimes under enemy shelling. (Can you say Katum? Ka-BOOM? WhirrrrrrrrrrrrrKABLANG! We knew you could). So naturally, an army of Petersons fanned out across Vietnam, Afghanistan, you name it.

One of the best scrounge jobs happened in the early days of the Afghan war, when the teams on the ground were very hard up for vehicles. We don’t say “scrounging” any more, but Peterson would recognize the horsetrading we now call a “dope deal.” Some Toyota pickups were acquired by another agency and dope-dealed to us, but not enough to make our guys mobile. And we couldn’t rely on aircraft: in SF, we didn’t have our own any more, because we’d given them up to TF 160 back in 1980-something, in return for a pledge not to spritz in of undying support. That pledge was meaningless, as even though they were perfectly willing to support us, they were tasked to a variety of JSOC missions that mostly had them standing by waiting for the call that intel had found some worthy Tier 1 Supervillain’s mountaintop lair. The call seldom came, but the MH’s had to sit for the hour when it would.

So we could walk, at the same three to five miles per hour Alexander’s army crossed these same rocks, or we could scrounge vehicles. An army of scroungers and dope-dealers set out to forage the globe for anything that could roll on Afghanistan’s miserable roads.

As it happened, the US Army in Europe was undergoing a major spring cleaning, with lots of entire units having been thrown away in the Clinton era Peace Dividend (that money went into the War on Poverty, still undecided after 50 years, but Poverty is advancing on all fronts). So a young, brash captain we’ll call John (because that was is name) Smith (because that was not his name) was dispatched to see if he could scrounge up some vehicles. The Colonel knew John and thought he might be talented in that vein.

The Colonel had no idea.

John quickly determined that a single Army captain was capital-N Nobody to the people who had the worrisome task of disposing of acres and acres of all-but-forgotten vehicles. But with news starting to trickle back from the war, Special Forces was on everybody’s mind. John harkened back to SF’s genesis as a new effort by the Psychological Warfare Center in 1952, and decided to conduct a psychological operation against the US European Command’s joint vehicle-park beancounters.

He disappeared for a weekend, during which he bought several items at the post exchange, including several pairs of jeans and a couple of sweatshirts. He borrowed a couple of things from an SF guy he knew in the area. He got through on a bad connection to what later would be named Camp Vance (we don’t think Gene Vance was dead yet, actually). The Colonel wanted an update.

John said he was developing the situation.

The Colonel rogered that and passed the word on. The ops officer said, “We’re going to get our vehicles, sir. And we probably shouldn’t worry about how.” The Colonel thought good things about his Three, who had served in the Ranger Regiment before being called to the Jolly Roger. And he started taking the sitreps without asking questions, the answers to which he might not wish to know.

Monday morning, John walked into the Commanding General’s office. He was wearing a pair of jeans he had beaten up a little, a cowboy hat, and a blue sweatshirt. He hadn’t shaved all weekend. He didn’t have an appointment, and he dropped into a chair in front of the General’s scandalized secretary.

And put his feet up on her desk. In scroungy jungle boots.

Before she could gather her wits and remonstrate, he identified himself: “Captain John Smith, from CJSOTF-Afghanistan. Honey, I’m here from the war to see the Boss.”

“Uh…” She forgot whatever putdowns she was lining up, and squeezed him in to that morning’s schedule.

“Thanks, honey,” John said with a wink, and walked out of the office. She could see he had a .45 in his belt.

She wasn’t sure what action of Captain Smith’s was most alarming, but he did get in to see the CG, who wound up being extremely helpful, after a bit of friendly banter about last year’s Army-Navy game (a Navy blowout).

John spent the next several days touring motor pools and selecting vehicles.

“Now, we have to get them to Afghanistan.” The CG couldn’t help there, except with a referral to an Air Force general who made stuff move for Transportation Command. There, John made nice with another secretary, but then ran into someone unimpressed with his beard (by now, Mexican desperado style), his hat (by now, beat up), his boots, or even his .45. Not even his blue sweatshirt.

And he was completely unimpressed with John’s lack of any movement paperwork for 100 miscellaneous surplus vehicles.

“Can’t do it,” the Air Force general — we’ll call him General Jones, which is not his name — said. “You need a –” and he described the forms. He gave John some blank forms. But the forms alone wouldn’t do it. He’d also need some sort of movement code. He showed John what one looked like, on another movement order. Many of these came into his inbox every day. Apart from the source and destination, the code was the most important part of the document, because it drove the accounting. This one, he explained, would charge the Air Force; it was moving a planeload of jet engines back to the USA for overhaul. These others would charge the Army, the Navy, even the State Department, for cargo.

The form had to have a description of the shipment, the weight — it would be weighed again by the cargo specialists, of course — the destination, and the all-important billing code.

“Call your log guys and get that code,” the general explained, “and with that code and my rubber stamp you can go straight to the airhead and ship your stuff. Our guys will take it from there. But you must have the code.”

John nodded. “I’ll call right away. Can I borrow a STU-III?” (That was the sort of secure phone used in those days).

“Well, the only one’s here in my office,” the general said. “Here, have a seat, I’ll give you some privacy. ” As the General walked out, he said, “And bring me those codes tomorrow afternoon — I’m out in the morning, Captain.”

“Yes sir,” said John, and he did in fact make a STU call to Afghanistan.

“It’s in the bag. I’ll explain when I get there.”

John spent the night typing the forms himself on a borrowed typewriter. He was even scroungier the next day when he showed up at the Air Force general’s office. The .45 was showing, even if the forms were not.

“Hi there,” he said to the secretary. “Remember me, honey?”

“Oh,” she said. “Captain Smith! Didn’t General Jones tell you he was going to be out this morning?”

“Yes, but I was hoping I could borrow his STU-III again.”

“Oh… I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

John closed the door to the general’s office, with an apologetic look at the secretary. She understood secrets — all secretaries do, after all.

And inside the office he pulled out his forms with one hand while dialing the STU with the other. Soon he had a secure connection, and the Colonel came to the phone.

John hit the forms with the rubber stamp in more places than they really needed.

“Sir, I’ll be there in a couple days; the vehicles will be right behind me.”

“How did you — never mind. Forget I asked.”

John broke the connection, and put the State Department shipment order back on top of his in the general’s out-box.

As it happened, John was held up getting back to Bagram and arrived the same day that vehicles were being unloaded there, at Kandahar, and at the FOB at Karshi-Khanabad in Uzbekistan.

He was tired as a dog and scroungy. He’d returned his friend’s Stetson and 1911, but was still wearing those jeans and that blue sweatshirt.

“How did you — forget it. I don’t wanna know,” the Colonel said.

“I just told them I was Captain Smith from the CJSOTF and they all went out of their way to help me,” John said piously.

“And why the hell are you wearing a Navy sweatsh — oohhhhh.”

In due course, the Colonel made general. He never let anyone use the STU-III in his office.

More Jade Helm Assclownery

Jade Helm logo -- we bet they regret the motto now.

Jade Helm logo — we bet they regret the motto now.

You know that 5% that don’t get the word? Well, Texas isn’t just big in area, ranches, and all kinds of other measures: their 5% seems to be a lot bigger than 5%.

Of course, maybe we get that impression because we’re reading Texas media, and you’ll never escape that 5% if you’re in the default position of the modern mediot — embedded neck-deep in your own lower colon.

BIG SPRING – Military officials have negotiated contracts with local ranchers to conduct Jade Helm training on their property, according to Big Spring Mayor Larry McLellan.

However, he said residents will not be “forced out of their homes” to accommodate troops during the large-scale military exercise, scheduled to run July 15 through September 15.

McLellan had no details about the contracts supposedly offered to Big Spring homeowners. Military officials were not available to answer questions about how many ranchers were being displaced or inconvenienced due to Jade Helm, and how much they would receive in compensation.

What are these landowners being compensated for?

Now, it’s possible that some tent camps may be set up on sombody’s ranch — with his permission, while paying him a rental. But a lot of these are for training areas that SF teams and other SF troops are going to walk through. Leaving, if they’re on the ball and comporting with their training, no trace. 

How this bubble-headed TV clown gets from there to “ranchers… displaced,” we’ll never know.

It’s possible some staff section or exercise headquarters will want to rent a barn, equipment shed, or outbuilding. What happens if the landowner says no? This will probably shock the $#!+ out of you, the loyal 5% still getting your news from TV newsreaders selected for their head of hair, but in that case they thank him for his time, and go and ask some other landowner. 

Another reason private land is hired is for personnel and equipment drop zones. It’s totally obsolete, everyone agrees, but there really isn’t a better way to get a lot of teams on the ground fast 1,000 kilometers deep in a denied area than low-level static-line parachuting. Likewise, one of the best of a bad lot of ways of resupplying those teams — it’s very hard to carry more than, max, mission gear and sustenance for one lousy week — is to drop the supplies by parachute. It worked in a half-assed way for the Chindits and Marauders, it worked for the Mobile Guerilla Force in Vietnam, and it works today. With a HSLLADS or CDS bundle or two, a small team is good for up to another month.

Jade Helm operations planners previously confirmed training will only be conducted on private and public land with the permission of landowners or regional authorities.

What part of “with the permission” went over this airhead’s sole professional qualification, that is, hairdo?

One lifelong Big Spring resident told NewsWest 9 he would not accept any amount of money to surrender his home to troops.

“I support our troops, but when they’re trying to take over our civilians, that ain’t cool,” he said. “[Those are] their homes. That’s where they live.”

And… where did this guy, Timothy Yanez, get the idea he was being asked to “surrender his home?” Hint: it wasn’t from exercise planners. It came from the small brain under the hairdo. He’s answering a question she put to him — a ridiculous question, if you understand the exercise.

McLellan told NewsWest 9 residents could anticipate “[hearing] more airplane traffic,” but no other major changes.

You know, more airplane traffic. Which is how those paratroopers and resupply bundles get to those contracted drop zones in the ranches arrayed around Big Spring.

via Big Spring Landowners Paid to Accommodate Jade Helm, Says Mayor – KWES NewsWest 9 / Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, TX: |.

Contrary to ratings-driven hysteria, when our guys do need to practice door kicking, they do it with targets, dummies, or (at the very highest level of training), live, experienced and specifically trained role players inside. Not some rancher (or ranch hand’s) unsuspecting family. (Which would get our guys, who are loaded with blanks for the exercise, shot by a bunch of defensively-oriented Texans. That is, if we were dumb enough to be the dummies the news media think we are).

One last thing, a clip of this was used twice to illustrate the exercise.



Yeah. A firing party at a memorial service for KIAs in Afghanistan. You can just see it going through their well-coiffed but vacant heads: “Hey, people in uniform. Shooting guns! Must be a military exercise. Perfect action clip to illustrate that Jade Helm story.” We bet no one at the station even knew what that firing salute was or when the military uses it.

Well, they’ve got a First Amendment right to write any ill-considered and thoughtless drivel they want to. And this time, they sure did!

How to Launch a Lethal Projectile?

FOOM!Western Civilization’s best answer to the question in the title has been, since approximately the return of Marco Polo to Europe with this stuff, gunpowder: that is, a chemical reaction inside a confined space with a single outlet for the projectile, and the pressure. But that’s not the only answer. And there are reasons you might not wish to use gunpowder. Chemical propellants take some engineering to be safe, reliable, and capable of being stored (the fixed round of ammunition, holding and protecting the propellant in a sealed container capable of being weatherproofed, was a great leap forward in all these areas). Chemical propellants also have thermal, visual, and audible signatures that might be undesirable in some weapons applications.

Of course, before Polo, there were already several answers to the problem, but they basically came down to muscle power, the original projectile launch method that goes back to Cain and Abel, or stored energy (which itself takes many forms: springs, elastic bands, the bent arms of a bow, or the counterweight of a trebuchet. In ancient times, man or animal muscle had to provide the energy to be stored, by stretching the band, bending the bow, or lifting the counterweight). In more recent years, other ways of “sending a message” have become possible, if not yet entirely practical: electromagnetic rail guns, or even the lensed nuclear weapons envisioned in the 1980s for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In World War II, the OSS wanted the National Defense Research Committee (NRDC), a gathering of eggheads led by Harvard’s former head James Conant, to address the question of projectile launching, starting at first principles, with the objective of producing silent weapons. Stanley P. Lovell, a former NRDC guy who’d been transferred to OSS to help the nascent spy and sabotage agency develop the specialty equipment such missions required, drafted the initial requirement, complete with an innocuous cover name:

No. 1 – Impact Testing Machine

You are directed to study, and if possible produce, a gun having the approximate following military characteristics:

  1. Silent
  2. Flashless
  3. Muzzle velocity of 1000 ft./s.
  4. Maximum calibre bullet compatible with a, B, and C, preferably 50-calibre.
  5. Minimum reloading time, preferably under 30 seconds.

The project may conceivably eventuate as two weapons, one for relatively long-range sentry assault, the other as a personal short-range weapon. The US Armed Forces prefer the former and there are indications that our Allies wish both types of arms.

A projectile launched with those ballistic figures would have competed well with the handguns of the day. As it happened, the NRDC did a great deal of research, beginning from first principles and concluding that crossbows using energy storage in then-modern elastics might be the best answer to Requirement No. 1 and subsequent requirements. Research done, the OSS and its academic tinkerers went on to develop crossbows and other projectile throwers ranging in size from a small pistol to a mortar equivalent.

OSS William Tell

OSS William Tell “crossbow” that used many small elastics. This approach turned out to be better than one large one, or bent wood or metal.

None of these devices seems to have been used in action, and very few if any got to the field. The handful produced seemed to succumb to OSS’s celebrity culture, being demonstrated to everybody and his brother (including, one legend goes, to FDR in the Oval Office by Donovan Himself), and piled up in every intermediate headquarters of the organization to the extent that what the field got, as far as “silent” weapons are concerned, were relatively conventional pistol suppressors (2,500 fielded) and suppressed barrel units for the M3 submachine gun (5,000).

Requirement No. 1 would be coded SAC-1 for the first requirement issued by the “SAndeman Club,” a requirments committee whose full name was the “Directors’ Committee for Cooperation with Special Government Agencies.” SAC-1 would indeed produce a working, if not fielded, silent weapon, the Impact Testing Machine, Spring Type aka The Dart Thrower. SAC-14 would produce the better-known OSS firearms silencers. Other “silent, flashless weapons” included:

  • SAC-13, “Penetrometer,” a long-range crossbow.
  • SAC-36, “Tree Gun”, a silent mortar-equivalent with a planned 250-yard range;
  • SAC-46, “Flying Dragon,” which produced a CO2 pistol procured in limited numbers (it turned out to be louder than the suppressed Hi-Standard .22).

An offshoot of this research produced the Bigot dart system and actually procured 25 guns and 300 darts, almost all of which had been lost, strayed or written off by V-J Day.

The bows and projectors had fanciful names: Joe Louis, Little Joe, Big Joe, William Tell. They weren’t entirely silent, generating about 80 dB (although the protocol for measurement is unknown).

The story of the OSS Crossbows is told in The OSS Crossbows by  John W. Brunner, PhD, with copious use of original documents from the National Archives and a decent quantity and quality of illustrations (especially when considering that the archival material has partly been reduced to microfiche, which is terribly destructive of photographs). That book is the principal source of this post. The publisher, Phillips Publications of Williamstown, NJ doesn’t have a website but may answer 609-567-0695; they have published numerous high-quality histories of spy weapons and technology. The author has his own website and has a few copies of the paperback to offer; ours came from the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC.

A French enthusiast of crossbows built a copy of one of the larger handheld projectors, the Big Joe 5.


One wonders what could be done today, with such a general tasking as SAC-1. Certainly we have materials that were unavailable in 1942, from composites with controlled layout of reinforcements to enormously improved synthetic elastomers. The most widely issued silent weapons today are Russian and Chinese devices based on a US system designed as a Tunnel Rat weapon for the Vietnam War but then abandoned at war’s end. These weapons used chemical energy, but contain the chemical inside the cartridge or at least the weapon, with nothing being vented to the atmosphere.