Category Archives: SF History and Lore

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.

From Special Forces to Special Teams

After USA Today wrote this story, they had to update it. But the story of a former SF soldier who went from walk-on to starter at the football-taken-seriously University of Texas, took a new turn when Nate Boyer tried to walk on at the Seattle Seahawks.

Nate Boyer, in the uniform of one of his previous teams... heh.

Nate Boyer, in the uniform of one of his previous teams… heh.

Nate Boyer is a special teams ace, which seems highly appropriate once you’re familiar with his background.

A man who willingly tackles challenges, Boyer is currently trying to surmount a huge one — latching on with an NFL team as a long snapper.

At 5-11, 220 pounds and 34 years of age, he is the longest of long shots. But unfavorable odds typically don’t deter men who have served with the Green Berets, and Boyer’s beaten them before.

After serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, he decided at age 29 that he better attend college, fearing he never would otherwise. In the process of matriculating at the University of Texas, Boyer also walked onto the football team even though he’d never played a competitive down in his life.

And in the uniform of his other previous team, the Texas Longhorns.

And in the uniform of his other previous team, the Texas Longhorns.

“I didn’t want to regret never playing, and I’d never had the opportunity,” Boyer told USA TODAY Sports. “It was always my favorite sport to watch.”

With the help of the incumbent snapper, he taught himself the craft and refined his accuracy in subsequent deployments while with the National Guard. He eventually won the Longhorns’ starting job.

via USA TODAY: Latest World and US News –

The update that USA Today added? Nate made the team! The Seahawks organization offered him a contract. Now if he just performs with his usual SF excellence, maybe we can do something about the team owner’s anti-gun activism.

Congratulations to Nate for doing what most SF (and SOF, and GWOT/Service vets in general) vets do, which is doing their best wherever they go. Nate joins a long line of veteran athletes, like Ted Williams, Moe Berg, Roger Staubach, and Rocky Blier, to name a few.

Are SF guys better, and that’s why they get selected and trained, or does the selection and training make ’em better? It’s probably both, with the degree of the mixture varying by individual. We know SF service brought out character traits that were already there, in us, but it inculcated traits that weren’t necessarily there before.


Apparently the Seahawks support the troops even when they don’t bring Nate Boyer’s commitment and skills to the game. Traveling on an Alaska Air jetliner air home to Seattle, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson saw a soldier in uniform, and invited Kane Bernas up to first class, upgrading the trooper’s seat. Afterward, the two exchanged friendly and respectful tweets.

If this keeps up we may have to become football, and Seahawks, fans. Meanwhile, Tom Brady is riding a Gaia-smashing private jet around in his Captain Planet suit, lecturing the proles about how they need to return to the golden age of horse-drawn transport to save the scepter’d orb.

The Ballad of the Ukrainian Berets

The Ballad of the Green Berets is one of the most well-known military songs on the planet. In 1966, it was actually the No. 1 song of the year on the popular charts, based on Joel Whitburn’s calculations; it stayed at the Number One position for many weeks as it was assaulted by classic pop from the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and all the other leading lights of 60s rock ‘n’ roll, not to mention the standards singers who were still charting occasionally, and the novelty songs.

Along with its 1960s popularity and its presence in the 1968 John Wayne movie, the Ballad has made a major mark on the world. It’s been translated into over 100 languages (somewhere, I have a CD with dozens of these recordings), most of them without credit or payment to the creators (about whom, we have a story). The latest of these translations? Ukrainian.

We mentioned that it was a huge hit in 1966, sung by an actual Green Beret, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Barry Sadler. Sadler wrote most of it, but a friend of his, novelist Robin Moore, got a co-writer credit for changing one verse (which is the story we promised, above). You see, in the original version, the bereaved woman waiting for her fallen Green Beret was a Saigon bar girl — a situation that would probably have been pretty true to Sadler’s life, if he’d been whacked in the war. Moore feared that that wouldn’t sell, and his contribution was the verse that begins, “Back at home, a young wife waits. Her Green Beret has met his fate…” and then it comes back to Sadler’s original closing, with the soldier’s son going SF, too. The only difference is that, with Moore’s help, the son was legitimized.1

Oddly enough, only the rock-pop stuff gets played on oldies stations, and not necessarily the stuff that was popular then. (Our working assumption is that oldies stations are as subject to payola as the rest of the ethically corroded music industry). You’ll never hear The Ballad of the Green Berets on the radio any more. It is, however, on several jukeboxes in the Fayetteville, NC and Clarksville, TN areas, along with its less-well-known B-side, The A-Team.

And it’s now playing in the Ukraine. We can’t follow the Ukrainian words well enough, but we enjoyed the version.


  1. When the late Robin Moore was a member of Chapter LIV, Special Forces Association, he told this story many times. He was the life of every party, and is missed by the SF community, despite the disaster that befell his last book about us — but that’s another story.

SF: Playing Hurt

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upOne of the things we’ve mentioned before about SF is that we are either bred to Never Quit, trained to Never Quit, or selected because we congenitally Never Quit.

The “why” is, as you can imagine, a matter of dispute to scientists, and of no more than casual interest to us. It’s just a fact of SF life. We are pretty deficient in the genetics, metaphysics, and epistemiology of surrender.

We actually have a course where we teach guys how, if through some screwup you wind up in the enemy’s hands, you can continue to take the war to him from what he mistakenly thinks is hopeless confinement. The course is based on the experiences of real-life SF soldiers like Nick Rowe and Jon Cavaiaini (and, to be fair, men from our sister services, and the experiences of others in history — ally and enemy) who did just that while in the jug in wars gone by. (There’s actually more than one course, but everybody does at least one these days).

Part of Never Quit is Playing Hurt. Sports coaches, players, and fans know what that is. It’s real rare to see an SF guy with a major valor award and no Purple Heart. (It happens. We know of one guy who got 10 Silver Stars and never got tagged, and probably could have had 20 if another part of SF wasn’t We Suck at Paperwork). You’re only at 100% on the first day of Game Season and the enemy, the weather, the conditions, and the mission start attriting you right away.

Over the years we’ve known some legendary guys who played hurt, and won.

The Guys Who Had to Cheat Their Way In

SF PatchLike every other thing out there, SF has entrance standards; before you can go and probably flunk SF Assessment & Selection and on, if you pass, to the SF Qualification Course, you need to tick a number of boxes. Some of these are germane to mission performance: you have to have a working cardiovascular system and decent, or repairable anyway, eyesight. Others are more marginal: is it a big deal if an SF guy has red/green color blindness, which about one in ten males have in some form? Experience says “no,” but the standards say, “yeah.”

Likewise, there’s a limit for corrected and uncorrected vision. (Now that surgery can fix nearsightedness, that’s less of a problem). But we couldn’t pass an honest vision test, back in the day. (So? We arranged a dishonest one. The statute of limitations has run out by now).

Of course, these standards are just one more way in which All of Life is an IQ Test, and yes, guys cheat their way past them. They memorize the order of all the tiles in the color-blindness test book, for example. We knew a guy, Art, who did that. And we learned that there’s a benefit to having a color-blind man on the team: he can see through camouflage better than people whose visual systems have a more normal frequency response curve.

The Guys Who Had to Cheat to Stay In

CrestThen there are the guys who were in, and had some major medical malfunction that was disqualifying.

Chris got news you’d never expect. He ate healthy, didn’t smoke (although he did dip), and was an avid runner and hiker who kept himself trim. And the doctors told him: he had diabetes.

That’s a career-ender right there. But it didn’t. An entire team and later, an entire company, and the battalion and group medical officers, helped him cover it up.

Andy had something that was a bit harder to cover up: a massive heart attack. But we did.

And then there was our own problem, yeah, apart from the vision thing. There was the fact that one leg didn’t really work after an unfortunate parachute jump. Yet we hung on for six more years, despite having an ankle that doesn’t exactly bend.

We’re reminded of an old SF maxim:

If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.

And its corollary:

If you get caught, you’re tryin’ too hard.


Now What Happens?

What happens to guys like Chris and Andy and Art when they get ready to retire? That’s a problem. Because they kept their problems out of their military medical records, they can’t get help from the VA.

Fortunately, that doesn’t leave them materially worse off than anyone else.

And doubly fortunately, there’s a nonprofit that helps special operators who hid their stuff through their time in service, to claim a disability. We have no direct connection to OASIS, but we hear good things about ’em. If you are a former SOF guy who lied, cheated and stole to stay in Group /on the Teams / in an operational Squadron, they can walk you through doing the necessary stuff to get your paperwork straight.

Active SF and Guard SF — RAND Arroyo Study.

The RAND corporation is a Federally Funded Research and Development Corporation (FFRDC), a nonprofit originally sponsored by the Air Force to do big-forebrain thinking about strategic warfare. It was the original “think tank” and the prototype of many FFRDCs that have materially advanced US defense policy. The Army, not wanting to be neglected, sponsored a RAND sub-center called the Arroyo Center, which does the same kind of think-tanking, but on ground forces issues.

Recently, the Arroyo Center conducted an Army-sponsored study on the Reserve Component Special Forces and their relation to and best employment relative to active-duty SF elements. This hit us right where we live; your humble author spent significant time on active duty (in 10th SFG(A)), in the Clinton-disbanded USAR SF (11th SFG(A)), and in the National Guard SF (20th SFG(A)). Each unit had good people and a unique mix of pros and cons both for unit members and for Army planners who would use the unit, and it was crystal clear that some of these pros and cons alike stemmed from the active vs. reserve-component divide. Thus, we were extremely interested in seeing what RAND’s researchers had to say. This report was completed in 2012 by a team of  John E. “Jed” Peters, Brian Shannon and Matthew E. Boyer, but has only been subject to a lot of discussion in the community this year.

Technical Report–National Guard Special Forces (RAND, 2012).pdf

This had to happen sooner or later, and we’re glad it did — someone noticed that the guard units and active units were different. The active guys have noticed this and assume that it means the guard units were worse, but in actuality, they’re just different, which means that employment decisions ought well to take those differences into consideration.

There are some small differences in the organization of Guard and Active SF units, mostly flowing from the fact that recent changes to the active force structure haven’t been replicated in the Guard.

ARNG groups have general support companies while the AC groups have general support battalions, the AC groups have special troops battalions that the ARNG groups do not, and the AC groups have four-company battalions while the ARNG groups have three-company battalions. They state that these organizational differences interfere with one-for-one interchangeability and the smooth rotation of units through the deployment cycle.

The Active Army works around that, mostly, by using the building blocks that are the same (ODA, ODB/Company, FOB/BN). The one time a Guard officer commanded a major CJSOTF was a thorough success, but the officer and the unit faced a whispering campaign (for example, a Unit Citation for the element was sidetracked and not awarded). Active officers are extremely jealous of command slots and would prefer to use Guard SF soldiers as individual or small unit plus-ups or replacements.

The authors note that SF’s historic flexibility has resulted in the past in the creation of provisional or mission-limited task units which did not survive beyond the length of their intended mission. These include specific task elements (TF Ivory Coast, the Son Tay Raiders), and more durable elements, such as MAC-V SOG and the Greek projects (Delta, Sigma, Omega) of the Vietnam War.

They note that some states do assign their SF elements state missions, and some do not. (The state they mention as not assigning a state mission to their SF company may be Massachusetts). For example, 20th Group soldiers in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have been instrumental in hurricane relief in their states, along with their states’ other National Guard units.

Locations of Guard SF Units

Who’s Where. Note that Roanoke Rapids is not in VA, but where the map shows it is, in North Carolina.


There’s a lot of commuters to Guard SF units. In our last company (a unit of 84 men), we drew men from at least 12 states. We also had a real problem with our battalion and group being located 1,400 miles away — we were, at best, out of sight, out of mind, and at worst, ripped off.

20th SF soldier-family locations

20th SF soldier-family locations

For example, we found that the Alabama boys tended to retain our slice of new equipment. In one case, they held some SOPMOD II components before a deployment, and only issued it to us after we got back. We don’t think there was anything nefarious happening here (the AL guys were and are great guys), just the effects of propinquity. Not everybody agreed, as the RANDistas noted:

In some instances, these arrangements have prompted feelings of favoritism and unfair- ness, in which subordinate units located in different states from their parent organizations believe that they are discriminated against in favor of in-state subordinates, who as a result enjoy deployment opportunities, priority for new equipment, and priority for training courses that do not accrue to the out-of-state unit.

That’s probably true. We knew that our guys were not going to get a fair shake at battalion or group command, staff, or sergeant major slots. Just the way it worked.

And then there’s this problem (Read The Whole Thing™ to understand it in full, but “Title 32″ means, essentially, “Guard units when not mobilized onto active duty”):

Under Title 32, there is very little coherence in command relationships for Special Forces units.

Boy, is that ever true.

Here’s a chart showing some of the personnel differences:

SF active vs Guard qualifications

This table is a little bit bogus because it was done by adding up the number of 18 series soldier with these qualifications and dividing them by the number of groups. But in addition to the groups, the active component has a large number of 18 series officers and men assigned to the training base or to headquarters, the Joint Readiness Training Center special-ops cadre, etc. The number of non-group 18 series slots is probably at least one group equivalent.

It is not really practical for part-time soldiers to maintain MFF and dive teams. In the last couple of decades, the currency and recency requirements, and the logistical requirements for running a jump or a dive, have exploded; if you were to meet your dive or HALO proficiency requirements, you would literally have to spend 100% of your drill time on that skill alone, neglecting everything else. Accordingly, the active commands parcel out few qualifications schools slots to the Guard, and those Guardsmen that have HALO wings or a Combat Dive bubble usually obtained the qualification on active duty.

Here are the recommendations. We think they speak for themselves:

Screenshot 2015-04-04 13.32.25

The colored numbers are explained by this graph:

Screenshot 2015-04-04 13.32.35


Here are some thoughts of ours that we did not see Peters et. al. take up.

  1. The Guard teams tend to stay together much longer. The Active Army personnel system is so bad that there’s no real way to keep personnel turbulence from wracking your team. When we were on active duty, three months with the same personnel was a long time.
  2. The problem of language proficiency, that they dwell on, comes in part from the Army whipsawing the Guard groups with area, language and priority changes. They do this to their own guys too (it’s not some anti-Guard bias, it’s lack of respect for language as important), but they fund language schools for them much more heavily. Basically, we’ll believe USASOC and USASFC thinks language is important when they start acting like it is important, and providing consistent and stable leadership on it. This, they have never done.



SF Doctrine: Field Manual 3-18

CrestThis document, linked in this post, is official Army doctrine on Special Forces operations. It will be very boring to those of you looking for a JADE HELM smoking gun, or even a lot of nuts and bolts about how SF does things; most of those details live in team and unit SOPs, and those don’t circulate beyond the community.

FM 3-18 is less than a year old and covers many thing better than previous editions of itself and its forerunner (FM 31-20 and 31-21). Among the things it covers better is SF integration with ARSOF and joint conventional forces, and it even includes an excellent and accurate recounting of SF origins and history.

Special Forces units are oriented to specific missions and regions. This drives their area studies, contingency mission planning, and language and cultural training. A unit’s area orientation is expressed in mission tasking letters, which are classified documents. Until relatively recently, the general orientation of specific SF elements to specific unified combatant commands was classified SECRET, even though it was very widely known and ridiculously easy for anyone to figure out. In this unclassified document, the regional orientations (which are adjusted from time to time) finally come out of the closet. Old-timers will note the disappearance of LANTCOM; its mission and responsibilities were divided among NORTHCOM, EUCOM, and Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) beginning in 1993; JFCOM has since been disestablished.

Screenshot 2015-04-03 14.26.27

In addition to the Special Forces units, some other ARSOF and other services’ SOF plan to fall in on specific commands in specific contingencies, but none has the highly developed, long-standing and persistent area orientation of Special Forces.

There are many key ideas to be distilled from this document, for instance:

The following five criteria provide guidelines for conventional and SF commanders and planners to use when considering the employment of SF:

  1. It must be an appropriate SF mission or activity. SF should be used to achieve effects that require its specific skills and capabilities.
  2. The mission or tasks should support the [Joint Force Commander’s] campaign or operation plan or special activities.

  3.  The mission or tasks must be operationally feasible. SF is not structured for attrition or force-on- force warfare and should not be assigned missions beyond their capabilities.
  4. Required resources must be available to execute the mission. Some SF missions require support from other forces for success.
  5. The expected outcome of the mission must justify the risks. Commanders must make sure the benefits of successful mission execution justify the inherent risks.

Doctrine like this is catnip to force and strategic planners. It tells them what units can and can’t do; it alerts them to the range of practical possibilities. With any luck it fires their imagination.

SF has evolved a good bit since we first darkened their door in the long black night of the Carter Administration. In the 1980s, SF avoided disbandment by offering commanders the capability to conduct deep strike and strategic or special reconnaissance. Despite the wonderful array of technical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems today, there has proven to be no substitute for intelligent, American (or American-controlled), human eyes on target. SF has proven to be a great distributor of “ground truth.” But the evolution of other SOF elements has produced other units that can do eyes-on-target, and that can do DA missions. (In some cases, some specific combinations of unit and mission, they do these missions better, and in some, not as well, as SF would do).

USASOC has identified 13 different principal tasks that special operations units must conduct. Of these it she’s the following nine, in the brown boxes, suitable to a greater or lesser extent for SF units.

Screenshot 2015-04-03 14.08.52


Since the 1970s development of units specially oriented towards surgical strike tasks, SF has concentrated more of the “green spectrum” of special warfare tasks. Only a small subset of SF, now called the Crisis Force (formerly, the Commander’s Interim/Intervention Force or CIF) maintains proficiency and currency in surgical strike tactics, techniques and procedures.

More SF doctrine document discussion Real Soon Now™.


Oops. We meant to attach the document. Heck, that was the whole point of this post. Here:

(U) Special Forces Operations, FM 3-18, May2014

OSS Operational Group Resources

phillips_greek_patchApparently it’s a thing for mouth-breathing rappers to say that they’re “OGs,” meeting “original gangsters.” (Sorry, gangstas. We forget that spelling is a marker of white privilege or some such twaddle, and authenticity means pretending you’re retarded in some circles).

By “original,” given the deep awareness of history possessed by most rappers, they’re probably referring to last Tuesday.

We got your OGs, gentlemen. These are the OGs, the OSS Operational Groups. Do not mess with them or their memory. These are our people.

OSS OG 2 in Greece pic26X

Lt Nick Pappas (center) and OG 2 in Greece. Note TSMGs, BARs,and 2.36″ rocket launcher.

The OSS OGs were a gang that was capable of taking turf from their rival gang, which was called the Axis. Each Operational Group comprised 30-odd officers and men, prepared and trained for operations in uniform deep behind enemy lines. They operated in most theaters of war: in Europe, France, Italy, Yugoslavia and Greece; in the CBI, China, Burma, Siam (Thailand), and Indochina. They were infiltrated by parachute, light aircraft, speedboats and native fishing boats, and sometimes even walked in. They were the most direct ancestor of US Army Special Forces, even though SF would never receive any of their lineage or honors.

We’ve mentioned them recently, but thought we would offer you some links to more resources on the OGs.
1. The OG manual, 25 April 1944, via the main Internet Archive page…

…and .pdf version

Sample of the common sense within:

Since OG personnel operate in uniform they must rely on concealment and secrecy to safeguard their operations. Concealment,is of particular important to OG’s because- they are small in number and can be severely weakened by the loss of even a few men. Prior to their entry, OG’s should be issued camouflage clothing appropriate to the season and terrain. OG’s will be obliged in most cases to avoid cities and towns where the enemy or his agents may be encountered. Semi­ permanent concealment in mountainous or forested areas may be available, and native sympathizers will be induced to provide hiding-places in their homes and barns when this is feasible. In some areas enemy con­ trols may be so rigid as to compel OG’s to keep on the move, changing bivouac sites frequently.

2. CGSC paper by MAJ John W, Shaver III, USA, 1993: Office of the Strategic Services: Operational Groups in France During World War II, July-October 1944:

3. Greek/American OG Memoirs of WWII:

This one is really good!

4. OG History site with the missions, code names and AARs of most of the European OGs and the Chinese ones. Some of the missions (like the recently updated AAR from the Italian CAYUGA group) are really classic SF UW missions, exactly what we try to drill in training exercises like Robin Sage and JADE PALM 15.

5. Official history page on the OGs. (Other pages linked here explain the other elements of OSS, letting you see where the OGs fit into that big picture).

The 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional), is or was:

Here’s a question for all y’all (or in our native New England turkey-herdish, for youse guys). Answer after the jump:

The 2671st Special Reconnaissance Battalion, Separate (Provisional), is or was: free polls


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