Category Archives: SF History and Lore

A Reporter with Special Forces in Africa

USSF officer Doug O'Connell with African officers, Flintlock 2015.

USSF officer Doug O’Connell from SOD-A with African officers, Flintlock 2015.

A very interesting story in Texas Monthly covers SF soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard who deployed to Africa in FTX Flintlock, the major UW exercise that once, decades ago, focused on Europe. The Texans are part of Special Operations Detachment – Africa (SOD-A), one of a series of SODs that provide SOF augmentation to theater combatant commands (or theater special operations commands).

[I]f Special Forces soldiers are good at building trust with local forces, they are wary of the media. Their work is complicated, not easily captured in sound bites, and as with any other government employee, a few misplaced words can jeopardize an entire career. When I ask Vince, a burly, affable major, a question that he considers inappropriate, his immediate response is “Are you trying to Rolling Stone me?”

Vince is referring to the Rolling Stone article published in 2010 that got General Stanley McChrystal forced out of the Army because of some offensive comments. Most civilians have probably forgotten this article ever existed. But you can bet that not a single soldier has.

I mostly stick to safe subjects. I take a seat with the group. They are polite but not exactly forthcoming; they are still sussing me out. We talk about guns and the month I spent at Blackwater. I tell some hunting stories, like the time I got stalked by a pair of mountain lions in East Texas. Still, most of these men have been in combat. There is basically nothing about guns or hunting they don’t know already. Conversation begins to lag. Finally someone says, “So, does being an author get you laid?”

At this, all conversation stops. People turn away from their laptops. They look at me expectantly; this is the only interesting thing I really have to offer.

I would like to pretend that I responded only with great reluctance. But they are all married, and I have been single for many years. So I tell them some stories. Then I tell them more stories. Most of the stories are lies, and none of them are fit for print.

“Jesus, reporter,” says Vince. “By the time this is over, I am going to Rolling Stone YOU.”

Read The Whole Thing™; rather typically for Texas Monthly, it’s good and has some decent photographs. Here’s one more taste:

There are reporters and well-dressed State Department officials wandering around. There are BBC reporters burned bright pink by the sun. Finally there is an announcement about the maneuvers, and everyone goes out to a hilltop to watch the closing exercise being put on for all the visiting brass and reporters. A joint African assault group, made up of Nigerians, Nigeriens, Tunisians, Algerians, Chadians, and Cameroonians, stages a raid on a compound. There is the crackle of AKs, the rattle of PKMs, and the occasional thud thud thud of a DShK.

A handful of photographers have flown in for this—machine guns and explosions make for good photographs—and indeed, this is what media coverage of Flintlock primarily focuses on. But this is not what Flintlock is really about. U.S. and European special operations forces give weapons training to partner nations all the time—there are SF operators training African forces all the time. Flintlock, and the other big exercises like it, are about bringing together these various host nations to learn to work together. Not in the sense of holding hands and singing “Kumbaya,” but in the sense of Does our radio system talk to your radio system? Do we understand each other’s tactics? And, most fundamentally, can we trust each other?

It’s unusual for a reporter to actually get the hang of SF, let alone have a few insights about it, penetraring insights, but Philipp Meyer did just that in this article.


SF and Mustaches

Now this guy has a mustache worth emulating.

Now this guy has a mustache worth emulating.

Everybody these days associates Special Forces with beards. But there was a time when SF meant mustaches… luxuriant, regulation-defying womb brooms. So it was entertaining to learn that the British Army once required mustaches.

The order to abolish the moustache requirement was signed on October 6, 1916 by General Sir Nevil Macready, who himself hated moustaches and was glad to finally get to shave his off. While no longer in force today, there are still regulations governing moustaches and, if worn, they can grow no further than the upper lip.  It is also still extremely common for British soldiers in Afghanistan to wear beards, as facial hair is still associated with power and authority in many Islamic regions.


The story is a fascinating overview of mustaches in the military, including their 50-plus year run as mandatory grooming for Tommy Atkins.

In the US, too, mustaches ran afoul of officers who didn’t like them. A fairly liberal policy of the 1970s and 1980s ended in 1981 with a new Chief of Staff who came up with a policy that initially more or less required a Hitler mustache. It was quickly tweaked to require a Hitler-sized but non-rectangular regular trapezoid, top end no wider than the nose, bottom end coming to a point no further left or right than the opening of the mouth.

On the other hand, this fellow's style is lost to history (Kaiser Wilhelm II).

On the other hand, this fellow’s style is lost to history (Kaiser Wilhelm II).

This was not a Hitler, but it wasn’t really a Stalin, either. Stalin may be one of greatest villains ever whelped by human dam, but he certainly had a great mustache, unlike his Austrian counterparty.

And really, where would a discussion of mustaches be without discussing one of the Three Monsters of the XX Century™, two of whom were distinctively mustached? (The exception was the clean-shaven Great Helmsman, who demonstrated that even if life is cheap in the Orient, the right guy can run up a hell of a tab). The pseudonymous writer of the piece linked above probably wants to keep working in media, so he doesn’t bag on #2, Stalin, but does discuss #3 democide record holder, Adolf Hitler, who singlehandedly drove both a common name and a common 20th-Century mustache style into obscurity:

Hitler originally went with the previous most popular ‘stache in Germany, the Kaiser Moustache, which was turned up at the ends, often with scented oil.

He continued to wear this ‘stache at least up to and during WWI.

A soldier who served with Hitler during WWI, Alexander Moritz Frey, stated that Hitler was ordered to trim his moustache during WWI while in the trenches to facilitate wearing a gas mask; so shaved the sides off and went with the toothbrush moustache instead.

Nobody1 names their son Adolf any more. And nobody cuts their mustaches like his.

Except the US Army and other services that rigidly follow the Army’s 1981 mustache regulation — who wear a slightly trapezoidal Adolf variant, thus losing the mustache stakes to numerous Southern European and Central Asian mischief makers. Originally, the mini-mustache didn’t have to be trapezoidal. We think we know how that came to be.

You see, for a long time, in SF, we got away with the pre-81 facial hair approach. It wasn’t that we were unmilitary: several of the contingencies in our mission tasking letter expected us to go under cover, and we knew that if Ivan poured through the Fulda Gap, the war was not going to wait for us to grow our hair out. It would be “come as you are.”

In 1984, we got a new CG for Special Forces. The only general in SF, BG Joe Lutz, was kicked upstairs with a second star — and packed away to lead a military advisory group in Greece. The new Chief of Staff did not like SF, and sough a new CG in his own image. He found Major General Leroy N. Suddath, who was the very model of a STRAC airborne infantryman, having commanded at every level except Division in the 82nd Airborne (he had successful Company, Battalion and Brigade commands), and served in the sensitive but by-the-book role of Provost Marshal in Berlin, where he and a clandestine SF element operating there developed a lasting mutual enmity. (Tensions between the showpiece Berlin Brigade and city-based special operators and spooks were the norm; moreover, the passive collecting spooks and the preparing-for-combat spooks always stepped all over each other’s networks).  MG Suddath came in at a time SF was getting more resources — he would take the review when the Pacific-oriented 1st Group reactivated, for instance — but he came in with orders: get those wild men under control. Bring those rogues back into the Army!

Like any good leader in the cold war Army, that meant a focus on appearances. He wanted high and tight haircuts. He wanted clean-shaven men, as he’d required in his 82nd units. That was his measure — his only measure — of his men’s readiness. Wherever he could, he replaced special operations officers with infantrymen, the less imaginative the better. Ranger, SF, same thing, right? That was how he acted, if not how he thought (you’d have to ask him). Officers with special operations leadership potential were stashed here and there — then-Colonel Dick Potter was parked at the War College as commander of the support troops, IIRC, for instance — to wait him out. But meanwhile, SF was going to join the Army, whether we liked it or not.

We didn’t like it.

There was also an operational side of his conventionalizing the Army: he was determined to crush initiative and run things from HQ, like LBJ and Macnamara acting as a command master corporal from thousands of miles away.

So our team decided to protest. None of us had heard of Alinsky, at that time, but we knew instinctively that the way to mock a rule was to follow it punctiliously, indeed, beyond punctiliously: to great excess.

So we all trimmed our luxuriant facial hair down. Boy howdy, did we trim it down. Next morning PT formation, a very cross company commander looked at a row of smiling Hitlers.

“What the bleeep is this?”

“Sir, AR 670-12 dictates that…” and our team sergeant ran through the reg, yadda yadda. Our toothbrush mustaches were technically legal. We had vowed that none of us were going to shave them until the Army yielded, by God: we were within the letter of the law.

The next morning, the protest had spread — every team was a ringer for the Boys From Brazil. But with one exception. Our team sergeant, who had initiated the protest, was clean-shaven!

“WTF, dude?”

“Momma said she was not getting in bed with Adolf Hitler.”

Some time after that, they made a very small change to the facial hair regulation. One’s mustache was “not to present a chopped-off appearance.” Did that result from the one-day protest of one team at Fort Devens? Or was that protest one of many?

We’d like to think that we got the regulation changed, even if it was a retrograde change to what was (and is) a stupid regulation.

Zoom! Ride Along with a Cargo Bundle

Ever wonder what the flying career of a cargo bundle dropped from a C-130 is like?

We’re not sure what bundle system this is, because this stuff keeps being developed. It wasn’t the one we used most commonly, HSSLADS (High Speed Low Level Aerial Delivery System) but it has some similarities, including a ribbon extraction chute that pulls the bundle out, followed by a rapid descent to the ground.

ISTR HSSLADS had a single large chute. This system uses a pair, as the shadows show you. Watch the whole drop courtesy of the Ohio Air National Guard, then ride along with a pair of  GoPro sport cameras on the bundle.

The bundle seems to hit very hard, but that’s normal. Nothing fragile goes into this type of bundle, which is more about hitting the right place than hitting at a won’t-break-eggs velocity. A personnel static-line chute brings a jumper down at 18-22 feet per second, and this is considerably faster than that.

If you know your physics, you know that speed piles on the energy rapidly; so dissipating that energy is key to the survival of the stuff in the bundle. The downside of HSLLADS, which only USAF special operations aircraft could deliver, was the occasional streamers or nondeployed chutes, which would be found on the far side of the DZ in a wrecked tangle. Nothing explodes quite like a pallet of MREs delivered to a rocky mountainside at 250 knots. Anything else in that bundle — radios, a psyops loudspeaker system, demo, ammo — is going to be mangled and coated with MRE juices. It’s enough to make you call for the return of the dehydrated Meal, Long Range Patrol. But we digress.

The bundles are packed by professional parachute riggers. Their motto is the reassuring, “I will be sure. Always,” but they are quick to point out that’s when they’re dealing with personnel chutes (they pack all static-line chutes, such emergency chutes as they maintain, and MFF reserves; HALO/HAHO jumpers in our units packed their own mains). Bundle chutes dont get quite the same level of scrutiny, and ultimately, the bundle (like the jumper) leaps out supported by faith in the riggers and a swath of cloth and bunch of strings that were all made by the lowest bidder.

The amount of deceleration your bundle delivers on contact with the ground (riggers don’t like to say “impact”) is dependent on that velocity mentioned two grafs above, but also on the way that velocity is brought to zero. So the bundle is packed so that the hard hit you see that package take is moderated while being delivered to the contents. The bundle is designed to land in one orientation (top-up, naturally, bottom-down) and a variety of energy-absorbing materials are used to, essentially, stretch the impact ∆-V over a longer physical area and a longer temporal period.

This means that the Meal, Ready to Eat, Vegetarian that some patchouli-scented hippie in the Pentagon ordered to raise the consciousness of the knuckle-draggers in the pointy end can survive the drop to be discarded by the irritated trooper it was dropped on.

(Actually, at one point in Afghanistan, CJSOTF J4 was so overloaded with unwanted meals and bottled water that they made it mandatory to have X amount of your bundle being MREs and water, even if you were oversupplied with both yourself. So the riggers used boxes of MREs as further crumple zone in the bundles. Your tax dollars in action!)

Still in all, the bundle builders (usually a bunch of detailed Joes working under the supervision of an expert rigger), the riggers themselves, and the USAF trash haulers are an unsung but extremely vital component of power projection. When one of these bundles gets dropped for real, there are real guys on the ground straining with NVGs to see the infrared chemlight on the bundle, because they really need the stuff inside (which is usually exactly what they asked for, unless the J4 overhead thought the gear was too high-speed to share with mere teams, and kept it for themselves).

There are a number of variations on the bundle, including bundles that steer themselves to a preordained coordinate and bundles that can be dropped from the bomb shackles of combat aircraft, but the same principles apply: a couple hours after the bundle drop, it’s Beer O’Clock for the aircrew, and the SF ODA and their Gs are still hauling boxes up a hill somewhere.

(...and yes, we’re still 12+ hours behind posting schedule. Sorry ’bout that  -Ed).

PACE: Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upSome SF skills and modes of thinking don’t translate all that well to civilian life and conventional military operations. But one that does can be summed up as “always think PACE” and it has its roots in SF commo (which in turn is dual-rooted in the clandestine communications of the OSS and subsequent espionage and sabotage operations, and in the greater world of Army signals). SF guys are used to working at the far end of a long, unstable communications link. It’s one of the reasons that we have that vaunted independence of mind that Big Green finds so useful — and so maddening.

The toxic leaders in the Pentagon can’t apply their famous 12,500-mile screwdriver to us unless they’re talking sense — otherwise we don’t “hear” them. (Part of being SF is learning which commands to obey, which to ignore, and which to “wait and see” before obeying. This isn’t written down anywhere, but every Group, Batallion, ODB and ODA leader does it, and so do leaders of smaller, detached elements. If it’s insubordination, but it meets the commander’s overall intent, is it really insubordination?

Still, communications are useful for more than just disseminating the latest brainstorm the Good Idea Fairy has been whispering into the receptive ears in the E-Ring. They are necessary to receive support, supply, and exfiltration. (More than one Group commander has noted acidly that his teams’ commo percentage on routine traffic was lower by far than their percentage on exfil messages). They are also necessary to pass on intelligence information; a theater commander often is extremely dependent on the ground truth sent up by his scattered ODAs; we’ve heard this expressed by those very officers as some pretty staggering percentages. The big secret behind most technical, electronic, and imagery intelligence, is that it’s often misleading garbage, and usually turns out to be a key part of the decision tree when we do something brain-dead, like slip a precision-guided bomb into the Chinese Embassy or deliver an AC-130 smiting to an NGO hospital. So the generals want to have teams Out There, and both the teams and the generals have a powerful interest in reliable communications.

Since all communications modes have potential points of failure, the basic approach is to use redundant modes that do not share single points of failure. We use the acronym PACE to describe how we work that redundancy into every plan. The CO is always interested in commo and commo plans, and one thing he will always demand is the PACE plan.

The acronym is actually a little backwards; in the real world, Contingency is less of a priority than Emergency. But it’s a sacrifice to the god of memory, Mnemon.

  1. Primary. This is how you usually plan to make routine communications. In the 1980s, it was burst transmissions using an HF CW signal recorded and played back by an analog, mechanical (clockwork) coder-burst device. These days, it’s usually by encrypted satellite communications, the details of which we won’t share. (The last details we knew are surely out of date today, anyway).
  2. Alternate. This is how you make commo if Primary means does not work. For example, nowadays HF can be an effective backup for Satcom. In the 1980s, the coder-burst device was your most common single point of failure, so, since every team carried redundant radio hardware, we could sometimes get away with saying alternate was HF radio, but sending International Morse Code manually using a leg key. Team commo men hated to do that, and the Base Station Platoon of the Signals Company really hated when you did. Not all their operators could copy IMC, let alone fast IMC, so they’d record it and slow down the playback if need be.
  3. Contingency. What you do in certain specific situations where P & A don’t work but you haven’t quite reached the point of Emergency yet. For example, in relatively permissive environments team members might memorize HQ phone numbers and call up. (It’s a major loss of face for team leaders and commo men). Other situations might call for more or less technical means of commo.
  4. Emergency. This is what happens when TSHTF and Something Must Be Done™ to communicate. A broad range of communications means and terminals are available in this case.

If a team is infiltrated and doesn’t make commo at all, experience has taught us what situations that is likely to result from the compromise of the team, and what situations that is likely to result from failure of communications equipment. In the second case, which is always much more common, a prescheduled emergency resupply delivers to a prearranged point communications, survival, and mission equipment. The emergency resupply is on the schedule, but is only flown if the team fails to make commo. (If the base learns through other means that the team is not still at large, they can suspend the scheduled emergency resupply).

That’s where PACE started from, anyway. It has since become an acronym that encourages purging of single points of failure, and inculcation of resilience, in every stage of mission planning.

Guns as a Vector for National Ideology

Right now, the most popular, versatile, and “best” small arms system in the world is unquestionably the Stoner AR-10/15 system. It has the edge on everything else for soldier-readiness, ergonomics, modularity, accuracy, reliability, and, if operated within its envelope, durability. It has been proven by fifty-plus years of military service and tens of millions of guns produced.


Colt Model 639 CAR-15: the grandfather of today’s M4.

Some nations that produced alternatives (Israel’s Galil) turned to the AR in the end (although the Israelis are trying a new direction). Some just wish they did (UK, BRD). The one alternative that truly exceeds the AR’s longevity and reliability/durability is the equally legendary Avtomat Kalashnikova, the stout Russian take on the assault rifle idea (without the excellence of which the US might never have adopted the AR in the first place). The AK is an excellent firearm; it cannot match the AR for ergonomics, modularity, or accuracy in semi- or automatic fire (not that most soldiers learn to fire automatic fire accurately in any army), but it offers things the AR can’t. These include near-indestructibility with zero maintenance (near because we’ve seen what Afghans can do); extremely low cost for weapons or for starting production; and, and this is a big thing in some corners of the world, independence from the US and its friends and allies.

A number of alternatives have fallen by the wayside, some of them fair (M14), some good (G3, HK 33), some excellent (Galil, which was a westernized AK; FN-FAL; AUG), some pretty disastrous (INSAS). Sometimes making national weapons is a matter of national prestige, which is how you get Mexico, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic attempting firearms design. (All issue ARs, AKs or a combination these days).

But supplying weapons can be an instrument of national power. Unfortunately, we sit right now with the most desirable production weapons systems in the world and we are handicapped in exporting these systems and all that goes along with them by the useless striped-pants bureaucrats at the State Department.

You know, the guys who negotiated Iran’s pathway to nuking Tel Aviv and then congratulated themselves on a job well done? Those guys?

The strange thing is that individual Foreign Service Officers are among the most intelligent and capable people our universities produce, but something in State lobotomizes them, and gelds them for an encore. But we digress.

Arms Exports as a matter of national policy were long a Soviet specialty. “US embargoed you? Oh, dear, you poor fellow. Let us help you out! Here’s a wing of MiGs, our latest surface-to-air-missiles (and crews to run them until you’re up to speed; if you can get a war going, even better, we need ’em combat-tested), and several ships full of ground combat weapons… for, I dunno, how does a case of vodka sound? And you can owe us the vodka. Just keep the door open for when we want to chat.” Now, what self-respecting uniformed popinjay dictator is going to turn down a deal like that? Judging from the ruined dictatorships where we’ve found mountains of Soviet-era hardware, none of ’em.


The AK’s excellence helped it spread. So did “easy terms” from Amtorg, the Soviet export agency, and Soviet influence followed it.

But the US? We don’t play that game, or rather, we do, but we have State playing it, so we do a crappy job.

This didn’t start with the Cold War, either. The long excerpt that follows was written by WHB Smith in 1946, and he recounts how the Germans used the near-universality of the Mauser rifle as a wedge to propagate their thinking — everything from the General Staff concept in the 1890s to the Führerprinzip in the 1940s, which helps explain some of your Latin American caudillos like Juan Perón or Alfredo Stroessner.

Very few people in civil life have any realization of the tremendous power the Mauser organization played in world affairs from the date of its inception in 1871 to the close of World War II.

As a result of a planned German military policy, a policy which began with the very founding in 1864 of Germany as the nation we knew in the 20th century, the Mauser organization was used internationally to disseminate German ideas into German ideologies.

Germany infiltrated the entire South American continent and much of China by recognizing the elementary fact that whoever arms the police and military organizations of those countries, automatically exercises considerable control over their politics and policies. In world areas where police and military groups dominate, those who are in a position to provide arms and equipment and new military techniques have always been able to achieve a measure of power entirely out of relation to either the number of agents employed or the extent of the business they have done with those countries.

Mauser K98k from world-guns-ru

Rather SF-sounding, that. Force multiplier. Of course, after Smith wrote this in 1946, both the West and the Communist East used weapons supplies as a very significant factor in influencing foreign nations’ “politics and policies.” Let’s continue with the excerpt, shall we?

As this book is written, the Mauser factories in Germany (in US and British areas!) for the second time in less than half a century have been compelled to stop manufacture of weapons. But – again for the second time in that period – their manufacturing potential has not been seriously impaired. Meanwhile, in Russian areas they are reported in full operation!

Very early in the history of the Mauser organization, contacts and affiliations were made with the great Austrian Steyr Armory for the manufacture of German designed weapons in Austria. At a slightly later date, similar arrangements were made with arms companies in Belgium, notably at Lüttich [Liège].

At the close of World War I, when the Mauser factories were in Allied hands, the great Fabrique Nationale at Herstal, near Liège, Belgium, undertook to manufacture German Mauser rifles to meet the legitimate police and military requirements of Central and South America and of much of the Orient.

It is noteworthy indeed that all these Mauser rifles took the general pattern of the official German Gewehr 98! The differences in manufacture and in manufacturing methods were so slight that a very high degree of interchangeability of parts has always existed among Mauser rifles, wherever made, and in whatever caliber made, throughout the world. Not only were the receivers (the central forging which is the heart of any rifle and which houses the operating mechanism, and into which the barrel is screwed) of the same design and general length and weight, but all the military cartridges designed for the weapon were similar enough in overall dimensions that comparatively few changes were necessary in machinery and manufacturing to convert the central and south American calibers to those of the German standards. This condition still exists.

When arms factories were set up for the manufacture of rifles at Brno in Czechoslovakia, not only were German measurements and requirements instituted, but the actual German military cartridge caliber was retained! These Mauser rifles of Czech manufacture are among the finest known. They vary from the German only in very slight details. These factories also entered world commerce to provide military and police arms wherever required; and their products will be found throughout Central and South America and the Orient.

When arms factories for Mauser rifle manufacture were established at Warsaw and at Radom in Poland, again the arm manufactured was in all essentials the standard German army rifle using the standard German rifle cartridge! It must be remembered that with the sole exception of the United States, which uses the Garand M1 semi automatic rifle and the American Springfield (which is an improved Mauser rifle); Great Britain which uses generally the Lee-Enfield rear lug system (together with huge numbers of Mauser type American-made model 1917 rifles); France which adopted a modified Mauser pattern in 1935; and Russia which uses its own Tokarev semi-automatic rifle and its Nagant bolt action rifle, practically every country in the world today is armed officially with weapons of German Mauser or Austrian Mannlicher design. Italy, which employed at the beginning of World War II rifles with the Mannlicher magazine, also used a modified Mauser bolt.

In this day of atom bombs and rockets and flamethrowers, it is easy to overlook the political implications of a world system which permits for militaristic nation to provide arms to the police and military authorities of smaller nations. Where those arms and their replacement parts and ammunition go, there too go instructors, commercial agents, and exponents of the political and military ideologies of the country providing those weapons.

Regardless of the implications of the mass-destruction weapons now available in the world, there likely to be used only under the direst of circumstances. Military, police and sporting arms however, will continue to be, as they have been in the past, of supreme importance to the individuals directly concerned. Thus any organization selling and distributing weapons and techniques to the police or the military in any small nation is much more likely to dominate the nations policies and pot and is one which depends entirely on standard commercial, economic or cultural contacts.

As this is written, most of the great German, Austin, Polish and Czech arms plant [sic] capable of manufacturing Mauser rifles or replacement parts for them are under direct or indirect Russian control or influence. Russian trade missions are abroad in every Central and South American country. And Belgium can’t begin to undertake to fill the legitimate demand.

A move is currently on foot to assist our neighbors by rearming them with standard United States equipment. This move is meeting political opposition. If we fail to take advantage of this opportunity at this time, those nations have no recourse but to turn to Russia for adequate essential small arms requirements.

The effective spread of German militaristic ideas anywhere the Mauser organization went is the best evidence of what can happen in the event brush it is able to follow in the footsteps of Germany on international scale.

Of course, today we have the benefit of almost 70 years of hindsight that lets us examine what happened. We didn’t move fast enough, as Smith advised, to lock Russia out. And excellent Russian small arms were, often, a wedge for Russian influence in the postwar period; but so were excellent US arms a wedge for US influence. When one nation or the other produced less-than-excellent weapons, they had a hard time moving them to their top-tier client states. Israel would take fighter jets from the USA but they were never so hard up for small arms that the M60 general purpose machine gun looked good; they bought small arms from Belgium. North Vietnam welcomed jets and missiles from the USSR, as well as small arms, but didn’t take tanks until late in the war — when they wouldn’t meet American tanks one on one.

But what was a historic opportunity that was not quite exploited in 1946 has come around again. Right now, the US is heir to Mauser’s 19th and 20th Century domination of the small arms marketplace. If we had a foreign service with vision and patriotism, we’d be exploiting that.


A Pinpoint of Light in the Gloom: Martland’s Discharge Delayed

SF PatchYou may recall that the Army is in the process of hanging from a stout oak tree throwing out into the Dreaded Private Sector one SFC Charles Martland, a guy who is at cross purposes with his pedo-friendly chain of command because he just couldn’t take the Afghan bacha bazi, or system of violent child buggery, any more.

While Martland is probably a no-go at the “cultural sensitivity” station, his real “crime” is to have criticized a behavior his leaders are intent on mainstreaming Real Soon Now, to wit, pedophilia. “Man-Boy Love,” as it is called by its adherents, is seen by a small but vocal subset of the GLBTQWERTY community as the next frontier in liberation. But there has been enough of an outcry about Martland that the SecArm is staying his hand… for now.

Jonn Lilyea at This Ain’t Hell has the news:

Sergeant First Class Charles Martland, who was selected for the Qualitative Management Program (QMP) because he assaulted a child-molesting Afghan police chief in 2011. The postponement is to allow for Martland to file another appeal to the decision.

McHugh added that despite “talk that this case has been brought to me, and I have had a hand in it, I have not. This is a routine administrative process that does not, in any way, involve my office.”

McHugh is lying, here. Guess whose signature was already on the QMP paperwork for Martland (and for everybody else getting boarded?). Yep, good old John McDindu Nuffin here.

The Army must respect the process in cases like this, McHugh said.

“Respect the process.” Why? Has “the process” some life and some innate dignity of its own? What monumental nonsense. “The process” is a clown nose that McHugh doffs and dons as the spirit moves him. Clown nose on — “It wasn’t me, it was the process.” Process, bullshit.

“We respect the rights of the individual soldier in these kinds of cases,” he said. “If we are going to make a mistake here, we are going to make it in favor of the rights of the soldier.”

Lying again. They’re going to err in favor of the institution. That’s what anybody would do, in their position. Why not admit it? Well, McHugh, like his counterpart Ray Mabus, is a politician. Lying is probably a reflex, even when you’re not lying very hard, even when literally no one will believe you.

What sort of brain-dead would even trust McHugh to sort the recycling, let alone lead the Army? Jonn again:

The QMP is an administrative tool that is designed to remove soldiers from the Army who are poor performers, folks who probably won’t get promoted. SFC Martland is probably in that group, but the reason he’s in the QMP is for completely political reasons. He’s being eliminated for the same reasons that the Army exposed soldiers to green-on-blue attacks. When the Army gets involved in the politics of war, the soldiers are always the losers.

via Army postpones Martland’s discharge : This ain’t Hell, but you can see it from here.

Our guess is that McHugh figures that in 60 days he can let the paperwork go through and the whole thing will be off the radar. He has no intention of reviewing the case; he just wants to let the hue and cry die down so he can move on to his, and NAMBLA’s, shared objective.

Don’t worry about Charles Martland. Right now, the Army needs him a lot more than he needs the Army. Even if John McHugh, who is part of the reason the Army’s so needy, doesn’t see it.

The Special Forces Ranger Regiment

SF1CRESTSay whaaat? To US Army ears, that rings false. But according to retired officer and author Alfred H. Paddock Jr., that is very nearly what the first SF unit was called.

The unit, however named, was a very hard sell to Big Green, and conventional officers’ confusion did not help. The conventional warriors were confused about what special operations planners saw as distinct differences between the Ranger/commando operation on one hand, and special forces operations on the other. Rangers (then) operated in the enemy’s rear, but near the front lines, on combat and reconnaissance patrols of short range and short duration. SF units were envisioned as operating deep in the enemy’s rear, mostly “by, with and through” indigenous forces or guerrillas, often covertly or clandestinely, and of, essentially, indefinite range and duration. Entirely different personnel and training were required for the different tasks of unilateral Ranger operations and joint/combined/interagency Special Forces ops.

For several years a small cadre of WWII-experienced guerrillas and spooks tried to sell the idea of a permanent SF organization to Big Green. These included Col. Aaron Bank, BG Robert McClure and primary planner Col. Russell Volckmann, Col. Wendell Fertig, and Lt. Col’s. Mel Blair and Marv Waters. These guys were a who’s who of long-range SOF operations: Bank had done OSS missions behind German and Japanese lines; Volckmann and Fertig led Filipino resistance forces, and Volckmann had gone on to run guerrillas and agents into North Korea; Blair and Waters had slogged through Burma with Merrill’s Marauders. McClure, for his part, was an early proponent of psychological warfare, a high-functioning staff and intelligence officer who held several positions working for General Dwight D. Eisenhower in WWII and became, by happenstance, a leader then a fervent proponent of psychological warfare. McClure was, in the early 1950s, the founding head of the Psychological Warfare Center, which would sponsor the creation of Special Forces.

The First Ranger Company (Airborne) graduates from Ranger School, 1950. After training a rough dozen of these companies, most of which went to Korea, the school stopped preparing units and became the leadership school it is today.

The First Ranger Company (Airborne) graduates from Ranger School, 1950. After training a rough dozen of these companies, most of which went to Korea, the school stopped preparing units and became the leadership school it is today. (Yes, it embiggens to legible size).

In 1952, the Ranger companies established for the Korean War had been squandered by the leadership of the divisions to which they were attached; thrown away in WWI-style frontal assaults, they were disbanded after suffering over 50% casualties. (Some companies, like the 8th, suffered over 100% casualties). The Ranger school still existed, but Big Green didn’t want to see special units of any kind come back. If they did they wanted divisional commando companies, Rangers for short attacks in a Division Commander’s area of influence. But by and large, their attitude towards special units was negative. The Commander in Chief, Europe complained that “Rangers, as a whole, drain first class soldiers from infantry organizations.” His counterpart, the commander of the Army Field Forces had a different objection: “Envisioned special forces will in all probability be involved in subversive activities.” He didn’t want Americans doing that, especially not Americans identified as part of his Army.

On the other hand, some leaders wanted to see the Ranger lineage preserved in the Army, even if it was in a unit with a different mission. So when one early plan — having companies or platoons, each made up of Lodge Act volunteers from one of the various enslaved satellite states, led by American volunteer NCOs and officers — fell flat, a subsequent overhaul envisioned a unit of up to 3,000 men led by a colonel. Its mission was clearly an SF unconventional warfare/guerrilla warfare mission, and its operational element was a recognizable ODA, although still called by its OSS name, “Operational Group.”

That unit was initially defined as the “Special Forces Ranger Regiment.” By the time Big Green was getting on board, the first draft Table of Organization and Equipment no longer used the R-word. The unit was the Special Forces Group. The Rangers contributed two things: the disbandment of the Ranger Companies left some personnel spaces up for grabs (but not 3,000, which is how we got the current size SF group). And later, the Army Institute of Heraldry would assign the lineage and honors of the World War II and Korea Ranger units to Special Forces, along with those of the Canadian-American First Special Service Force. After the Ranger Battalions were established starting in 1974, it took them over a decade to get their history back!

You might ask, why doesn’t the OSS-derived Special Forces simply use the lineage and honors of OSS? Well, as a joint interagency wartime agency, the OSS does not have any history, lineage and honors, at least as far as the heraldry geeks at the Army Institute of Heraldry are concerned. Not that it matters. SF knows whence we were begotten.

The Special Forces Memorial Statue -- Bronze Bruce -- memorializes our sacrifices in war and peace, and has done so since the 1970s. Image: SFC Jason Baker, US Army SF Command, 2010.

The Special Forces Memorial Statue — Bronze Bruce — memorializes our sacrifices in war and peace, and has done so since the 1970s. Image: SFC Jason Baker, US Army SF Command, 2010.

A careful reading of Paddock’s rather dry book illuminates some other doctrinal and terminological dark spots, as well. For instance, how did the Operational Detachment Alpha get its name? Early draft papers by Bank and Volckmann, as we’ve noted often referred to the small SF team as the “Special Forces Operational Group,” reusing OSS terminology. (Bank was an OSS vet; Volckmann, who was a guerrilla leader in the Philippines, worked closely with Bank and other OSS vets in developing the concept, which drew on the OSS and British (SOE) experience in Europe, Africa and the CBI, as well as on the more informal, even ad-hoc organizations and concepts used by Volckmann, Fertig and the other Pacific Theater guerrillas). But “Group” had a specific meaning in Army lingo: a unit formed of two or more battalions, like a Regiment, but less permanent and more flexible. (Originally, a Brigade was a Regiment-sized field formation with combined arms: infantry, artillery and cavalry). Very large Support and Service Support formations are often organized as Groups. Some of these heraldic and historical distinctions have become moot with time, but Volckmann was trying to sell a new capability to a suspicious Army, who saw any kind of Special Forces or Rangers as a way to peel away the regulars’ best-motivated NCOs.

It is interesting to contemplate what would have happened to the SF/UW concept if Bob McClure and Russ Volckmann hadn’t been extremely skilled at the knife fight that was (and is) advancing a project in the Pentagon. Certainly all McClure’s psychological warfare experience, and all Volckmann’s hard-won guerrilla savvy (not to mention that of their officer brain trust) got a workout in the period from approximately 1947-1952. A fictionalized (but much livelier than Paddock’s) version of some of this history is found in the WEB Griffin “Brothehood of War” novel series from the early 1980s.


Paddock, Alfred H. Jr. US Army Special Warfare: Its Origins. Washington: National Defense University Press, 1982.

“Where Do We Get Such Men?” Peter A. “Andrew” McKenna, ave atque vale.

mckenna_officialOne thing’s clear: you’d have liked this guy. The Army Times had a story, but we just pulled the bits his friends had to say about him.

MSG Paul Ross went through the SFQC with McKenna.

At this point it just hits everybody in waves. The truth is losing a guy sucks. Losing your best friend sucks. Losing your son sucks. The silver lining is he went out like a Green Beret should. He went out taking it to the enemy and shooting bad guys in the face.

He was phenomenal at his job, but I wish the world would see how genuine he was and how much of an American patriot he really was.

MSG Chris Corbin served with McKenna in 7th Group. A double amputee, Corbin is retired from the Army now.

Everything on paper doesn’t do him near enough justice, not just the kind of guy he was, but the kind of soldier, the kind of Green Beret he was.

He was doing what a special operator should. He heard a boom, he heard small arms, he kitted up, he grabbed his long gun, and he and another friend of ours, who was injured, they were side-by-side dealing death. That’s just Drew. There’s dozens of times he’s done stuff like that.

When I was injured, he stayed with me, for weeks, literally, up at Walter Reed. Every time I opened my eyes from whatever surgery or medication, Drew was right there. He’s that guy you can count on.

Even the… difficult… “Myke Hawke,” another SFQC contemporary of McKenna, was humbled to recall his late friend:

He was special. I remember him very specifically because he was so young. He looked like a kid. What really stood out to me was how motivated he was but how unassuming.

He was so likable, so friendly, so motivated, and you would never think of him as the barrel-chested freedom fighter that he was because he was very humble. Everybody’s got some jerk factor in them, it’s part of the A-type personality, but Drew was not one of those guys. He was so good. He’s the kind of guy we needed more of.

Tim Kennedy is a mixed martial arts fighter who served in 7th Group with McKenna. Kennedy was forced out of 7th Group and into the National Guard by a commander who hated the idea of a Special Forces soldier competing nationally in a sport, or he’d still be in. That may give you an idea of the sort of men McKenna served with, and who mourn him.


McKenna clowning around in Afghanistan. Weapon is an FN SCAR with Elcan Specter DR optic.

In Special Forces, you have to be good at a lot of things, and Drew really spent a lot of time being good at everything, but he never lost focus that we’re still dealing with people. He had amazing humor. He could make anybody laugh at any time.

He’s the Shughart and Gordon. He’s the guy in the helicopter that looks down in Mogadishu, sees a pilot alive and there’s 500 guys coming for him, and says “why don’t you go ahead and put us on the ground so we can protect him.”

He’s been in the military for 17 years, and there’s not a day of the war that he missed, and at every point of his career, he volunteered to go further into harm’s way. He’s that guy who raises his hand and says, “yeah, I’ll go.”

“Where do we get such men?” to quote the Admiral in The Bridges at Toko-ri. In the case of Peter Andrew McKenna, we get them from the town of Bristol, Rhode Island.

And we know where we lose them, as we lost McKenna in April August, defending against a complex attack on Camp Integrity that killed him and left another SF master sergeant seriously wounded.  In keeping with its current policy of “discounting” awards to SF soldiers, the Army has awarded McKenna a posthumous Silver Star. He had numerous Bronze Stars.

We didn’t know McKenna. We are poorer for that.


The original version of this article misstated Drew McKenna’s last action as occurring at Camp Integity in April. The attack took place on the night of 7 August 2015. Thanks to the friend of Drew’s and the wounded SF MSG who took the time to correct us.

Someone’s Flogging His Big Johnson

Of course, you can’t have it if you’re in Libya, North Korea, New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts because it’s a big assault Johnson, but what it is, is a rare Johnson LMG kit, restored onto a semi Johnson M1941 rifle receiver, producing a legal semi-auto Johnson LMG. And you can have it — if you win the auction.

big Johnson 13

Manufactured on the original Johnson 1941 semi auto receiver , using original US GI LMG parts , semi auto only . Excellent condition , park. military finish ,mint original barrel , beautiful wood furniture. Test fired only. The gun fires , extracts and reloads 100% , very accurate. The gun comes with bipod and 3 magazines. Shipping to an FFL or C&R holder. The gun will be shipped from FFL in PA.

big Johnson 02

via 1941 Johnson LMG light machine gun semi m1941 : Semi Auto Rifles at

There are a number of these around. By “a number,” though, we’re probably talking about a single digit number. The parts kits are rare, and the rifles are valuable enough to collectors that it’s hard to make the case for sacrificing one.

Johnson guns get their collector cachet from their rarity1 and their use in training and combat by elite elements including the Paramarines, the Marine Raiders, the Canadian-American First Special Service Force (all ephemeral, hostilities-only WWII units), the OSS, and Brigada 2506, the Bay of Pigs invaders. The Marines and Cubanos only used the rifles; the FSSF, only the machine guns. Any surviving Johnson has some part of this history.

Because the Johnsons were not standard arms with standard doctrinal spare parts and maintenance support, they were withdrawn and replaced with US standard rifles and auto rifles/LMGs. Carefully packed away, all of them except for probable OSS/CIA stocks were surplused after the war.

We don’t know what it will go for. The current bid in the $8k neighborhood has not met the reserve (the rifles sell for $4k and up). Some comments, and the rest of the photos, after the jump.


  1. 30,000 Johnson M1941 rifles were made, a large percentage of which survive, but only about 3,000 were machine guns according to ATF Form 2s filed by Johnson Automatics. The Johnson M1944 machine gun appears to have been produced only in prototype quantities.

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A Tale of Two Parachute Mishaps

Military static-line parachuting is, as near as we can figure out, substantially safer (in terms of loss of life) than civilian skydiving; and military HALO jumping is, as near as we can figure out, somewhat more hazardous than civilian skydiving.

This situation would be completely different if the military did not use mind-numbingly rigid procedures for everything from pre-jump planning to how to open the aircraft door or tailgate to assembly on the drop zone. Still, it’s an inherently dangerous act: to exit an aircraft in flight, and ride a piece of cloth and a bunch of strings (that were all made by the lowest bidders), to contact with terra firma.

We’ve been reminded of that this month by two horrifying acccidents.

2 Sep 15: Non-fatal Mishap, MT

In Hamilton, Montana a free-fall parachutist with a US Army Special Operations unit became badly entangled in his main chute, as this photograph by eyewitness Mike Daniels shows:

Mike Daniels photo of Hamilton MT accidentThe jumper landed in a residential area and was evacuated by Army helicopter.

The area is frequently used for rough-terrain jump training and deliberate tree landings (under the auspices of the Forest Service’s smoke jumpers, the undisputed experts at this technique), but the jumper does not appear to be equipped for a deliberate tree jump. He landed hard in a residential street. In the configuration shown in the photo, he was probably descending at about 70 miles per hour, but his chute snapped to full canopy just 100 feet and less than one second from a bone-jarring impact. Instead, he was able to reduce speed some before he hi.

The jump Blackhawk, an MH-60 of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, dived after him and landed in the street; the injured man, who was conscious and responsive,  was given first aid and flown to the trauma center in Missoula.

He was a very fortunate man, saved from probable death when the chute inflated, and he was out of the hospital and back with his unit in days.

11 Sep 15 Fatal Mishap, WA

A soldier assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group at Joint Base Lewis-McChord was found dead late Friday, 11 September 15, after being missing for about ten hours. The Special Forces soldier was last seen trying to deploy his reserve parachute.

The case remains under investigation; 1st SFG(A) commander Otto K. Liller has made a statement of condolence to the dead man’s family. The name of the victim will not be released until family notification +24 hours under Army policy


Sources (Montana Accident)



Ravalli (MT) Republic:

Sources (Washington Accident)

Seattle Times:

NBC News:

KING-TV 5 Seattle: