Assignment Iran

SF1CRESTThe Big Picture was a TV series produced on 16mm film by the Army Pictorial Center in New York from approximately 1951 to 1971. This episode is believed to be from 1961 and is called Assignment: Iran. It tells the story of 1LT, later CPT, Paul Wineman and his training as a Special Forces officer and then as a Military Assistance Advisory Group member, and his deployment to Iran to serve as an advisor to the Iranian Special Forces Group.

It may surprise people to know that the USA and Iran were once allies, but we were; and the alliance was based upon mutually compatible national interests, during the Cold War.  The Iranian forces had to fight, from time to time, infiltrators from the USSR (often Baluch separatists), as well as separatist Kurds. In the Kurds’ singleminded pursuit of a homeland, they played Iran, Iraq, and Turkey against each other, sometimes with support from other nations including Britain, the USA, the USSR, and Israel; none of those nations’ support could be depended upon, because a diplomatic volte-face would inevitably lead to the sponsoring nation pulling the plug on the sponsored guerillas.

On to the movie. A few details to watch for: in 1961, the standard rifle in both the US and Imperial Iranian armies was the M1 Garand. But what’s the submachine gun the Iranian officers sometimes carry? (Hint: Iranian king Reza Shah was neutral, but favored the Axis in WWII). Reza Shah is an interesting character; he abdicated when the Allies — UK and USSR — invaded his country. Afterwards, his son Mohammed Reza Shah invited American advice and assistance.

Also, the classrooms and language lab in Monterey, CA, were little changed in 1979 from the way they’re shown here.

via Big Picture: Assignment Iran : National Archives and Records Administration : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.

Finally, notice that the officer students in the film wear the green beret. This is not done any more: only graduated, qualified Special Forces wear the green beret (nowadays, support personnel in an SF unit wear the SF unit’s flash on the airborne-forces maroon beret). But for many years, non-qualified personnel, including SF candidates in SF school, wore the green beret, but were distinguished from fully qualified SF by their lack of a beret “flash,” the inverted tombstone an SF soldier wears on his beret behind the regimental distinctive unit insignia (crest) or, in the case of officers, rank.

Wineman and his training cohort are wearing green berets, but with the “unit recognition bar” or candy-stripe of their upcoming units. This was fairly standard; at least, until the creation of the Special Forces Tab provided an at-a-glance way to tell the qualified from the “un-“.

Later, at language school, he does not wear the beret, the SF patch, or the SF distinctive unit insignia (crest). That’s because the year-long Farsi school was a permanent change of station, requiring SF students along with everyone else (most of the students at language school are intelligence soldiers) to wear the school’s parents’ insignia.

The Iranian Army Special Forces were subjected to an extreme purge after 1979. Commamders and officers were sentenced to death in secret trials, conducted by unlettered mullahs with no defense attorney (or defendant) present; NCOs were sentenced to death or indeterminate periods of imprisonment. Some survivors were involved with the ill-fated resistance group, Iran Azad; some who had been imprisoned were allowed to die for Iran in the Iran-Iraq war in Soviet-style penal units. Others escaped into exile. The death sentences are still carried out, worldwide, whenever the mullahs and their flunkies can find any loyalist of the ancien régime.

We grew curious about Paul Wineman and wonder what became of him. We do not believe that he served in Vietnam.  We believe he is the author of several books on negotiating and co-author of a novel available on Amazon, based on the biography of that author, “Paul R. Wineman”.

Hundreds of these Big Picture shows were made, and they were shown on broadcast TV, at one time on dozens of stations, as “public service” programming. There are quite a few of them that have a Special Forces nexus. Many of the shows have not survived in public or private archives; now, they’re history, but then, they were ephemera. The SF-themed shows were a little more likely to have been ratholed by someone on videotape.