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.

 

6 thoughts on “A Reporter with Special Forces in Africa

  1. S

    What are they actually accomplishing over there in Africa?

    I haven’t heard of any change to the status quo, namely that Africa = lawless dungheap. Boko Haram et al are still there, so are the Chinese and the Western mining and oil conglomerates, but there isn’t any freedom or righteousness; quite the opposite. For all the pabulum about freeing the oppressed, and the vaunted yet seldom experienced Western knightly/warrior ethos, it seems that what is actually happening over there is to continue the looting and en-dumbment of the locals and keep it out of the news here. The poor bastards over there were better off under colonialism, which at least gave them functioning schools and railroads and suppressed the pagan barbarity that made the dark continent what it is (and what makes places like Chicongo like they are today).

    I suppose the guys actually going over there and doing things rejoice in the doing and being; but what underlying purpose is achieved that couldn’t be done by outright corporate guns-for-hire, rather than folks that wear a flag and are sustained by the levies thereof? Can such a mighty man look himself in the mirror, or at the end of his life, and say “I have wrought what is good”? No, I think the real warriors are the ones that either march on their own capitols in the war of ideas, or stay out of such things altogether. Judgement should begin at home, else hypocrisy is elevated to obscene heights. There is a compartment in hell reserved for the warriors that worshiped their swords, for the joy at being strong in war, that forgot weightier things. Small comfort in the everlasting flames and darkness, that one was good at doing worthless things….

    1. W. Fleetwood

      Yes, well, you may be right. Only one way to find out and I intend to dodge it as long as I reasonably can. But if I do find myself in that “special compartment” I will be standing with the finest men I have ever known, men I respect completely and trust absolutely. There are worse places to reside. And by the way, nothing personal (Really.), but facing fire and marching into darkness will not be anything new for any of us..

      Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara. (It’s Shona, you can look it up.)

      1. W. Fleetwood

        Correction, don’t look it up, Google gets it wrong. The literal translation is; “You live you live, you die you die.” an American Vietnam era equivalent was “There it is.”.

  2. Steve

    The picture showing the Col checking rigging, Isn’t that Tim Kennedy sitting behind to the right?

  3. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    The reporter seems to have a clue. Texas Monthly always has at least one article worth reading, sometimes it’s some offbeat stuff but they seem to only publish stuff by folks who can Write.

Comments are closed.