During Thanksgiving, we all give thanks for spending time with our families, friends, and loved ones. We enjoy food, football, and spend time reminiscing. Early this Thanksgiving morning, I spent some time reading some excellent posts on Thanksgiving experiences and what the holiday means.

We had a conversation at our home over morning coffee sitting outside enjoying a nice cool Florida morning about how many holidays were spent away from home… and there were many. Some were spent in schools (NCO Academy during my enlisted days) and others at SERE School which I wrote about a while back.   


That One Thanksgiving

One particular Thanksgiving stands out, thanks to what transpired in a typically bizarre set of circumstances that always seemed to make life interesting and funny in Special Forces. But first, a bit of background information.

Back in the day, the 7th Special Forces Group was supporting the U.S. Andean Ridge counter-narcotics policies by sending A-Teams throughout South America to work with and support DEA teams (Snowcap). The DEA teams were trying to eradicate cocaine labs and processing and stop the drug from making its way to the United States. One can argue whether those missions succeeded or failed, but for years we constantly had A-Teams in areas all over Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. 

One such area was the “lovely little village” of Chimore, Bolivia. Then-Captain Charlie Cleveland was the first A-Team commander who carved out a little base in Chimore. The base was in the strategic spot where the Chapare River intersected with the highway (Highway 4) that ran from the Chapare Valley where the majority of the coca-growing (and illicit drug labs) were being farmed. The drugs were transported to the capital of La Paz through Cochabamba to the west or Santa Cruz to the east. Cleveland later became a lieutenant general and headed Special Operations Command. 

The 7th SFG built up the camp at Chimore and expanded it where a battalion of UMOPAR (Unidad Móvil Policial para Áreas Rurales), counternarcotics paramilitary police was then stationed. Ostensibly, the UMOPAR fell under the Bolivian Special Anti-narcotics Force (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Narcotráfico — FELCN) of the Bolivian National Police (Cuerpo de Policía Nacional). But the reality was much different. The UMOPAR really worked for the DEA and to a lesser extent the U.S. military. 

Successive A-Teams under Operation “Red Dragon” and “Stonebridge” continually built up the base. It ended up including an airstrip that would handle C-47/DC-3 aircraft that the U.S. sold to Bolivia as well as UH-1Hs as the U.S. provided the Bolivians with their own rotary-wing capability, called the “Red Devils.” Later, more A-Teams would do some great work just down the road in Villa Tunari as they’d be co-located with folks from the Narcotics Affairs Section (NAS). There are some great stories from there…