No matter what, as a member of Special Operations, you’ll always be on the clock and to be prepared. And most importantly, there is always some funny stuff going on around you. Although this article refers to a past experience, its history part is debatable. It is just a story that will hopefully break up the day a bit.
A little background on this story: in the early 1990s our team from 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (7th SFG) was tasked to go down to Paraguay to train the Special Forces unit there. The unit was “officially” tasked to be the premier counter-narcotics strike force. The captain in command of the unit and the Chief of Staff for the National Anti-Drug Secretariat, (SENAD) were in direct communication with each other.
Paraguay wasn’t a drug-producing country, but it became a big way station in the flow of cocaine from Colombia to destinations in the U.S and Eastern Europe. Resultantly, the DEA increased its presence in Paraguay during that time.
The unit we were to train was much more than a Counter-Narcotic (CN) force. Due to the very fluctuating political climate in Paraguay, they were being trained in a variety of methods in what would be more of a Counter-Terrorist (CT) mission. After our completion, their follow-on training would be taken up by a Tier 1 unit.
Yet, we weren’t even sure we would end up going to Paraguay, due to the constant changes in the country’s command structure. But we got orders to go down to do a site survey, nevertheless. We were briefed by USASOC Commander General Wayne Downing to find out what exactly was going on and brief the staff immediately upon return.
My Team Sergeant (Art M.) and I flew down. We were met by the MILGRP guys and brought over to meet the Captain in charge of the unit. He was a great guy, a hard charger and had a definite, clear vision of what his boys lacked, and where they wanted to go.
Art had a great training outline that he liked and said, “This is exactly what we’re looking for.” He told us we had to sell the idea to the commander of the SENAD, to whom he reported directly. “Excellent,” we thought. Now we had to find out who “HE” was.
We were led into a huge meeting room and seated at the end of a long mahogany conference table. This general walks in and we’re introduced to him. After the requisite glad-handing and “con mucho gusto” BS, this general in perfect unaccented English, asked us, “Why didn’t Wayne come?” Art and I looked at one another and asked, “Wayne who?”
“Downing,” the general replied. “We went to West Point together.” Art and I shared a look; we both had the expression of ‘no $hit’ on our faces. Mystery #1 Solved. We told him that knowing that he’s in charge, we were sure that he’d be down to visit. The general, Marcial Sanmiego, was indeed a graduate of West Point and told us to stop back in two days and he’d have some gifts for us to bring back to “Wayne.” He signed off on the training, and we were due back there in six weeks to start.
Upon our return to Bragg, we headed to brief the USASOC Staff. The very first question asked of us was what was going on and who exactly was in charge. Once we replied. Downing was floored and promptly booted the staff out. It was just he, his aide, Art, and I remaining in the room. We spoke for a few moments. Downing told his aide to try to schedule some time for him to visit us during our training. “It is going to be crazy down there, while you’re there,” General Downing said. Indeed, it would be.
We left Ft. Bragg on July 4 on a C-141. It was over 100 degrees. When we arrived in Asuncion, (winter in Paraguay) it was a balmy 32. The unit we were to train asked if we could condense the training by two days since in the middle of their training period, the Paraguayans would have their national fair in Asuncion and their SF guys skydive into it each year.
Thankfully, they arranged for us to stay at the nicest hotel in the capital.
Also in Paraguay was a team of U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers who were working with the Airborne Brigade there and had numerous C-130s at their disposal. They were some great dudes and we immediately made plans to do some joint parachute training between our unit and them. Instead of Paraguayan C-47s, we’d jump from 130s.
There was also a Brigade staff from the 9th Infantry Division there to do a big map exercise with the host nation officers. In other words, a total cluster**ck.
After some good training time in our assigned area down on the border, the time for the national fair break was upon us. General Sanmiego made sure the guests on the top floor of the hotel were booted. So, the 9th ID staff was moved to a fleabag dump to make room for us; needless to say, they were pissed. Or as the Brigade Commander said, “we have to leave for a bunch of snake eater NCOs?” Life is grand at times.
One night after dinner, the night manager of the hotel stopped us and said we had a message from the Air Force guys. They left a note but he couldn’t find it. But he told us he thought we had to send two guys in the morning to the airport to pick someone up.
Thinking it is General Downing, one of my commo guys, Bill, and I set off in civilian clothes to the airport. We got there to see a couple of planeloads of paratroopers loading C-130s for a combat equipment jump. The CCTs (Combat Controllers) were like “Chief WTF! Didn’t you get our message?”
We didn’t need to pick anyone up, the guys needed a couple of jumpmasters because the Air National Guard pilots didn’t trust host nation jumpmasters and wanted an SF guy on each bird since it would be a jumpmaster release instead of CARP (Computed Air Release Point) which the CCTs used.
“Where’s the pilot?” I asked.
The Air Force colonel from the West Virginia ANG approached. “Can I jumpmaster dressed like this?” I asked him. I was clad in stonewashed jeans (hey, it was the 90s), cowboy boots, and a black leather jacket. “I don’t know, can you?” he replied with a grin. “Son, I don’t care if you do it in a jockstrap, as long as we’re safe and if any of those Paraguayan kids freeze, we do not throw him out, we bring him back in. I don’t want any towed jumpers today.” He was a great guy.
So, here are two C-130s loaded with combat-equipped paratroopers and the primary jumpmaster is in cowboy boots and a leather jacket. I donned an Air Force parachute in case one of the kids knocked me out of the plane and off we went. As we were taxiing down the runway, I asked the crew chief, “This is probably the absolute height of folly but does anyone have a spare helmet I can wear?”
The CCT guys were all laughing their ass off, and I soon found out why. They produced the biggest, ugliest puke-colored, gold metallic flecked, painted motorcycle helmet. It looked like they got it from the bad guys in the old A-ha video for “Take on Me.” The helmet could fit over a beach ball; it came down to my eyes. Shaking my head, I said, “I can’t wear this…”A resourceful CCT guy produced a few cravats which we stuffed in there so it could be cinched down until it was almost comfortable.
But one look from the crew chief told me how ridiculous it looked. He had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. Once they opened the door, he couldn’t even look at me in the eye. As I was going through my jump commands, one of the CCT guys in the second stick was standing up behind the safety with…. a video camera in his hand.
He gives me a big thumbs up and says, “This shit is a classic, you’re buying the beer for the next year after this!” The Air Force guys were all laughing and a second small video camera appears. It just so happened that the pilot handed his camera off to another CCT operator to film this as well. The subliminal message being that this film was blackmail material forever and ever, amen.
Thankfully, our airborne operation went off very well. We had to make four passes over the drop zone as it wasn’t a very large one: It was at the edge of the base right past the skyscrapers of downtown Asuncion. Needless to say, I’d never had to wait for the aircraft to pass over six-seven story buildings before putting the jumpers out of a plane before.
Later, during an airborne operation that we did with our guys, the CCTs were jumping too and we rigged up General Sanmiego to sit across from the door to film his troops making an airborne op. During the taxi ride out to the end of the runway, the Air Force cameras appeared again and my Air Force “friends” were showing General Sanmiego the tape of the earlier jump.
“Hey Chief, you looked ridiculous,” the general said.
While my jumpmaster instructors from way back may not have been thinking of this particular event when they told us to always be prepared, it served us well. I don’t know of many guys who can say they put jumpers out of a C-130 dressed in cowboy boots and a leather jacket.
So if any ex-AF CCT guy ever tells you he has film of an SF guy dressed like James Dean, wearing a friggin’ ridiculous motorcycle helmet while doing jumpmaster duties in a C-130, he may be telling the truth. Because sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. And I witnessed that first-hand.
Just another great day to be in 3/7.