Jaeger: At War with Denmark’s Elite Special Forces is now available in English for the first time!
“Lose your dreams and you might lose your mind.”
Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger once said that. And those words might as well have been my own. From childhood games pretending to be a real soldier, to work experience in the Danish Royal Guard as a teenager and the subsequent dreams of entering the prestigious elite military unit, the Jaeger Corps, my dream has been my life.
When I began to dream of a career in the Jaeger Corps, I trained intensively to achieve my goal. The reward came in 1990 when I was 23 years old, having served for five years as a sergeant in the Royal Guard. I had flown through the Corps’ selection process and could finally pull on the burgundy beret, which bears a brass emblem depicting a hunter’s bugle. The years of training had come to fruition. I will always remember the words of my course leader after another exhausting week on the selection course. Eight of the 94 applicants remained at the final evaluation, and he said: “Rathsack, it’s too good to be true.”
I do not write that because I think I am an excellent human being. Absolutely not. I have plenty of weaknesses and negative impulses. But the dream of becoming a Jaeger motivated all the best aspects of my character. I had the privilege of having a clearly defined goal and have been able to focus all my energy on reaching it. No static from every-day life, no disturbances, no worries. I just lived in a black-and-white world, which consisted of eating, sleeping and training. This gave me a psychological focus that enabled me to reach my full potential.
The conventional and predictable life has never appealed to me. I have always had a desire to explore, experience and discover – to feel alive. That’s the key to life for me. I know I would be unhappy if I looked back on a life devoid of intensity and thrills. Thankfully, I have experienced the life I wanted as a soldier in the Jaeger Corps. As a Jaeger.
Initially though, my boyhood dream turned to disillusionment. I came to realise that after three decades of Cold War, the Jaeger Corps and the Danish Defence Command simply were not geared for operative service. It took me some time to acknowledge this, but once I had, I left the Corps to seek new challenges. The decision brought me many new adventures in places such as South America, Afghanistan and the Caucasus, in a diversity of professions such as IT-sales, photography and landmine clearance.
Then September 11 happened. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and all Western civilisation in 2001 prompted me to once again pull on the Jaeger Corps’ uniform. I soon became a part of the first war deployment in the history of the Jaeger Corps, going to Afghanistan as a member of the Task Force Ferret unit, a component of the international Task Force K-Bar, which was under the command of the US Special Forces.
I was a demolitions expert in Afghanistan. On one mission with my Jaeger Corps team, I spent several days on a rock ledge, no bigger than a few square metres, in remote mountains observing suspected Taliban and Al-Qaida activities.
I later spent a year in Iraq participating in operations to target the infamous Jaysh Al-Mahdi militia. I was also, for the first time in the Jaeger Corps’ and indeed the Danish Defence Command’s history, deployed as a bodyguard in a war zone.
Do not expect epic battles, bullets whistling around your ears and pools of blood in my story. Most of the time, being a Jaeger is about avoiding detection and engaging the enemy. Our success in most types of operations depends on remaining undetected. Success is measured by our ability to penetrate, observe, operate and get out without a shot being fired. We specialise in gathering information, and you can’t do that if you spread death and destruction around you.
Expect instead dramatic parachute jumps and near-death experiences, mortar attacks, accounts of world-class training operations, road-side bombs, suicide bombings, undercover operations disguised as an Afghani, physical torment in enemy territory, perilous passage through Iraqi sewers and face-to-face meetings with the enemy.
Another one of the music world’s legends, Bono from U2, once said that he did not have respect for medals but for scars. I feel that way too. I have never been interested in medals, honours and decorated uniforms, but there is one award I am proud to have received after participating in the Jaeger Corps’ operations in Afghanistan in 2002 – the Presidential Unit Citation Award. It is the highest honour bestowed on military units and the President of the United States personally awarded it to my commander, Lt. Col. Frank Lissner.
I am proud of it because, as a soldier representing a small nation, I was part of a unit that accomplished something extraordinary.
In my 10 years as a Jaeger, I worked with some if the top elite units in the world. I met many excellent soldiers and it’s no exaggeration to say my colleagues in the Danish Jaeger Corps are among the world’s best elite soldiers.
We are not the best equipped, nor are we blessed with the most resources. But the personnel in the Jaeger Corps are, in my opinion, world class. That’s what, time after time, sets us apart from other nations’ elite units on military missions and training exercises. This is an opinion our foreign partners often voice.
I am the first Jaeger to write about the Corps’ operations in war zones. I am doing it because there are a myriad of misconceptions about the Jaeger Corps. It is a foreign world to most people, and tends to be perceived through a prism of stereotypes. Even my family and near friends have only a vague idea about what my job involves.
Moreover, the public has a right to know how their taxes are being spent in these historic war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
With this book, I am attempting to offer a realistic and honest insight into this world. Naturally, I have done so in a way that does not compromise the safety of my colleagues or national security.
The book is dedicated to my Jaeger colleagues, the ones in operative service. I have altered identities, training operations, assignments and place names.
Jaeger nr. 229
(Featured Image: Author’s collection – Thomas’ 1990 Jaegar selection course)