The following is an excerpt from retired Special Forces Warrant Officer Jim “Smokey” West’s upcoming memoir. Learn more about Jim by checking out his website, American Extension Fighting.
The village consisted of an adobe, clay, and dirt shanties surrounding the town square. The square had some restaurants around it, all featuring five-star dirt floors. There was a little religious icon or saint in the center of square like every other village in Bolivia. I was out to buy some soap and decided to take a seat at one of the restaurants to grab some food. I took antibiotics and Imodium three times a day just to ward off the claymore shits.
A little girl who looked like she was about five, but could have actually been ten due to malnutrition in this part of the world, walked by. She looked through the window at us and smiled. I waved to her. Then she lifted her dress, squatted, and brown water sprayed out of her ass all over the street.
I remember thinking that I was probably going to die in this place.
The name of the town was Apollo and there was not a single road leading into or out of the village. If the locals had to make their way out of the village to barter or trade, they did it on horseback. As American soldiers, we were lucky to be flown in by helicopter.
Later that day I found myself back in the village square. A couple locals had tied a horse’s legs together and were holding it down. I asked the villagers what they were doing. They told me that he was a stud horse but now he was getting older so they wanted him to be a work horse. According to them, they could get more milage out of him as a work horse if they neutered him.
One of the Bolivians held a knife and slit the horse’s codbag right down the middle, pulled out one of the testicles, and tossed it into the air. Before it even hit the ground a German Shepard snatched it right out of the air in his jaws. We weren’t only not in Kansas but hardly even on planet earth anymore.
I had been deployed to Bolivia as a part of a project called Poker Puff. U.S Special Forces had been assigned the mission of conducting Counter-Insurgency and Counter-Narcotics operations in Bolivia, a country plagued by the illicit drug industry and the FARC narco-terrorists next door in Colombia.
All of the locals chewed coca leaves, the plant used in the production of cocaine. A buddy of mine on the team chewed tobacco and did a one for one trade with a local for some coca leaves to chew. He ended up puking his guts up after his brief experiment chewing the coca leaves. The Colombians basically used the Bolivians as slave labor, having them process the coca for drug production. We never knew where FARC was, when we might run into them, or if they had infiltrated the Bolivian military units we had trained.
One of our main tasks was conducting Medical MTTs (Mobile Training Teams) which entailed taking a Special Forces team into remote parts of Bolivia to provide humanitarian medical treatment for the people in impoverished areas of the country. We would roll into a place like Lebegeka or Apollo and set up a aid station.
The medical MTTs provided a real service to the locals, but for us it had a dual purpose: collecting human intelligence. Basically, our ODA provided security for doctors and dentists but if we treated any locals we thought might have helpful information on the illicit drug trade, they would be brought aside and discretely interviewed. At times, we would even weigh the locals if they declined to disrobe when being examined by the doctor. This was a way to attempt to assess if they may have been carrying a weapon or not.
Aside from that, my main job was escorting my company Sergeant Major around. Once again, since they knew that my Spanish was good and I could handle myself if we needed to throw some fisticuffs, I got the detail. The Sergeant Major would go around meeting with various intelligence assets while I babysat.
Poker Puff was a fairly stress free deployment, it wasn’t like we were in combat all the time or anything. Well, except this one time. It was actually the night I had to take a epic shit. You would not believe the amount of pressure built up behind this bad boy.
In the middle of the night, I had to run/duckwalk as fast as I could from our barracks to the outhouse. I had dysentery and the Hershey squirts were no laughing matter. I ran into the wooden outhouse, dropped my draws, and sat down.
What followed was the opening salvo in what would become my first and only firefight in Bolivia. The first expulsion of gas erupted, the epic fart rumbling through the valley and echoing throughout the village. Little did I know that the enemy was already laying in wait. Perhaps they thought that my fart was incoming fire, but who really knows?
All I know for sure was that after I let that fart loose that they started shooting at us. The gunmen opened fire from up in the hills, then sporadic gunshots cracked around me. Completing my business, all I could think was, “Oh, my god. I’m going to die on the shitter.” I pulled up my pants and proceeded to escape and evade back to our barracks. I did my best to stay low and not get myself killed, eventually finding my way back.
My team mates were there waiting for me in their combat gear and carrying their rifles, but they were already standing down from the firefight. They had returned fire, but now the local Bolivians we worked with were already flanking around the hillside to get the drop on the enemy. Soon they radioed back to tell us that the coast was clear.
We stayed up and pulled security the rest of the night just in case. At the end of the day, or night as it were, it isn’t like we even knew who it was that was shooting at us. That is the reality of working in Central and South America. You never know if the locals are out to kill somebody because they are a communist or simply because the guy fucked some General’s daughter.
Our human intelligence (HUMINT) mission continued, mostly using Foreign Internal Defense (FID) as an official cover. I never really thought about it until years later, but there were always Christian missionaries hanging around the areas we worked in. They would come out of the jungle dirty and stinking to high hell, but they knew the locals and the terrain very well. And they were all American.
These days, friends in the Special Operations community tell me that the CIA sometimes utilizes NGO workers as intelligence assets. These could include evangelical Christians who travel to the third world to spread the word of god. Supposedly, this type of operation even played a role in the intelligence piece which led up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
That got me thinking about how long such a program has really been in existence.