In part one of this series, I talked about participating in Robin Sage, the SF qualifications assessment course, as a guerilla role player. After heading out to the hills of rural North Carolina, we met our tribal leader/senior SF assessor named “Habu” and got the site ready in preparation for contact with the Green Beret candidates. On the third day we finally met with the SF team in a location away from the base camp. As we exchanged greetings, Habu expressed his admiration for their help against the repressive “Pineland regime,” and brought them back to the campsite for the missions to officially begin. We marked their arrival with a little pomp and ceremony, with a flag raising in our camp, recital of our anthems, and “blessings” of our successful venture from our group’s “spiritual leader.” Kinda silly, but it went with the scenario.
Lord of the Flies
Despite Habu’s character acting that he was happy to “receive” the United States’ help, he was still there to critique the candidates and come up with ways to make sure operations didn’t go completely smoothly. I referred to his instructions to us to be dismissive and skeptical of the SF candidates early on, and act as if we didn’t trust them. Habu also made it clear that his goal was to push the SF candidates to adapt. Not just in a physical manner, but also in a psychological manner as well. Most of the missions we had lined up were the typical go here and observe this, pick up that, or attack this. Habu told us to keep pushing the candidates to be proactive and take the lead in many of the activities. It could be something as small as seeing if they were willing to haul up more than their share of water each trip from the house, or something as major as planning, leading and executing a mission in its entirety. But we were also instructed to intentionally commit various “war crimes” at times to see if the SF candidates would put a stop to it.
The first prominent example I can think of took place after an ambush where we attacked a convoy carrying regime forces. Under the guidance of the candidates, we successfully “destroyed” the vehicles and “dispatched” most of the OPFOR, but were able to capture one of them alive. I don’t know if this was done on purpose, but we took advantage of it regardless. After much group discussion, we decided to “execute” the prisoner in a field nearby. I can’t recall if the SF candidates did anything to try to stop us prior to the execution (we were, after all, hell-bent on carrying it out), but I remember them telling us we couldn’t do that again. Habu pushed back, claiming we were only doing what the regime forces did to us. Besides, we were in no shape to keep prisoners. The candidates said although they could see his point, the U.S. couldn’t continue to support us if we executed every prisoner we got our hands on. Habu bristled, but finally agreed.
The second example was Habu picked one of us to be a martyr and suicide bomber. One afternoon, he gathered us all around with the SF candidates and told us he had a volunteer for an important mission. He summoned the volunteer who was wearing a bomb vest (and rather sheepish grin). He announced that he will deliver a devastating blow to the heart of the regime with this martyr. The SF candidates pulled Habu to the side and informed him they couldn’t condone this type of attack, and would not support him in this mission. Habu, after much “convincing” decided to cancel the mission and thanked the would-be martyr for his dedication to the cause.
As soon as Habu and the candidates were out of earshot, we asked the would-be martyr and “volunteer” if this was his idea or Habu’s.
He replied, “It was Habu’s. But I was so honored, I wanted to yell “I love you Habu!” and give him a giant hug to see if I could trigger us both to paradise.” The glint in his eyes conveyed what the sarcasm in his voice may have failed to give away.
To be clear, we weren’t supposed to be radical Jihadists, but it seemed like the program heads were picking and choosing every scenario they can muster to cover the wide litany of groups Special Forces would be forced to work with. *cough* Syria.
For the most part, the gamut of missions we undertook was across the board. I mentioned the reconnaissance on the barn and attack on the convoy earlier before, but there were routine ones like picking up supplies dropped by the Air Force or responding to an impromptu attack on our base of operations by “regime” forces. A good portion of their time was also giving us classes, for example such as “how” to operate and maintain a machine gun (one of candidates brought the venerable M60), administering first aid, and setting up and detonating claymore mines (without actually detonating them). There were supposed to teach us military tactics and techniques as well, but with these being geared toward groups that have little to no official military training, these classes were just given to check off the box.
Of Mice and Men
One day, three of us were instructed to go down to the base of the hill to pick up supplies. Once we got to the bottom, we saw some kitchen utensils, pots, pans, and a cage containing about a dozen of rabbits. We were confused, but there was nothing else for us to grab. I got to the front of the cage to pick it up and waited for one of the others to take the other side.
“C’mon I can’t haul this cage up by myself.” They both looked at one another.
“Yeah but what happens if they bite us?” one of them replied.
I stared at them for a couple of seconds. “Are you kidding me? They’re rabbits!”
“Yeah but who knows where these rabbits came from.” I looked at the rabbits who only gave us passing interest.
“I think they are farm raised rabbits. They are probably used to being around people.” I replied.
One of them finally picked up the other end and we proceeded to go up the hill. Finally, after some times hiking up the hill, I heard a voice call out in distress.
“Wait, wait stop! Put down the cage!” We quickly put down the cage as I turned around.
“One of the rabbits came over and sniffed my fingers.”
“He could have bitten me!”
If you never went through the course, you are probably wondering what these rabbits were used for. Well for one, they were the food provided by the SF candidates to us “Guerrilla” fighters as an act of goodwill. Second, they would be used in a class about how to properly butcher an animal for consumption. I don’t know if this is standard practice, but to the best of my memory that class fell on the medic to teach. When the time came around, he gathered us together and took one of the rabbits out of the cage. Although he was teaching the class, it was quite obvious this was his first time. He came over stroking the rabbit with one hand. The rabbit seemed quite content, obviously used to being handled.
“Ok, you want to make sure the animal remains calm. You don’t want to distress or injure the animal unnecessarily, because it would deplete glycogen in the muscle and potentially spoil the meat.”
He was still stroking the animal, speaking rather calmly.
“The best way to dispatch an animal like this is to strangle it quickly. Break the neck in a quick motion.”
He stopped petting the rabbit while he was putting it down. With almost a yell, he tried to quickly break the neck of the animal, but didn’t succeed on first try. The poor thing was lying there, paralyzed but still breathing and alive. It took him several tries before he put the thing out of it’s misery. He tried another rabbit, only this time he place the animal on the ground and tried to pistol whip it with a M9 to the back of the neck. It didn’t do that much better.
To his credit, he did get better at it. And the rest of us was giving an opportunity to try with varying results. But I recall seeing later the foreign attaché who came in with the candidates, a Peruvian soldier, effortlessly dispatch a few rabbits with a swift flick of the wrist. I thought at the time he should have been the one teaching the class.
Some days later, I was pulling guard duty at the main entrance overlooking the hill. I actually enjoyed it, because it was a rare warm day when the sun came out. I heard some strange noise, like grunting and looked down the trail. In the distance I could see a big hog, followed by one of the SF candidates. There was another hog followed by another SF candidate, both of whom were giving each other a hard time. It took them a while, but the first pair made it up (with the hog leading the way reluctantly). But the second hog was being difficult, and would constantly stop and refuse to go on. This would prompt his handler to respond by cursing and poking the hog to continue. They almost made it up to where I was when the hog, after seemingly tired of the litany of verbal and physical abuse started to waver and look the other way. The SF Candidate looked at it in exasperation.
“Oh you better fucking not.”
The beast turned around and tore down the hill at breakneck speed. The SF candidate gave chase, with a litany of screams and curse words one could muster from the entire English language. Of course I was rolling around laughing. It was some time before I heard the familiar sounds of cursing and grunting. The SF candidate was obviously very irritated and had now resorted to kicking the hog in the rear to get it to move up the hill. I guess I can’t blame either one of them. This time, he was successful in getting the recalcitrant animal into the our base, where both hogs were tied up near a boulder.
I was away on a mission when they slaughtered the hogs. From what I heard, the hogs gave a final act of defiance when it took more than one shot to the head before going down. We actually butchered, cleaned, and cooked the animals out there in the field. The food wasn’t for all of us though, we used it as a means to “reach out” to other guerrilla groups operating in the area and invite them to the feast. With the leftover rabbits, two hogs, beans, rice and various other foodstuff the other guerilla members brought to the potluck, we actually ate rather well. Beats daily constipation from MREs (Meals Refusing to Exit).
Although it was the tail end of the winter, there were some days it would warm up when the sun came out. When that happened, small lizards would crawl out and sun themselves on nearby rocks. I’m not a lizard expert, but they were probable Northern Fence Lizards or something similar.
I got good at catching them, since I was always given the important missions like guard duty and more guard duty. Part of it was because they were still, sluggish from the cold weather. The best way to catch them was approach very slowly and position yourself over them to the point they can’t react fast enough when you swoop down. They would see you coming, but either dismiss you as a non threat or think they can still get away at the last minute. I only bring this up because there was an instance when I saw one and decided to go for it. I stretched my hand out slowly, as the lizard only gave me passing interest. As I was about an arm’s length away, a giant fly came out of nowhere and landed on my hand. This piqued the lizard’s interest as it turned around to face me. I froze, not knowing what to expect. In a flash, the lizard was on the back of my hand, snacking on the big juicy prize. I had to go around the rest of the camp and convince them of the story with the lizard still balanced on my hand. And yes, this really happened, you didn’t pay a subscription to read made-up stories. Mostly.
On the final leg of the exercise, Habu called us together, rubbing his hands with almost gleeful anticipation. He had just received news that the U.S. Military has decided to intervene and will soon invaded Pineland, ready to assist our fight against regime forces. We all gave a cheer at this announcement, less about the fictional account of our liberation from the Pineland regime, more so for the actual liberation to go home. By that time, I was half hoping for F-18’s to streak over the horizon carrying payloads of freedom, with waves of America’s finest jumping out of C-130’s like angels delivering salvation. But alas it didn’t happen. We spent the rest of the day cleaning up and breaking everything down. By this time, we had ended all pretenses about keeping an imaginary distance from the candidates and traded stories, cigarettes, and even leftover MRE and Pogey Bait we still had left. They were staying behind for a few days after we left the exercise, and they were still at the mercy of limited supplies to rely on. We climbed into the same trucks that brought us out to Paradise Pine back to the staging area at Camp Mackall, content that the liberation of Pineland was at hand.
Until the next Robin Sage exercise that is…