Back in 2006, when I was in Psychological Operations Group (Now called MISOG, or Military Information Support Group), I remember a colleague of mind dryly comment that we were the “red-headed stepchildren of SOCOM.” As such we would frequently be tasked to send personnel for an all-paid, all-exclusive trip to the hills of rural North Carolina to support the Special Forces Qualification Course exercise, widely know as Robin Sage.

War and peace

If you don’t know, Robin Sage is a U.S. Army SFQC that tests prospective Green Beret students on everything they have learned from their months of intensive training (an article on it can be found here). The object is to create an exercise as close to real-life scenarios as possible, which means touching down in a rural civilian area that harbors friendly guerrilla forces who busily train and generally cause a ruckus. By now you probably have a good idea what it’s like from an SF perspective. But what about from a role-player’s point of view? You’re in luck; I got to be one of them.

They run Robin Sage several times throughout the year, but of course I ended up being sent during the tail end of winter. At the time, I had little clue what this entailed. Mostly, I figured it meant a chance to get away for two weeks, stumbling around in the dark to find that perfect place to take a shit in 30° weather.

Only a few of us from the battalion were sent to the training this time (I think a total of three of us), but to be fair, it was the height of the Iraq War and we were a little thin at the time. Joining a few other soldiers from around Bragg, we were bussed to Camp MacKall, a training ground in close proximity to Bragg, to rendezvous with the rest of the support staff. We received brief instruction on what we were doing, a very fluid timeline, and assignments to where we were to end up. We were divided up among opposition forces (OPFOR) and guerrilla forces. I ended up in the latter. I also remember the letterhead we all received, just in case we were ever pulled over by local law enforcement during the course of the exercise. The letter would provide them with explanation for why a bunch of ragtag-looking men were running around with assault rifles and fake explosives. We were also given a couple of dollars in fake money called “Don” (I think) that could be used during the scenario with participating individuals and locations. I don’t recall ever needing to use my Monopoly money.

For any soldier who didn’t bring their assigned rifle with them, they were issued one from the armory. Most seem to get a ratty, beat-to-hell AK-style rifle. People swear by AKs, and always say they will be the only rifle that can last throughout the apocalypse. Maybe so, but not these ones. These looked terrible and functioned even worse. Even operating the bolt on one of these was gritty and temperamental. We were also given blank ammunition for our respective rifles. I ended up falling in with a group of 10th Mountain Division soldiers who, for some reason, the Army decided to pull from Fort Drum, New York to support this exercise. I guess my unit wasn’t the only one looking thin at the time.

We changed out our military BDUs for black fatigues that made us all look like a bunch of ninja rejects. We climbed into flatbed trucks that were fully covered in the back, probably so that we wouldn’t alert locals at a passing glance. We rode in the back in covered darkness for a couple of hours. It was toward the early part of the afternoon before we stopped off at a rural convenience store for a pit stop and last-minute run on pogey bait and other supplies. After that was over, we continued our road trip until we came to a stop at the bottom of a trail deep in the forest. We all disembarked and were told to take our supplies, gear, and weapons all the way up the hill. I swear it was the biggest hill in North Carolina at the time, because going up and down over the course of two weeks didn’t get any easier.

Paradise lost

We made our way to the top, where we were greeted by a clearing with rudimentary shelters and a center communal area with a flagpole in the middle. An old, bearded man emerged from a tent to greet us, and told us to refer to him as the tribal chieftain, or “Habu.” He was a former Green Beret and was one of the instructors/evaluators. He kind of reminded me of a cross between Yoda, Gandalf, and Santa Claus. He would spend most of his time with us, prepping us to support the incoming SF candidates. First thing we needed was a name, since we were ditching rank and it was more conducive to our roles as guerrilla fighters. I picked the name “Taro” for reasons that escape me to this day. The second thing we needed was a story or reason why we decided to join the rebellion. We rattled off our story one by one. We got halfway through the circle when Habu stopped us.

“You know, not every story has to end with someone’s loved one being killed or raped. Let’s come up with some new back stories here,” he said.