Editor’s Note: Geo’s memoir, Brothers of the Cloth, a true account of special mission unit soldiers, is now available for pre-order. You can purchase it here.
Ranger School on the water, and fire in the sky.
A rather obscure episode in the Army Special Forces Combat Dive Academy occurred when the Academy offered the six-week waterborne surface operations course, in Key West, FL in 1989. The course named Waterborne Infiltrations Course (WIC) was a grueling one. It included every waterborne surface operation known to Special Forces in the day. I personally attended the pilot course, but missed the second course because I was relocating to Key West from Ft. Lewis, WA to take an assignment as an instructor at the Academy. I was a fully established instructor for the third and final course.
“Third and final course? That doesn’t sound right at all.”
I mean how long would you expect it to take to develop a six-week Program of Instruction (POI) that is largely performance-oriented? I have an answer: It took the cadre one year of preparation prior to presenting WIC. That was a year of sending men to schools, courses, and training seminars to glean the expertise necessary to be able to present and instruct with confidence.
That was a year of moonlight effort: that is, the development of WIC was done on the periphery of the full schedule of Combat Diver, Dive Supervisor, and Dive Medical Technician courses that were already on the Academy’s plate. And the year WIC began there was still the full contingent of underwater operations courses on the schedule.
“But that would be impossible.”
I agree it was impossible, but it was accomplished nonetheless. Let’s mull over that Return on Investment (ROI) for a moment. 54 weeks of preparation for 18 weeks of course execution and about 150 men trained. That is a categorical failure in any business model. What happened and who is to blame for the cataclysmic failure of the Waterborne Infiltrations Course — the WIC? I won’t have an opinion on the matter, but I’ll give the facts — just the facts, Ma’am.
The WIC was quickly and aptly nicked “Ranger School on Water” by the men from the SF group who attended it. It included boat work with Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC), Kayaks, surface swimming, long-range maritime navigation, Cast and Recover, paradrops with CRRC (rubber duck), Kangaroo Duck, Rubber Duck, Pallet Duck, tides and currents computations, weather considerations, dangerous sea life recognition, long-range kayak navigation… I can’t even remember all of the subjects. It was one of the most rigorous courses in the military for the three months that it lived.
As a student in the pilot course, I was truly impressed. The pilot course taught the instructors just how hard they could push the students in each area before they reached a set percent of student breakdown. That was wonderful. They learned for instance how long it took us to recover from a 5,000-meter surface swim to the point that we could perform a 7,000-meter surface swim, and so on. If, at this point, I asked for a show of hands of the readers who think I’m bullshitting them there would be a baker’s plethora, though the truth it is.
Ok, now that the “there I was and boy was I a badass” part is over, let me tell you why the course died if you haven’t figured it out already… wait for it…
“Lack of support from the Green Beret Groups.”
The fact of the matter is the WIC was TOO HARD, and Green Berets in the year of the WIC simply did not want to work that hard. Well, not that hard for no badge, that is. The CDQC basic course gives a man a monthly pay incentive, an MOS identifier (Whiskey-eight) plus a real cool-guy badge to wear for those garrison commandos who like staying out of the field and hang out in the food court at the Post Exchange (PX).
What you had back in that day was a Green Beret calculating in his head:
“Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah… you mean I have to bust my hump for six weeks for no extra pay, no MOS identifier and, and, and NO badge for the food court — NO; HELL NO; ABSOLUTELY NOT!”
And the Waterborne Infiltration Course, after one solid year of preparation, died right there in the keel like a survey bilge rat.
So the Green Berets were happy because they didn’t have to work too hard and we cadre were happy because we could finally start putting some weight back on our Treblinka carcasses and re-introduce ourselves to our families so they would stop calling the police every time we managed to make it home.
“Mommy, I heard a strange noise outside.”
“Go tell your father!”
The floor is not open to colicky haters who don’t like the content of this essay and decide to call it poorly written. It’s a well-written essay about a poorly-performing branch of Special Forces in 1989 — recognize its worth. Unless one was on the cadre, or in the pilot course, or in one of the two executed courses, one’s opinion holds water like a chickenwire canoe.
The fact of the matter — the driving pace of the course notwithstanding — is that the WIC offered an absolutely magnificent paradigm of skills that epitomized what the Special Forces soldier was. You would’ve had to attend half a dozen courses to gain that knowledge bandwidth of water surface operations. Have you ever even heard of a Caged Duck, Pallet Duck, or Kangaroo Duck? Those techniques lived and died with the WIC.
I had an entire ODA from 5th Group in the pilot course with me. After six weeks of training together, I had grown a tad fond of those brothers. A couple of months later, a CH3E Jolly Green crashed and every one of those men died. That was a shame… as shames go.
I hear the controversy about the worth of and the support to the SF Dive Teams. There’s a Hatfield and McCoy shit-storm of knife fights and bitch slapping going on over that right now. Lots of fellers out there feeling like their grandeur is being challenged and their foodcourt power-bases are being undermined. I wore my bubble and drew my pay, but never did I honestly believe I would ever conduct a real-world subsurface mission, and never is exactly when I did one.
Thirty years later and how many real-world subsurface infiltrations have there been? That is an ROI that totally chumps the WIC fiasco’s ripoff when (if) you apply the logic. Three decades ago (at least) SF should had yanked Dive Teams and replaced them with WIC teams and keep the same incentive, keep the W-7 MOS identifier, and come up with a badge. The WIC team pipe-hitters in each company are still going to be your hardest-working, best physically fit bubbas in the company. The situation breaks even, and the likelihood that the men do real-world WIC missions climb exponentially higher, and nobody loses their grandeur or status at the food court.
Incentive pays, cool-guy special gear, badges… is that what fuels the SF pipe-hitter these days? My Delta Assault Team Leader, Daddy Mac M., summed it up for me in a single sentence one day when I asked him if he wanted me to grab him one of the new Gortex jackets at supply while I was there:
“Let me tell you something, homes… 50 years ago the American Army stormed Omaha Beach wearin’ freakin’ wool!”
By Almighty God and with honor,
This article was first published in May 2020.