One of the things you’ll get asked frequently by family and friends that weren’t living close to you during your military career is “what was life like as a Green Beret?” To the average American, it conjures up visions of Bond, James Bond, John Rambo or MacGuyver where you travel to exotic lands surrounded by beautiful maidens, fire darned near nuclear-tipped explosives with a bow and arrow or make commo with a piece of wire, one AAA battery, and an iron-enriched Cheerio.
Ah…if live were so simple. The bottom line is life is much different in Special Forces and you’ll find the longer you spend there, much more rewarding. The building block for Special Forces is the A-Team and it centers around the 10 enlisted members who make or break the two officers assigned to it.
There are light weapons, heavy weapons, engineers, communications, medics, an intel sergeant and of course the team sergeant where everything goes thru. A captain and a warrant officer round out the team. Everyone’s jobs are difficult and varied and you’ll get plenty of chances to cross-train whether in a school environment or on the job as we’ll see later.
From my own experience, I was a Communications Supervisor (18E) but my secondary was Heavy Weapons for which I went to BNCOC for, and later graduated O&I and got an 18F as an additional MOS. Years later I went to the Warrant Officer program. You’ll find you will get to do much more than you ever imagined.
In those days, the 7th Special Forces Group was a beehive of activity. Teams were constantly rotating to Central America training light infantry battalions that were fight civil wars in El Salvador, and Guatemala and trying to modernize their force and keep out the Nicaraguans in Honduras. The Andean Ridge countries of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru were hot spots due to the drug trafficking that remains there to this day as well as active insurgencies against the FARC in Colombia and Sendero Luminoso in Peru.
The operational tempo then was high but nothing compared to what the guys today are facing. Most of the places you’d find yourself were far from what one would call vacation spots although there were always the exceptions.
One deployment which was memorable was part of an MEDRETE to Honduras. In the mountains not far from their borders were tiny villages that were mostly inaccessible by vehicle. The US sent in doctors, veterinarians, and dentists to that remote region to promote goodwill between the people and the host nation government.
About 750-1000 villagers were expected, Due to the word getting out, close to 10,000 showed up. Many had never seen a doctor or a dentist and they brought their horses and donkeys for the vets to look over. A couple of days were spent pulling teeth under the watchful eyes of our dentists, although the tooth necklace thing we tried afterward didn’t really work out. Another was working with the vets, inoculating animals with a shot that would rid them of ticks. Watching the vets grind the teeth of the horses with a rasp was a hoot.
You’ll often hear about being adept as a diplomat as well as a warrior. During a six-month deployment to Bolivia training counter-narcotics troops in the Chapare, the training was due to stop for 10 days at Christmas time to allow the Bolivian soldiers some well-deserved time off. Our team was going to spend it back in Panama before returning after the first of the year. The American Ambassador asked for our help, however. A school in the city of Sucre had fallen into disrepair. It was used in the morning as an elementary school, in the afternoons as a high school and at night for adult education.
USAID had $75,000 for repairs but estimated that it would cost twice that to make minimal repairs. But SF guys are much more resourceful. Our engineer and I flew there, and he looked around the school and thought that the $75,000 was more than enough for materials but that the labor and the time involved wouldn’t allow for the job to get done.
Getting the local populace involved became imperative. Local newspapers, leaflets thru our Civil Affairs augmentees and even local television got us over 300 volunteers a day. SF guys became construction supervisors and the work was done ahead of time, under budget and the team was able to do even more than was envisioned. Classrooms were re-wired, plastered with new drywall, a new functioning bathroom with a new water tank was installed. And a new patio was poured instead of broken and sharp rocks, the children had a flat, safe place to play during recess. The town threw a nice party for the team before heading back to the jungle.
Our medics in Chimore during that deployment were the only doctors for miles. Many women trekked for miles across mountainous terrain to have their babies born in the “gringo hospital”, our medical dispensary at the camp we shared with a Bolivian counternarcotics battalion and DEA agents.
And those pieces we posted on learning terrain association? They came in handy during a training mission to Paraguay. We were training a Paraguayan SF unit and we were jumping into the Grand Chaco, the endless grasslands of about 250,000 square miles between Paraguay, Bolivia, and Argentina.
The Air Force was dropping us in and turned on the green light about two minutes early. The two jumpmasters, our Commo man and myself had done our homework looking at the aerial photos and recognized we were far to the east still and held up our jumpers until we were over the correct drop zone. That saved everyone from a long, long walk to the turn-in area. It all pays off in the end.
Today with the wars in the Middle East, and Africa, the increasing Iranian influence in Latin America and issues in the Far East, Special Forces units will be stretched to the limit with their operational tempo. Some of the things you’ll experience will be very different than anything you’d have imagined. You’ll also find it will be the most rewarding time of your military career.
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