Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Special Forces Connection

I was the S-4 of a gun squadron post Desert Storm, when I got a call on a Thursday afternoon from the Group Ops O. We were packing up to leave for El Paso the next day. WTF? I recognized the POC as a Marine Major I had been to Amphibious Warfare School with. After a brief tirade from me, filled with expletives, Paul told me to shut up, and pack up. We were going to support a Delta Force unit for the next week…no questions…just do it.

From here on, I will do my best to get titles and unit designations correct, but it has been 13 years, so a little forgiveness will go a long way.

So, we packed off the El Paso, on their nickel…per diem, housing, fuel, everything…on the customer. This was going to cost SOCOM some cash.

We were to do one thing…have two a/c on station continuously for about 10-12 hours per day. We’d be loaded with MK-76s…small blue bombs…dummies, that give off a quick flash and a small smoke charge. They would be controlling us…pretty much however they wanted to…talk-ons, 9-line briefs, lazer pointers...whatever it was, we were to be ready to drop.

This Saber Squadron had brought with them two remote controlled sand rails, that we were supposed to drop on…they were saving these for night, when we would be on NVGs. These guys came with the toys.

We were dropping on perhaps the most pristine range in America. Beautiful Huey shells on the ramp. Vehicles everywhere, fixed wing a/c…even a train coming out of a tunnel. This would be fun.

We wrecked one of their sand rails the first night…after that they turned off the light on the top, and I think it took us until the second night to kill that one. We were on fire. No one in the squadron was missing. Mule and I dropped two into the Hueys and shacked two in a pairs drop…unheard of. They had us doing everything they could think of, and we had a blast dropping on this great range.

About Thursday of the week, Mule and I flew into Holloman AFB, and met with the Saber Squadron. It was impressive. Custom equipment everywhere. A tour of the shop, weapons and vehicles revealed the keen eye they have for the “best.” Not in terms of reputation, but in terms of functionality. If it was the best working gear they had it. 7.62 machine guns out of M-60 tanks, with stocks made within the squadron’s shop…because they were functionally better than an M-60 out of the box. Great stuff. Vehicles, custom painted for actual terrain, off of satellite photos they had received earlier in the week. Utilities (BDUs for the non-Marines) also picked specifically for the mission. Pros…simply pros.

We hopped into a Blackhawk and went to the range. It was particularly cool, because Mule and I were able to watch from a mesa above the range as our squadron mates actually released below us. Very cool.

This is where we found out some interesting things… First, this whole sha-bang was being done so that every enlisted man in the unit could get an opportunity to control live air…and we were on tap until they were done. Simple, but to the point and very focused in its objective. Second, and this one hurt until it was revealed as a compliment…we were not their first choice. In fact they didn’t want Marines at all. WTF? “We wanted the F-15Es…we know Marine air will come anytime in combat, so we wanted to see what the E’s could do.” Eventually we took that as a compliment…as it was meant. How could the AF turn this down?

The Squadron officers brought beer to the ready room the night before we were packing up. Great camaraderie amongst pros. Then we got tapped for two a/c the following Sunday night/Monday morning…to support their “final” op.

On the following Sunday, right before El Toro closed, we took off and headed to Holloman AFB. We landed. Checked into the BOQ. Bagged a few hours of sleep. Fired up the jets. Took off. Went to a CP. Heard the code word for the push to the IP. Called the IP. Heard “cleared hot.” Lead picked up the pre-set lazer with the a/c. We picked the hand held spot lazer on our NVGs. We each dropped 3 of 6 MK-76s in our turn. Moved to an alternate CP. Got the code word to push to the IP. Called the IP. Got “cleared hot.” Dropped our last 3 each. And went back to Holloman…as simple as that.

We got a call on Tues to start the debrief. “Thanks guys. We won a case of Jack Daniels off our evaluator.” Oh? “Yeah. We had built a shack where the team had to do a rescue, and we called air to cover the retrograde. We bet the evaluator that you guys would get at least three hits on the structure…about 10’ x 10’.” Thanks guys, but that is no gimme. “Well, lead put one through the window on the first pass. Dash Two knocked the door off with two on his first pass. In the end you guys had eight or nine direct hits. And we got the Jack.” We were pumped, because these guys respected our abilities so highly, as we did theirs.

The debrief ended with an invite to Ft. Bragg for Friday night. They had an event they’d like us to go to. Zambo and I flew to Pope AFB, and we were met by an SF type who took care of us all evening…even though we were in our bags, we were taken to the SF reunion…held on the anniversary of Desert One. An honor.

We were introduced to dozens of VIPS, and greeted graciously as the warriors we were, but it was hard to feel comfortable in this crowd. We were your run of the mill USMC aircrew…each of these warriors had crossed a threshold of sacrifice and dedication, rarely matched anywhere in the world. It was truly an honor to be among this group.

We were given a tour of the Delta Force facility, which is highly impressive on several fronts. I’ll only say that the hallway of “graduation” photos is a testament to the arduousness of the training, and the sheer will and determination it takes to complete. And, perhaps the best part of the facility…the gym. A workout facility designed, as it was explained to me, not to get people into shape, but designed to rehab injured SF soldiers. They were not going to turn their backs on fellow troopers with giving them a serious opportunity to rehab and re-join the unit. What could be more motivating?

Anyway…a great experience for me…matched only by a NASA tour given by a personal friend and shuttle pilot.

Happy birthday, and congratulations on doing it right…you have proven it time and again.


Early readers…I don’t believe I have revealed anything classified, but if I have accidentally let something out of the bag, let me know, and I’ll fix it.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

MM,

What platform is gun squadron?

NOTR said...

Ain't putting ordnance into N. McGregor a hoot?

Warriors all. Thanks guys for being there when our SOF guys need ya.

Major Mike said...

We were flying F/A-18Ds.

Anonymous said...

What a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

Papa Ray said...

Hey,

We always were elated when we got Marine Air support, because we knew that they not only would hit what we wanted, but would stick around and want to help out anyway they could.

At least twice they kept the bad guys from catching us.

Warriors at their best.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

devildog6771 said...

Great story. Thanks for sharing it.

Old Patriot said...

I remember the 22 months I spent at Holloman in the late 1960's. It was a hoot watching the (Air Force) F-4s come down the valleys below where I used to camp. Or catch one coming in very, VERY low, and throwing a rooster-tail across the bare flats south of the base. We lost three F-4s and two crewmembers trying to practice "too real". The 49th Tac Fighter Wing is no longer at Holloman, but the memories remain!

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