In about two months, exercise Jade Helm 15 is scheduled to kick off. This is a two-month long special operations exercise, spread out across the southwest of the country, from Texas to California. It has the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, Right Wing Regiment,1 demonstrating all the calm and relaxed demeanor (I am, of course, kidding), as well as the typical paranoid delusions (not kidding at all), for which it and its members are justifiably famous.2
Never having actually enlisted with the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, my initial reaction to exercise Jade Helm 15 was a resounding, “ho hum,” and my reaction to the TFHB reaction was, “As Christ probably would have said if He’d thought about it, ‘The loons ye shall have with ye always.’”
To be fair to the TFHB, though, whenever the New York Times3 and Washington Post4 agree that something like this is clearly harmless, it’s possibly time to inventory our stocks of ammunition and break out the banana oil to make sure our protective masks are in good working order. In other words, their enthusiastic and unquestioned agreement constitutes a rebuttable presumption that FEMA is about to open concentration camps.
However, rebuttable presumptions are there to be rebutted. This week and next I’m going to limit my rebuttal to the notion that the exercise is inherently suspicious because it is so militarily useless and unnecessary as to be indefensible. To do that we need to get into a little history, a bit of doctrine, and a touch of dogma.
While US Special Operations Forces had other traditional missions, their bread and butter missions, so to speak, were twofold. One of these was Unconventional Warfare, or UW, which called on them to serve as guerilla cadres, largely in Eastern Europe, to raise, train, support and lead anti-communist insurgencies against the Soviets. The other was Foreign Internal Defense, or FID, which was pretty prominently on display in Vietnam and any number of other (unmentionable) locales. In FID they did much the same thing as with UW – raising, training, and leading forces of foreigners – except in a more permissive environment. There was a time they were really quite good at this, and not necessarily all that bound by appearances concerning who they were willing to use for the purpose, except that those men possess intelligence and guts.5 Occasionally, they could be technically and tactically competent, but unbelievably stupid, as when they would assign a black officer to lead an ODA6 oriented at very white, pre-substantial black migration to, Norway.7
Then again, SF used to claim on its official parade blurb that it was, “as deadly as a tarantula.” Since tarantulas are not deadly…8
That time – the time they were really good at FID and UW – is mostly in the past.
Instead, they’ve become door kickers, hyper-Rangers, doing, in goodly part, things that regular infantry should be able to do perfectly well.9 Given the human talent the SF types bring to the table, coupled with the extraordinary expense of training them, this is a criminal waste. The reasons for the change are complex enough to be beyond the scope of this short column.
Part of the problem, though, is probably with definitions. Department of Defense “Special Operations” as:
Operations requiring unique modes of employment, tactical techniques, equipment and training often conducted in hostile, denied, or politically sensitive environments and characterized by one or more of the following: time sensitive, clandestine, low visibility, conducted with and/or through indigenous forces, requiring regional expertise, and/or a high degree of risk.10
The problem with that definition is, I think, two-fold. One is that the first sentence tacitly defines it as “Special Operations are what Special Operations Forces do.” The second problem is that it all leaves the question of “why?” begging.
I’ll give you my own definition, which I bounce off of SOF types with some regularity, and which they generally seem to accept as valid:
“Special Operations are typically small unit operations the operational, strategic, and geopolitical importance of which, coupled to unusually disastrous implications of failure in which, justify the early organization and commitment of extraordinary human material, and unusually high levels of financial and other types of support.”
An ODA training and leading a small battalion of Afghan quasi-mercenaries probably qualifies under both definitions, but while permissible under DoD’s definition, there’s just no way that patrolling a nondescript valley in an MRAP11 quite qualifies under my, I think more valid, definition, precisely because it’s just not important enough to justify the human and other costs.
That’s just a small part of it though. I’m not even certain I understand all the reasons. Suffice to say that it has happened; that SF has lost much, maybe most, of its FID/UW capability in favor of becoming door kickers.
It really needs to get those lost or degraded capabilities back. But how to do that? Decree? Yeah…no, changing a complex organization’s collective outlook and ethos by decree, alone, doesn’t really work. Classroom lectures? Oh, they’re a part of it, to be sure, but not nearly enough. Change the doctrinal literature? That, too, has to be a part of it, but is never enough.
No, we train by doing. Now, class, in preparation for next week’s column, go and read this. That’s right, go read it; it’s free. When you read it, pay particular attention to the five functions of training.
We’ll pick up on that note, next week.
1 Which in general demeanor much resembles the TFHB, Left Wing Regiment.
2 Just Google it; there are too many examples for me to illustrate without appearing to be playing favorites.
5 See, for example, Larry Thorne, AKA Lauri Törni, Finnish officer against the Russians, US Army Special Operations officer, fallen in Vietnam, and former officer of the Waffen SS. Guts? Well, he had three crosses, the Mannerheim Cross, The Iron Cross 2nd Class, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
6 Operational Detachment Alpha, the twelve men we think of when someone says, “A Team.”
7 Yeah, they did. He was my XO when I was an Adjutant. Fine officer, but did not blend in well with snow or whitey, hence bound to make clandestine ops in Norway a little iffy.
8 True story: Though a grunt, I was Adjutant of the 96th CA for about a year. Summer of 1991, I think it was, we were preparing for a ceremony with SF Command, which the 96th was assigned to, though the actual command relationships were amazingly Byzantine. I read that “deadly as a tarantula” line and started to laugh. My battalion commander asked why the chuckles. Upon my explaining it he laughed, too, but then realized that SF had been ridiculing itself for decades. We got the line purged. All you SF types owe me big.
9 It is possible that regular infantry can’t do these things perfectly well anymore. I can think of two reasons for that, one being that they’ve become perfectly happy to let SOF do it for them, and the other that the expansion of SOF in a shrinking armed forces has sucked too much human talent away from the line. This is always a potential problem with elites, and usually one which lives up – or down – to its potential.
11 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MRAP. Speaking of MRAPs, passing the damned things out to local police forces is one of the more understandable causes of apoplexy amongst the Tin Foil Hat Brigade. Given the general overmilitarization of the police across the country, I am most sympathetic to the TFHB in this.
Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from Amazon.com for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through baen.com.
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