Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Special Operations Truths

Since 1988, a few short maxims, the Special Operations Forces Truths, have distilled the essence of what SOF means, does and is. The irony is that they were not written by any of the many legendary special operators: we do not receive them as part of our inheritance from Bank and Volckmann, Yarborough or Singlaub. They weren’t drafted by Bull Simons or Dick Meadows. They were written by a non-SOF retired colonel working in his second career as a researcher for Congress.

The Truths are:

Humans are more important than hardware.

Quality is better than quantity

Special Operations Forces cannot be mass-produced

Competent SOF cannot be created after emergencies occur.

Most special operations require non-SOF assistance.

They originally appeared in a report called United States and Soviet Special Operations by Congressman Earl Hutto (D-FL) in 1987, and they were written by a member of his House Armed Services Committee staff, COL (Ret) John Collins. Collins was looking for something that codified the essence of what special operations was, something that would resonate with stakeholders inside the SOF community (like operators) and outside the community (like Hutto and his fellow congressmen).

Soon, the staff of the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, whose commander BG David Baratto was looking to do exactly the same thing, brought him Collins’s Truths. The concise, axiomatic statements seemed to illustrate SOF perfectly. Baratto brought the Truths to Wayne A. Downing, commander of the Army Special Operations Command. Downing (aka “Ranger WAD”) was a certain type of officer common in the community at the time, focused on door-kicking direct action and uninterested in the other special operations missions. He was probably the one that deleted the fifth truth, but he signed on to the promotion of the first four, and as Baratto had wanted, the Truths were eagerly adopted by the guys in the field, and became a touchstone for planning, training, and day to day life in special operations. For twenty years the four Truths spread from the Army to the other services, and became  known and respected in the special operations community.

Admiral Eric Olson, then-commander of the joint-services US Special Operations Command, resuscitated the missing Truth after learning about it from Collins in 2009, and the Special Operations community embraced it fully. Olson sent the following comments to reporter Sean Naylor at the time: “The SOF Truths have provided time-tested guidance to the special operations community for daily activities as well as long-range planning.” After introducing the “lost” fifth truth, he said, “It’s being included now so that we all understand the importance of force enablers and the contributions they make to mission success. To think otherwise would levy unrealistic expectations as to the capabilities SOF bring to the fight.”

The Beeb on Sniper Psychology

So we followed some silly link or another to the BBC, where we found the attached graphic: Sniper: Devil or Hero? We suppose that depends on which side of the rifle one’s on, eh. But it certainly seemed like the graphic was an indictment of allied snipers in the war.

The story the graphic linked to, however, is more subtle and balanced than that. Yes, the author, Stephanie Hegarty of BBC  World Service, seemed to be looking for a “crazed, stressed, remorseful snipers” angle, but she reported what she found, instead. The headline of the story is a more-reasonable “What goes on in the mind of a sniper?” and the story riffs off the release of Chris Kyle’s book American Sniper which we link to here, because the BBC did not . (We’re working on the book, no review yet, but we can heartily recommend it over Chuck Pfarrer’s book about the Bin Laden raid).

Kyle shot scores of bad guys and it doesn’t bug him. “Savages,” he says, and doesn’t miss them. (It turns out that it was the Moslem terrorists, not the BBC, that named Kyle “the Devil,”although in all fairness to the BBC, and the terrorists, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the two. Conversely, an Israeli psychologist found that her country’s snipers didn’t tend to put down their enemies — at least not verbally. They recognized their enemy’s humanity, and some of them even respected him. Like Kyle, though, they did what they had to do, and aren’t conflicted about it. “We… have prevented the killing of innocents, so we are not sorry about it.”

The story goes on to note the high standards, rigorous selection, and intense training of snipers in various Western countries including the US, UK and Canada. And they actually managed to find an association of — we are not making this up — traumatized snipers, who have formed a mutual support group.  Lord love a duck. Anyway, read the whole thing.

In actuality, snipers, like special operations soldiers, score low on PTSD because their selection and training inoculate them against stress. Confidence helps; Kyle says “When I face God there is going to be lots of thins I will have to account for, but killing any of those people is not one of them.” A sniper never fires a shot he hasn’t thought about on several levels, and most organizations try to select snipers who are plegmatic and grounded. It’s not shocking, then, that they could do their duty and remain well-adjusted. Contrary to popular myth, there was no great PTSD epidemic among the World War II bomber crews, or submariners whose actions condemned hundreds to watery graves. They did their job, they went home and got on with their lives. That’s what’s normal; the Hollywood “tripwire vet” isn’t.

Some special operations troops are suspicious of the PTSD diagnosis. They see its application widespread among troops who saw little or no combat, and who often had pre-service mental problems. Certainly the physician who promoted the idea of PTSD was an antimilitary activist, looking for ways to undermine the services; that history is well explored in the book Stolen Valor by Burkett and Whitley. But Special Forces and other high-risk military specialties may be suffering lower levels of combat stress (PTSD if you must) because they are so well stress-inoculated in their training, as to leave them resilient in the face of stress.

That resilience isn’t unlimited. In a conversation with a special operations psychologist (a big frog in that very small pond) last year, he described advising a certain legendary commander that specific individuals had hit the wall and needed a break. The commander felt he had to deploy them anyway… and they wound up having issues that imperiled the mission. Commander became a big supporter of combat psychology. As for the guys? After a period of psychological recharging, a stressed operator’s stress levels can be reset. And thanks to stress inoculation, he’s performing at a higher level than the average guy again.

First Detachable Magazine… was it Lee’s?

A couple of days ago, we addressed the question: what was the first detachable box magazine?

Since then, another approach occurred to us, when trying to confirm Borchardt’s primacy. And it led us to something we’d only hinted at before. Looking at the word PATENT engraved on the side of a Borchardt magazine, what about Borchardt’s patents? All US patents are trivially searchable at Google’s patent server (hugely superior to the USPTO’s own search, or the IBM patent server we used to use).

The Google server has its limitations, mostly due to the limits of the Optical Character Recognition software used to turn images into searchable text.. .Borchardt comes out as JUKCHARDT in one of his patents. But beginning with patent numbers off one of his later pistols, and a list of patent numbers on his Wikipedia entry, we examined all his claims.

And, while he claimed putting the magazine in the grip for a compact pistol, he didn’t claim the detachable magazine, period. Now, was that because he thought it was obvious,and therefore not patentable; or because there was prior art? 19th-Century patents were generally less informative about prior art than current ones, but we were able to work back through the inventions of Arthur F. Bellinger, probably employed by E. Remington and Sons in upstate New York, to the patents of James Paris Lee, definitely associated with Remington — one of the eponymous sons witnessed some of Lee’s patent applications.

And that led us to paydirt: Lee’s patent of Novembet 4, 1879, Number 221,328. As Lee wrote in his patent claim:

The detachable magazine D, provided with the cavity m, and the inwardly projecting shoulders o and r, or their equivalents…

A detachable magazine or cartridge-holder D, having its front and rear ends of different lengths, with one of its sides or edges open for the insertion and removal of the cartridges, and provided with a spring-follower and cartridge retaining devices.

The same patent also shows a magazine bearing a slight similarity to the rotary magazine used on Krag and later Johnson rifles, but the simpler magazine is the one that went into production.

For the Lee box magazine wasn’t just a patent. It was produced, albeit in small numbers, in 1879, 1882, and 1889 versions, both as military and sporting rifles. (The Navy bought a few of the military rifles). Many of them have survived and they regularly show up on GunBroker, generally in .45-70 and .30-40 calibers. Lee had many other inventions — one of his bolt actions used a straight-pull mechanism.

The Lee rifles also contained a feature that’s a very quaint anachronism today, when even our sniper rifles tend to be semiautomatic and an infantry squad has more mad-minute firepower than a battalion of the Indian Wars era. You see, repeating rifle technology was at once wanted and feared by Army leaders of the era. They were concerned that the troops would blaze away and waste ammunition, running out, or at least, overtaxing supply trains. So the Lee could be used as a repeater with the magazine in, or, if the magazine was removed, a small steel piece blanked the opening so that .45-70 rounds could be single-loaded. It does seem strange to us now, with even our pistols holding 15 rounds, but many patents of the period provided some method for the rifle to convert between economical single-shot use to magazine-fed rapid fire. Remington’s Bellinger got a patent for adding a second notch to the Lee magazine, letting it stay in the magwell but drop down out of engagement with the bolt, allowing single loading.

So far we have not found a rival to Mr Lee for primacy of design, so the present state of our knowledge is this: James P. Lee appears to be the original inventor of the detachable box magazine. Hugo Borchardt, conversely, appears to be the first designer whose weapon shipped with spare magazines (the Lee mags were generally furnished one-per-rifle).

Of course, this is research, so it’s all liable to be overturned by tomorrow’s finding. What fun!

(Images: Apart from the patent drawings, from this thread at Many more images of an original 1879 Remington-Lee there, and much further information including tech on the magazine).


“Opportunities are available in all walks of life,” sang the Kinks, “in Australia” in their 1969 concept album Arthur. The song works a little better than that sounds; it was inspired by Ray Davies’s brother-in-law Arthur Anning, who did emigrate to Australia.

And the Australians are keen on some emigrants today. Like, for instance, special forces veterans.

US SF and the Australian SAS have always been close — closer than the Australian SOF and amphib shop is to its British forebears, who look down their noses a bit at the colonials.

This Australian Army page lists some of the openings they had for “Overseas Applicants” in the 2011-2012 recruitment cycle, which is past, but they certainly will have a 12-13 cycle as well. If you root around a bit in the page, you can find the naval and air forces openings as well. They’re looking for SOF officers and NCOs, among other skills.

So what do the Australians do? Among other things, they’ve been mixing it up in Afghanistan since very early in the war. This link takes you to a trailer for a very recent (November 2011) Australian TV documentary on YouTube. And this link lets you watch the whole documentary, a piece at a time. Weapons buffs will enjoy spotting the first-rate guns and optics in Australian SAS service (looks like they’re running H&K 416s and Elcans, and other top-shelf hardware). Everyone else will just be glad the Diggers are on our side.

You know, the US Army would benefit a lot fom a similar willingness to accept NCOs and officers from elsewhere in the Anglosphere. Imagine the cross-pollination that could get going. The Aussies have a Pacific orientation. The New Zealanders and Canadians are accustomed to doing more with less (but Canada does require French and English bilingualism for officers and NCOs, a high hurdle for most Yanks to jump). The Brits bring a certain Old World sensibility and their legendary dry humour to what would otherwise be a tawdry brawl.

The SOF forces of the English-speaking nations already use interoperable weapons, communications and logistical equipment. In fact, most of the Coalition SOF who work with our people in Afghanistan are using the M4A1 carbine (or an equivalent, like the C8 or HK416), a version of the FN Minimi LMG, and other weapons that Americans know. The British have a niche in making some of the best communications and Electronic Warfare/intercept radios in the world.

In the military world, the Anglosphere is more than just a concept. For all intents and purposes, the security clearances of the five nations are interchangeable, and to a very great extent the SOF of the nations are interoperable in the field. If we ran this program internationally on a bigger scale, it would let the nation facing a threat or crisis plus-up  while relieving nations enjoying peacetime conditions of some expenses. Win-win. And the SOF guys who moved from nation to nation would increase their skills in unimaginable ways. Win-win-win.

However, the US military’s, and particularly the Army’s, personnel bureaucracy is entrenched, massive, and slow-moving, kind of like Jabba the Hutt without the grace and lightness of tread. Kalev Seoo calls it “PPPP,” Persistence of Peacetime Personnel Practices, and it’s one of the reasons we’re being beaten in Afghanistan.

But anyway, Australia is there for you. And the Pacific is going to get more interesting (in the ancient Chinese definition), particularly with the current US administration’s plans for de facto unilateral disarmament. The Aussies are going to have to step up.

Hat tip:, which appears to have missed that this was last year’s recruiting push.

PBS lectures us on science and engineering…

…so, pray tell, what’s wrong with this picture?

Maybe the gap is in really enigmatic engineering, and we are so tragically un-hip that we haven’t learnt the neologism yet. Maybe. This little gem aired in the middle of a video thumbsucker on how the US is failing at science and engineering education.

Well, if they say so. Fortunately we have the liberal arts grads in the media to hold things together. That’s gonna work, right?




Keith aka “Jack” Idema Reported Dead

Keith Idema, whom we’ve known for some decades, is reported dead. Idema is a former member of the 10th and 11th (Army Reserve) Special Forces Groups. He left both units under a cloud, which was how most of his relationships with humans and institutions ended. He died — if he is truly dead — alone, hiding from the law in Mexico, his reputation long ruined, suffering from diseases brought on by his own character deficiencies.

We could tell many tales of Idema, but will just tell two.

In the Special Forces Qualification Course, he was caught stealing food from teammates’ rucksacks, but managed to charm his way out of the normal dismissal for character problems. This is same kind of hollowness of character that led to his troubles in 10th and 11th Groups, and in many other places, and the same kind of manipulative charm gave him many a fresh start. That’s one. The second will take longer.

In late 2001, he journeyed on his own to Afghanistan, seeking Osama bin Laden, the reward, and above all celebrity. All the Special Forces vets he contacted declined to join him, but he picked up a TV produce and an impressionable young vet of the 82nd. He wound up giving interviews to Fox News and various newspapers, claiming he was a CIA agent (they’re actually CIA “officers,” and Idema was never one) and that he was a “Delta” operator (Idema was never a member of any special operations unit except the two groups mentioned above, both of which he left in disgrace with radioactive NCO evaluation reports).

Hot tip for the general public: in military special operations, failure is not a ticket to the next tier up.

On his return from this trip to Afghanistan, Idema befriended elderly, ill (with Parkinson’s), decent old writer Robin Moore, who had been given unprecedented access to the officers and men of Task Force Dagger, the men who liberated Afghanistan. Moore’s manuscript was finished, and Idema offered to review it. Instead, Idema rewrote it, making himself the hero of the piece (he had no connexion with Task Force Dagger or any other official effort, and made no contribution to the victory). He capped this fraud by deleting a reference to a charity that Moore wanted to support, and adding donation information for two nonexistent “charities” that paid into his own account. Nice.

But he still wasn’t done. Recently, taking his version of the manuscript, he reportedly put it in the Amazon Kindle store — minus any credit to Robin Moore, who has died. Meanwhile, the few who have seen the pre-Idema version of the manuscript cringe over the damage Idema did to the reputations of both Robin Moore and the 5th Special Forces Group . Fortunately, both have reputations which will allow them to be remembered with honor long after Idema is forgotten. And that’s the second window into Keith Idema’s character, in all its twists and turns.

The Fayetteville Observer.has the following report:

Notorious former Special Forces soldier Jonathan “Jack” Keith Idema has died at his home in Bacalar, Mexico, according to several sources.

Idema, a former Fayetteville resident who was sentenced to prison in Afghanistan on torture charges in 2004, had been sick with AIDS, said his former girlfriend, Penny Alesi of Connecticut.

Idema was a controversial figure whose high-profile antics were the subject of scorn by former soldiers, some of whom considered him a fraud. Those who knew him say Idema’s polarizing nature left him with few friends at the end.

There’s quite a bit more at the link, strangely balanced despite the reporter’s inability to find anyone who’d say an unqualified good word about Keith.

A Mexican news site also contains a story about Idema.”‘El Rambo”‘is dead: victim of AIDS, in his home in Bacalar; US embassy notified.”

For you Spanish speakers, a taste:

Víctima del Síndrome de Inmunodeficiencia Adquirida (Sida) falleció en su domicilio en Bacalar, Jonathan Keith “Jack” Idema, ex boina verde del ejército de Estados Unidos y caza recompensas, quien en agosto de 2010 fue denunciado por violencia intrafamiliar, violación, privación ilegal de la libertad personal y peligro para la salud de las personas, en agravio de su entonces pareja sentimental Penny Alesio, además de tener cuentas pendientes en su país por fraude. La muerte de esta persona fue reportada al número de emergencias 066, debido que sus amigos y familiares dejaron de frecuentarlo.

¿Inglés, por favor? (bear in mind, this is a weapons man’s translation. Well, OK,  an 18F too).

Victim of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) perished in his home in Bacalar, Jonathan Keith “Jack” Idema, ex Green Beret in the US Army and bounty hunter, who was charged [in Mexico] in 2010 with domestic violence, rape, illegal deprivation of personal liberty and threatening harm to personal health,  relating to his then-girlfriend Penny Alesi, in addition to outstanding charges of fraud in his own country. His death was reported in a call to 066 (note: Mexican “911”system) [some time after his passing], since his friends and relatives were no longer visiting him.

There is más at the website.

Not everybody tries to be balanced about it. An anti-Idema website is openly crowing (ignore the date on the site, it’s an error). And then they sing “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead.” No, seriously. It starts off over the top and goes wherever “over the top” is from there:

The American traitor Jack Idema died this morning in Mexico from AIDS.

A news report from Mexico confirms that Idema is dead.

A confidential informant reports to this writer that Idema died a very painful death and was abandoned for the last week of his life by his Mexican lackeys when the money ran out.

The Casa Arabi resort that was owned by Idema, and where he died this morning, was said to have been looted and stripped of anything valuable, while Idema lay dying on a filthy blood stained bed vainly begging the looters for food, drink and pain killers.

Idema weighed 98 pounds at death, covered with purple lesions (Kaposi’s Sarcoma) and had pus sores (herpes) all over his genitals and thighs. It was his heroin supplier who found him dead in bed with vomit and feces around him.

It is not clear what happened to the body, but there are unconfirmed reports that it has been thrown into the street and was eaten by wild dogs.

There is much, much more there. Just keep scrolling. Most of this stuff can’t be true, but then again, just the stuff we know about him is bad enough.

In looking for an offsetting, pro-Idema slant, we were trying to find the blog of one of his last remaining supporters, a middle-aged Illinois woman blinded by a crush on him. She called her blog “Cao’s Blog,” but while the site is still there it redirects to a Russian malware site.

Update: “Cao” has a new blog, having given up on the old one.  We believe this post — no words, just two music videos — is her farewell to Keith. One more person impressed by his charm, maybe the only one still believing at the end. It would be easy to pity her if one forgot the vitriol she piled on his victims for years and years.

Can you speak worse of a man, than that his passing leaves the world a better place?

The Answer is Obvious

As graduates of Benning School for Boys, we were interested to see this.

Mike Crumbley of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says feral hogs are a major problem at Fort Benning. He says they’re also encroaching into Columbus.

…but a little mystified that they’re having a hard time imagining a solution. The disposal of some problem hogs has been outsourced:

Rod Pinkston, who owns an animal control company, says those hogs were tracked using night-vision scopes and then blasted with a shotgun.

And they’ve sent to Auburn University for some expertise. In what, semiotics? For crying out loud, this is Fort Freaking Benning, the home of the Infantry. There are tens of thousands of qualified (and bacon-loving) shooters, and all the AR-15s they could possibly ever need. (True, some of the M16s are a little rattly after passing through the sore and tired hands of sixty or seventy Ranger classes). Why hire the skills you already have?

Really, it’s not like they didn’t generate a Final Solution to the hog problem once before:

The Ledger-Enquirer reports that base officials … once put a $3 bounty on a hog’s tail to reduce their numbers.

If they were really thinking, they’d charge the GIs $3 per hog, and put the money towards a wounded warrior charity. (And the PX would sell a bunch of freezers. Cha-chingg!). All problems solved for the base officials, irate gardeners, broke familes, bored riflemen, and even the hogs. It’s not like they’d have any more worries, right?

Snipers: Own your old M24

Remington Defense has the contract for the new XM2010 sniper rifle replacing the venerable M24. And they came up with a very clever idea. The M2010s are being built from the old M24s, in part, but a lot of parts are going to be left over: the 2010 is a .300WM, detachable magazine, chassis-and-rails-stocked system. So, anticipating a warehouse full of M24 parts, Remington did a dope deal with the DOD: they are going to give Uncle Sam a better price, if they can form the leftover M24 parts into rebuilt M24s for, primarily, the ex-sniper market. Uncle has signed off, and so Remington will take the bulk of an M24, add a new action, 5R-rifled barrel, and other parts as necessary, and sell the weapons off. Complete with whatever war paint military snipers put on the parts; Remington warns that the colors may not match real well, and buyers don’t get their choice.

You can find out how to participate on their web site.

The site says: “Initially, sales will only be offered to military or former military personnel holding a sniper school diploma. Check back to this page for updates on expanded eligibility.”

Throughout 2012 they’ll be metered out in priority order to:

1. School-trained snipers, serving and former.

2. Other service members active and reserve components.

3. Retired soldiers.

4. Federal agents

5. State and local Law Enforcement.

The price of the package is $3,500 (it may change, as original serviceable parts are depleted). That may sound like a lot of money, but for a proven sniper system with the M24 pedigree, it’s nothing. I expect that collectors will be trying to put the arm on snipers to buy these, and then make safe queens out of them. That’s the way the free market rolls.

Friends of ours were involved with the development of the M24 and the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC) that taught how to exploit it and its mil-dot scope. (SOTIC has been replaced by the Special Forces Sniper Course, SFSC).

Everybody on an SF team has at least some cross-training and trigger time on the M24, but the weapons were assigned to individuals — usually, but not always, 18Bs — and stored zeroed and ready to go. (Conversely, there was a tendency for your M4 or M16 to change and have to zero your optics or sights anew from time to time).

Update: Remington has described what’s in these systems in some detail.

Each M24-R will feature a brand new M24 receiver, M24 24” 5R barrel, M24 fire control and possibly several additional new parts, as necessary to make the weapon safe and functional. The remainder of the weapon is primarily comprised of returned US Army M24 components to include the optics base, rings, optics, iron sights, deployment kit, sling, bipod and hard cases. Some of these parts may be new if sold as a complete system; however some components may not be present if not available. Serviceable system components will be used as returned from the Army, many of them painted by snipers. No special selections on paint schemes will be offered.

The M24Rs will include the Leupold scope with its laser-engraved mil-dot reticle. No word yet whether any of them will be the 10×42 Ultra M3A that SF originally specified for the system in 1988. Ten years later, the Army cheaped out and changed to the 10X40 Mark IV, a quality scope but not in the M3A’s class. The M24R does not include the M144 spotting scope that is a component of the GI system. The first few M-24Rs may also include a soft drag bag as well as the Hardigg hard case (not the same case we had in Group, we had a deep Pelican). For someone needing a 7.62mm precision rifle, or a collector seeking the ultimate GWOT trophy, this is a heck of a deal. (The Army and LE agencies pay about $9k for this system new).

More on this as it develops. Now that we’ve blogged it, we can ethically place an order…

Hat tip: Army Times.


What’s a JSOTF? Fisking Thpenther Ackerman (long)

The worst of the writers on the worst website on defense matters is legendary Internet Tough Guy Spencer Ackerman, or as the SF community refers to him, Thpenther. It’s not that he can’t write coherently: he can (well, it isn’t really difficult, is it?) It’s that he’s a glaring example of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome every time he addresses something military.

When young (class of 2002) Thpenther writes about special operations forces, about which he knows less than a tiger knows of thermodynamics, hilarity ensues. Since no one in SF reads his stuff, it takes a while for us to be asked about it. A typical example of his expertise will be autopsied momentarily.  But first, a capsule bio.

Thpenther is one of several writers for Wired’s “Danger Room,” the tragically-hip tech magazine’s take on the military and defense subjects. It’s one of the least trustworthy sites on the net — which is a hell of an assertion to make. Butf you want to see what happens when you get a bunch of sunken-chested, prison-pallor, passive-aggressive urban Jewish high-verbal, low-math nerds writing about the military, go there. Yet some people take their stuff seriously. Christ knows why.

Thpenther likes to talk tough: he’s always throwing someone through a plate glass window, verbally of course, or suggesting that some third party bigger and stronger than he (Bradley Manning, perhaps, or Lady Gaga) will beat someone up. But for a guy much given to bella in verbum, he’s rather cowardly in physicality, not to mention in the moral dimension. His country’s been at war for ten-plus years, and far from visiting the recruiting office, he prefers to snipe and snark at those doing the work he considers beneath him and his little tribe at “Danger Room.” (Where’s the danger? “Danger, danger! The WiFi’s slow again!!”) He has actually nicknamed himself (in our world, doing that is a poseur’s faux pas) “attackerman,” when the only attacks he had or could make come steaming off a computer keyboard. And have an effective range of zero meters.

So, Thpenther’s subject today is a mysterious entity called a JSOTF — a Joint Special Operations Task Force. Specifically JSOTF-GCC, which Thpenther theems… excuse us, seems… to think is some kind of SPECTRE on steroids, rubbing people out with blind abandon. Unfortunately, the real case is rather more dull and boring.

OK, here’s what a Joint Special Operations Task Force really is: a headquarters element for a deployed special operations effort. It may be a combat effort or a training one, or have elements of both. Because it is “Joint” it may include members of all services but it’s usually built around the headquarters staff of a special forces group. All elements of Special Forces, at all sizes from ODA on up, can fall in on staff functions and cover them as necessary. The SEALs work the same way and we can (and do) all interoperate on JSOTFs. The staff functions are:

S1: Personnel

S2: Intelligence

S3: Operations

S4: Logistics

S5: Civil-Military Operations

S6: Signal

“S” level staffs are for units commanded by a colonel and below. “G” level staffs are for units commanded by a general. “J” level staffs are joint at any level (joint meaning multi-service). Not all staff functions are manned on all staffs — a Joint Task Force by definition is task-organized towards a specific mission. One JTF may need a logistical or intel plus-up. Another may not need a signal officer on staff.

A Joint Special Operations Task Force is different from any other JTF only in that the operations it plans, organizes, commands and supports are special operations, and the people doing the operating (and a good deal of the supporting) come from special operations’ many units. From Joint Pub 3-05.1 (p. I-6):

A JSOTF is a joint task force (JTF) composed of SO units from more than one Service, formed to carry out a specific SO or prosecute SO in support of a theater campaign or other operations. The JSOTF may have conventional non-SO units assigned or attached to support the conduct of assigned missions.

“Special Operations Forces”  does not equate to James Bond: one of us does not crack the safe whilst the other keeps the sexy KGB lady busy between the sheets. (We suspect that sexy KGB ladies have a higher incidence in fiction than reality, but alas, we have no live sightings to report). It means they are specially selected, trained, and equipped. They still don their trousers one leg at a time.

Every active-duty Special Forces Group conducts some kind of exercise in which it sets up an SFOB or JSOTF annually, unless it’s actually doing it deployed. A JSOTF can be as small as a dozen officers and men, or it might comprise hundreds of special operations troops and supporters. And, unlike the units that services create, like SEAL Team Three or the 7th Special Forces Group, task-organized JSOTFs exist for the duration of the task alone.

To add to the deadly dull nature of the factual rebuttal of Thpenther’s hyperbole, let’s quote us some more doctrine. From the version of Joint Pub 3-05.1: Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Joint Special Operations Task Force Operations that we had handy:

A JSOTF may be tailored to accomplish any of the SO principal missions. These are: direct action, combatting terrorism, foreign internal defense, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, psychological operations, civil affairs, information operations (IO), and counterproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. A JSOTF also may conduct collateral activities using inherent capabilities. SO collateral activities are: coalition support, combat search and rescue, counterdrug activities, humanitarian de-mining, foreign humanitarian assistance, security assistance, and other special activities. As one element of the joint force, the JSOTF must be capable of accomplishing any of the above stated missions or collateral activities. (p. x Executive Summary)

Now, this is the 2001 version and it is somewhat aged doctrine. It is quite reasonable and possible for a JSOTF in 2012 to have as primary missions, missions that were thought to be collateral in the days before 9/11. Specifically, Coalition Support in a FID environment.

Most of the combat-oriented JSOTFs are CJSOTFs — the C meaning “Combined,” which is a term of art meaning that foreign and allied forces participate. The JSOTF-GCC is a unilateral, or US-only, JSOTF which does support our Gulf Cooperation Council allies. The GCC is well described in many places online, but essentially it is a group of small nations who want a big brother — the USA — to keep them from being trod upon by the regional bullies.  So, now that you know more facts about JSOTFs than Thpenther can fit into a brain bulging with unmerited self-regard, let’s take a few lines of his artticle and apply the Mjolnir of truth to them. Trust us: this’ll leave a mark.

It’ll be easy to tell Thpenther’s words from ours below. His will be indented and italicized. Not to mention, dishonest and stupid. Let’s begin with the headline:

Exclusive: New U.S. Commando Team Operating Near Iran.

Er, no. a JSOTF plans, organizes and supports. “Operating” kind of implies it’s moving around. In this case, JSOTF-GCC is in Bahrain. Thursday it will still be in Bahrain. It is true, it is near Iran. That is because Iran is about 180 miles away on the other side of the Persian Gulf. We considered putting the JSOTF further from Iran to please Internet Tough Guy and armchair general Spencer Ackerman, but the problem with supporting the GCC is that you can’t do it smashingly well from Botswana. You need to be where the GCC is. Mirabile dictu, that’s in Bahrain.

Shocking, isn’t it, that despite not being nearly as smart as Thpenther they managed to hit Bahrain with the JSOTF first shot.

…the U.S. has a previously unacknowledged weapon in reserve: a new special operations team…

You mean, the “previously unacknowledged ” JSOTF that’s been on all kinds of publicly available briefing slides for years now? The one the commander of was at the SOLIC conference in 2010, presenting, with his title and duty station on the slides? That one?

Honest, Thpenther, when Mommy leaves the room she doesn’t disapper. We know you’re young, but didn’t think you were that young. And just because you didn’t  know about it — you, who know little and understand nothing of the military — doesn’t mean that the information is new. Sure, it’s new to you. Sure, it’s new to the gormless hordes who choose to rely on your overwrought “scoops” of publicly available information. But that’s not the same as being new. 

Danger Room has confirmed with the U.S. Special Operations Command that a new elite commando team is operating in the region.

Hmmm. Catching up on public information from three years ago may be a scoop in Thpenther’s playpen.

The primary, day-to-day mission of the team, known as Joint Special Operations Task Force-Gulf Cooperation Council, is to mentor military units belonging to the U.S.’ oil-rich Arab allies, who collectively are known as the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Gee, how about that. A doctrinal FID and Coalition-Support JSOTF. Stop the presses! Oh wait, he’s an Internet Tough Guy, not a Print Tough Guy.

The U.S. military has not previously acknowledged the existence of the team, known as JSOTF-GCC for short.

This is, as noted above, just a lie. And he keeps misusing the word team which is a term of art with specific meanings in special operations.

The unit began its existence in mid-2009

Actually, the unit replaced previous coalition-supoort arrangements in 2009. We didn’t just suddenly start doing special operations training with the UAE, Qatar, and other Gulf Arab forces, we’ve been doing it for forty years. They’ve paid us back in myriad ways, whether it’s buying our defense equipment (which increases production, reducing the unit costs we pay for the stuff our warfighters need) or actually deploying alongside our own Special Operations Forces here and there. GCC liaison officers have been, unlike Thpenther, instrumental in the war on islamist terrorism.

[W]hatever the task force does about Iran — or might do in the future — is a sensitive subject with the military.

Translation: No matter how much I insisted this was a move on Iran, I couldn’t get the SO world’s PR guys to agree with me.

“It would be inappropriate to discuss operational plans regarding any particular nation,” [an SOF spokesman] says about Iran.

A classic non-answer, used by Thpenther to support innuendo directly contradicting what the guy said.

There is no direct evidence that JSOTF-GCC has been involved in offensive action against Iran.

“However, that won’t stop us in the Danger Room tree house from hinting that it is!”

It is unlikely, for instance, that JSOTF-GCC killed Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan last week, an assassination the U.S. has firmly denied any role in and for which the Israelis, reports Eli Lake of Newsweek, are all but openly taking credit.

“But we’ll just let the innuendo hang here a while longer. We don’t expect Thpenther to believe this, his idea of what the military does having been formed by Steven Seagal movies and long sessions with his PlayStation, but a JSOTF doesn’t do assassinations. None ever did.

Some special-operations veterans — who did not wish to be identified or quoted — downplayed the significance of the new task force, expecting it to primarily advise Gulf nations on how to train their own forces, and speculated that its actual role against Iran was indirect at most.

We’re shocked, shocked, that SOF veterans don’t want to be a part of one of Thpenther’s stories. We can’t imagine why. But we note that these veterans, stipulating that they exist outside Thpenther’s PlayStation, are telling him the same thing we’re saying: this isn’t much of a story. But who’s he going to believe, the special ops vets or the voices in his head telling him to go “ZOMG elite commando killaz!!!1!!1! Operating near Iran!!!1!!!1!!”  We’ve already seen the answer.

Col. Tim Nye, the chief spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command, says the task force is responsible “for coordinating all SOF [Special Operations Forces] engagements and training with Gulf Cooperation Council nations.”

OK, so the voices un his head won out over the special ops vets and the senior spokesman for USSOCOM, who unlike the voices went on the record. You could call this journalistic malpractice, if you thought journolists [sic] had standards.

The special operations forces of those nations have shown a notable improvement over the past year.

This is the considered professional judgment of Thpenther Ackerman, Internet Tough Guy. What is his analysis rubric? What metrics has he based this on? What was his baseline? Was it the Hell Week of meeting deadlines on the campus paper? The veritable Star Course meets Nasty Nick of writing for the Washington Independent? Or the grueling Reistance Training Lab that the combat stress of making empty threats has put him through?

Or maybe he’s just typing words and making shit up.

Qatari commandos quietly traveled to Libya ahead of Moammar Gadhafi’s downfall to prepare Libyan rebels for the successful capture of Tripoli. The United Arab Emirates, another close U.S. ally, has also made its elite forces a priority, even hiring Blackwater’s founder to bolster their training.

Gee, what were they doing last year? Ten years ago? Would you believe we have friends who have been involved with some of these forces for twenty years? Maybe the tale of improvement isn’t just since Thpenther noticed these elements, new to him, ever the baby duck of defense analysts.

Not many details are available about the task force.

Thorter Thpenther: I don’t have facts so stand by while I make some up. (Note that we have, by posting two short excerpts from an unclassified manual that he was too lazy to look up, or too ignorant to imagine existed, supplied more facts than he was able to find). Tell you what, we’ll throw in an org chart from the same manual. This is a notional (as there’s no real “typical”) JSOTF:


Of course, you probably need a military background, or at least a willingness to learn, to truly understand the chart. The J-5 is now usually CMO, and Plans is now an adjunct to J-3.

It’s built around Naval Special Warfare Unit Three, one of the elite Navy SEAL teams.

NSWU != Seal Team. Tio understand the SEALs in depth, skip the Charlie Sheen movie that informs Thpenther’s analysis and read Dick Couch’s books. Dick, unlike Thpenther, writes only what he knows to be fact. We doubt Thpenther has ever heard of him.

But the “Joint” in the task force’s name signals that it draws from the special-operations forces in the Army, Air Force and Marines as well. Its commander is a Navy captain or equivalent in a different service.

There is a specific Joint Manning Document defining every JSOTF, and yes, positions can be filled with a qualified person from any of the services. The JMD specifies an O6 as a commander, a Captain (Navy) or Colonel (other services).  Usually the bulk of the JSOTF is from one command (like a single Special Forces Group or a NSWU) , plussed up by logistics and communications elements, with a lot of individual gaps plugged by people pulled from other units or qualified volunteers from the reserves. So here Thpenther, his canines gripping a rare fact, is trying to sell common, boring knowledge as an underpinning for a “scoop.”

Two more facts that Thpenther is missing: (1) the unit forming the framework of a JSOTF periodically rotates out, and (2) it is the commander of the incumbent framework unit that most commonly has the JSOTF command. However, NSWU-3 has been resident in Bahrain for quite a while. And a little google-fu tells you what it does, in its officers’ and sailors’ own words. Example.

Officials would not identify missions of the task force, its leadership or its headquarters.

How dare they.

Even if JSOTF-GCC is primarily a training team

Translation: even if what the responsible officers told me is true, despite my determination to cling to my fantasy instead…

Again, let’s look at what the supply officer of NSWU-3 said the unit’s mission was, two years ago in print and on the internet:

… a unit that functions as the command and control element, logistics base, and the principal planner for all SEAL detachments in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR).

The Naval Special Warfare Unit’s mission to provide support to NSW Forces deployed within their respective AOR has changed from emphasizing direct logistics support, to ensuring logistics integration within the theater of operations. This change provides the Logistics Officers at the NSWU the unique opportunity to work in both the NSW community and the joint arena through interaction with their respective Theater Special Operations Commands (TSOC).

That’s probably a bit acronym-heavy for an Internet Tough Guy. Too bad. But let’s pick up Thpenther’s sentence, already in progress:

“…when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the U.S. could reopen the [Strait of Hormuz by force, there might be an elite commando team nearby to help do it.”

Er, unlike Thpenther, we’re not experts in naval warfare, but we’re thinking the Navy has a plan for doing that, in which special operatiions forces play a variety of peripheral roles. To open a closed strait, one probably needs those big grey steel ship things. And maybe some of the black underwater ones. Just sayin’.

We could continue this fisking line by line but this is already over 3000 words of ignorance and vitriol — his ignorance, our vitriol. We’ve seen enough of this report to dispose of any notions of Spencer Ackerman’s “journolistic [stet] integrity,” the quotes reminding us that integrity means something very different to an attention-craving, sensation-pimping reporter than it does to an operator. Let’s wrap up this post by clearly contrasting his character with that of the sort of person he impugns with his “work.”

Meet Ben Wise.(.pdf). Ben is no longer with us, or more to the point, with his wife, two sons and daughter, or his surviving brother, parents, and teammates. He was not a lot older than Thpenther, but the exact opposite of an Internet Tough Guy; we didn’t know him personally but we know many like him, and we knew him and his two brothers by reputation. As unique as Benjamin Wise’s life of selfless service was, he’s as typical a member of the special operations profession as you’re going to find, a guy whose toughness was real and not an effete Washington hanger-on’s internet pose. His older brother was a SEAL and then went on to put his life on the line for the officers of another institution that Thpenther frequently revles from his comfy chair, the CIA. Jeremy Wise was killed by terrorists in 2009. Ben died of small-arms wounds on January 15th. These men and those like them do not deserve Ackerman’s supercilious contempt.

But he surely deserves theirs, and ours.

If he wants to prove us wrong, there’s even a recruiting office in Washington, although the sergeant or petty officer there is probably lonelier than the Maytag repairman. Hot tip, bro: when the phone doesn’t ring, it’s noted combat expert Spencer Ackerman not calling.


SEALs vs. Cops… Cowboys vs. Aliens?

So, when the SEALs are squaring off against the cops, we can’t help but think of last summer’s popcorn movie, Cowboys vs. Aliens. We guess Hollywood doesn’t have any choice if they want to make a cowboy movie, because fighting Indians isn’t PC any more. But how do SEALs wind up fighting cops?

You might have already guessed that alcohol was involved. Why, yes, indeedy, it was.

But New York’s bizarre gun laws are also involved, as is the NYPD brass’s preference for collaring the law-abiding who made a technical error, versus the actual criminals who might be connected and make it hard for a guy.

Now, if the SEAL’s commander has authorized the frogman in question to carry, the NYPD is going to have to let him go (whereupon he surely will experience that quaint Naval custom, captain’s mast, for having the firearm and ethanol about his person simultaneously).

A bad day for Shaun Day began mildly enough:

Shaun Day was on a leave from his duty as a Navy SEAL duty when cops nailed him for running a red light in Manhattan, New York on Thursday.

Or as the inimitable New York Post phrased it:

Shaun Day, 29, was on a two-week leave when cops harpooned him for running a red light at 12:30 a.m. at Second Avenue and East 26th Street.

Then it got worse:

NYPD officers searched Day’s pickup truck and found a 9mm semiautomatic pistol and three magazines full of ammo.

In New York, you can incite murder and riot, and the mayor’s your pal. You can call for jihad and celebrate the massacre of thousands, and they’ll invite you to build your Mosque de Triomphe on the embers. But you better not carry a gun, unless you’re a violent criminal, or politically connected, in which case the cops show you professional courtesy.

So it was bad for Day. But it hadn’t got as bad as it was going to get. At this point, he told the cops that he was a SEAL. “Prove it,” said the cops, expecting him to produce a SEAL Affinity MasterCard or maybe a secret decoder ring. Laughing at his SEAL story, the cops lugged him, but not to jail. Bloomberg’s new welcome for vets is the Cuckoo’s Nest: Day was thrown into the psych ward in Bellevue.

The Navy sent their own pshrink and sprung Day from from the laughing academy — even if he were mentally ill, that wing of Bellevue is not a hospital that ever makes any patient better — and brought him back to his base. We bet he’s really glad he let the nice cops search his truck. (Ask any lawyer about this. There is only one right answer. The one PO Day gave — or that the cops say he gave — isn’t it).

The rebarbative politician/DA Cy Vance, Jr., has “deferred” but not dropped the charges against Day. After all, to quote that great philosopher from the pages of Carroll,Humpty Dumpty, “The question is, who is to be master  — that’s all.