’Chosen Soldier’: ’Our most essential warrior’
“We are currently locked in an insurgent war, one that’s likely to go on for a very long while,” writes Dick Couch, author of Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior and many other books. Chosen Soldier is the main book I’ll be blogging about this summer. This niche of the military—the Green Berets—is a significant detail of a larger issue that will figure prominently, not only in the upcoming election, but also in our nation’s near future and that of the rest of the free world.
This war with terrorists and religious radicals in the Middle East has made both our technology and “conventional military superiority” nearly irrelevant. What’s needed now is getting an “in” with the locals in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. They are the ones who can tell our soldiers who the enemy is. “Simply stated, if we lose or fail to gain the popular support of the people, we lose it all,” writes Couch in the introduction to his book. “Our initial victories in Afghanistan and Iraq will have been for nothing.”
(I’ll leave alone whether or not we should have entered this “war on terror” in the first place. Regardless, we’re in it now. So we have to be savvy about where we are and what we’re now doing there.)
So, we are in a very different war, indeed. (For example, as Anne highlighted and I referred to in my first post on Chosen Soldier, we’re dealing with suicide bombers the age of U.S. high school freshmen.) It is one that requires intelligence as much as—really, much more than—it requires brute strength. And that’s where our branches’ special operation forces come in—namely, Army Special Forces (SF), or Green Berets. As Couch writes, “Special Forces are the most valuable asset on this battlefield. The Special Forces soldier is the most important man in uniform—our most essential warrior.”
“Whereas Navy SEALs and Army Rangers . . . might kick in doors faster, the Green Berets could do that very well, too, as well as deal more effectively with indigenous forces of a very different culture: something that took patience, maturity, and a knack for diplomacy,” writes Robert D. Kaplan, author of Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground, in the foreword to Chosen Soldier. Kaplan continues, “[T]he next few decades will see a blending of the most basic, rudimentary techniques of counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare (in which language skills could trump technology) with the use of heavy bombers and other conventional assets.” Kaplan also indicates the need for SF to undergo innovations and improvements to stay ahead of the curve, so to speak, and avoid “being overtaken by copycats” who watch closely the way SF conducts training.
Speaking of counterinsurgency, or COIN, that’s why SF warriors are “essential”: SEALs have “limited language and cross-cultural skills”; Rangers’ specialty is “small-unit tactics, and while they are capable of teaching this discipline, they’re primarily fighters, not teachers,” writes Couch. While Special Forces don’t possess the maritime ability of the SEALs nor the “self-contained, light-infantry capability” of the Rangers, they can do everything special operations forces need to be able to do. They can do so, “because they are teachers.” Green Berets can work their way into the indigenous locales, and teach them how to battle the enemy insurgents.
“The foundation of this unconventional warrior,” writes Couch, “is his mind-set. His thinking is . . . ‘How many terrorists can I get them to kill—or to expose or expel from their village?”
The SF has been called the “Peace Corps with guns.” Besides battling insurgents, they’re involved in “coalition building, humanitarian activities, conventional-military support, to name a few” other tactics.
So SF not only fight, they infiltrate. They not only infiltrate, they change a culture by teaching skills to the locals to better their world. (I simplistically put it to my friend who’s in SF training that “while SEALs and Rangers are the muscles, SF are the muscles and the brains?” He replied, “Something like that.”) You begin to see how SF is critical to the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. To name an example why: Do you remember that deck of cards depicting Saddam Hussein’s Baathist loyalists? “Thirty-nine of the forty-six rogues in that deck,” writes Couch, “were captured by, or taken into custody as a result of intelligence developed by, Army Special Forces.” In the same way, some bit of intelligence gathered by SF may lead to bin Laden’s capture.
This book “is the story of young men who desperately want to join this elite force and who dedicate themselves to this goal—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.” In the beginning of his introduction, Couch provides the creed of an SF soldier and the motto of Army Special Forces, “De Oppresso Liber.” Two lines, in particular, stand out to me: “I will never surrender though I am the last.” The greatest sacrifice a man can give. And “I serve quietly, not seeking recognition or accolades.” That’s so true: the SF trainee I know brushes off my praise for his accomplishments. He’s not in it for that; he’s in for the skill and the principle of serving. He wants to be with soldiers who definitely take military service seriously. And then I tell him to deal with it (my praise): I’m a mother. Cheerleading those I care about is what I do!
“How will history judge [SF soldiers]?” asks Couch. “Well, I hope,” he answers, “for I firmly believe they stand between us and those who have sworn to again bring terror to our land.”
In the front of his book, Couch has an inscription on the dog tag that rested on the flag-draped, homeward-bound casket of an SF soldier killed in action in Afghanistan in July 2005. It reads:
“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me.”—Isaiah 6:8
(Image © Random House)