Why Special Forces Are America's Tool Of Choice In Colombia And Around The Globe
Once they're in, the job can take them anywhere. The Special Forces soldiers in Colombia have seen action in every major American conflict of the past two decades. Doc Weaver, Major Correa's physician's assistant, is a 23-year Army veteran who was in Panama during the first Bush administration's effort to unseat Manuel Noriega. Sgt. Daniel McInnis, a specialist in psychological operations who works with Special Forces, was among the first Americans into Afghanistan pursuing the Taliban.
While an A-Team must master many difficult skills, only one team in the five assigned to a Special Forces company qualifies for airborne infiltration. Gadoury's team is one of them. The training required to win and maintain that qualification is extraordinary. Every four months, Gadoury's men must complete a series of jumps culminating in a nighttime leap from above 30,000 feet with full combat equipment and oxygen. These are known as HALO jumps--from high altitudes with low openings of parachutes close to the ground. Pedro, Gadoury's intelligence sergeant, has racked up a staggering 1,400 free-fall jumps. As a member of the Army's Golden Knights exhibition team, the sinewy, silver-haired Puerto Rican has jumped into Yankee Stadium before a baseball game and onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid.
All their hours and years of preparation are critical; in Saravena, war has a way of intruding on the boredom.
Gadoury's team has been waiting for trouble. It is, after all, why they are here. One day, their Colombian counterparts get a tip that guerrillas plan to shoot down an aircraft at Saravena's airport, using rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The Americans and the Colombians stage a live-fire demonstration to head off an attack. About an hour before midnight, Art, Gadoury's weapons sergeant, hauls out a bunch of ammo cans and mounts an MK-19 grenade launcher on the back of a humvee. The MK-19 spits out 50 grenades a minute. The humvee has been modified almost beyond recognition. The top has been sawed off; the doors and windshield removed for quick access, egress, and 360-degree firing positions. It looks like a giant convertible, with its exposed gun mount jutting up in the middle like a flagpole. Just outside the front gate of their modest new base, Gadoury's men park the humveee while Sean heads over to the mortar pit with a bunch of illumination rounds. The plan is for the Colombians to get things started, lighting things up with the illumination rounds. Meanwhile, Art primes the MK-19, then sets an M203 grenade launcher and an M240 machine gun on the ground. The Colombians are nearby with their .50-caliber machine guns. This is some serious firepower. The minutes tick by--but no illumination rounds. In the distance, a cow lows. Still no illumination rounds. Sean radios the Colombian captain. The firing pins on the illumination rounds are worn, so they improvise, popping off a red flare. It's party time. Art and the others let loose with their weapons. The jungle seems to vibrate. And the plan, it seems, works. Nearly a month passes with no attack on aircraft coming into or going out of Saravena. But success is never guaranteed. Weeks later, the rebels launch a mortar round at a Colombian C-130. The round misses, by a wide margin.