Why Special Forces Are America's Tool Of Choice In Colombia And Around The Globe
One lesson the Special Forces try to impart is the value of letting lower-ranking soldiers--the NCOs--make real decisions. A unit can become paralyzed if it has to wait for an officer to issue every instruction, but the tradition dies hard, especially in Latin American armies. The Special Forces' own example, where it is the sergeants who have the expertise and do the training, makes the case best. Watching Gadoury's A-Team, Herrera's soldiers are impressed. Sean attends Herrera's daily staff meeting; Pedro, the intelligence sergeant, works daily with his counterpart. The A-Team is tied into the Colombians' radio net.
In Gadoury's case, of course, it doesn't hurt that the path here has been blazed by other Americans, or rather by one in particular: Sander "Booger" Kinsall, a legendary Special Forces character and world-class schmoozer, who has been dispatched by the U.S. Embassy in Bogota to help get the mission off the ground. A quintessential Green Beret gone native, Kinsall has spent 19 years in Latin America. "I'm absolutely loyal to the U.S.A.," he says, tucking a tobacco chew beneath his lip. "I just prefer to live down here." Blond and full of blarney, Kinsall owns a farm in Panama, has a Panamanian wife, and angles for new assignments in the region every chance he gets. Like Sergeant Petersen in John Wayne's The Green Berets, Kinsall works his dog-eared notebook of phone numbers until he finds spare parts, a chain saw, an unused motorcycle--whatever Gadoury's men need. If he takes credit every once in a while for the good deeds someone else has pulled off, what the heck, he still delivers.
A good thing, too. Gadoury and his men know they will see precious few American planes over Colombia if President Bush authorizes combat activity in Iraq. U.S. spy planes are already being diverted. Logistical challenges are constant, since the 18th Brigade has no airlift capability of its own. Occidental Petroleum lets the Colombians use its Bell and Russian-made HIP helicopters to ferry troops, supplies, and casualties. But it's catch as catch can.
Ask the Special Forces operators in Arauca and Saravena, and they'll tell you how they could be doing more, if they had more resources and fewer restrictions on their mission. Cameron, a burly young engineering sergeant whom teammates call the "eating machine," believes the Colombians need a fast-roping tower and demolition training so they can clear helicopter landing zones for assaults. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 225-pound former Ranger hankers for more action. He and a few others here have decided to try out for the Delta Force or seek a Mideast assignment with Special Forces A-Teams there.
Other operators here see their mission as critical--but too limited. What they need, they say, is the ability to patrol with the Colombians to make sure what they're teaching them is taking hold. Kinsall saw the same problem, he says, in El Salvador. After training by Special Forces A-Teams, Salvadoran reconnaissance teams ventured out beyond the range of communications and fire support and attempted to engage in combat rather than stick to their surveillance mission. When they took casualties, they blamed the Americans' tactics. Not until the Americans got out to observe them did they discover why things had gone wrong--and correct them. "We're only using 20 percent of our capabilities," Major Correa says, "under the current rules of engagement." As it stands now, the Special Forces will help the Colombians plan their culminating exercise--a real combat operation in guerrilla territory--but will wave goodbye to them at the base's gate.