Michael's Dispatches

Veterans vs. Veterans

13 Comments

28 April 2009

A quick email from Borneo Island:

Day nine of the tracking course was the most interesting so far.  We started with classroom work then headed to the field.  We spent all day in an area that closely resembles many parts of Afghanistan.  It was plenty hot, too.

Unfortunately, I cannot write much detail about today’s course due to the sensitivity of the subject.  The little bit that can be said is that we were training to address the IED threat.

In broad strokes, today’s training involved a team who put out a “mechanical ambush” very similar to those we see in the war.  I went out with a team of four British soldiers who set up the ambush.  All are Afghanistan veterans.  The only difference between today’s ambush and what I have seen in the war is that the British are far more proficient than the enemy, and so the ambush was much better constructed than most of the real ones I have been through.  For instance, the British soldiers used better deceptions than the enemy normally uses, and so in that regard today’s course was actually, I believe, more difficult than what the soldiers will face when they return to the battlefield.  Otherwise, everything was dead on.

The ambush was set and a tracking team moved in to try to detect it.  And so, I saw the ambush being put in, and then tagged along with the soldiers who were trying to detect it without getting flattened in the process.

As we made our way through the hot day, British combat soldiers picked along the trail, tracking the quarry.  Again, the camouflage and deceptions used by the British soldiers who laid the ambush were far better than normal for Afghanistan or Iraq.  Unfortunately, the fascinating details are off limits.  But this is basically what happened: as we approached the ambush that was incredibly difficult to detect, one of the soldiers actually said, “This seems a bit dodgy.”  His eyes practically glowed with recognition that something wasn’t right, but he wasn’t sure what it was.  The ambushers were infantry veterans, so finding the trap was pretty tough.  It was a great test of wits, and I thought it was remarkable that he alerted on something but he wasn’t sure what was going on.  The combat veterans all know that when the little voice speaks, you must listen.  The little voice is right more often than wrong, and usually you don’t even know what’s wrong.  It’s just something.  He alerted and began to pull back to assess and confer, but nobody could crack the code of what was wrong.  Finally, someone made the decision to push just a wee little bit further.  Had this been Afghanistan, that mistake would have been fatal, I think, to three soldiers.  I think a fourth would have been seriously wounded or killed.

This time the ambushers won, but what can be said with certainty was that this tracking training was actually enough to alert the soldier, but his little voice, though heeded, was not quite enough this time.  Again, this ambush was far better than one normally sees in the actual war.  I think that if it were Afghanistan, the very brave but dimwitted Taliban would have blown their cover in this particular instance.

The U.S. military is conducting tracking training.  In fact, the British instructors talk about it every day, and some have gone to the American training, which they say is quite good.  Yet I don’t see American soldiers downrange who use serious tracking skills.  The British instructors actually know a lot of the American tracking-kin, and have invited them to Borneo, but apparently none have come so far.  In any case, the British instructors say our military tracking program is actually very good, but like the British, it’s small by comparison to what could be done.  You can see thousands of soldiers wearing jump wings signifying they’ve gone to jump school -- after having gone through that expensive training --who never jump and have no need to jump.  Parachuting is a completely useless skill for most soldiers.  Useless and expensive.  Tracking training is incredibly useful and cheap.

While I was in Special Forces we conducted a fair amount of tracking and counter-tracking training, but it was nothing this good.

Tomorrow, I’ll start introducing the British instructors.  It is important to point out that they have a standing invitation for American military to come over for jungle training, or tracking training.  They’ve offered that I can stay for the jungle course, but alas it’s about time to get back in the war.

 



Please click here for Part VI of this series on the tracking course in Borneo.

 

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dinah Lord · 10 years ago
    "His eyes practically glowed with recognition that something wasnƒ??t right, but he wasnƒ??t sure what it was."

    Now that's a tracker right there. Goosebump worthy.

    (I sure hope the US powers that be see this series on tracking, Mr. Yon. It sounds like an invaluable tool for the brave men keeping us safe.)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gregg · 10 years ago
    Michael,
    It's great and important that you talk about the Brits a lot. It really let's people in Britain know that their soldiers are as good, professional, and dedicated as American soldiers are. In America we idolize and look up to our soldiers and shake their hands in the airports and on the streets when we see them. We are really glad and proud that they are out there for us; protecting America. In Britain the people don't treat their soldiers like we do. In my travels I've seen it many times on the streets of London and other cities and small communities.

    The British people for the most part seem to ignore their soldiers when they are in uniform on the streets. Yes, there are exceptions, however, from my perspective on a day to day basis as I walk to work in London each day and when I visit the various military bases in Britain the soldiers don't seem to receive the same level of respect even though they give their lives to defend Britain and keep the fight in other lands and away from Britain.

    Whenever I see a soldier in uniform on the street in London I stop and shake their hand. At first they are a bit mystified until then realize that I'm an American. Even people passing by look at me with a bit of distain, but I ignore them because I'm on a private quest.

    The soldiers become real talkative once they get over their brief shock and we exchange the info that an old verteran talks about to a present day soldier; unit names and places we've been. All the while looking for some common places to talk about our experiences. Even though I'm an American veteran I always end the conversation by saying, "Thanks for being out there for us." We shake hands and go on our way. They always seem to have a quicker sharper step and smile on their faces after that. At least they know that someone appreciates what they do.

    Please tell the Brits that Americans are proud of them and support them in their efforts and if on the streets of London, don't be too surprised when I walk up, shake their hand and say, "Thanks for being out there for us.", because, I'm also saying it on behalf of all of Britain, when no one else seems to be doing so.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gregg · 10 years ago
    Michael,
    It's great and important that you talk about the Brits a lot. It really let's people in Britain know that their soldiers are as good, professional, and dedicated as American soldiers are. In America we idolize and look up to our soldiers and shake their hands in the airports and on the streets when we see them. We are really glad and proud that they are out there for us; protecting America. In Britain the people don't treat their soldiers like we do. In my travels I've seen it many times on the streets of London and other cities and small communities.

    The British people for the most part seem to ignore their soldiers when they are in uniform on the streets. Yes, there are exceptions, however, from my perspective on a day to day basis as I walk to work in London each day and when I visit the various military bases in Britain the soldiers don't seem to receive the same level of respect even though they give their lives to defend Britain and keep the fight in other lands and away from Britain.

    Whenever I see a soldier in uniform on the street in London I stop and shake their hand. At first they are a bit mystified until then realize that I'm an American. Even people passing by look at me with a bit of distain, but I ignore them because I'm on a private quest.

    The soldiers become real talkative once they get over their brief shock and we exchange the info that an old verteran talks about to a present day soldier; unit names and places we've been. All the while looking for some common places to talk about our experiences. Even though I'm an American veteran I always end the conversation by saying, "Thanks for being out there for us." We shake hands and go on our way. They always seem to have a quicker sharper step and smile on their faces after that. At least they know that someone appreciates what they do.

    Please tell the Brits that Americans are proud of them and support them in their efforts and if on the streets of London, don't be too surprised when I walk up, shake their hand and say, "Thanks for being out there for us.", because, I'm also saying it on behalf of all of Britain, when no one else seems to be doing so.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Valerie · 10 years ago
    Thank you Michael for the great reports and respect you're showing our brothers, the Brits.

    Though the British, in their stiff upper lip personna, may not outwardly show appreciation to their soldiers, I know in my heart they are grateful. We all have our drawbacks in our societies and perhaps the lack out pda in Britain is not such a plus when it comes to expressing herself to her brave boys and girls fighting to keep us all free.

    Thanks to all the great British men and women who are helping us fight what can seem like a pretty lonely battle for the freedom of the world. Though not a fan of this "global economy/control and believe in all of us keeping our national heritages strong....still believe in an attitude of family amongst all of us with like interests. The Brits are right up there in that regard and look on them as true brothers and sisters. Go Brittainia!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Valerie · 10 years ago
    Thank you Michael for the great reports and respect you're showing our brothers, the Brits.

    Though the British, in their stiff upper lip personna, may not outwardly show appreciation to their soldiers, I know in my heart they are grateful. We all have our drawbacks in our societies and perhaps the lack out pda in Britain is not such a plus when it comes to expressing herself to her brave boys and girls fighting to keep us all free.

    Thanks to all the great British men and women who are helping us fight what can seem like a pretty lonely battle for the freedom of the world. Though not a fan of this "global economy/control" trend and believe in all of us keeping our national heritages strong....still believe in an attitude of family amongst all. Truly look on the Brits as true brothers and sisters. Go Brittainia
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tim OReilly · 10 years ago
    Looks like a good thing to incorporate, hope there are some readers who have enough pull to make it happen in the near future

    Stay safe Mike
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chris Rumble · 10 years ago
    Great to see that you will be introducing the instructors tomorrow, lets hope that there is a small piece of recognition for the UK based guest instructors from CPN Tracking and Search, All being ex military instructors.

    They give their free time up to attend at the school , when not training most UK police forces and assosiated covert agencies in the skill of tracking and sign awareness.

    My admiration goes out to you and I hope you complete the final exercise, as you probably know by now, the trees either make you or break you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Pugh · 10 years ago
    Who is the POC for this school.

    From an American soldier
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Crook · 10 years ago
    This reminds me of a time chasing a blonde monkey through the orange groves of winter haven, i seem to remember you were impossible to find even then, keep up the good work!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Anni Golden · 10 years ago
    I've been following your articles with fascination. Our guys should already have had training. It's a neccessary skill on the ground. It's a life preserver.

    It seems the USMC will take advantage of the Borneo facility. If they cannot get the funding to send more Marines to Borneo they'll need to set up a facility in the USA. Florida, Alabama, Lousiana and other states probably offer suitable locations.

    Be Well and Thank You,
    Anni
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Alan Johnson · 10 years ago
    Michael,
    Hopefully when you get back in country you will be able to be with these guys to see them in action, I am sure you will not be disappointed. I hope that the appropriate people are paying attention and act on this ability that our people need to know in order to succeed. It is good to hear that someone is paying attention to reality, even if it isn't our own services.
    God speed, keep up the good fight.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lady Liberty · 10 years ago
    But to heed means to act not dismiss. Ordered steps would lead straight out of Afghanistan, as Bush moved correctly out of the real quagmire.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Howard E. Morseburg · 10 years ago
    Good, the answer to my questions (several days ago) about the use of dogs, the natural ally of man, and soldiers as well. Many breeds are natural trackers, but all in all, a combination of trained trackers and dogs might have saved many lives. I'm sure your reports will be noted by our military and something will be developed by them along these lines for American forces, thanks to your journalistic and military skills.

    It is bound to have an effect upon the Taliban as well, a DOA type effect.

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