Special Forces Training

By Beacon Staff

The Navy special operations unit which recently took out Osama bin Laden proved that the SEALs are indeed specialists at what they do. As the world becomes more technical and specialized, so does warfare.

Just days after the brilliantly executed mission into Pakistan I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. The opportunity was made available to me by retired Major General Don Loranger, U.S. Air Force. Before leaving for Fort Bragg, I knew that General Loranger was director of the Defense Critical Language/Culture Program in the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana.

What I didn’t know until arriving at Fort Bragg is that all special operations soldiers, both officers and enlisted, must speak a foreign language with strategic relevance in today’s world. Something else I learned at Fort Bragg is that the program at the Mansfield Center, emphasizing Middle Eastern languages in the context of their culture, is rapidly emerging as one of the most highly regarded Special Forces language training programs in the country.

Modern specialized military operations involve lethal missions as the world witnessed with bin Laden. But more routinely, and strategically, they operate in ambiguous and frequently high-risk environments. Protecting little girls on the way to school in a cultural environment that is hostile to the education of women can be greatly facilitated by speaking their language. Our increasingly highly trained and specialized armed forces must be prepared for challenges that conventional basic training, by itself, could never provide.

While at Fort Bragg, I was introduced to advanced technical communications devices and monitoring technology. I wore bullet-proof protective clothing, fired a variety of long-range sniper rifles, and was “evacuated” in a simulated rescue by a high-speed helicopter with the sensation of being on a carnival ride. I crept through buildings, typical of the Middle East, where our special forces are trained in navigating the small rooms, narrow hallways and low arches, quickly and usually at night. In such a setting, confusion can mean death.

In the old movie “The Devil’s Brigade” there is a scene where a rattlesnake is killed by a young trainee as it coils near a barracks doorway. The snake probably posed no real danger. It was killed because we naturally feel threatened by rattlers. “The Devil’s Brigade,” as many Montanans know, was based on the First Special Service Force, which was created at Fort Harrison, Mont., for special operations during World War II. The Special Forces actually originated in Montana, and their World War II exploits were rough enough to make a movie.

Training at Fort Bragg has advanced far beyond what took place 70 years ago, in a far more primitive time, at Fort Harrison. Special Forces training was sufficient then, and it is now, for killing snakes. The one just blown away, the long one with the whiskers, definitely had it coming.

Bob Brown is a former Republican Montana secretary of state and state Senate president.

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