Back in Bogota

 

Well, I was in Bogota for a night before I departed Colombia. Last week was the first time I’ve been in Colombia for, I reckon, going on six years.

My unit did some reorganizing, and I wound up with Exercise Fuerzas Comando in my planner’s portfolio. Fuerzas Comando is a US-sponsored exercise conducted every year in one of our partner nations in Latin America or the Caribbean. This year, Colombia is our host nation. We invite every country in the region to send its best commandos to compete in what can best be described as a Counter-Terrorism Olympics. Shooting, sniping, stalking, assaulting; it’s all in there. There’s also a Senior Leader Seminar, where top Special Operations commanders and ministerial-level participants will convene and conduct panels and discussions and senior leader stuff on mutual problem sets. That conference will go off in Bogota. The competition itself will be in Tolemeida, a couple hours south of (and 6,000 feet lower than) Bogota.

Tolemeida is the Colombian military base that is a mix of the US’ Ft. Benning and Fort Bragg. Not only do they do a lot of general combat arms basic training there, it is the home of the Lancero school (think Ranger) and the Comando school (think Special Forces). It’ll be a great venue for the exercise.

The US team that traveled to Colombia to begin planning this miracle consisted of 19 people. Two officers (both Majors), two contractors (one of which was humble me), and 15 NCOs, all experts in their staff specialties. These kids (and, well, me) are going to plan, coordinate, and set up the entire exercise, from soup to nuts. They’ll manage the transportation of anywhere from 19 to 22 countries’ teams — to include their weapons, no easy feat — into Bogota and then get them to Tolemeida. They’ll ensure that all the competition sites are ready and up to snuff. They’ll improve the barracks (air conditioning is definitely cool; Tolemeida is hot. Triple-canopy-jungle hot). They’ll contract the meals and the internet and all of the support and sustainment for over 100 pipehitters to show up and compete for the cup. It’s truly a staggering task, that the unit conducts every year.

We arrived at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota, on Sunday, 19 January, and linked up with our rented, up-armored SUVs and contracted drivers, and made the three-hour trek from Bogota to Tolemeida. Many improvements have been made on the road, and the drive wasn’t as white-knuckle as I remembered it. Our hotel was beautiful and just outside of the Tolemeida base. It was, if you will, the recreational club for the military. Pretty as it was, the place was definitely bare-bones.

The hotel took no cash, only credit cards, which kind of defeated the purpose of the cash I had withdrawn and changed into pesos. I had to send an emergency email to my bank saying “I know I didn’t tell you I was going to Colombia, but I’m in Colombia. Please don’t see charges from here and cut off my card, or I’m coming home a whole lot skinnier.”

I had a couple of packing “fails” on this trip. I ruefully had to acknowledge that I had become one of the pampered pansies that is used to staying at high-end hotels in capital cities, and wasn’t quite on my game when it came to packing for someplace a little more austere. Some of the stuff I didn’t pack was:

  • My insulated steel water bottle. Plastic water bottles are great and all, but the water gets hot.
  • Cutter, for keeping the bugs away.
  • Benadryl, for when the Cutter doesn’t work.
  • An emergency survival candle. The bathrooms didn’t have windows or fans, ’nuff said?
  • Enough Copenhagen. Sure, I packed just enough, but that’s never enough. Two guys didn’t or couldn’t bring their own Copenhagen, so I ended up giving them cans, which left me a little short and I had to ration my usage. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have any for our three-hour trip back to Bogota (unacceptable) or for the three-and-a-half-hour flight home (also unacceptable).

The leader of our intrepid group was a Civil Affairs major who, if there’s any justice, will pin on lieutenant colonel soon. I know of no Civil Affairs guy who has been by-name-requested by so many Special Forces commanders. He’s smart, motivated and squared away — and he doesn’t hesitate, when appropriate, to jump up behind the 50-cal. machine gun and lay down the law according to John Moses Browning. Not necessarily a requirement for exercise design, but I like the mindset. He’s also a native Spanish speaker, and he’s logged lots of time in Colombia.

The NonCommissioned Officer in Charge was a US Special Forces guy who is a natural-born Colombian. He came to the US at/about ten years of age. He did a hitch in the Marine Corps, and then joined the Army to go SF. It was inspiring and humbling to watch this guy brief, talk to, and debate Colombian general- and field-grade officers. He spoke articulately and with full decorum, but never backed down an inch. There is no NCO corps that can match ours.

I’m going to stick a fork in this post now. I’ve got a thousand different observations and comments ricocheting around the inside of my skull, but I’m having trouble imposing order on them. I’ll keep posting, though, on my trips for this exercise. Maybe if I go into the trip planning on writing a post about it, I’ll be able to come out on the far side and actually be able to post coherently.

Since it’s Fuerzas Comando, here’s the obligatory super-coolio video:

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There are 15 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Boss Mongo: There is no NCO corps that can match ours.

    Thank Cod that’s true.

    • #1
  2. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Look forward to hearing more, Boss.

    • #2
  3. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    I’m looking forward to your observations.   My impression is that the guerrillas and their source of income, cocaine, remain protected by the deal  President Santos cut in Cuba when the Guerrillas were on the edge of obliteration.  His objective, which was never clear to me when I followed these things, seems to have been  to destroy the previous President, Alvaro Uribe, and he seems to have succeeded.   The new one, a decent young man without the personality, knowledge, and certainly not the single minded dedication of Uribe  has to fight the Bogota establishment and the left every inch of the way.   The Colombian military under Uribe knew how to fight the guerrillas, I’m curious to know if they’ve managed to weaken the Colombian anti Guerrilla forces  and or cause a loss of focus.  Are we still close and pushing?   I have non military friends in Colombia who were politically active until fairly recently, openly defenders of Uribe and critics of Santos, who are now totally apolitical.  They seem to feel  threatened, i.e. under real threats, and just avoid relevant topics.

    • #3
  4. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    Had to look up Tolemaida. I see I must’ve passed through, traveling between Bogotá and Girardot. I don’t remember it, though. What I do remember about that highway, which seemed in 2013 a good one, was a sign prohibiting hitchhiking. The place is not lawless.

    Colombia has to be a good choice for military exercises. A reminder that that is the sort of thing that countries do. And that the intent of a military is to defeat enemies. For all the warfare that’s gone on down there, it has never been conclusive, and the country’s political evolution seems in permanent suspense. I still wonder if Colombia is one of those rare places where everybody is still waiting to see who wins.

    • #4
  5. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Boss Mongo:

    I stayed at a place very similar to that, that couldn’t have been terribly far away, Villa de Leja, when I was fifteen.  And indeed, very hot there.

    • #5
  6. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    I Walton (View Comment):

    I’m looking forward to your observations. My impression is that the guerrillas and their source of income, cocaine, remain protected by the deal President Santos cut in Cuba when the Guerrillas were on the edge of obliteration. His objective, which was never clear to me when I followed these things, seems to have been to destroy the previous President, Alvaro Uribe, and he seems to have succeeded. The new one, a decent young man without the personality, knowledge, and certainly not the single minded dedication of Uribe has to fight the Bogota establishment and the left every inch of the way. The Colombian military under Uribe knew how to fight the guerrillas, I’m curious to know if they’ve managed to weaken the Colombian anti Guerrilla forces and or cause a loss of focus. Are we still close and pushing? I have non military friends in Colombia who were politically active until fairly recently, openly defenders of Uribe and critics of Santos, who are now totally apolitical. They seem to feel threatened, i.e. under real threats, and just avoid relevant topics.

    Also of interest to me. I have a friend who is from Colombia and is not happy with how things are currently going in that country.

    • #6
  7. Hugh Member
    Hugh
    @Hugh

    Nice post Boss.

    The picture you paint brings back memories from when we put the first Cellular telephone system into Colombia back in the ’90s.  I have been down through Tolemeida (we didn’t stop) on our way to Girodot  where we put their first cell site on the hill overlooking the town.  It was hot, really hot, although there was a nice breeze on the top of the hill.  We had a team of Colombian army guys who kept us safe and also helped hauling the equipment up the last couple of hundred yards where the road didn’t go.

    I often think about going back but since the company that I worked for and their accounting firm (who did my taxes) are both bankrupt I guess I will have to give that a miss.  Lots of other interesting places to see.

    • #7
  8. Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito Contributor
    Hank Rhody, Badgeless Bandito
    @HankRhody

    Boss Mongo: Well, I

    Gotta admit, I was a little disappointed to see that particular pronoun. Not that your autobiographical stuff is bad, with this title I was hoping for more Bogota Judo.

    This whole exercise sounds like tremendous fun. Were it an option I’d watch it like the Superbowl.

    • #8
  9. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Out of 311 million citizens, only a handful will ever have experiences like this, and of that group there are even fewer able to write like this. Good job, Boss. 

    • #9
  10. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    John H. (View Comment):
    Colombia has to be a good choice for military exercises.

    Not as good as the Canal Zone was.

    • #10
  11. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Boss Mongo: There is no NCO corps that can match ours.

    This is true, profound, and yet our civilians have no idea what it really means.

    It deserves a post all its own.

    One of my favorite writers –  John Ringo –  in his story The Hot Gate wrote this passage with regard to our NCO corps…

    The scene is a space battle and an enlisted American shuttle pilot had just engaged in a smack-down talk with an Alien combatant who had the rank equivalent of one of our O-6s. The conversation between the Alien and his aide fills in a gap that they had misunderstood about human (and mostly American) fighting forces.

    “Engage your brain, Lieutenant,” To’Jopeviq snapped. “That was a junior enlisted person. In, as noted, the middle of a battle. Performing a complex task. Who nonetheless had the presence of mind to not only engage in insults—easy enough—but to develop a standard procedure for them.”

    “I was actually thinking that she was junior for the mission,” Beor said. “Our pilot is a captain.”

    “I don’t think you’re grasping my point,” the Colonel said, calmly. “Have you ever worked at the ground level of operations?”

    “Only Kazi,” Beor said.

    “Very different than in the regular forces, I assume,” To’Jopeviq said dryly. “A ship, a unit, a force, is composed of many parts. Both the physical equipment and the personnel. Just as every part of one of the ships has to work properly, the personnel must work within that ship . . . properly. In sync. They are part of the machine in a way and must do the dance of the machine.”

    “Turning to the side in the corridors?” Beor asked.

    “Much more complex than that,” To’Jopeviq said. “My first post was as a laser gunnery officer. Managing the maintenance of the equipment, training the junior personnel on damage control. As one example, there was a particular collimator that would frequently blow out during sustained use. There were parts. But I was in charge of several systems. During training, often I would get the word that one of the lasers was down. It would, almost invariably, be a collimator. But until I arrived and ordered that it be repaired, that someone go get the collimator from stocks and then supervise the installation, often it would not be done. At least at first. I take quiet pride that by the time I left the post, when a system broke my men worked on it immediately and intelligently.”

    “Why?” Beor asked. “And how?”

    “Depended upon the individual,” To’Jopeviq said. “Some because they feared the consequences of failure. If I had to turn up to supervise, they knew that it would go hard on them. Some because they looked to me as a father figure and wanted to please me. None, I think, because they really cared if the system was repaired or not.”

    “It took constant supervision by officers such as myself to simply maintain the systems. The mid-level enlisted were not much better. What I would have given for one mid-level enlisted with as much brains as that female. Someone like that would have been grafted to intelligence or another intellectual job. And they are motivated to perform their duties. They are maintaining their maximum acceleration. There are any number of ways that they could have shirked this duty. Just go slow. Move farther away from our fleet. Yet they are not only flying fearlessly within visual range of our AVs, they are exchanging insults and composing standards while doing so.”

    “Your point being that their enlisted are good?” Beor asked. “Does that matter?”

    “Does that matter?” To’Jopeviq snarled. “Does that matter? Does it matter if the lines of code are all properly written? Does it matter if the air locks are sealed or not? Who writes the code? Who ensures the air locks work? Yes, it matters! It is a piece of intelligence that is useful. Even crucial. It demonstrates another reason that they are so effective and efficient in war. And I’m sure that the High Command would ask the same question. Does it matter . . .”

    • #11
  12. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Instugator (View Comment):
    One of my favorite writers – John Ringo – in his story The Hot Gate wrote this passage with regard to our NCO corps…

    Love me some John Ringo.  His bio says that he was a radio operator in 4/325 Airborne Infantry and attained the rank of E4.  I somehow doubt that; and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the guy had a senior staff college under his belt.

    • #12
  13. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    I’ve learned that you can get a lot done by talking with the NCO-equivalents in skilled trades.  I listened to them, and revised my plan of action accordingly.  I might be in charge of implementing a plan, but it is necessary to have the people the front-line folks respect on board.  Dedicated senior workers and foremen can inspire excellent performance from average workers, and get people to take you seriously.  They also will tell you when you are off base.

    To be honest, although I was technically management, I think I would have been a warrant officer (technical specialist) in a military command structure.  Regardless, I certain felt like a clueless Lt on arrival.

    • #13
  14. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):
    I’ve learned that you can get a lot done by talking with the NCO-equivalents in skilled trades. I listened to them, and revised my plan of action accordingly. I might be in charge of implementing a plan, but it is necessary to have the people the front-line folks respect on board. Dedicated senior workers and foremen can inspire excellent performance from average workers, and get people to take you seriously. They also will tell you when you are off base.

    Oh, indeed.  In my job, I always treat machine operators with respect.  The automation I install may improve their lives, but if you [expletive] them off, they can break your projects.

    • #14
  15. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Can’t put my finger on it, but something a little familiar about that jumper at splashdown…

    • #15
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