The Malaysia Chronicles ’93: Intro

 

“Man is it hot here, how close to the equator are we…?” I thought, my attention span fluttering as I sat in this grossly hot classroom, sweating through my clothes pushing into the fourth hour of discussing American/Malaysian cooperation. I was in a planning conference; we were preparing for a joint/combined military exercise later that year near Melaka, Malaysia (roughly ‘93).

This was all part of a larger strategy known as Theater Security Cooperation that applies various DoD programs and activities in coordination with the Department of State, encouraging ($$$) and enabling ($$$) countries and organizations to partner with the US to achieve strategic objectives. This particular effort was part of Pacific Command’s (PACOM) strategy to keep South East Asia stabilized. Now known as Indo-Pacific Command (INDO-PACOM) to show we are serious about not just the Pacific but across the Indian Ocean as well. I spent most of my military career out there and I thought that was understood. The name makes me cringe. The change in letterheads and signage alone must have cost millions.

In the meeting we had high ranking members of the Malaysian Defense Force, officers of the Malaysian 22nd Commando Regiment, operations officers and logistics officers from Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC), US Embassy Malaysia Defense Attaché personnel, pilots from the USAF 353rd Special Operations Group, a Warrant Officer (me) and a great NCO from the US Army 1st Special Forces Group. This was my first planning conference and my company commander just the day prior had to return stateside as his wife had become ill. I was a team leader of a Special Forces team and now I was holding the bag for a company-level joint/combined exercise. And so far this morning we had really done nothing, zero, zip, nada. I had to put some structure to this whole thing and couldn’t seem to get there being dumbfounded by a grossly unproductive gathering. I needed to plan and coordinate billeting, training areas, periods of instruction, ground/air ops integration, basic contracting for water (...don’t drink the water…), transportation, laundry, and other various goods and services; basically lay out the nuts and bolts of the whole exercise. Thus far we had discussed how great we all are, the importance of this trip, American – Malaysian relations, integration of both ground and air ops and maximizing cooperation. This merry go round of verbosity had been relentless with each ranking member pontificating their slight variation of the above. Currently, a somewhat self-important Major from SOCPAC was piling on. As I started to drift I looked across the room spying one of the pilots from the 353rd rolling his eyes at a critical point in the Major’s rhetoric. Bingo!

To my relief shortly thereafter we broke for lunch. I saddled up to the pilot on the way out the door.

“You getting anything out of this?”

“Not a thing.”

“What’s your play in this?”

“I am the Ops O at the 353rd and the HH-53 pilot responsible for the air ops.”

“Great! I am from 1st Group trying to map out the training, where you staying?”

“The xxx hotel.”

 “Me too! Meet for dinner tonight and we’ll sketch out a plan?”

“Absolutely!”

Turned out I had a good read, he was the man. That night over dinner, a couple of beers, and a few hours we planned all the lifts and mapped out a rough timeline giving structure to the majority of the exercise. The MH-53 Pavelows would do some basic transportation to and from training areas, some free-fall parachuting jumps, and a large number of soft ducks my team would lead. Soft ducks were colloquial for jumping from the back of the helo into the water (cannonball!!). As the helo flying is flying low and slow you push a boat called a zodiac first followed by personnel. There also was a static line parachute jump to kick off the exercise utilizing one of the 353rd’s MC130s.

Now having a rough structure to our exercise we spent the next two days nominally looking at training areas, landing zones, airstrips, drops zones, medical facilities (yikes), a look at the ocean areas we’d be training in, talking with the Commandos and their capabilities, discussing Malaysian to American training consisting of jungle ops and tracking, and coordinating all the admin. While on the landing zone where the 53’s would land we were adjacent to a road replete with motorcycles, a third-world traveling staple. Many were wearing helmets and this is very unusual in most SE Asian countries; a luxury most could not afford particularly well outside of any major city. One of the commandos asked me if I knew why they were wearing helmets. I gave him “the look” and said, “of course I know, in case they crash.” He flatly stated no, it was to keep the cobras from striking them in the head launching from the trees as they drove by. “The look” changed to consternation. To this day I have no idea if he was messing with me or that was legit. Suffice it to say I kept looking up when in the jungles of Malaysia.

Interestingly there was tension when we mentioned soft ducks to the Commandos. Two years prior there had been a “hard duck.” This is where you parachute a zodiac from an airplane and then drop personnel out after it. The zodiac is lashed to a weighted wooden pallet in order to give it enough weight to deploy the cargo chute. Once in the water, you swim up to it and if you want to retrieve the pallet (and we usually do) you cut one side of the pallet away from the zodiac. For weight, we use sandbags inside the pallet. Cutting it this way allows the pallet to hinge away from the boat underwater allowing the sandbags to slide/fall out. Once they are out you cut the other side away and pop the pallet out from under the zodiac. Apparently that message was not clear that year. The commandos swam up to the zodiac and cut it all away at once. It sunk like Michael Moore at a Proud Boys rally. A piece of the tubular nylon caught one of the commandos and he was never seen again. Thus the understandable tension. We assured them soft ducks had just a piece of plywood underneath for stability and no weight and were not a threat in any way.

Three days later I was back at home station. I laid out the plans for our company and the four teams and command element involved. For the next several months planning, coordinating travel, gathering logistics, preparing periods of instruction, and preparing in earnest occurred and soon enough it was go-time. We boarded a USAF C-5 from McChord Air Force Base and off we went. I was in charge of the movement; herding the cats. “You got orders? Credit card? ID card?” Everything else was negotiable. Equipment had been packed days before on a pallet and checked and rechecked then moved to the airfield. A mere 38+ hours from leaving we were there. I arrived at the airport in Kuala Lumpur strung out from the trip and the time change. A friend of mine had been the advance party, responsible for final prep of the exercise, and assisted with getting the equipment off the plane and onto trucks headed for the camp. He had his own vehicle and looked at me “you want a burger?” 

  “Seriously?”

  “Seriously. They have Burger King close and we can stop on the way to the camp.”

“Well, yeah!”

We arrived at BK lounge (as we liked to call it) and as I looked around in my travel stupor it appeared to be like any other BK. I wandered up to the counter and asked the server, a Muslim girl, for a Hamburger. She was seemingly rappelled backward by my request and said curtly in perfect English “sir, we do not serve hamburgers here, we serve beef burgers!” I wondered if I was dreaming or this was some kind of joke glancing over at my friend. There was no sign of either. “OK, beef burger it is…” I said smiling.

And that set the stage for the rest of this exercise.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Oh. this is so typical. Glad you identified the right guy by the telltale eyeroll.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    dajoho: It sunk like Michael Moore at a Proud Boys rally.

    I quoted that just because I liked reading it so much.

    Looking forward to the rest, dajoho.

    • #2
  3. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    dajoho: As I started to drift I looked across the room spying one of the pilots from the 353rd rolling his eyes at a critical point in the Major’s rhetoric. Bingo!

    Great post!

    I’ve never been in the military but this meeting and the outcome are very familiar. There is an exact corporate analogue. My theory is that the higher-ups really have no idea how things actually work. Neither do they know who knows. So they gather together everybody who might possibly fit the bill into one of these meetings and purposely drone on for hours about nothing. The plan is to create an environment in which the attendees who (a) care and (b) know what’s what, will identify each other and figure things out on the side on their own. Which is exactly what you describe.

    The strategy is genius. If things go well, the top of the food chain takes the credit. If things go poorly they can legitimately say “These lower level people subverted the established structure and were operating outside our purview.“ Either way, things happen and they barely lift a finger.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Ekosj (View Comment):
    So they gather together everybody who might possibly fit the bill into one of these meetings and purposely drone on for hours about nothing. The plan is to create an environment in which the attendees who (a) care and (b) know what’s what, will identify each other and figure things out on the side on their own. Which is exactly what you describe.

    Amen, brother.

    • #4
  5. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    dajoho: As I started to drift I looked across the room spying one of the pilots from the 353rd rolling his eyes at a critical point in the Major’s rhetoric. Bingo!

    Great post!

    I’ve never been in the military but this meeting and the outcome are very familiar. There is an exact corporate analogue. My theory is that the higher-ups really have no idea how things actually work. Neither do they know who knows. So they gather together everybody who might possibly fit the bill into one of these meetings and purposely drone on for hours about nothing. The plan is to create an environment in which the attendees who (a) care and (b) know what’s what, will identify each other and figure things out on the side on their own. Which is exactly what you describe.

    The strategy is genius. If things go well, the top of the food chain takes the credit. If things go poorly they can legitimately say “These lower level people subverted the established structure and were operating outside our purview.“ Either way, things happen and they barely lift a finger.

    While I think this is often fortunate happenstance, in my experience the top brass in the business world really are, as often as not, convinced that they really do know, which is why they are so keen to take credit afterwards, or either shed blame or call yet another useless meeting when the “magic” fails to work the first 5 times.

    And speaking of magic, these things really do have a lot of the hallmarks of cultic ritual gatherings – ritual, esoteric jargon that sounds like gibberish to the uninitiated (and is well known to be, while not quite gibberish, at least persistent obfuscation by the already initiated), and sacrifice of valuable goods (time and sensory feeling in one’s legs).

    • #5
  6. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    dajoho: Currently a somewhat self important Major from SOCPAC was piling on.

    Man, I hate those T-SOC guys.

    dajoho: One of the commandos asked me if I knew why they were wearing helmets. I gave him “the look” and said “of course I know, in case they crash.”

    Yep: that’s an SF Warrant, right there.

    dajoho: He flatly stated no, it was to keep the cobras from striking them in the head launching from the trees as they drove by.

    One time, on horseback, the Chaco region of Paraguay. Our guide steered his horse with knees only as each hand held a machete, pointing up to dissuade tigers from attacking from the trees. He encouraged me to do the same, I just patted my M4, patrol slung across my chest.

    “Ahh,” he said. “Pero el tigre no sabe su rifles.”

    There’s usually a reason the locals do what they do.

    Great post, Dajoho. We’ve got a Guard guy on orders for a year who just took a break for a side trip to Malaysia. When this post goes main feed, he’s going to eat it up.

    • #6
  7. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    And speaking of magic, these things really do have a lot of the hallmarks of cultic ritual gatherings

    That’s a wonderful insight! No need for anthropologists to travel to Papua New Guinea or the interior of the Amazon to study ritual cults and tribes with oral traditions. Just go to any sufficiently large institution and observe some meetings.

    • #7
  8. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    And speaking of magic, these things really do have a lot of the hallmarks of cultic ritual gatherings

    That’s a wonderful insight! No need for anthropologists to travel to Papua New Guinea or the interior of the Amazon to study ritual cults and tribes with oral traditions. Just go to any sufficiently large institution and observe some meetings.

    And bring donuts and coffee as a sacrificial offering.

    • #8
  9. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Percival (View Comment):

    dajoho: It sunk like Michael Moore at a Proud Boys rally.

    I quoted that just because I liked reading it so much.

    Oh, #MeToo.

    Although the next sentence: “A piece of the tubular nylon caught one of the commandos and he was never seen again,” totally broke my heart.

    My boundless love, and deepest thanks to those who’ve lived the dream and who still manage to engage with reality and love their country/Western Civilization, in spite of all its imperfections and flaws.

    • #9
  10. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Oh. this is so typical. Glad you identified the right guy by the telltale eyeroll.

    I recall being at one such meeting and identifying the right guy by seeing him methodically colouring in the closed loops in the a’s, o’s, p’s etc in the meeting agenda.

    • #10
  11. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The techs have to meet first, figure out what’s what, come up with a plan, and nudge (nudge, mind you) those “in charge” to the correct course of action.

    • #11
  12. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Oh. this is so typical. Glad you identified the right guy by the telltale eyeroll.

    Usually works out – occasionally you just get a naysayer to absolutely everything but most the time, particularly in settings like this you can get the right folks. Thanks for reading Arahant.

    • #12
  13. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Percival (View Comment):

    dajoho: It sunk like Michael Moore at a Proud Boys rally.

    I quoted that just because I liked reading it so much.

    Looking forward to the rest, dajoho.

    Thanks Percival and feel free to quote that to your hearts content. Thanks for reading. And more to follow.

     

    • #13
  14. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Ekosj (View Comment):

    dajoho: As I started to drift I looked across the room spying one of the pilots from the 353rd rolling his eyes at a critical point in the Major’s rhetoric. Bingo!

    Great post!

    I’ve never been in the military but this meeting and the outcome are very familiar. There is an exact corporate analogue. My theory is that the higher-ups really have no idea how things actually work. Neither do they know who knows. So they gather together everybody who might possibly fit the bill into one of these meetings and purposely drone on for hours about nothing. The plan is to create an environment in which the attendees who (a) care and (b) know what’s what, will identify each other and figure things out on the side on their own. Which is exactly what you describe.

    The strategy is genius. If things go well, the top of the food chain takes the credit. If things go poorly they can legitimately say “These lower level people subverted the established structure and were operating outside our purview.“ Either way, things happen and they barely lift a finger.

    Thanks Ekosj and I am glad(?) to know this is not endemic to the military. The strategy is genius. I aslo like when you move heaven and earth to get something done and the top has no idea what that took and wants to do it again….

    • #14
  15. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    SkipSul (View Comment):
    And speaking of magic, these things really do have a lot of the hallmarks of cultic ritual gatherings – ritual, esoteric jargon that sounds like gibberish to the uninitiated (and is well known to be, while not quite gibberish, at least persistent obfuscation by the already initiated), and sacrifice of valuable goods (time and sensory feeling in one’s legs).

    Why pray tell pontificate sparsely when one can expound endlessly, sounding erudite across a spectrum of disciplines resulting in nary a modicum of understanding?

    Thanks for reading SkipSul.

    • #15
  16. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho: Currently a somewhat self important Major from SOCPAC was piling on.

    Man, I hate those T-SOC guys.

    Especially those Lieutenant Colonels from the Special Programs office….

    dajoho: One of the commandos asked me if I knew why they were wearing helmets. I gave him “the look” and said “of course I know, in case they crash.”

    Yep: that’s an SF Warrant, right there.

    We do what we can…

    dajoho: He flatly stated no, it was to keep the cobras from striking them in the head launching from the trees as they drove by.

    It actually resonated. I have never seen so many helmets anywhere in Asia.

    One time, on horseback, the Chaco region of Paraguay. Our guide steered his horse with knees only as each hand held a machete, pointing up to dissuade tigers from attacking from the trees. He encouraged me to do the same, I just patted my M4, patrol slung across my chest.

    “Ahh,” he said. “Pero el tigre no sabe su rifles.”

    There’s usually a reason the locals do what they do.

    Funny, they know machetes but not rifles. We always underestimate them don’t we?

    Great post, Dajoho. We’ve got a Guard guy on orders for a year who just took a break for a side trip to Malaysia. When this post goes main feed, he’s going to eat it up.

    Thanks brother. I’ve got two more at least – it was quite a trip.

     

    • #16
  17. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    She (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    dajoho: It sunk like Michael Moore at a Proud Boys rally.

    I quoted that just because I liked reading it so much.

    Oh, #MeToo.

    Although the next sentence: “A piece of the tubular nylon caught one of the commandos and he was never seen again,” totally broke my heart.

    My boundless love, and deepest thanks to those who’ve lived the dream and who still manage to engage with reality and love their country/Western Civilization, in spite of all its imperfections and flaws.

    Hi She and thanks. The conversation took a serious tone when they told us, we did not know. We did some back checking and found out the story about the pallet cut away. 

    I really did live the dream as I look back across my life.

    • #17
  18. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    dajoho (View Comment):
    Especially those Lieutenant Colonels from the Special Programs office….

    Shhh. There are none of those guys. You know that.

    dajoho (View Comment):
    We do what we can…

    You and yourn contributed to making the price of admission worth it.

    Keep it up; this’ll be a great series.

    • #18
  19. PappyJim Coolidge
    PappyJim
    @PappyJim

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho (View Comment):
    Especially those Lieutenant Colonels from the Special Programs office….

    Shhh. There are none of those guys. You know that.

    dajoho (View Comment):
    We do what we can…

    You and yourn contributed to making the price of admission worth it.

    Keep it up; this’ll be a great series.

    It is indeed! More soon – Please!!!

    • #19
  20. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    PappyJim (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    dajoho (View Comment):
    Especially those Lieutenant Colonels from the Special Programs office….

    Shhh. There are none of those guys. You know that.

    dajoho (View Comment):
    We do what we can…

    You and yourn contributed to making the price of admission worth it.

    Keep it up; this’ll be a great series.

    It is indeed! More soon – Please!!!

    Thanks for readin’ Devil Dog.

    • #20