Trip Report

 

We’ve been tasked with pulling off the international Fuerzas Comando competition this year.  Our original host nation (as well as many of the nations that would participate) bowed out because of COVID.  At the last minute (from a planner’s perspective), Colombia stood up and volunteered to host the event.

Let’s see. All of Colombia is in hard lockdown due to COVID.  Compressed planning timeline.  Resources already running out (the exercise will go in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year).  An unknown number of participants.  Shifting requirements for COVID mitigation procedures.  Trying to forecast the future now with contracts for lodging, messing, transportation and services.  Many of the critical points of failure are well out of our control.

Is that all you’ve got?  Is that the worst you can do?

The competition is awesome and well worth the effort.

I’m not going to inflict upon you all the details that go into the planning above.  Just going to talk a little about our Colombian SOF brethren we worked with over the course of the past week.  Looking at all the company signs of the Fifth Special Forces Battalion, I couldn’t help but notice how all SOF units worldwide have an affinity for edged weapons–ranged weapons like arrows and spears, and close-in weapons like knives, daggers and swords– and usually incorporate them in their unit insignia.  This is mostly to remind all comers that when it comes to SOF, it’s not the technology, it’s the man.  And also because they’re cool, just like all the skulls, lightning bolts, and mythical beasts you’ll see on the insignia of various SOF.

After spending some time with the Special Forces pipe-hitters, we went over to the Lancero school.  The Lanceros are the Colombian equivalent to our Rangers.  They are hardcore.  I wrote in this fictional story that had a part about the Guatemalan Kaibil.  Lanceros are like that, times two.

Over the course of this trip, this wasn’t the first visit we’d made to the Lancero Commander.  While we waited a couple of minutes for the Commander to bust loose of a meeting, I enjoyed sightseeing the office.  Unlike a lot of field-grade officers and higher, the Commander didn’t have an “I love me wall,” instead he had an “I love the Lanceros wall.”

Over the door was a sign that proclaimed, “Everything is possible for he who has faith and believes.” Amen, brother.

To show how close the US and Colombian SOF are, and how far back we go together, here’s one of the plaques on the wall: it hails from when we sent a US Ranger to Lancero school and they sent a Colombian Lancero to Ranger school.  In 1982.

I found it of remark to note that in almost every office and every command level conference room there was at least one religious symbol.  Too, I feel like all of these were posted due to preference, not policy.  What would happen to a senior US officer that had a crucifix over and behind his desk?

The Commander kicked loose of his meeting, and we knocked out our business.  Our team lead is an SF guy that we could parachute into the wilds of North Korea, and within about 30 minutes he would have built enough rapport with the locals that they’d be sharing their tree bark stew with him.  Within about two days they would acknowledge him as village headman, and in about a week he’d be sitting in Kim’s office, feet up on the desk whilst lighting a cigar, telling the little fellow how things were going to be from now on.

Given that, it’s no wonder the strong rapport he built with the Lancero Commander; two SOF brothers from different countries.

After our business was conducted, the team lead was presented with a Lancero–er, lance.  This is no small tchotchke like a coin or baseball cap or little rooty-poot desk flag.  This is an honor, not lightly bestowed.

All over Colombia, mostly peaceful protests have broken out over COVID.  The lockdowns are part of the reason why, but mostly because President Duque’s administration announced that new taxes would be levied in order to provide a bulwark to the government’s coffers.  Rich, middle class, and the poor would all bear the brunt of new taxes.  The poor, hardest hit by the lockdowns, have taken umbrage at this policy.  The streets are often clogged, and protestors are purposefully shutting down highways in order to demonstrate their disapproval.

On the way from Bogota to the Colombian military facility where we were to do most of our work, we were held up by about 20 minutes as police cleared the burning tires that blocked our route.

A couple of days later, my Ranger buddy and I got halted at a protest for about 40 minutes.  Local truck drivers are in cahoots with the protestors.  So a bunch of heavy-duty trucks will pull up to the planned protest site and stop.  Then a bunch of “students” will convene in front of the road blockade and sing and dance, waving Colombian flags.  Whatever their political ideology, Colombians are intensely tied to their national identity.  I shudder to think what would happen to the radical or revolutionary that burned a Colombian flag at a protest.  His fellow travelers would tear him to pieces.

We were on our way back to our (no hot water, spotty-electricity, little-to-no-internet) hotel when we got stuck at a blocked protest site.  Apparently, we got there right as the protest commenced.  Cliff wall to our right.  Heavy trucks to our front, left, and rear.  A bunch of the “students” looked pretty sketchy, student-wise.  Our driver, a retired Colombian SOF Sergeant Major, told us that these types of protests were purposefully designed to be intermittent.  The trucks, students, and motorcyclists who ferried the students in would shut down a road for up to half an hour, but then drop the blockade.  If they truly shut down a road, people would get angry, and protestors, truckers, and cyclists would get killed.

After about 10 minutes, our driver said, “I’m going to go check out it,” and was gone.  No, no, no, no, no.

[Pro-tip: If you’re in a light-armored SUV, and a protest breaks out, you don’t get out of the vehicle.  If you’re in any kind of vehicle and a protest breaks out, the driver never, ever leaves the driver’s seat.]

Ranger buddy said, “I got it,” just as I said, “you got it.”  Ranger buddy isn’t a little guy, but he’s damn sure littler than me, and he was sitting shotgun.  He gymnasticated over the center console storage thingy like a spider monkey smelling boiled peanuts, and I checked the sides and our rear.  Well, one side anyway.  Like I said, our right was nothing but cliff wall.

After a couple the minutes, the driver came back, Ranger buddy spider-monkeyed back to the shotgun seat, and we waited out the protest.  It eventually broke up, and we continued movement back to our (no hot water, spotty-electricity, little-to-no-internet) hotel.

President Duque announced that the plan to tax the snot out of every damn body was rescinded, and the finance minister resigned (or was fired, or was given that whole “resign or be prosecuted” option; depends who you ask).  That still hasn’t quelled the madding crowd, and protests were and are continuing apace.

On the day we were to return to Bogota, protests were still kicking off all over the country.  As of that day, the body count was 19, but expected to be adjusted upward after the violence of the protests in Cali.

We got a query: do you guys have guns?

No, want to give us some?

Instead of arming us for the convoy back to Bogota, they decided they’d fly us out on a Colombian Army bird.  We showed up at the airfield with our small-ish crew, along with a couple of other small-ish gringo crews that made it a big-ish group to lift out on one bird.  I was thinking there was no way they’d smoosh us all onto that bird, with our luggage.  I was incorrect.

The Colombian Army sent a Rooskie-built Antonov An-32 to pick us up.  We packed 51 personnel onto that little sucker.

So, to recap the situation:  Packed bird, flying from low to high (at/about 2k feet ASL to at/about 8.8 feet ASL, Bogota is surrounded by mountains, and did I mention the bird was built by Rooskies?  Awesome.  Said a couple Hail Mary’s, leaned back, and thought about stuff I want to write before I die (burning into the side of a mountain, on a Rooskie-made bird).

Obviously, we didn’t slam into a mountain.

Now all I need is my COVID test to come back negative (it will), and fly home and fall into the loving arms of the lovely and Talented Mrs. Mongo.

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  1. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Oh, first time I’ve ever been on the N side of a NEO (Noncombatant Evacuation Operation).

    • #1
  2. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Good trip report.

    You forgot to discuss food and PT.

    Make those edits and I’ll send it to the 2 button.

    • #2
  3. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Given that these guys look to be about the lowest possible death-rate group on the planet, maybe the mitigation strategy should be to intentionally infect them all a month or two ahead of time.

    • #3
  4. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    It’s better to have hot water than be in hot water.

    And how can the Canadian placard not have a loon?

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Boss Mongo:

    We got a query: do you guys have guns?

    No, want to give us some?

    I love your writing, Boss. You do know how to tell a story.

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

    Arahant (View Comment):
    I love your writing, Boss. You do know how to tell a story.

    Gracias, man.

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

    Hang On (View Comment):
    And how can the Canadian placard not have a loon?

    No idea.  I don’t know Canuck stuff.

    • #7
  8. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Hang On (View Comment):

    It’s better to have hot water than be in hot water.

    And how can the Canadian placard not have a loon?

    There are death wings.  You don’t know that’s not a dead loon.

    • #8
  9. John H. Member
    John H.
    @JohnH

    We got a query: do you guys have guns?

    No, want to give us some?

    I’ll remember that, in Spanish and in Portuguese.

    Unrelated, I imagine China has an embassy in the capital, and consulates as well in cities such as Cali. I wonder what is going on in those neighborhoods.

    • #9
  10. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    John H. (View Comment):
    I wonder what is going on in those neighborhoods.

    Good thought.

    • #10
  11. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Good trip report.

    You forgot to discuss food and PT.

    Make those edits and I’ll send it to the 2 button.

    All the arepas you can eat and all the Aguila you can drink…

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

    CACrabtree (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Good trip report.

    You forgot to discuss food and PT.

    Make those edits and I’ll send it to the 2 button.

    All the arepas you can eat and all the aguila you can drink…

    True.  I love Colombian food.

    • #12
  13. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    We are so blessed to have you on this site. You do and have done some awesome $*%!

    • #13
  14. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Glad you made it out alive.

    Boss Mongo: He gymnasticated over the center console storage thingy like a spider monkey smelling boiled peanuts…

    I’m still chucking about this.

     

    • #14
  15. OmegaPaladin Moderator
    OmegaPaladin
    @OmegaPaladin

    We need more movies about these bad@$$es instead of guys in tights.  I like a good superhero flick, but no one talks about this kind of awesome event. 

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    OmegaPaladin (View Comment):

    We need more movies about these bad@ $$es instead of guys in tights. I like a good superhero flick, but no one talks about this kind of awesome event.

    Amen!

    • #16
  17. Midwest Southerner Member
    Midwest Southerner
    @MidwestSoutherner

    I second what @Blondie and @She said.

    • #17
  18. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Boss Mongo: What would happen to a senior US officer that had a crucifix over and behind his desk?

    And would he be considered a bit too “violence forward” if he had a skull (with a buzzcut?!) sporting a pretty sweet looking pig sticker clenched in his teeth?

    • #18
  19. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Too freakin’ awesome for words . . .

    • #19
  20. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    Good SITREP. Airborne! 

    • #20
  21. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Now I know who eats boiled peanuts. I had got to wondering on a visit to Alabama in 2006.  I had tried some thinking they were intended for human consumption. My bad. Their roasted peanuts on the other hand, were the best ever. 

    • #21
  22. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    JimGoneWild (View Comment):

    Good SITREP. Airborne!

    All the way!

     

    • #22
  23. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    The Reticulator (View Comment):
    Now I know who eats boiled peanuts. I had got to wondering on a visit to Alabama in 2006.  I had tried some thinking they were intended for human consumption. My bad.

    Yeah, I don’t quite understand boiled peanuts, either.  Not my thing.

    • #23
  24. dajoho Member
    dajoho
    @dajoho

    Good report Boss.  Based on that laydown I’d say the exercise will go off w/o a hitch (always does right….?).  The Lanceros I have been hearing about those guys for decades.  Keep us up to date on how this shakes out.  And tell the LTMM hello. 

    • #24
  25. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    dajoho (View Comment):
    And tell the LTMM hello. 

    Wilco.  She loves you, man.  Probably more than me…

    • #25