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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.Published in