BOBLINGEN, Germany – What makes an ideal “Green Beret” Soldier? Perhaps it has to do with fighting alongside native forces behind enemy lines. One might imagine that the ideal Green Beret would be an expert at survival, mountaineering and guerrilla tactics as well, especially today as the fight in Afghanistan continues. The Green Beret would certainly be able to speak several languages and be unafraid of the seemingly impossible challenges involved with operating in austere environments around the world.
If these qualities define the ideal Special Forces Soldier, then during 2009, the epitome of this Soldier within 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) could be found on Special Forces Operational Detachment – A (SFODA) 0116.
One would also find the best enablers in 10th SFG (A) – mechanics, electronic maintenance technicians, riggers, food service specialists, and ammunition specialists – within the 1st Battalion Service Detachment.
During a short ceremony on June 28, 2010, Col. Sean P. Swindell, the 10th Special Forces Group commander, honored the 1st Battalion Soldiers with the Larry Thorne Award for being the best detachments in 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) throughout 2009. The award commemorates Special Forces legend Larry Thorne – a technically and tactically proficient warrior who was always on the offensive.
“He was a complex yet driven man who valorously fought oppression under three flags and didn’t acknowledge the meaning of quit,” said Swindell. “He earned the Finnish equivalent of the Medal of Honor and fought against the Russians in World War II under both Finland and Germany. After the war, he came to the United States where he joined the U.S. Army as a Lodge Act Soldier.”
Thorne quickly made it into the U.S. Special Forces and in 1962, as a Captain, he led his detachment onto the highest mountain in Iran to recover the bodies and classified material from an American C-130 airplane that had crashed. It was a mission in which others had failed, but Thorne’s unrelenting spirit led to its accomplishment.
This mission initially formed his status as a U.S. Special Forces legend, but it was his deep strategic reconnaissance and interdiction exploits with Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Studies and Observation Group, also known as MACV-SOG, that solidified his legendary status.
In 1965, his helicopter disappeared during a mission and he was declared missing-in-action. His remains were eventually recovered in 1999, but his legend as an ideal Green Beret never died.
The Special Forces detachment lived up to Thorne’s legend during its engagements in Africa as well as during European partner nation military training and counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan.
“The detachment performed complex Special Forces missions from Foreign Internal Defense in Africa and Afghanistan to Partnership Development in Europe,” said Master Sgt. Rob Elliott, the detachment’s former operations sergeant. “We operated within a great working environment, which led to an extremely cohesive and effective detachment.”
It was in Afghanistan that the detachment really began to understand the complexities of foreign internal defense conducted in a combat environment. During its second deployment there, the team organized and then provided security for a massive shura in the Kapisa Province that included Department of Defense Agribusiness Development Teams (ADT), State Department and USAID experts to discuss pomegranate agriculture development.
The meeting had strategic effects as the ADT provided training to Afghan locals about how to cultivate their fruit more productively, the State Department coordinated with a juice factory in Kabul that would purchase the pomegranates, and USAID set up export visas for growers to showcase their products in India.
It provided an outlet for the growers to put their products back on the national and international markets – something that hadn’t been done for the more than thirty years of conflict in Afghanistan.
“Kinetic operations show the enemy that we can hit them hard, but in the long run, they are of limited value. There has to be proof to the people that you’re doing something for them, and it’s the development and governance aspects of the mission that provide the proof,” said the detachment’s commander about their success in Afghanistan. “Our efforts improved security and more importantly, improved the lives of Afghans living in the Tagab Valley of the Kapisa Province.”
1/10 SFG(A) Service Detachment
Successful special operations depend upon rock-solid enablers, and the Soldiers of the Service Detachment had an enormous impact disproportionate to their numbers on the battalion’s overall combat readiness and effectiveness.
“This is one element that supported three Combatant Commanders,” said Col. Swindell. “They supported SFODAs operating in isolated and austere environments providing vital support necessary to conduct not only combat operations, but also develop the capacity of NATO SOF and Afghan partners.”
In Africa, the Service Detachment provided direct support to detachments conducting combined training events for host nation partners, which assisted the strategic goals of AFRICOM and national policy objectives.
Within Europe, the Service Detachment’s direct support of key yearly events, such as Jackal Stone, further enhanced strong relationships with European SOF partners. Finally, the Soldiers supported combat operations in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan, where the detachment supported Task Force-10 in a multinational combat environment.
“You hear me talking about being exceptionally enabled,” said Col. Swindell as he spoke to one of the service detachment mechanics. “You’ve created that environment. I’m looking for mechanics that can fix everything in the motorpool and then whatever vehicle that you’re working on, whether it be a Hilux in Africa, a Stryker in Iraq or an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle in Afghanistan.”
Maintaining the Pressure
As Swindell and his command team addressed 1st Battalion following the ceremony, he charged the men to continue the legacy of Maj. Larry Thorne. He spoke of adaptability, self-discipline and of maintaining the offensive in everything that they did.
“Larry Thorne epitomizes what a Green Beret is and what we all need to become,” concluded Col. Swindell. “He was self-disciplined and he’s the model of what I expect from a Green Beret – something we all need to strive for.”