Sunday, September 28, 2008

Guest Blog Post - Chris Van Gorder

Final JCOC Update

Today we started our last full day in Europe with the U.S. Marine Corps Europe for a demonstration and display of the non-lethal tools they use. We were transported to Marine Forces Europe Headquarters (MARFOREUR) at the Panzer Kaserne Base. We were met by Marine Corps Colonel Brad Shumaker who introduced us to the topic for this session.

One does not think about the Marine Corps as a "non-lethal" organization but they are the lead armed service in evaluating and training of non-lethal tactics and equipment. This morning, the Marines described and demonstrated their use of non-lethal weapons including the use of piercing sound to discourage attack, weapons that fire rubber balls and paint to injure and mark a subject that might be involved in civil disobedience or an attack, tasers, riot gear and tools used to disable vehicles that might try to roll through a road block. All very interesting. Law enforcement has been using these tools for years but it is interesting to see the military adopt these tools in an effort to minimize collateral injuries or death even in a combat situation.

We then drove to the U.S. Special Operations Command led by Air Force Major General Frank Kisner.

The facility they use in Stuttgart is very large with facilities and open area in which to train.

The Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) provides operational direction and control of special operations, civil affairs, and psychological operations forces stationed in Europe. From a variety of assets, SOCEUR forms task forces capable of executing special operations as well as conducting assessments and response to crises throughout EUCOM.

SOCEUR's activities include Joint/Combined Exchange Training events, the Joint Contact Team Program, the African Crisis Response Initiative, and humanitarian demining operations.

Readiness to respond to crisis is SOCEUR's highest priority as reflected in its motto - Semper Preparate (Always Prepared). SOCEUR sustains its unique capabilities to respond to a full spectrum of crisis - from trans-national threats, through smaller scale events, to major war.

The JCOC members were split into two groups to experience and work with some of our Army and Navy Special Warfare Operators. My group went to the KD firing range first to use the same weapons the special forces use in combat. We were able to fire handguns, shotguns, specially designed rifles and automatic weapons like the M4, MP5 and others. We had a special warfare soldier or sailor with us at every station for a quick brief and then they let us fire away.

We then met with some of the special operations sailors from the Navy - Navy Seals - to see their equipment and spend some time talking to them about their experiences.

Our team was then driven to the large open area designed for Special Warfare Training. This is a huge forest area built with a driving area for convoy and on-road tactical training and at least one area of buildings designed for assault practice.

We were taken to these buildings and escorted several stories high in one of them so we could listen to a presentation about the Special Warfare capabilities and to observe an assault or " Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT) Demonstration. The assault was to be conducted by three special operations squads on two different buildings at the same time. One building had an armed enemy guard.

As we watched, the rain started to come down but that won't stop this type of operation. We observed two workmen and a work truck parked on the road next to the closest building that was to be assaulted - the one with the armed guard.

In the distance we observed one special ops squad come out of the forest and surround the far building to be assaulted. Since the squad was in sight of the workmen, it became obvious to us that the workmen were also special ops. As the distant squad approached the house, the two workmen approached the guard and engaged him in conversation. At that time an explosion went off at the distant house drawing my attention. I looked back to the close house and saw that the guard was down - taken out by the two special ops soldiers. Another squad exited the forest and entered the close building after another explosion to breach the door - or stun the residents. As both squads entered the buildings, two heavily armed Humvees came up the road to provide support and cover fire for both special ops squads. And, as fast as they entered, they exited having completed their assignment and jumped on the Humvees for a quick exit from the scene.

This all took just a minute or so.

We were then given the opportunity to meet each of the special ops soldiers that conducted the assault. Each was a bright professional soldier who had completed many years of training to qualify for special ops. The entire group had just returned from Iraq where they had conducted more than 100 missions. One of the NCOs I spoke with pointed out a friend who had been wounded by a hand grenade. An insurgent had been killed. As the soldier approached the insurgent, a hand grenade fell out of the dead mans hand exploding. His body armor saved his life but he got shrapnel in his leg. He went to the hospital but returned to his squad within three weeks.

One of my JCOC colleagues asked him if it was true that things were slowing down in Iraq. The soldier smiled and said, "not where they send us."

We all went back to the KD Range to have lunch at the "Garden of Eden." This is a restaurant that is used by the special ops group for meals and parties. The photographs and notes hanging on the wall had a lot of special warfare history.

I spoke to one NCO at lunch about HALO parachute jumping. HALO stands for "high altitude - low opening." He gave me a detailed explanation and told me of his highest jump - from almost 25,000 feet. Of course he had to pre-breathe oxygen and carry oxygen along with all of his other equipment. In this jump, he opened his chute at 18,000 feet so he could fly the parachute twelve miles to a landing zone - silently. Using timing, proper altitude and good flying with precise navigation, he came through the clouds at about 5,000 feet and the landing zone was directly ahead. Amazing!

We then went to a high security windowless building - the EUCOM Operations Center for a briefing by BGen Mark Brilakis. Everything in the Operations Center was "sanitized" so no sensitive information was shared. The briefing was excellent and a description of activities and the people who staff the center 24-hours a day was also excellent.

We went back to the hotel for a couple of hours and then went out to our last dinner. We were hosted by General Bantz J. Craddock, U.S. Army - Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander, United States European Command. He is also the NATO Commander - a position the United States has always held. By the way, the Supreme Allied Commander is the same position General Eisenhower held during World War II.

General Craddock was joined by several other Generals, Colonels and high ranking civilian staff from the command.

The dinner was held at the Castle Schloss Weitenberg. The castle is operated by the owner as a hotel and restaurant. The current owner, Max-Richard Baron von Rassler met us and thanked us for coming. He told us we helped maintain the castle.

The castle was originally built in 1062 and purchased by the Baron's ancestors in 1720. The family has owned it since that time. In 1954, the hotel and restaurant was developed to help fund the maintenance of the castle.

The dinner was wonderful - many comments from General Craddock, Air Force BGEN David Cotton who joined us for this trip and members from each team to give the audience some idea of our take-aways.

The short presentations were excellent - all teams believed the highlight of the trip was meeting our service personnel - soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines, coastguardsmen, NCOs, officers and general officers - all volunteers and all committed to keeping us free and safe. There were comments about the technology used by the services, the cooperation between the different service branches and other affiliated agencies. There were comments about how patriotism grew this week.

But it all came back to the people - and I remembered what Staff Sergeant Edward Mosley told me yesterday when I asked him what we could do for him and his colleagues. He did not ask for more money, more time off or more technology or equipment - he just said,

"Don't forget us."

Thank you DOD and EUCOM and to all of you who will be standing watch tonight - and tomorrow..........

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