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This true story of a Special Forces officer in Vietnam in the mid-sixties will acquaint you with the unique nature of Special Operations Forces and how covert operations are developed and often masked to permit — even sponsor — assassination, outright purposeful killing of innocents, illegal use of force and bizzare methods in combat operations.

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The Unconventional Warrior
by LTC ‘Dangerous’ Dan Marvin

A  R  C  H  I  V  E  S

© 2002 Daniel Marvin

Part Five: Green Berets — The Nitty & Gritty

September 9, 2002

There is little doubt in the minds of most Americans, even those who know only what they have gleaned from the papers or seen on TV telling of the training or exploits of the US Army's Special Forces, the men who wear the Green Beret, that they are the most highly trained unconventional warriors available.

Special Forces teams are commonly asked to do what convention would consider impossible, even insane. Missions might include forays into perilous situations never before explored; much less taken on full force, knowing these uniquely trained, fearless and highly motivated fighters would somehow get the job done. They would emerge victorious even when outnumbered, outgunned and on their own, with little or no outside combat support.

"Nitty Gritty" as defined in Webster's New World Dictionary of the English Language © 1974, means "the actual, basic facts, elements, issues, etc."

In this part, I will discuss some of what falls within that definition. The reader should understand that what is basic to a Special Forces officer, Warrant Officer or Noncommissioned officer would boggle the mind of a conventional military man and rightfully so. The man you see wearing the Green Beret is already a three time volunteer, first to join the US Army, second to earn the parachute badge and third to participate in a training program that rejects more than it graduates before he can be assigned to a Special Forces unit as a fully qualified Green Beret. Most will then volunteer many times during their careers in this elite organization of "can-do" warriors so as to be a part of an operation that is inherently dangerous as is especially true in an independent operation. My book Expendable Elite is about such a mission, revealing the fact that the greatest threat to their very existence may come from those who sent them, should they be declared necessarily expendable.

When a nation has available to it Special Operations Force volunteers eminently qualified to move quickly to any trouble spot in the world and engage in unconventional warfare (whether it be direct involvement in active combat and its many collateral missions of civic action, psychological warfare and possibly military government operations, deployed as a counter-terrorist unit or dispatched on special missions involving the training of indigenous forces) that nation will be called on to help those less fortunate countries who find themselves in a highly explosive and Inextricable immediate defensive need or a long term Incipient Insurgency situation.

You will be introduced to certain aspects of Special Forces training and involvement later in this series. In Part 6 — Blow the ASWAN High Dam I will explore special demolitions and discuss the contingency mission on the books in 1964 that called for the insertion of my all-volunteer team of eight Green Berets carrying a man portable atomic demolition device we would employ to destroy critical power transmission facilities at the ASWAN High Dam then under construction in Egypt. Should you be skeptical that such a device exists, consult Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Publication 1 dated 1 September 1964 which contains the unclassified definition of the SADM (Special Atomic Demolition Munition) devices. At that time I was told they were stored at Seneca Army Depot in upstate New York.

Special testing of unconventional warfare items at Natick Laboratories near Boston, Massachusetts, coupled with what I thought to be some interesting dialogue between a Mafia Don, myself and an SF Master Sergeant, during which an unusual job was offered, are discussed in Part 7 — An Offer from the Don. My book Expendable Elite will give you an appreciation for and whet your appetite for greater exposure to the extremely important role that a team of Green Berets plays in a counterinsurgency situation that has to do with the vital nature of civic action.

Part 9 — Civic Action: The Building of Loyalty will acquaint you with the who, what, when, where, why and how of that area of consuming interest and you will understand why 60% of the efforts of my SF team went into the Civic Action program with the goal of "Winning the Hearts and Minds of the People" being a primary activity.

You will get a glimpse of what takes place in the war of words and deeds in Part 10, Psychological Warfare Operations and be exposed to the extremely wide-ranging and technically demanding activities involved in a Special Forces' medic's duty performance in Part 13, The Dog Lab at Fort Bragg. It will also make you proud of what the Green Beret Medics have accomplished and what they went through physically, mentally and emotionally to earn their MOS.

One serious but little reported aspect of command and control involved in the employment of Special Forces, particularly those teams dispatched as an "independent" operation, is the lack of continuing jurisdiction and the adverse effect the abuse of power can have on mission, men and people they were sent to help and our nation's credibility. In my book Expendable Elite You will learn of a few instances that will not only leave an indelible mark in your psyche, but hopefully will inspire you to help in any way you can to let our government know that we must act honorably and establish those controls, namely the checks and balances needed to assure that is the case.

To me the lack of spiritual direction and adherence to the Christian principles this nation was founded on is our real Achilles Heel. If we do not pull ourselves together as a nation and again inculcate Christian values in the home, the schools, the workplace, courts and in government, we will someday live under Communist rule.

When I first joined the Army as a raw recruit, along with my first military clothing, boots, towels and dog tags I was issued a pocket-sized New Testament with an olive drab cover at Fort Devens, Massachusetts in June 1952. Our American Army was a God-fearing Army in those days and we soon learned from the "old-timers" that if God had not been for us and against Emperor Hirohito and Adolf Hitler we would have lost the war, just knowing the odds against us, as worldly numbers reflected at the time. I was sure happy to be a part of that God fearing Army and knew in my heart that we could defeat any adversary who went against our nation and our God.

I am pleased to share with the readers what was printed on the back cover of my Army-issue Special Forces Handbook, the one I carried with me to South Vietnam in December 1965. Published by the Commandant of the Special Warfare School on 1 January 1965, it stated boldly on the cover page:
"The material contained herein reflects doctrine as currently taught at the Special Warfare School and is derived from material intended for school use, prepared for resident instruction at the Special Warfare School."
That doctrinal handbook included this prayer:


Almighty GOD, who art the Author of Liberty and the Champion of the oppressed, hear our prayer:
We, the men of Special Forces, acknowledge our dependence upon Thee in the preservation of human freedom.
Go with us as we seek to defend the defenseless and to free the enslaved.
May we ever remember that our nation, whose motto is "In God we Trust", expects that we shall acquit ourselves with honor, that we may never bring shame upon our faith, our families, or our fellow men.
Grant us wisdom from Thy mind, courage from Thine heart, strength from Thine arm, and protection from Thine Hand. It is for Thee that we do battle, and to Thee belongs this victor's crown.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and glory forever, AMEN.

I was honored to command Special Forces Detachment A-424 from the end of December 1965 through the first of August 1966. Team members who served with me in An Phu during that period of time exemplified the very finest in Special Forces, each one embodying the principles of that Special Forces Prayer in the conduct of their day-to-day functions, whether it be combat, civic action, psychological warfare or helping to build stronger ties between the Hoa Hao people and the Central Government in Saigon. I can say, without compunction that we who were Special Forces Team A-424 never misused or wrought harm to the people who trusted us to be their friends and fellow defenders of freedom. We were there to assist them in maintaining what was important to them as a people and we never abused the power that was ours to use for good or bad, staying the straight and narrow course of a just direction in all that we did. Living the words of that prayer and using them as our mental road map to success made it possible for us to be continually victorious in the many battles we fought against a vastly superior enemy force in both numbers and weapons. Perhaps even more spectacular as a vivid frame of reference is what our sticking by what we know to be right allowed us to remain loyal and steadfast to our Hoa Hao fighters and families and to survive the wrath of the CIA when (as told in Expendable Elite), they dispatched an ARVN Regiment to attack our camp in June 1966, wanting to destroy us in retribution for what I did to unilaterally abort their plan to assassinate the Crown Prince of Cambodia.

The Propensity to Abuse Power

Forthcoming articles in The Unconventional Warrior Series and books in progress will inform and alert the reader from what I personally experienced or was made acutely aware of by sources I considered honorable and credible, the danger that is inherent within any military or civilian organization or political entity when the individual in command possesses independent and unbridled authority.

Understanding the need for higher level scrutiny in any such instance, I wrote President George Bush on 25 September 2001, just two weeks following the Trade Center disaster, to offer him insight based on my experiences. In that letter I stated my case strongly, telling President Bush, "Why I write you is that, having served as a Special Forces officer in Vietnam, Thailand, CONUS and as part of worldwide contingency plans, I have experienced some of what we would otherwise call terrorist tactics under the Flag of the U.S.A. I believe that we as a nation, even as we condemn the terrorists and move forward with all available assets, particularly the Special Forces, to find and punish the enemy we must take immediate and aggressive action internally to cease and desist from similar type activities we have in the past and may otherwise -in the future engage in that are outside the scope of lawful execution of orders inherent in a declared war. We must also establish those absolute controls needed to insure that our nation's response to terrorist attacks or other acts of war against this nation is legitimate and measured to preclude the abuse of the power that too often is fostered in a climate of conflict among those in positions of power who control the many weapons of mass destruction."' I went on to delineate specific examples of actual or attempted abuses of power.

Though the "meat" of what I had written to him and what I had referred him to had been previously used as part of what I had submitted to his father, then President George H.W. Bush, to convince him of the need to demand an investigation that would (and did successfully) clear former ARVN Lieutenant General Quang Van Dang of allegations and heinous innuendoes that had been perpetrated by the CIA against Dang in retribution of my unilateral aborting of the Sihanouk assassination plot, the current President Bush did not respond specifically to this author.

There is much more to bring to your attention but it will have to wait for the moment. Keep watching!

Next Week

Part Six: Blow the Aswan High Dam

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