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June 2010
The Tip of the Spear: U.S. Army Special Operations Forces Capabilities Exercise
By John Paul Galles

Carolinas Contingent Invited to USASOC CAPEX


     It is important to remember that our nation is fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The one is winding down in Iraq, but the other continues with no end in sight. These wars are different from wars in the past. We are fighting a Global War on Terror in which the terrorist movement is elusive and dispersed. They are not from one specific country or another. They don’t wear uniforms or colors that are easily recognizable. We have no choice but to chase them, hunt them, and defeat them where we find them. There are complex, irregular and hybrid threats as well as regular threats to military forces.

     At the same time, our soldiers need to engage the people they encounter within these wars. They must communicate and educate and train them to maintain their own security, so they can carry out somewhat normal lives for themselves and their families and their economy.

     Given that background, nearly 50 business leaders and executives from the Carolinas were invited to Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C., to witness the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) Capabilities Exercise (CAPEX). The USASOC is based at Ft. Bragg and provides command and control of the Special Operations units including Special Forces, Ranger, 160th Aviation Regimen and other elite units. The purpose of this exercise was to showcase the capabilities of the finest and most capable military organization in the world.

     Those of us from the Charlotte region assembled at the N.C. Air National Guard unit on the grounds of the Charlotte-Douglas Airport. We gathered on a Sunday afternoon and were briefed by MG William Ingram Jr. of the N.C. National Guard. Since 9-11, the N.C. National Guard has deployed over 18,000 soldiers/airmen in support of the Global War on Terror. We were flown to Pope AFB on C-130 transport planes. That evening we were escorted to the Airborne and Special Operations Museum full of history about these forces and how they have been used since World War II.


Our Morning

     On Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. we were picked up by bus from Ft. Bragg and divided into four groups. The exercise had begun. Upon arrival at Special Ops headquarters, we were lined up side-by-side and then marched into General John Mulholland’s briefing room. Within moments, the soldiers that took us from the buses told us to be quiet. Almost immediately, a cell phone rang and the soldiers tackled the person with the phone and handcuffed him, placed a bag over his head and threw him into a vehicle and drove off. I quickly reached down to make sure my phone was off! At that moment, it was clear that someone else was in charge.

     In the briefing room, General Mulholland described our day of activity and told us that we were there as prisoners of war. He said that in each field of action, U.S. soldiers are dealing with the enemy, insurgents, local citizens, local forces being trained to take over and our own troops. He wanted us to witness these exercises and think about the different perspectives that soldiers confront every day. This operation is the “tip of the spear” in our country. We were going to witness live fire events and the incredibly bright young talent that makes all our military work well. These are America’s elite fighting forces.

     Upon exiting the briefing, we were amazed by the Black Dagger Free Fall Jump demonstration. Six jumpers landed nearly perfectly one by one on a mark about 20 yards from where we were standing. These were sharp, crisp landings that were incredibly precise. Wow!

     We were ushered back onto the buses by the enemy guards that kept us quiet until we reached a checkpoint on base that appeared to be under their control. But when our buses stopped, they climbed out to check on some commotion and all of a sudden, boom, boom, boom, the guards were shot and U.S. Army forces took control and welcomed us to Shooting Range #37 for firing and assault demonstrations. Every Special Ops soldier spends a minimum of eight weeks undergoing intensive training in preparation for fighting in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

     Our first training demonstration was with assault rifles. Now, I have not shot a firearm since the boy scouts and then it was only a small rifle. These were 50 caliber sniper rifles that would penetrate steel at 800 meters. Four different sniper rifles were on display and each was demonstrated in front of us. We all had safety glasses and ear plugs, but the plugs did not seem to muffle the sound very well. And then, we were given the chance to fire each of the weapons.

     There I was on my belly, looking through a scope that showed me crosshairs when the target was sighted. I was instructed to position the butt of the gun between my shoulder and my chest, my cheek against the stock and my finger near the trigger. I tried to relax and slowly pulled the trigger while keeping the crosshairs on the target. Boom went the gun and about two seconds later, I could hear the bullet hit the target…thud. That was an amazing experience for me. We shot three different sniper rifles, but not the biggest one that blew the doors off a vehicle at 450 meters.

     Our next demonstration was at another nearby shooting range where we were shown how soldiers fired the weapons that they carry with them. They included an M8 assault rifle, an MP5 assault rifle and a Glock pistol. We watched several soldiers enter the range and attack multiple targets in single, semi and fully automatic firing positions. Then, we were invited and shown how to use each of those weapons.

     Our demonstration continued with a climb up some scaffolding along the outside and over a building with about eight rooms. Four soldiers blasted their way into the building and demonstrated how they enter rooms, take out the enemy and rescue hostages. The doors were blown incredibly quickly and their guns were blazing with live ammunition. The smoke from the guns darkened our sight, but inside of three minutes, the enemy were dead, the rooms cleared and the soldiers were off to the next building.

     Following that, we were escorted to laser firing ranges where both close-up shooting and distance shooting were controlled by different computers. It was the stand-up version with various simulations and conditions, similar to video games. Again, we were given a chance to shoot these weapons to see how they were helpful in training our soldiers.

     We broke for lunch and were served MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat). Not too bad, but not great; nevertheless filling if you ate all that was provided.


Our Afternoon

     The afternoon began with more briefings about communications equipment, physical training and hand-to-hand combat techniques as well as PSYOPs or psychological operations training and civil affairs training. Then, we were assembled to watch an unconventional warfare setting where the enemy was engaged by local troops that had been trained to defend themselves and to protect their stations. Mortar shells, smoke bombs, machine  gun fire, explosions and different weapons were used and demonstrated with lots of action, smoke and noise.

     Again, we boarded our buses and were taken through a peaceful demonstration and road block with a leaflet drop. Demonstrators pounded on our doors and told us to leave. After they were broken up and departed, we were escorted to the roof tops of two buildings that overlooked a small village with two- and three-story buildings filled will enemy snipers firing at civilians. Air Mobile Operations delivered an assault team on MH-47 Chinook helicopters that attacked the village and overcame the enemy. Then we were ushered onto the helicopters. They took off, flying just over the treetops with the tail end halfway open, and we were flown back to Pope AFB.

     General Mulholland greeted us and welcomed us to freedom. He also congratulated us on our escape and our adventure. He expressed gratitude for the time and attention that we had given from our daily lives to learn about the U.S. Army and the Special Operations Forces. He wanted us to take back to our friends and community the exercises that we had just completed. He wanted us to remind others that we have to keep training our troops to be specially prepared for the war that continues.

     We boarded the C-130 plane for our hour-long flight back home to Charlotte. Our minds were filled with all that we had witnessed and learned. It was an experience of a lifetime for me and the others. We were so impressed at the resources and training and the preparation for war. We are immensely grateful for the soldiers, airmen, sailors and marines who fight to defend and protect our way of life. We wish them well and remain determined to keep them well prepared for these confrontations. We also pray and wish that their families are cared for while they are absent from them.

     May God bless our troops and their families and keep them safe and healthy so we may succeed in our objectives and to keep America safe!

John Paul Galles is the publisher of Greater Charlotte Biz.
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