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The Field of Fight
How to Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies
By Michael T. Flynn, Michael Ledeen
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2016 Michael T. Flynn and Michael Ledeen
All rights reserved.
The Making of an Intel Officer
I was one very lucky kid. Life was rough-and-tumble for my hectic family of eleven, living and growing up in a small house in Middletown, Rhode Island. Finding a place to lay your head for a night's sleep was a never-ending revolving search to nab one of a few fold-up cots or a bunk bed that was open. And breakfast could easily turn into a negotiation or fight for the last glass of powdered milk and a piece of toast. For a time, I added to this nonstop turbulence.
Looking back, it was this turmoil and my own dangerous behavior as an adolescent that led to my ability to get inside our enemies' heads.
I was one of those nasty tough kids, hell-bent on breaking rules for the adrenaline rush and hardwired just enough to not care about the consequences. This misguided mind-set and some serious and unlawful activity by me and two of my co-hoodlum teenage friends would eventually lead to my arrest. The charges warranted a very unpleasant night in "Socko" — the state boys reformatory — and a year of supervised probation. Saved! I thought at the time. Stay clean for those twelve months and my record would be expunged.
As fate would have it, this arrest and my father's steel hands and mother's piercing eyes of disappointment turned my downward trajectory of crash and burn into a reservoir of opportunity for the rest of my life. From there on out, life would change. I was lucky, although it sure didn't seem that way at the time.
As the cliché goes, "it takes one to know one." Just like reformed hackers who have done tremendous work in cyber security, or the miscreants of the Dirty Dozen made famous in World War II for their unorthodox war-fighting ways (to say the least), I was briefly the same sort of irreverent rascal. Like many of our best intelligence professionals, life experiences, like mine, sharpen our focus into how the world looks through criminal eyes.
My father was a no-nonsense guy named Charlie. He served more than twenty years in the U.S. Army in both World War II and Korea. He retired as a sergeant first class. Like virtually all of his peers, Charlie was a tough disciplinarian and worked hard. After the Army, he went to work for a bank, starting as a teller and finishing as vice president, which tells you a lot about his talent and ambition. Common among his generation, he was a chronic smoker and like it or not, being of Irish descent, Charlie toasted life with drink in hand more than he should have done. After surviving two major heart attacks and a total of six heart bypasses, he developed serious diabetes, eventually losing both of his feet. A fighter right up to the day he died, it was a combination of smoking, drinking, heart complications, and diabetes that killed him. That day was a terrible and intense one for me. Waves of memories of my childhood rushed into my mind as I remembered the lessons I learned from my rejection of his good sergeant's counsel and near-daily physical interactions.
My mother, Helen, was an even tougher Irishman. She kept order in a one-bathroom house with nine kids who all had to be out the door at the same time. She organized the daily chaos in genealogical order, first born, first in, youngest last. It was good training for living in military barracks. In fact, growing up with enough siblings to field a baseball team was invaluable in learning how to build an effective organization of a very different kind.
Helen was valedictorian of her high school class. She was brilliant and remains the most courageous person I have ever known. Although she had received a full scholarship to Brown University's Pembroke College for women, when Charlie came back on leave from World War II and asked for her hand in marriage, she dropped out of school, married her high school sweetheart, and the kids soon started their arrivals. Later in her life, Helen went on to finish her undergraduate degree and earned her Doctor of Laws — all the time working, going to school nights and weekends while raising her Irish brood. She was not one to suffer fools gladly. And anyone foolish enough to drop by for a casual visit was immediately put to work or could find themselves in a heated political debate. She ran our house like the Army bases that were my homes for decades. Once retired from service to our country, Helen and Charlie moved into our little house on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean in Middletown, Rhode Island, where I raised hell and drew the wrong kind of attention until these two giants in my life put a stop to it all.
One night at Socko and a year of probation were no comparison to the punishment at home. My rehabilitation was one of the fastest in adolescent history. I had it coming, and it taught me that moral rehab is possible. I behaved during my term of probation and stopped all of my criminal activity. But I would always retain my strong impulse to challenge authority and to think and act on my own whenever possible. There is room for such types in America, even in the disciplined confines of the United States Army. I'm a big believer in the value of unconventional men and women. They are the innovators and risk takers.
Apple, one of the world's most creative and successful high-tech companies, lives by the vision of transformation through exception. "Here's to the crazy ones," Apple's campaign says. "The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
If you talk to my colleagues, they'll tell you that I'm cut from the same cloth.
My military biography starts badly. I was a miserable dropout in my freshman year of college (1.2 GPA), enlisted in a delayed-entry Marine Corps program, went to work as a lifeguard at a local beach, and then came the first of several miracles: an Army ROTC scholarship. Little did I know that my rebellious activities, such as skipping class and sundry other mistakes, would lead me to playing basketball (which I was very good at) with an ROTC instructor who saw something in me. Not only that, he took surprising initiative.
He came to my father's house in early August of 1978 and offered to get me a three-year scholarship if I would batten down and get better grades. And, he worked out something with the USMC to keep me from going to boot camp (to this day I don't know how he managed that one). He clearly took a risk and it clearly paid off. I wish I knew where he was today.
After completing college, I entered the Army as an intelligence officer in the field of signals intelligence and electronic warfare. Why this field and not the infantry? My professor of military science (Lieutenant Colonel O'Grady), a Special Forces officer with Vietnam experience and lots of time at a place called Fort Bragg (a place where I would spend half my career), sat me down one day and said, I know you'd do well in the combat arms, but intelligence is where you need to go. Specifically, he pointed me to this relatively new field of electronic warfare that was emerging with advanced technologies in the early 1980s. I gave it a shot on my military branch assignment requests and got in. From being a college dropout to receiving this news, I felt pretty happy that I had achieved something I would never have imagined.
My first assignment after my initial intelligence training programs — at Army bases such as Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and then attending Ranger training — was the 82nd Airborne Division (America's Guard of Honor). There, I held a variety of assignments, but the most important and longest was as a platoon leader. During those formative years, I had deployments to Panama, Honduras, and other parts of Central America. In those days the United States was fighting the Sandinistas and engaging the Somozans and all manner of other insurgents in Central and South America. The Soviet Union and its allies were still our nation's main enemy and the proxy wars raged all around us.
One of those proxy wars was being played out on a tiny island called Grenada, the Isle of Spice. Although I had already done operational deployments to Panama and Honduras, along the Nicaragua border, Grenada would be my first combat deployment and combat experience. I deployed as platoon leader in support of 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne for operations against the Cubans who had occupied and taken over large parts of Grenada. These same forces along with the rebel militia on the island were threatening our regional neighborhood, as well as threatening a large contingent of U.S. students attending medical school on the island.
While there are differing versions of this first combat deployment, what happened was as follows:
I was 1st Platoon leader, Alpha Company, 313th Military Intelligence Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. 1st Platoon was a Signals Intelligence Collection and Electronic Warfare Jamming platoon. For that time, it was a pretty sophisticated outfit.
The 82nd had been mobilized to go into Grenada and our intelligence battalion was part of that mobilization.
We were herding all sorts of cats during the early, very chaotic days of this operation (Operation Urgent Fury), pushing members of the battalion out through the "Green Ramp" at Pope Air Force Base in support of the division's deployment to Grenada. Once there, we had a few tasks: oust the Cubans, help the government of the now assassinated Maurice Bishop, push Communist influence out of the Caribbean, and save the American medical students who were being held against their will.
Many of those in my Collection and Jamming platoon were exceptional Spanish-speaking electronic warfare/signals collection analysts and linguists; many were from Puerto Rico, some from Los Angeles and a couple from New York City. All were tough paratroopers who you did not want fighting against you — these young men (including myself) were well trained and always ready for a fight. That was the 82nd Airborne way and still is.
We were well prepared for any such missions, but Grenada came as a surprise, like most conflicts and wars. Although Grenada had a substantial Cuban military presence, it was better known as a vacation spot with one of the most beautiful beaches in the world — but once things started to heat up, we were besieged with calls for support. Within a few hours, members from my platoon were ordered to deploy. To be blunt, there was a lot of chaos across the division, and that certainly existed at our battalion headquarters. Our command group, under Lieutenant Colonel Tom O'Connell (universally known as "OC" and a great leader), had already deployed. He took a few men forward as a command and control element to support the division's Tactical Command Post positioned off the airfield on Grenada.
As I was being asked to deploy members of my platoon, I went to my company commander and asked for permission to deploy the remainder of my platoon, believing we could support not only current operations but any follow-on deployments that might be necessary. The reporting coming back from Grenada was a bit disjointed and the situation was confused (to be kind). And it didn't sound like things were going well.
My commander approved and at that stage I returned to the remainder of my platoon, who were all ready to go. We then arranged transportation down to Green Ramp and proceeded to get ourselves manifested on the next tranche of forces deploying into Grenada. This all happened in about a day and we finally got on an aircraft late night/early morning and arrived in Grenada at approximately first light. When we arrived, we grabbed up all of our equipment (we brought extra SIGINT and other special collection equipment) and moved to the hill overlooking the airfield where our battalion HQ was located and where I would find Lieutenant Colonel O'Connell.
He clearly wasn't aware that we would be arriving, but did immediately direct us to position our Low Level Voice Intercept (LLVI) teams on key locations around the airfield and he also directed our telecommunication intercept team to head into the city and position ourselves in the phone company, tap into the phone network, and see what we could learn. By late afternoon I, and my senior Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC), had moved to the phone company in downtown St. George's. We tapped into the telecommunications network on the island and started listening for Cuban communications to those trying to escape and from those on the island trying to communicate what was happening. It was a very confusing time, but looking back this was an imaginative use of paratroopers and we were able to provide some intelligence to the division and 2nd Brigade about some Cubans trying to leave the island from a coastal location. I learned later that the Navy was able to interdict a boat that was to be used to conduct the escape.
After the positioning of this element in the city, we did some rummaging around a couple of the locations that had seen fighting, and looked through some of the documents and photos that were literally strewn around the inside of these buildings and villas. We didn't find anything of real value, but it taught me how much we lost when we disregarded the kind of information that could be discovered in some of the documents, had we thought to capture them and organize them in some fashion to be of at least tactical value.
After a period of four to five days, I went back to the airfield and checked on my other Signals Intelligence Collection teams. I then positioned myself with one of my teams at the western end of the airfield — a superb location offering line of sight into the city, and along the southern and western part of the island. We could, in essence, electronically "see" and "hear" any communications.
While at this location, which was positioned along a high cliff, I was told there were men in trouble out at sea just off the coastline. I went to the cliff and saw two soldiers, who had taken a raft off the beach for a swim, but the strong currents pulled them out to sea and they were starting to panic. It was about 1700 and we had only a few hours of daylight left.
I grew up as a lifeguard and competitive swimmer from the time I could remember, and had surfed my whole life. While I always respected the ocean, I had experienced strong currents in some of the hurricanes I surfed in. Also, I had done some cliff diving as well as jumping off of a couple of pretty high bridges. One time, in my wayward days as a young radical, a Rhode Island state trooper came down to the bottom of the bridge I had just leapt from. As I swam in to shore, the trooper told me that a driver passing by said someone had just jumped off the bridge, thinking I was committing suicide. No wonder: that bridge was pretty high — probably above seventy-five feet. The trooper told me to knock it off and go home. I did, but on that day in Grenada it turned out to be a useful skill.
Meanwhile, I saw that the two soldiers were in serious trouble and one was clearly not a good swimmer, so I told my team leader to get word to the battalion that I was going to help them, and to summon additional help.
I jumped off the cliff — about a forty-foot jump into the swirling waters off the southern tip of the airfield — and swam to the two soldiers. I told them to hold on to the raft, which was deflated and no longer providing the necessary flotation to support them.
I told them I would bring each of them to the side of the cliff and place them on a ledge that we could see from the water. I decided to take one at a time and started with the weaker swimmer first. I swam each about fifty meters to the base of the cliff and, using the tide and the waves breaking up on the cliffs, pushed them to a place where they could sit and wait for more help.
There was no way that either of these guys could have made it back to shore on their own; they didn't have the swimming capability, both were very tired, and the currents were powerfully churning around the back side of the island.
I had managed to get both of them on a ledge where they were out of the water and able to get themselves composed. I stayed in the water the whole time and treaded water until more help came, while darkness was closing in.
At about sunset, a helicopter arrived to rescue the three of us. Appropriately enough, both of the soldiers were from the helicopter unit that pulled all of us out of that spot.
Since I was in the water, I was pulled up first, then the incredibly brave pararescue crewman went back down two more times to pull up the other two soldiers. This process took about thirty minutes. Once we were all on board safely, they took us over to the airfield and we then went into a medical tent and were tended to.
Excerpted from The Field of Fight by Michael T. Flynn, Michael Ledeen. Copyright © 2016 Michael T. Flynn and Michael Ledeen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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