BY BOB BROWN
The old movie The Devil’s Brigade tells the story of an elite fighting force of WWII, and as many Montanans know, was based on the First Special Service Force that was created at Fort Harrison, Montana, for special operations during the war. Yes, the Special Forces actually originated in Montana, and their World War II exploits were rough enough to inspire a film.
As civilians they had been loggers, miners, ranchers and farmers. Hand-picked from army units throughout North America to become part of a joint World War II Canada-US fighting group, these soldiers became the most deadly covert unit of the Second World War–these were the men of the First Special Service Force.
Specializing in night-time reconnaissance and combat, the members of this elite force were a terror to their enemies and hence nicknamed The Black Devils. History now remem-bers them as The Devil’s Brigade.
The Navy special operations unit that recently took out Usama Bin Laden proved that the SEALs are specialists at what they do. As the world becomes more technical and specialized, so does warfare.
Just days after the brilliantly executed mission into Pakistan I had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The opportunity was made available to me by Major General Don Loranger, U.S. Air Force, Ret. Before leaving for Fort Bragg I knew that General Loranger was director of the Defense Critical Language/Culture Program in the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana.
What I didn’t know until arriving at Fort Bragg is that all special operations soldiers, both officers and enlisted, must speak a foreign language with strategic relevance in today’s world. Something else I learned at Fort Bragg is that the program at the Mansfield Center, emphasizing Middle Eastern languages in the context of their culture, is rapidly emerging as one of the most highly regarded Special Forces language training programs in the country.
Modern specialized military operations involve lethal missions as the world witnessed with Bin Laden. But more routinely, and strategically, they operate in ambiguous and frequently high-risk environments. Protecting little girls on the way to school in a cultural environment that is hostile to the education of women can be greatly facilitated by speaking their language. Our increasingly highly trained and specialized armed forces must be prepared for challenges that conventional basic training, by itself, could never provide.
While at Fort Bragg, I was introduced to advanced technical communications devices and monitoring technology. I wore bullet-proof protective clothing, fired a variety of long-range sniper rifles, and was “evacuated” in a simulated rescue by a high speed helicopter with the sensation of being on a carnival ride. I crept through buildings, typical of the Middle East, where our special forces are trained in navigating small rooms, narrow hallways, and low arches quickly and usually at night. In such a setting, confusion can mean death.
In the old movie The Devil’s Brigade there is a scene where a rattlesnake is killed by a young trainee as it coils near a barracks doorway. The snake probably posed no real danger. It was killed because we naturally feel threatened by rattlers. Training at Fort Bragg has now advanced far beyond what took place seventy years ago at Fort Harrison, a far more primitive time. Special Forces training was sufficient then, as it is now, for killing snakes of all kinds, and the one just blown away, the tall one with the whiskers, certainly had it coming.
Bob Brown is a former MT Secretary of State and State Senate President.