For decades the debate has continued about what strategy to use in the various wars we have faced. Having served extensively, in war on both sides of the debate, I have found the hide-bound positions taken by conventional and unconventional commanders to be at times absolutely absurd. The only choices given to us were 'either or' and not a combination there-of. If your services were sought by either side, you had to put up with a constant propaganda campaign against the other. By commanders taking these obtuse positions they not only doomed our efforts to failure but also did a great disservice to our young who bleed and die in the effort.

The conventional commander geared at times on things like headgear over tactics and what some brave soldier had to say after risking life and limb. I find it rather ironic the United States Army would universally adopt a headgear, the beret, when some had paid a terrible price career-wise simply for wearing it. On the other side of the coin were unconventional types who played 'I've got a secret' with those they should have understood were in charge. Rarely was there any common ground to be found except at the gut-level where the unconventional or conventional aoldier was just happy to shake the hand of whoever saved his butt that day, regardless of tactics used or what headgear they happened to be wearing.

I took from both sides of the debate and used all that was worthwhile to fight my enemy. But the most telling statement ever made to me was made by Major Pappy Shelton in an off-hand comment. I am sure he never knew the effect he had on a young Sergeant the day he said; 'Unconventional warfare is not so much a unit of assignment as a state of mind.' In today's world this is something some might choose to remember and ingrain into their planning and certainly their attitudes. Statements like 'What are the SEALS and Marines doing in unconventional warfare?' are not helpful. My answer would be simply: 'Getting smart.'

Because most conventional commanders do not truly understand UW they choose to hate it rather than learn from it and use it. Adopting UW only seems acceptable when getting the conventional foot in the door somewhere on God's green earth and when casualties mount among conventional forces trying to fight an insurgency with tanks and artillery. Of course SF commanders do not help by committing to direct action while UW goes wanting. I know the answer will be: 'You do not understand that now we are all part of Special Operations.' I do understand that Pappy was right and UW is a state of mind and not a unit of assignment or even a grand tactic. Dealing with suicide-bombers, miners and those who hide among the populace will only be overcome by those out there every day living with and gaining the confidence of the populace. You may talk and train until blue in the face but if you retreat to your fortified bunker at night, leaving the populace to the insurgents, you will not win this type of war. Being able to do this with the level of comfort required is again a state of mind one must be able to get into.

There are those who say ' We cannot put these people out there alone to be killed or captured.' They have just captured the essence of why the term 'SPECIAL' was adopted in naming the unit to begin with. The UW warrior is a very special breed of cat and a 'cat' is what he must be. Most people prefer dogs to cats because of the perception of loyalty in man's best friend. Cats on the other hand are the consummate hunters and only show affection to be fed or get what they desire. They go off and return on their terms and not yours. We know little of what they do in the darkness but every so often we hear them in a heck of a fight. We know most dogs hate them but rarely does the most vicious of dogs ever catch them. Then a mouse runs across the kitchen floor and a large woman is on top of the table screaming as the dog bounds about breaking plates, spilling trash and knocking over tables in a vain attempt to catch a mouse. Rising lazily the cat views the situation among the chaos, sets up and pounces on the unsuspecting mouse from ambush. Then looking on the woman and dog with total disdain he leaves to that secret place, only he knows, to relish the kill. Welcome to UW a world requiring a special breed of cat and a special state of mind.

Perhaps the answer in what we face today lies in the conventional commander and even other Special Operations commanders understanding that one need not love the cat to appreciate his skills and state of mind.

Copyright 2006 by
Mark A. Smith - DSC, Major, USA, Retired

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