The Tragedy of Green-on-Blue Casualties of War

 

The term “green-on-blue casualties” has been brought up an unfortunate number of times lately.  If you’ve heard this term but don’t understand what it means, I’d like to use this article to discuss that today.

This term is meant to describe an Afghan policeman or soldier attacking a coalition, largely US, soldier.  In 2012 there were 44 of these attacks, and although the numbers have largely subsided due to increased security precautions and troop drawdown there was even a Major General (Harold Greene) who was killed in a green-on-blue incident in 2014.

And over the weekend seven US military members were wounded in an insider “green-on-blue” attack at Camp Shaheen in Northern Afghanistan.  As a former Green Beret this strikes close to home, as one of the primary missions of Special Forces is to train and assist local forces to give them the ability to take back their own country.

The three Green Berets killed in another green-on-blue attack in Jordan highlights this, as the soldiers from 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) were ambushed as they were entering the base at which they were training Jordanians.  Green Berets account for over 60% of the Special Operations forces killed in action in our current wars, and a large part of that increased percentage is on account of this very mission.

Green Berets were once known for their longer hair and beards than the conventional military, largely because of the train and advise mission.  Green Berets are selected largely for an ability to not only think on their feet and outside of the box, but also for an enhanced natural ability to assimilate to their surroundings and gain the trust of the local groups they are fighting with, which is why Special Forces has long grown beards & long hair to “fit in” with the local cultures.

Rather than living like most conventional forces on the large city-bases which inhabit warzones the US has a presence in, Special Forces live “outside the wire,” giving them the ability to live, eat, train and fight with their local forces rather than only showing when it’s time for work.  We pride ourselves on an ability to create strong rapport due to our gregarious personalities, aptitude and willingness to pick up another language and our cultural sensitivity.  

And of course our enemies know this fact very well.  It is common for the taliban, ISIS or any local rebel groups trying to deliver a blow to our forces to attempt either “turning” one of the troops being trained by Special Forces or to even attempt to get one of their fighters to pose as an Afghan soldier or policeman to give them placement and know our movements.  And even to kill some of us.

When I was on my first Afghanistan deployment we had stringent vetting practices, but that isn’t always possible.  When you have a few handfuls of fighters that you’re responsible for it’s much easier to employ intelligence procedures to weed out any bad elements; but when you begin matching a 12-man Special Forces team with hundreds of soldiers it becomes more difficult.

And sometimes it’s a risk you just have to take in order to accomplish your mission.  We had several soldiers in our first group of commandos in Afghanistan that came completely clean with us, admitting that they used to be Taliban but we (the US) paid better.  It’s amazing what you can do once you find a person’s motivations!

And every time we have a green-on-blue incident like this it sets the mission back substantially.  Special Forces are known as “force multipliers” because you can take a small team of us and train, equip and fight alongside large groups of soldiers over the span of a deployment.  As we liked to say our purpose was to “work ourselves out of a job” by creating a fighting force that could do everything from running intelligence operations to kicking down doors and killing bad guys without our assistance.

But the most important variable for this to happen successfully is trust.  The first few weeks of a training mission are almost exclusively dedicated to establishing rapport, or trust, between the local soldiers and us.  We spend a lot of time drinking chai (tea), sharing stories and yes, even walking around base holding hands with our guys (as a show of respect to the local culture in which that shows friendship).  

Any loss of rapport begins to crumble the foundation upon which our entire mission in Afghanistan is built.  But unfortunately the mission must go on, and we know as soldiers that war is hell and this is a byproduct of it.

To be killed by an enemy combatant in a firefight is something that can be respected, as two warriors are fighting as has been done since time immemorial.  But to be killed by someone who you think you can trust is a travesty and nothing more than cowardly on their part.  

But unfortunately this is a part of war, and seems as if it will continue.  Even long after all conventional troops are out of Afghanistan the Special Forces soldiers will remain, off the grid and away from the protection of our fellow Americans.  

So please say a prayer and keep these soldiers in your hearts.  Even though the media coverage of the war has been winding down for some time and it’s come off the radar of most Americans, there is still a very large number of our troops in harm’s way every day, needing your support now as much as ever.

 

Robert Patrick Lewis is a Green Beret OIF/OEF combat veteran with 10th SFG(A) and is an award-winning author of “The Pact” and “Love Me When I’m Gone: the true story of life, love and loss for a Green Beret in post-9/11 war.” Follow him @RobertPLewis on Twitter or on his RobertPatrickLewisAuthor Facebook page.

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The Call

You never get used to it, and you can never quite be prepared for it.  As a Green Beret who’s been on multiple combat deployments and made the move into military contracting as did most of my buddies, I’ve probably been on the receiving end of the call more than most…but one is more than anyone my age should ever receive.

The latest call came on December 27th, 2013 as I was watching cartoons with my son.  It actually started as an email; the team lead (supervisor) from my latest 5-month stint in Afghanistan sent me an email asking for my phone number at home, saying it was urgent that he speak with me.  Less than 5 minutes after emailing him back with my contact info, my home phone rang.

The bonds forged in misery and war are stronger than any metal known to man, and the bond that I had formed with Dave, an Air Force Captain, during my last trip to Afghanistan was one of the strongest I’ve ever had.  The term “bromance” comes to mind, and is pretty much on the mark for a description of our trip.

Whether you’re running outside the wire on missions and getting into gunfights every day or rotting on a base doing logistics work, deployed time is pretty rough.  You’re always tired, stressed, overworked and waiting to go home, so whatever you can do to pass the time has to be enough to keep your sanity.

For Dave and I it was long, marathon talk sessions about everything under the sun.  He was a former Mormon who left the Mormon Church but remained extremely spiritual and Godly; I, a Freemason who took great interest in any religion and love speaking with anyone who knows more about religion or a particular text than me.

He was a good old boy, raised in the countryside of Idaho hunting, fishing, and attending Church with his family; being a Texas boy myself we couldn’t have had any more to talk about, spending long hours talking about family values, the degradation of society and moral values, and how corrupt politicians are ruining our country.

He was an athlete, playing football all the way to a starting position on the Air Force Academy team, a massive man in the kind of shape that people injure themselves trying to attain.  Even though he towered over me and could have easily picked me up and torn me in half (and I’m 5’10, 220 lbs of running 3 miles and day and lifting weights every afternoon, not exactly a toothpick), the words “gentle giant” come to mind whenever I think about Dave.

I actually remembered reading about it in the news, but writing it off as no possible chance one of our guys had been there.  VBIED (car bomb) in downtown Kabul exploding next to a NATO convoy and killing 3, wounding several more.  There was no reason for Dave and my guys to be in downtown Kabul on that day, so I didn’t really pay it any mind.  In all honesty that’s a daily occurrence in Kabul these days, even though it’s fallen away from most news outlets.

So when my former team lead started with the bad news, I was completely blindsided, just like every other time that I’ve been on the receiving side of that call.  They called me first because Dave and I had grown so close over the duration of my trip, and it was no secret we were about as close as two hetero guys can possibly get.

I traced back the timeline after I hung up the phone, and immediately began scouring the Internet for more information.  It turns out the explosion wasn’t in downtown Kabul, but a half-mile away from Camp Phoenix, a large American logistical base in Kabul.  My mind was racing; I went back to my email…..and to the chain of emails Dave and I had been exchanging the day before.

I had several boxes that I couldn’t carry back with me, and because the base Dave and I had been on was pretty small, we didn’t have our own post office.  Dave had agreed to ship my boxes out of Camp Phoenix for me, and the last email was telling me that he had shipped them out and would be heading back to our base in an hour.

Not only had we been talking back and forth via email just before he was killed, but I was thanking him for doing me the favor of mailing my boxes for me.  From a guy who Dave used to make fun of for being stubborn and never asking for help, that cuts pretty deep.

I haven’t cried yet, but I know it’s coming.  It took me until this afternoon to even tell my wife what was bothering me and what the phone call was about.  In the typical fashion of a guy who’s been on the receiving end of that phone call too many times for my short life, I retreated inside myself, putting up the infamous Wall that Pink Floyd sung about so fondly.

Sitting with my son, it’s all I can do to hope that he never has to get the news, that one of the greatest human beings he’s ever known has left this world far too young.  I hope he never has to feel that pain of understanding he’ll never have a beer with one of the men he thinks most highly of, and will never share another long conversation and a laugh.

I hope all of this, but I know he will; just as I and every other man in his family, I know he’ll be given the call to serve his country and wear a uniform one day, and just like me, I know he’ll answer, no matter what I say.  He’ll never understand the impact of that phone call until he answers the first one himself, and nothing daddy will say can make him understand it any faster.

I’m still reeling from the call I received last night, but more than selfish pity for myself, I’m saddened that the world has lost one of it’s greatest inhabitants I’ve ever met, and I’ve met a lot of great people in my time.  I don’t really even know which way is up right now, because a God or a world that would take a man like Dave just doesn’t make any sense to me.

The only real comfort for me is knowing that if there is a better place than this, Dave is up there smiling….even if South Park is right and heaven is full of Mormons.

The world just lost a hell of a great man, but hopefully he’ll be back in another form soon.

Rest In Peace, Captain David Lyon, I miss you already Brother.

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