Special Forces Sergeants Say It's All About 'People'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 18, 2002 Ask a Special Forces soldier what he'll remember most about the war in Afghanistan and he'll probably tell you, "the people."
That's what Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Turner of Windsor, Ill., and Army Master Sgt. Steve Longan of Pomona, Kan., said July 17 at the Pentagon.
But with one difference.
Turner was referring to the Afghans he worked with for about four months during Operation Enduring Freedom. Longan was referring to his "guys," the soldiers on his Special Forces A team who spent about five months in the war- ravaged land.
Longan and Turner, both of 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky., talked about their experiences in Afghanistan at a Pentagon briefing that marked the 50th anniversary of the Army's Special Forces.
Turner served in Afghanistan from December to March. He held a blocking position for two weeks during Operation Anaconda to prevent enemy troops from escaping. He also helped capture two suspected al Qaeda troops.
"We were a small part in the big battle," Turner humbly told Pentagon reporters. His Special Forces team recruited Afghan nationals to man the blocking position and to check people's identification.
"It's kind of hard to tell the difference between a regular Afghan person and a Taliban," he said. "It's not like they come with a marking on their forehead that tells who they are."
Afghans manning the border identified two suspected al Qaeda troops, who were captured. The pair put up no resistance, Turner said. "They weren't in very good health. They were pretty malnourished."
The success of the mission depended in many ways on his team's ability to establish two-way trust with the local people, Turner said. "It's kind of a touchy-feely kind of thing, where you start meeting with people and recruit them," the sergeant said. "You find out who you can and can't trust, just like you do anywhere in the world.
"That's part of our training whenever we go through our qualification course," he added. "We learn how to go into a country, how to gain their trust and how to assist them and train them. We try to treat them as we would our own soldiers."
In years hence, Turner said, what he'd remember most is "working with people that I learned to trust. We trained them. We learned to get along with them. We all became a big family. They were just like kids that you'd meet on the street. You meet them. You talk to them. You start gaining interests. You've got a language barrier. You learn how to overcome it.
"I have many people over there that I worked with that I considered friends by the time I left," Turner said. "The main thing they talked about was getting their country back and having it be theirs and not being ruled by the Taliban or al Qaeda."
Longan was an operations, intelligence and communications sergeant for Operational Detachment Alpha 573, a 12-man unit commonly referred to as an 'A Team.' Working around Kandahar, Longan gathered information on 73 caves, tunnels and enemy training sites. He helped establish weapon training programs, schools and medical facilities. He helped friendly Afghan forces clear the enemy from Kandahar and collect information.
"This was the culminating event of my career," said Longan, a 19-year Army veteran who's served in the Horn of Africa and most of Europe and specialized in the Middle East.
"In early December, my team infiltrated into the Kandahar area. Our mission initially was site exploitation," Longan said. The men's orders were to check out a number of areas to see if al Qaeda or Taliban were present and to gather up any information they found that might be useful to military intelligence.
The team mission evolved into doing security assessments in outlying areas to support approaching conventional coalition units. The team also sought out weapons caches and found a number of them in those outlying areas, Longan noted.
"Some of them were just dumped when people left, and some of them were neatly cached in caves and tunnels," he remarked.
His team also spent a lot of time clearing unexploded ordnance from the homes of people who'd been in exile in Pakistan. Longan said finding unexploded ordnance wasn't difficult at all.
"Sometimes people would walk up and hand it to you," he said. "People would try to throw it in your truck, saying 'Here, take this. This was in my house.'"
The highly skilled, highly motivated team worked with anti- Taliban forces that were trying to secure the area for the local government, he said. Residents told the U.S. soldiers about Taliban in the area and gave them things the al Qaeda had left behind.
Longan echoed Turner's praise for the Afghans who helped the Special Forces teams inside Afghanistan. "The people we worked with were very reliable," he said. "We spent a lot of time with 'our guys.'
"They wanted to have Afghanistan back," he continued. "They want to run their own country. They want to fix it themselves. So they had a vested interest in being honest with us, because we're helping them and they understood that. And they understood that, eventually, more help is coming in other areas.
"If we had somebody in our organization that might not be legitimately on our side or who might have been affiliated with the al Qaeda, generally our guys pointed them out to us," he noted. "It wasn't a big issue, trusting those guys."
Longan said he'll remember his team whenever he looks back on Afghanistan. "My team has fantastic unity," he said. "Even within the Special Forces community, I'd say my team is probably as tight as any ever was.
"We don't go looking for the pretty toys or the fun-to-do things," he noted. "We go out in the desert and we suffer and we train hard." The team was well prepared because their operations in Afghanistan came at the end of a major year of training. They were "fabulous," he said. "They knew what to do every time."
Serving with the Special Forces requires sacrifice, Longan concluded. "You give up a lot being here, but in the end, my mom sees me on TV or reads about things that we do. It's in the news. We're making history. You can make no greater contribution than that."