Special Forces v Conventional Forces & Failed Leadership

I'm going to move some of my closed blog from my time in the Army to this blog and add details about things I wrote and posted about previously. The article I wrote (below) was well received by the Special Forces (SOF) community, of course, but from my chain of command (all the way to the top), I was told to not write it because it wasn't worth it.

The article is about a Special Forces Soldier who survived injuries in Afghanistan that, if he were any less trained, would have taken his life. What I admire most about Special Forces (Army, Navy, etc.) is their commitment to training and adapting to situations. You may think that Soldiers who are younger are in the best shape but often it's older Soldiers who have years of mental and physical training under their belt which makes them the greatest asset.

I'm not saying that years in the military doing rigorous training is easy on the body. But, these guys are warriors through and through. This dude epitomizes warrior ethos.

Anyway, my point of contact at the SF unit contacted me, as he always did, about things that he wanted the Public Affairs Office to cover. This time it was about a Soldier of theirs who was getting a Bronze Star with "V" (I think it was a V - but it's been a while). I would take a GSA and drive up to Chicago for the ceremony - an easy day trip. My bosses said we wouldn't offer support.

Let's back up. Special Forces aren't always that welcoming of outsiders getting involved in their community. They keep a close hold on things. Super territorial and it's just how it goes. So to get a head's up and ask us to cover it -- we were the Public Affairs Office after all -- was really awesome of them.

So, I get told no. I tell him their answer. Then I tell him I'll drive up in my own car, pay my own gas and cover it with my own camera. He said I could sleep in the armory or whatever - either way, it would be free for the government and expenses would get reduced for me because they were glad I was going to do it on my own to help them out.

I get told explicitly not to cover it or to go by my chain of command. What the fuck? Was it because there were other events going on? NO. There was nothing going on. Was it because of budgeting issues? NOPE. Nothing stood in the way of covering this.

The dude is getting a BSM (with V - V stands for Valor) because of exemplary bravery and service. I know they hand out BSMs like candy during war to rather undeserving people. BSMs are things people get for having rank and being in a war zone for Conventional Forces (CF).  This dude deserved his award though. This dude deserved the attention it was worthy of giving.

So, I get told not to cover the ceremony. That's fine.
I wargamed a new route.
I'm going to write a human interest story about WHY he's getting the award.
Who doesn't love a good human interest story anyway?

I chat it over with my contacts at the unit in Chicago SF unit. Talk to the (then) commander and my point of contact Staff Sergeant. They are happy with the idea and I get the green light from them. I tell my bosses in the office about the idea. It makes its way all the way to the General's office.

I'm told by everyone to basically shut up about the story and let the unit cover whatever they want themselves.

Now, there's a thing called a Unit Public Affairs Representative (I'm sure the term has changed because the Army is notorious for modifying acronyms but not the actual meanings of them). UPARs get some training but it's not their occupational specialty (MOS) so they aren't proficient photographers or journalists. They are just given some tips so they are slightly more skilled and basically know when to contact their Public Affairs Office for newsworthy events or if media contacts them.

The POC at the SF Unit was a Staff Sergeant I trained as his unit's UPAR. I remember training him. I remember how much he hated attending the mandatory training. He hated media, he hated dealing with publicity and even disliked dealing with military journalists.  But, he and I eventually developed rapport from that weekend and it worked out. Having said that, he wasn't proficient in writing a news release or taking photos for the media to use about the event. That's why the PAO existed. We were the professionals for that job.

Okay, so I was told "no" by everyone. The commander of the SoF unit called me and told me that he got into it with the General and everyone about how unacceptable it was to not cover this worthy event for his unit and his Soldier.

What did I do?
On a random weekend, I went to Chicago on my own dime to write the story and take photos. I interviewed the injured Soldier who was awarded the BSM with "V". I interviewed his comrades. The article turned out well. Once it was written (on my own time and my own resources), despite the shitload of trouble I got into for pushing for this story, they eventually agreed to let me release it.

They didn't promote it but the SoF community did. And, the reception / feedback from the Soldier who was featured in the article and his entire unit was well worth it.

I'm a fighter. I'm stubborn when I know I'm right.
This was an example of utterly failed military leadership and what not to do.
This article was worth it. He was worth it.
I still can't believe I had to try so hard to help shine a small spotlight on a well-deserving Special Forces Soldier who survived near death.

That being said ... here's the article.


A Special Forces Soldier’s path to recovery after getting shot eight times at close range

Story by Staff Sgt. Liesl Marelli / August 18, 2008

AFGHANISTAN - During combat operations in 2006, a Special Forces Soldier assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne) transmitted over the radio, “I’m down and bleeding out fast.”

Master Sgt. Tom Morrissey, who was deployed on his third combat tour, suffered eight shots from an enemy’s AK-47 at close range.

“I thought I was going to die.”

However, his quick thinking and “training ad nauseum” as he calls it, helped save not only his life but the lives of the other men who were hit, because of the muscle memory he developed from all the military training he had received.

“Once the shooting stopped, I intuitively did a medical assessment of myself,” he said. “Immediately following, I verbally did the same for my interpreter and the other injured civilian.”

Because he was shot in both arms and legs, Morrissey was not able to administer first aid, but he explained to his translator how to stop the bleeding while they waited for their Quick Reaction Force, from the 10th Mountain Division, to come get them.

Morrissey said he recognized the man who shot them, but that was the least of his worries following the ambush.

Shortly after the call for help, 10th Mountain Division Soldiers arrived and brought Morrissey back to the closest Forward Operating Base, where he was stabilized and prepared for medical evacuation.

Although his injuries were life-threatening, Morrissey said his top priority while receiving first aid was to stay in an operational mindset and relay the intelligence he was gathering to his fellow Special Forces Soldiers so they could continue with the mission.

“The day this [the ambush] happened to Tom was one of the worst in my military career,” said a Special Forces Soldier assigned to Morrissey’s team. “Talk about feeling helpless.”

Morrissey was alone in an area the team considered “secure” while the rest of the team was performing a mission in another area of Afghanistan. Over the radio, his team heard about a conflict in a nearby region. Not until hearing the call for a medical evacuation did they realize it was for Morrissey.

“We didn’t know what his condition was or any of the details,” said Morrissey’s teammate. “We just couldn’t get back [to the operating base] fast enough.”

The team arrived back at the base only a few hours after Morrissey was medically evacuated for emergency surgery. Twenty-four hours passed before they received word about his status.

“The atmosphere was glum,” said the Special Forces Sergeant on Morrissey’s team. “We were upset with the situation but we had to use [the anger and frustration] to charge us up to continue the mission.”

While the team waited to hear about his status, Morrissey had emergency surgery to stabilize him. After being stabilized, he was evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, for further medical care.

“I learned early in life through Special Forces to be a survivor,” Morrissey said. “To be a survivor, you plan and train to deal with the unexpected. As a result, nothing is a surprise.”

After the shooting on June 5, 2006, it took approximately nine days until he arrived at a hospital in the United States. Within 10 minutes of his return to the U.S., his family arrived at Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Augusta, Ga.
It was perfect timing, said Morrissey, who was grateful to see his wife and three daughters.

To date, Morrissey has had 16 surgeries stateside. He said U.S. Army Col., Dr. Paul Cutting, a hand and nerve specialist, is the expert behind his recovery. Calling him a “near genius surgeon and an officer to be admired,” Morrissey is grateful for the recovery he has been able to make and for the care he has received.

Morrissey, who has served as a “Quiet Professional” for more than 30 years, has taken a new path during his recovery. He is a vocal supporter and mentor for other combat- injured Soldiers.

No matter the gaps of age or rank, Morrissey tells fellow Soldiers to “recognize how lucky they are to be alive.”

“They cannot feel sorry for themselves for thinking their lives will never be what they expected,” Morrissey said. “I tell them their lives were never going to be what they expected. They simply had not lived long enough to realize it yet.”

Morrissey said he is grateful for the support from his teammates, family and friends.

“Not to take anything away from blood family, but Soldiers who go to war together are family.”

More than two years after the ambush, Morrissey, now 55, is stationed at Fort Gordon, Ga., as a medical-hold Soldier, while his surgeries and rehabilitation continue.

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