Masters of Chaos, Linda Robinson
ISBN: 1586482491; 388 pages; Publisher: Public Affairs (October 30, 2004)
Many books talk about what the U.S. Army Special Forces do, but few detail how they do it. Their mission certainly includes direct combat operations, but their primary mission is unconventional warfare, which revolves around teaching guerrillas or insurgents how to fight. (Just as important, but often overlooked, is the opposite end: “de-escalating” those same people after the armed conflict ends.)
Linda Robinson has spent years covering wars, rumors of wars, and plenty of SF operations. In 2001, as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, she began researching the Special Forces, and developing the credentials that would eventually allow her to be embedded with SF ODAs and other special operations forces from Umm Qasr to Basra, Nasiriya Kut, and beyond. She combined that experience with interviews at Fort Bragg, Macdill AFB, and Fort Campbell along with time in Columbia and return trips to Iraq and Afghanistan to create an intense, informative lesson about what the Green Berets have gone through since Vietnam, what they’re doing in military operations worldwide now, and what their future is.
The connection she has with these soldiers is obvious in the second chapter as she takes the time to tell us about how each man came to the career he chose. The gut-check stories from the Q course are not something freely shared with people outside the special operations forces community. She takes time to talk about how one soldier was blessed by his battalion and company commanders to try out for SF after he completed his Ranger training, but then points out that his sergeant major felt that he had “forsaken” that same Ranger training.
From there, she leads us first through four years of operations in El Salvador, Just Cause, Desert Storm and Somalia. She spends two chapters talking about CONUS ops and training, then uses most of the rest of the book to talk about Afghanistan and Iraq with each chapter generally covering a mission. Each report is detailed enough to give the reader a firm understanding of what went on, filtered through the screen of operational security. She carefully skirts discussing anything that might prove useful to any miscreant hoping to glean something useful.
She wraps up with two solid chapters; “Coming Home” is the counterpart to “Leaving Home,” the opening chapter, and talks about what the featured SF soldiers are doing now, and what it’s like for some of them to hang up the gear, and move from the field to the office as support staff.
The final dozen or so pages talk about the future of SF, giving emphasis to the writing of MG Geoffrey Lambert, former commandant of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. Lambert also led the U.S. Army Special Forces Command for two years, as well as the Special Operations Command. During and after his tenure, Lambert spent plenty of time brainstorming with his command staffs, historians, retired generals and special operations forces operators and others with broadly divergent perspectives.
Robinson wrote a solid operational-level discussion of what’s been happening in the U.S. Army Special Forces for the last thirty-plus years, but kept focused on the men who make it happen. This book will give you a better understanding of what’s going on right now in places most people don’t even have nightmares about, and of the men who stand there and say, “Nothing’s going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch.”