03 September 2012
The Norwegian military is conducting CIED (counter-IED) training, and I was lucky to be invited. The course is run by Pencari LTD. The instructors are recently retired British Soldiers/Marines that I got to know at the British tracking school in Brunei, on Borneo.
This course will last two weeks, and we just finished Day 1 of training. Each day after training, I will try to publish something. This may not always be possible because some training is at night and there will be time demands. Please also excuse that these brief dispatches will be unedited. And I am jetlagged and will be tired after training, so please read this at risk.
This class consists of eight students. All are combat veterans of Afghanistan and/or Iraq, and some have similar experiences elsewhere. Two students are US Marines. One is recently retired EOD, and the other is an active duty “Gunny” with six combat tours behind him. (Five in Iraq, one in Afghanistan.) The six Norwegians are engineers and between them there is considerable downrange experience. And so there is not a single beginner in this class, and the instructors are expert trackers and retired military men.
When we came to the base today, a Norwegian officer gave me some ground rules, but they know my work and so the ground rules are to use common sense and if you have a question make sure to ask regarding OPSEC. And so if we come across anything that is questionable, I will run it past my Norwegian hosts, but in reality there probably will be no security issues because this training is not secret.
This class is not so much about tracking but what they call GSA. GSA is Ground Sign Awareness. GSA is essential for becoming an expert tracker, and GSA usually is all that is needed to spot IEDs. I have had only three weeks of professional tracking training (by the British military, and specifically by these instructors in 2009), and so I am far from expert. However, after the British tracking school, I was sold on the value of tracking and GSA for saving lives in Afghanistan. All of the combat veterans that I know who have had tracking or GSA training, are completely sold on the value for saving lives and killing bad guys.
But one thing you learn early on in tracking training is that it is like a martial art, in the sense that there are very many styles and philosophies for tracking. There are many ways to crack this egg.
The British Army finally is taking tracking (GSA, actually) seriously, as are the Norwegians, Dutch and Danish. This inexpensive training can save a ton of American lives, but we do not take it seriously. Actually, the Marines seem to be taking it more earnestly. To be sure, I think we Americans do not take it seriously in part due to misunderstanding the value, and we think it is some kind of magic art and we prefer things that use batteries instead of simple eyeballs. And do not forget the part about it being so inexpensive. This training is dirt cheap, and contractors can’t sell billions of dollars of gizmos. The fact is, the number one detector of IEDs continues to be the human eye, but our training in this field is pathetic. It does not cost enough. Now, if we could market it along with selling bionic eyeballs that take pesky humans out of the equation, Congress might be demanding the military take it.
Today the class started at 0800, and we had a couple hours of classroom work and then went to an indoor sandpit that the Norwegians use for training. (Winters here are severe, and there is no way to do winter training in the sand outside.) We then conducted more classroom work and headed out to the field.
The Norwegians brought a small, black moose-tracking dog. He only weighs about 20 pounds, maximum, and is very energetic. Maybe I am the first American that moose dog ever met, but he sure was happy to say hello and wanted to play. Then he started digging a hole for some reason that only moose-dog knows. In any case, we did not see any moose. They say there are sometimes bears here, but not often, and that wolves are taking hold.
Among the various topics covered today was detecting when people are walking backwards, as when laying command wire to an IED. Sometimes the instructors would talk for ten minutes about a single track, and then would ask students to explain every detail of what they were seeing. Flattening, disturbance, regularity, discoloration, transfer, etc. We practiced a bit on estimating enemy strength.
Rena, Norway is north like Alaska. And so the sun hangs low in the sky, which can be great for tracking. Generally speaking, you want to keep the track between you and the sun so that shadows will pop out. If you walk around a track as a test of the importance of sun position, you might be surprised. When the sun is to your back the tracks can vanish, but then as you circle the track you might see that sometimes there is no way you can miss it, while other times (unless you are Mr. Expert) there is no way you will see it. Again, as a general rule, it is best to keep the track between you and the sun. And if it is noon on the equator, you might want to take a tracking siesta until the sun goes lower.
Well, I need to close down for now. The instructors are out emplacing IEDs (not real ones, of course), that we will be training with tomorrow, and they left us with a homework assignment that I must study.