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Veterans vs. Veterans

As we made our way through the hot day, British combat soldiers picked along the trail, tracking the quarry.  Again, the camouflage and deceptions used by the British soldiers who laid the ambush were far better than normal for Afghanistan or Iraq.  Unfortunately, the fascinating details are off limits.  But this is basically what happened: as we approached the ambush that was incredibly difficult to detect, one of the soldiers actually said, “This seems a bit dodgy.”  His eyes practically glowed with recognition that something wasn’t right, but he wasn’t sure what it was.  The ambushers were infantry veterans, so finding the trap was pretty tough.  It was a great test of wits, and I thought it was remarkable that he alerted on something but he wasn’t sure what was going on.  The combat veterans all know that when the little voice speaks, you must listen.  The little voice is right more often than wrong, and usually you don’t even know what’s wrong.  It’s just something.  He alerted and began to pull back to assess and confer, but nobody could crack the code of what was wrong.  Finally, someone made the decision to push just a wee little bit further.  Had this been Afghanistan, that mistake would have been fatal, I think, to three soldiers.  I think a fourth would have been seriously wounded or killed.

This time the ambushers won, but what can be said with certainty was that this tracking training was actually enough to alert the soldier, but his little voice, though heeded, was not quite enough this time.  Again, this ambush was far better than one normally sees in the actual war.  I think that if it were Afghanistan, the very brave but dimwitted Taliban would have blown their cover in this particular instance.

The U.S. military is conducting tracking training.  In fact, the British instructors talk about it every day, and some have gone to the American training, which they say is quite good.  Yet I don’t see American soldiers downrange who use serious tracking skills.  The British instructors actually know a lot of the American tracking-kin, and have invited them to Borneo, but apparently none have come so far.  In any case, the British instructors say our military tracking program is actually very good, but like the British, it’s small by comparison to what could be done.  You can see thousands of soldiers wearing jump wings signifying they’ve gone to jump school — after having gone through that expensive training –who never jump and have no need to jump.  Parachuting is a completely useless skill for most soldiers.  Useless and expensive.  Tracking training is incredibly useful and cheap.

While I was in Special Forces we conducted a fair amount of tracking and counter-tracking training, but it was nothing this good.

Tomorrow, I’ll start introducing the British instructors.  It is important to point out that they have a standing invitation for American military to come over for jungle training, or tracking training.  They’ve offered that I can stay for the jungle course, but alas it’s about time to get back in the war.


Please click here for Part VI of this series on the tracking course in Borneo.


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Michael Yon

Michael Yon is America's most experienced combat correspondent. He has traveled or worked in 82 countries, including various wars and conflicts.

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