Website: deawatch.com | Email: deawatch@phillcoleman.com | Landline/Fax: 1-562-422-4100

      Snowcap-DEA Recruits The Military

      Bob Pilgrim

    Soon after Frank White's scathing report hit headquarters and sent fragments of truth into the egos of the despised Suits, the Snowcap counter cocaine interdiction program was now on a roll in the right direction. Being a decades tenant on the Quantico, VA Marine base, the FBI had excellent contacts within the Corps and Frank dialed into them. The military, particularly the Special Operations community was a logical choice, because the South American based DEA agent was now in a role of an infantry combat advisor as well as law enforcement officer. Raids, ambushes, fighting terrorists/guerillas and destruction of cocaine production facilities was added to his investigative repertoire. Whether the HQ Suits liked or not that line of departure was crossed as soon as agents traded their civvies for cammies, started jumping out of helos and humping M16 carbines in the bush. The Suits had perilously confused desire with capability and almost cavalierly placed agents in seriou! s harms way without proper preparation. Frank had no intention of taking command of a severely handicapped outfit that was literally sending its personnel into the jungles to die. Overly inflated pride and ego can be an institutional handicap as well as an individual one and this had to be swallowed by DEA to recognize that they had to go to experts in the US Joint Special Operations Command to reshape Snowcap into an effective program.

    Frank was fortunate that his two reporting seniors, Terry Burke and Chuck Gutensohn, were CIA vets of the clandestine war in Laos who frequently went toe to toe with the Suits and most often won. They supported Frank's concept of honing Snowcap into a fighting outfit capable of conducting small unit raids against clandestine labs and airstrips in the dense jungle of the Bolivian/Peruvian Huallaga valley. Time was non-existent for Frank and he often slept on the floor of his office as he worked through the night.

    Our military was between wars and a number of highly experienced and battle hardened senior NCOs and officers were looking for their "last hurrah." Corp's Commandant Al Gray, a warrior's warrior seconded a Force Reconnaissance colonel to Snowcap who Frank appropriately nicknamed "Leatherneck." This Marine had been injured in battle so many times that he was held together by steel pins and bailing wire. Every time he moved pain registered on his face, but he had an overabundance of guts and he stood shoulder to shoulder with Frank not only in the jungle, but in the conference rooms as well. General Gray continued to support Snowcap and further augmented it with additional Marines, which also brought JSOC shooters on board.

    The Suits proudly showed Frank the warehouse which stored "free gear" they had acquired as surplus from DOD. Of course most of it was unserviceable and Frank had it removed and disposed of. Purchase orders started flying across rather incredulous Suit's desks and Frank subsequently was hauled up before them to be grilled on his "lavish expenditures." However, Frank came prepared and while facing a senior Suit's polished desk placed a leaky canteen that he had obtained from the surplus equipment cache on his highly polished desk. The Suit began to sputter when he noticed water running into his In Box. Typically the box wasn't too full, but the Suit flew back on his roller-equipped throne and screamed at Frank to in effect, get that dirty bottle off his altar. Frank grabbed the canteen, which was now soaking his fake Persian carpet-held it up and asked the shrinking bureaucrat if he would be happy carrying this on his belt if it was his sole source of potable water i! n the jungle? Frank stipulated to these human obstacles that he would not send his mates into any dangerous situation with defective equipment. If looks could kill, Frank was a walking dead man.

    Through Leatherneck's close Force Reconnaissance ties, DEA agents were mustered into the hands of this elite company and began the transformation into jungle fighters. This was only the beginning and Frank next enlisted the US Army Infantry School at Fort Benning. Clear and up front teletypes spelling out the enormous challenges were communicated to the field offices soliciting volunteers, who once committed would have to pass an intense JSOC selection process. If they passed selection they would undergo several months training by JSOC operators and spend several more at language school in Monterey, California. Frank was going for quality and not quantity and intended to cull out all but the best. He tried to convince the FBI to detail Bob Pilgrim, Rick Warford and Hostage Rescue Team members to Snowcap, but in spite of the historical precedence of FBI agents fighting Nazi intelligence operatives and saboteurs in South America during WW2, the Bureau simply dismissed him with! , "the jungles are not an appropriate place for our agents."

    Injuries and battle wounds were inevitable, so Frank focused next on agent welfare. Competent medical care was frequently days away and the Suits had made no provisions for either routine or emergency treatment. Through some imaginative manpower manipulations by the head of DEA Administrative Services, Don Quinn and his staff crafted unique job descriptions and Frank was gratifyingly told, "Go recruit your Special Forces medics." The JSOC shooters provided Frank with an introduction to the commandant of the JFK Special Warfare Center. After he made his pitch, six "snake eater" medics volunteered. Most had multiple combat tours in Vietnam, so they could fight and heal and they were looking for one last war to soldier in. Even though they lacked the "MD" behind their names, they were just as competent when it came to trauma injuries and through the medical care they provided to the local indigenous people Snowcap strike forces were rewarded with actionable intelligence.

    Conversely, when agents returned from the narco terrorist wars, they received complete physicals and mindset counseling attendant to the stress they experienced in the jungle. Frank also ensured that they got a well deserved welcome home, before they went back to normal investigative duties.

    Snowcap desperately needed firepower appropriate to the narco terrorist war that was raging in the Huallaga Valley. The Suits armed the original cadre primarily with stainless steel .38/357 Magnum caliber revolvers. DEA was in the process of transitioning to semi automatic pistols and a large number of revolvers became surplus. Ostensibly as a cost cutting measure, the bean counting Suits dumped the wheel guns on Snowcap. Again, the Marines popped to and Leatherneck arranged a meeting with Colonel Willis, the commanding officer of Weapons Training Battalion. This is the Corp's center for small arms excellence and the highly revered colonel had a veritable arsenal of personal and crew served weaponry laid out of the rifle deck that could fulfill Snowcap's mission requirements. Both Frank and Leatherneck knew from their own combat experience that what they lacked in numerical strength could be ameliorated by the correct selection of light weight, select fire small arms systems! . For starters, Frank and Leatherneck snapped up the Colt M4 carbine, 40 MM grenade launchers (M203), Navy SEAL cut down M60 Light Machine Guns, 60 MM mortars, grenades, Claymore mines and Glock 17 9X19 MM pistols loaded with Federal 147 grain Hydra Shok ammunition. They also adopted a heavy barreled version of the M16 rifle, which filled the role of squad automatic weapon. Demolition training was also high on the agenda and agents learned how to use C4 and 15 and 30 pound cratering charges to destroy clan labs and airstrips.

    One afternoon, back at the head shed, a truck delivered the sixty-mike-mike tubes, bipods and base plates to the building, but without ammunition. As soon as the Suits became aware of there presence, some of them panicked and thought Frank was staging a coup. They ran into the office of one of the former CIA clandestine warriors, Terry Burke, and expressed their collective concern.With a dead-pan expression, he said he never moved without them in Laos and invited them to articulate their reservations or get the hell out of his office. Not willing to take on someone who could turn their cushy careers into crap, they slinked back to their crass cubicles.

    Can't was not part of the vocabulary of the JSOC professionals. An urgent teletype was bought to Frank's attention describing a firefight that the Peruvians and the Snowcap agents were involved in. The troops were armed with North Korean AK 47 assault rifles that were serviceable, but the ammunition, manufactured in Lima was unreliable. Frank's agents were asking him to solve their problem, so he called his JSOC staff into his office. I know from experience that Frank never used an intercom, phoned you, or yelled for you to report to his lair, but usually got off his butt and walked into your office and "invited" you to join him. Frank was a gentleman and treated everyone with respect as long as he thought you deserved it. It just so happened that the Army had seized tons of Russian/Cuban 7.62nX 39 MM from Noriega's disciples in Panama. A JSOC colonel simply said, "Let me work on this." The next day the colonel informed Frank that two C130 aircraft were "wheels up" and headi! ng for Peru with three quarters of a million rounds of the enemy's former ammunition. Wisely, Frank did not ask any questions.

    The Suits made the same mistake US forces made in Vietnam and that was a "Replacement Draft." Instead of sending cohesive and bonded teams into an area of operations, they sent individual agents to fill any manpower vacuum. Now teams of 12, similar to SF "A" teams, were given a final polish prior to deployment by Marine Force Reconnaissance personnel who worked 16 hour days to mold them into an integrated small unit. Those former service and non-service agents who had missed out on the Vietnam experience got the opportunity and then some to fulfill this personal void in their lives.

    Like Special Forces in the past, Snowcap could be a career impediment. In spite of the exceptional and hazardous service and the unique and valuable training these agents acquired the field division chiefs were reluctant to promote them. The most prevalent complaint was that Snowcap agents were not qualified for advancement, because they did not meet job requirements. Frank would not tolerate this inequity and with the support of his two Snowcap "Rabies," Chuck and Terry, rewrote the regulations. In less time than it takes you to read this, he was authorized to recommend agents for promotion as well as other awards and honors.

    Congress began to throw its support behind DEA and it looked like Snowcap could expand and put a real hurt on the traffickers. However, the Suits always interested in empire building sensed an opportunity to use Snowcap to increase DEA's manpower ceiling. It worked, but instead of swelling the ranks of Snowcap these agents were parceled out to the field divisions. Undeterred, Frank approached the Army's Center for Low Intensity Conflict and Training Command to conduct a complete-grounds up evaluation of the Snowcap program. Frank knew they were good, but also knew they could be better and wanted their recommendations. After six weeks, General Wayne Downing and his staff came through and he personally briefed the Suits. Solid recommendations backed up by facts were proffered and things looked promising. However, Leatherneck returned Frank to reality by nudging him and whispering, "Look, the Suits aren't even taking notes, they aren't paying attention. General Downing might as! well be pissing up a rope." And, true to form the Suits never endorsed one of the recommendations.

    Whenever possible, Frank and Leatherneck went to the front to be with the troops. The Bolivians had not won a war in generations and their last major defeat was at the hands of the Paraguayans in the 1930s. This defeatist attitude was still reflected among the Umopar units that Snowcap deployed with in the jungle. They had cobbled together M1 carbines and only a few rounds of ammunition. For the most part their leadership came from privilege and expressed little interest in the welfare of their men. For Frank this became another reform in the making and he had to work his leadership voodoo on the Bolivian hierarchy as well.

    The first target of opportunity unwittingly presented himself when a US State Department "Pink Shirt" accompanied him to a meeting with a Bolivian colonel at a remote jungle base. When Frank entered the bunker he became leery of his host when he spotted two teenage boys immaculately turned out in freshly pressed uniforms who were obviously attending to the colonel's craven needs. They were both catamites and the officer was an out and out pedophile. They stood smiling at sling arms and their carbines appeared to be relatively new and not held together with tape or wire. In an effort to embarrass them and show his utter contempt for Americans, the colonel called one of his mongrels over to him and performed a lewd sex act with his hands on the dog. Frank immediately launched himself across the room and assaulted the pervert with a verbal barrage inches from his corpulent face. He was so close he could smell what the officer had for lunch. He stomped out of the bunker complete! ly outraged and disgusted. Pink Shirt, the ivy league, ivory towered diplomat stupidly poured gasoline on the raging fire when he caught up with him outside and whimpered that he had insulted a valuable ally. Frank politely replied and told the flunky from La Paz to, "Get your head out of your ass now, or you are walking back." Considering all the money the Pink Shirts threw at this Andean monster, he was brazenly flipping off the USA and telling us he was the law in this part of the world and there was little we could do about it.

    LESSONS LEARNED:

    * Get over the not invented here syndrome and seek out experts even though they may reside outside your agency.

    * Managers manage things. Leaders lead people.

    * Equip and train your people properly. They are your most precious commodities.

    * Watch out for the troop's welfare and they will watch out for you.

    * If you are truly a leader, there are times you have to put yourself on the line to defend what you truly believe in.

    * You may lose, but there is nothing better than to have the respect of your subordinates.

    * There are times to be "politically correct," but that is rare among warriors.

    * You can't always do it alone. Find those in authority that have not become bureaucrats and get them in your corner.

    * Don't overlook things that are wrong. If there is corruption in any element affecting your mission it will infect the enterprise.

    Next issue: Peruvian firefight.


    Return To The Frank White Report