Experience counts in Training
|Special Warfare Center and School|
Sunday, March 18, 2001
Experience counts in training
By Nomee Landis
‘‘November Zero-3, this is November Zero-1, over. … Roger, November Zero-1, this is November Zero-3. Go ahead. Over.”
The television hums with muffled voices and sporadic gunfire on the old black and white war movies always playing, whether someone watches from the brown Naugahyde couch or not.
A few men spend two weeks at a time here at the safe house when Robin Sage rolls around. During this most recent exercise, Feb. 17 to March 2, the north safe house supported five student teams.
From the safe house, Special Forces old-timers make sure the teams, and the ‘‘guerrillas” that they are working with, have the supplies and the radio communications they need.
Some sleep in khaki sleeping bags on Army cots. Some prefer tents behind the house. They share a bathroom and a kitchen. And they’ll share their stories, if someone’s around to listen.
They seem like nice, pleasant old gentlemen, says Master Sgt. Tim Smith, who is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the northern section of the exercise.
‘‘But you know, these were some pretty brutal individuals back in their younger days,” Smith says. ‘‘They talk about the missions they took part in, the people who were killed.”
A peculiar introduction
Walter Baric never met the American Special Forces soldier who ultimately led him to join Special Forces himself. But he remembers his name and his face.
That soldier was Master Sgt. Kenneth Roraback. He and three other Special Forces soldiers were captured by the Viet Cong in Vietnam when Baric was a seventh-grader in Yugoslavia. That was in 1963, when the country was under communist control.
Sometime later, Baric’s science teacher, Anric Ante, a staunch communist, shoved a copy of the political newspaper Borda in Baric’s face, pointing animatedly at the American prisoners of war.
Baric remembers what Ante said to him that day as he pointed at Roraback: ‘‘You’re never going to be like him. He’s a criminal. He’s a child killer.”
But Baric didn’t believe what Ante said about the Americans.
‘‘His words, his actions that day made me tied to Special Forces,” Baric says.
Baric and his mother, Mary, immigrated to the United States not long after that. They landed in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1972, two months before he was to be drafted to serve in Vietnam, Baric joined the Army.
Special Forces came a few years later, after he encountered Roraback once again.
He had been in the army for several years when he picked up a book by an Australian journalist.
In it, he read of how the base camp of Roraback and other soldiers was overrun by the Viet Cong. Roraback was later executed as revenge for the deaths of some high-ranking Viet Cong officials.
That connection to his past -- and the missions of the Special Forces -- piqued his interest in becoming a Green Beret.
‘‘I became interested, the parachuting in the darkness, seeing the students diving from boats, coming up on shore with knives in their mouths,” he said.
Now, decades removed from that science class, Baric helps ensure that the next generation of Special Forces soldiers is trained to carry on the mission his teacher so despised.
Baric says he has heard that Ante is still living, in what is now the Republic of Croatia.
‘‘When I donned my beret, I said to myself, ‘I’m one of those killers who Professor Ante described.’ … I would like to find my teacher, knock on his door, take him to supper and tell him who I am. He would probably fall on his behind out of surprise.”
The front of the north safe house serves as the communications room, with several radios, a fax machine, a telephone. Here, 68-year-old Howard Colvin works. He wears twill pants, slippers and a gold Special Forces ring with a diamond chip in a beret.
Colvin has worked on Robin Sage exercises for about a year.
‘‘Being an old, retired commo guy, I decided to give it a try,” Colvin says. ‘‘I like working with the younger people, see how things have progressed.”
During four tours in Vietnam, Colvin said he saw the country from one end to the other. He served at one time or another in all five Special Forces groups.
In his younger days, Colvin said, he volunteered to go airborne, volunteered for Special Forces.
‘‘We were treated as mature individuals and not just another piece of fodder,” Colvin says. ‘‘And that still holds true today. A lot of people, when they join SF, you want to do your own thing, rather than just being rote. SF allows a lot of individuality.”
Colvin’s first trip to Vietnam came in 1961, ‘‘before the bad shooting got started.”
He said his training helped him prepare for his missions there, and he believes the training soldiers receive in Robin Sage now helps them prepare for the real world, too.
‘‘Training is an ongoing thing,” Colvin says. ‘‘It is a constant thing. This here just gives them a foundation to work on.”
Reprinted from The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer Copyright 2002