- The US military is shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific region in competition with China.
- This shift means US troops are undergoing more training to deal with the conditions specific to that region.
- This spring, Air Force commandos trained in one of the region’s harshest environments: the jungle.
Georgia-based Air Force special operators deployed to the Pacific this spring for jungle warfare training.
Such training is nothing new for US troops, but this exercise comes as the US military shifts its focus to a potential conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific region – where US conventional forces and special forces may rub shoulders with well-armed forces face enemy in a dense, muggy jungle.
Air Force Special Operations Command commandos from the 38th Rescue Squadron, based at Moody Air Force Base, spent nearly a month in Hawaii between March and April to hone their jungle warfare skills.
As rescue workers, these commandos focused their training on tracking personnel in the jungle and avoiding being tracked themselves while testing their tactics, techniques, and procedures in other skills.
In a press release, Lt. Col. Michael Vins, the squadron’s commanding officer, noted that the jungle was a “very unforgiving environment” and that US specialists “need to be prepared for that type of environment by training there and understanding how it works.” going to survive there.”
As US special operators found in World War II and Vietnam, the jungle is probably one of the most difficult places to combat. Visibility is limited – sometimes down to just a few meters – and the environment is full of hazards, including poisonous plants and deadly animals that can incapacitate troops fairly quickly.
U.S. troops had to “take a step back” from what worked in the deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan and figure out what works in the jungle “which is a lot harder to operate in,” said Staff Sgt. Evan Rogowski said in the press release.
“It’s pretty unpredictable out here,” Rogowski added. “It can rain in the morning and then be completely sunny in the afternoon and then rain again. Aside from bringing the right gear, there’s not much we can do to control that.”
During the Vietnam War, US special operations reconnaissance teams from the Military Assistance Command’s top-secret Vietnam Studies and Observations Group lived and fought in the jungles of Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, where they tracked the movements of North Vietnamese and Cong troops and fought ongoing battles against an often overwhelming enemy.
MACV-SOG still influences modern US special operations, but many of the jungle warfare skills these Vietnam-era operators developed have atrophied.
“As highly skilled Special Warfare Operators, we always think of modern warfare and high-tech weapons systems, but something as primitive as bamboo-rolling grenades if you knock over the wrong stick is enough to wipe us all out,” “Staff Sgt. Evan Orth said in the press release.
The importance of basic combat skills and small unit tactics are constants wherever troops are located, but what troops must do to use them properly can change radically in different locations.
Orth added that being trained in the jungle made rescuers “more menacing” than they might otherwise expect.
Chasing people in the jungle has double meaning for Pararescumen and other special operators. Whether they’re pursuing an enemy or trying to rescue an ally, the principles are the same.
The “footprint” of that goal “will tell you a story,” Rogowski said in the release. “Where did this person go, what did they do, how fast did they move, where are they going to go, is they paranoid? And I think that’s hard to put into words unless you’ve actually been there.”
The US Air Force Special Operations Command is the air force component of US Special Operations Command, and its air commands provide air transport, close air support, precision attack, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities to other special forces.
AFSOC itself consists of two components. In the air, it operates a variety of special operations aircraft, including the AC-130 “Spooky” attack helicopter, CV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and MQ-9 Reaper drone, in support of other US command units.
On the ground, the rescue forces, special reconnaissance officers, combat controllers and tactical air patrol commandos complement other special forces as individuals or in teams and act as a link to the air forces.
Pararescue is unique among US military career fields. Pararescuemen specialize in combat search and rescue and personnel recovery and are probably some of the most competent paramedics in the entire military.
True to their motto “so that others may live,” rescue workers are ready to go anywhere to search for or recover U.S. troops. In order to do this, paramedics must be familiar and competent with each operational environment.
“The lessons and skills learned here will continue to grow the way we work in the Indo-Pacific,” Rogowski said of the exercise in Hawaii. “We will take those lessons and shape ours [tactics, techniques, and procedures] for the future of special operations, personnel recovery and combat search and rescue.
Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a veteran of the Hellenic Army (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army Headquarters) and a graduate of Johns Hopkins University.