Friendly Fire: A Ranger’s Perspective on Controversies that Maybe Shouldn’t be
by Brandon Young
Seen = killed. This was the objective of our entire marksmanship program when I served as a Special Operator in the 75th Ranger Regiment. “Seen” was the critical precursor to action; shoot the enemy combatants. Leave the non-combatants be.
Some of us out there have forgotten this critical point, today in America. Some of us are attacking the wrong people without “seeing” who we are targeting before we pull the trigger.
(2003. Konar Province, Afghanistan.)
The flash identified the origin of fire before the rocket motor etched a line across the night sky, burning a streak into my NODs (night optical device). Enemy contact. Only it was directed at the walls of our firebase, not our patrol.
We halted the convoy, a few kilometers from the safe house, identified the enemy position and marked it while air support was scrambled to the area. Bad situations turn worse quickly when you have multiple friendly elements in the battle space and you make enemy contact. Because of this, we knew how critical it was for our Joint Task Force (JTF) to know where we were.
We confirmed our location with the JTF Command and then the men within the walls returned fire on the enemy. All of this happened within moments. Silently, invisible to all but our friendlies engaging the enemy position, we waited.
We felt helpless watching the fight. Our distance was too great to maneuver on the enemy, so our fires would do little more than give our position away. Masked by the night, we had the only dominant position in the fight. We did all we could: maintain discipline, calm our adrenaline and direct fires from the shadows. The engagement did not last long, but the feelings never left me. Helplessness. Guilt. Gratitude. Rage.
In all of this, I was angry. My strong sense of justice had been assaulted by these people who attacked us. We are here to help.
Our patrol had just escorted Civil Affairs soldiers into the valley to conduct meet and greets with the local mullahs. A rare mission for our JTF. They had gathered intelligence and offered assistance to the village. They provided generators and school supplies and promised to return with a MEDCAP (medical civil action program). Weeks prior, our medics had treated a boy with a near leg amputation from a construction accident in town.
Why are they attacking us!? We’re the “Good Guys!”
Things move fast overseas. Often times the lives of your teammates depended on your ability to react to contact with speed and accuracy. Two things stood out most from my experience that night: the discipline of the American Soldier and the feelings of betrayal by a people we were trying to help. Both themes, discipline and betrayal, stand out today as I observe the way the veteran community reacts before understanding the facts.
I work with and for veterans every day and it is one of the greatest honors of my life. I humbly submit that veterans are the leaders America is reaching for right now, but sometimes I fear we do our community a disservice when we fail to seek the facts before we fire away with our voices. Once silent servants of the Republic, we did our jobs, regardless of whether we agreed or disagreed with the policy. Today, as veterans, we have the opportunity to speak our minds. To opt in or out on a topic. Our countrymen are starving to hear from us and in some respects, we have a responsibility to them still, to serve and to lead.
In most cases I see veterans seizing that opportunity to make a big difference in their communities. They are leading within the home, the corporate sector, small business, government and nonprofits. Sadly, I also see entitlement, outrage and misplaced attacks from those of us who fail to do the work and lazily fall for the title of the hottest “click bait” article in the news cycle. I see outrage and indignation with little to no understanding of the facts. And I see made up controversies. Two timely examples are with Walmart and Starbucks.