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This blog exists only as an archive. It is a journal that serves as a window into my life as a Marine combat veteran serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; it was written with no filter, no politics and no agenda. Please feel free to follow my journey from beginning to end. Welcome to my life.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tracking School

Well, I'm finally back from Fort Huachuca. The two week tracking course I just finished was unbelievable. I'm not sure what I expected to get from it, but it certainly exceeded whatever expectations I had.

The course was taught by David Scott-Donelan, a man who basically has written the book (literally actually) on modern tracking in a combat environment. If you're interested his bio is found here. To cut his long story short, he operated in the Rhodesian Special Forces for over 20 years, fighting communist terrorists that were infiltrating the small country of Rhodesia for more than 25 years. He's now a US citizen and has spent the last 15 years trying to convince the US military that tracking is an essential skill that has been overlooked, he's finally starting to win a lot of top brass over.

So that's that.

Basically for the past 2 weeks I have been at Fort Huachuca, AZ, learning the 'ancient' skill of tracking, but more importantly how to apply it to today's battlefield. My platoon sent 5 guys, and we were joined by Navy SEALS, some combat search and rescue, British SAS, Army Intel, etc. From start to finish I'm amazed by the level of proficiency that we were able to achieve in tracking. I'm not Crocodile Dundee, and I can't put my fingers in a track and commune with my quarry, but if you shoot at me and decide to run away into the woods, I'm pretty sure that I can find you. I really am not going to go into too much detail about techniques and methods that were taught, the instructors at times mentioned that things, while not 'classified', would be valuable to the enemy if known. So just use your imagination.

We obviously did a lot of tracking both weeks, with exercises continuing to build on each other. The fort was a great place to hold the school because there were so many different environments to track through- savanna, desert, mountain, forest, it had it all. The first Friday we tracked our quarry 11 clickes up a 7,000 foot mountain (and then it poured on us on the way down).

One of the most important things that I took from the class was a new understanding of our border situation. Like I mentioned before, this Army base is on the Mexico border. A lot of the people that go through this combat tracker course are law enforcement professionals (Border Patrol, FBI, DEA, ATF, etc), and so David is very passionate about what is happening along the US-Mexico border. He showed us all kinds of power point presentations created by these agencies designed for new joins. The situation is NUTS. We're talking low-intensity warfare. WARFARE on our border. Contract killings, drug lords running combat patrols, ex-Mexican military special forces being bought and hired by drug lords, gun running into this country, you name it, it's going on. I saw video/photos of all of this, most of it 'internal' or classified. If this stuff ran on CNN everyone's opinion would change.

While we were doing our tracking exercises in the wilderness around base, we could pick up the drug trafficker's radio frequency and listen to them in their observation posts, that were located ON base, as they watched us move around. We'd be tracking someone and come across a path that had been used the previous night by drug runners with 70 pound packs of weed on their backs. We would find their little rest stops, complete with litter and broken light bulbs. You find the light bulbs because that's what the mules use to take their meth (they take meth because they have to make the 30 mile trek from the border across base to the pickup site in one night, with 70 pounds on their back, the meth gives them super-human endurance).

The scariest thing I heard while I was there? Al Qaeda tried paying the drug czar across the border $10,000 a head to get snuck across the border into the fort with weapons and missiles. They were going to shave their beards so that they would better fit in. Wow. Let's NOT build a wall, that sounds great. By the way, I did see the border, and it consists of three barb wire strands. Awesome.


  1. So, they trick you into eatin bugs?

  2. My sister had officer training at Fort Huachuca and mentioned issues too. People kept stealing all of the shooting targets so their rifle course was very improvised. I've also been to the southern Arizona-Mexico border. The border patrol was a couple of guys on a tiny road surrounded by miles of cacti and sagebrush. I had a harder time getting into Canada!

    I'm glad you learned some interesting new skills. It's much easier to track up here in all of our snow.

  3. I'm taking your silence on the bug munching to mean it's a yes and you're too, rightfully, ashamed to own up to it.

    So, a follow up question:
    Where they the hard shelled crunchy bugs or the squishy wiggly ones?

    The ritual of E-tool Quals is supposed to immunize young Marines against such stuff.

  4. Sure. We'll guard banks, schools, malls, churches and ricidulou amounts of inept security at airports. But stop people from walking across? Nope. Because a wall for security is "racial" or biased against Mexico.

    Keep up the good fight, Jake.

  5. I did see the border, and it consists of three barb wire strands

    Yeah, that's pretty much how it was back in the early 70s, when I was growing up in Bisbee. We used to drive across Ft. Huachuca to go fishing at Parker Canyon in the mountians to the west of the fort.

    I'm gonna guess they no longer allow civies to drive across base.

  6. I live in Bisbee, which is about 6 miles north of the border. I have a friend who lives in Naco, Az 2 houses from the Wall, which is pretty tall, and concrete I think. Anyway when he first moved there 2 years ago, his whole stance on immigration changed. It had been "let them come". But when "they" were running through his yard and spotlights were shining in his windows nightly, he thought differently. For the last year or so, we've had regular Army and National Guard from as far away as Guam working on the fence and he's hardly had any yard jumpers. The woman across the street from him(a legal immigrant and now a citizen) runs a day care center in her home legally and would get threatened by some of the illegals, especially the ones sitting in SUVs and Hummers waiting for the crossers, actually having guns pointed at her.

    We have a LOT of Border Patrol here. You see them and their trucks EVERYWHERE, even horses, however I've talked to some, and if they are threatened with gunfire, their orders are to stand down and call local law enforcement. It makes them feel pretty powerless.

    We used to think nothing of going over the border into Naco, Sonora, and Agua Prieta opposite Douglas. But there have been so many slayings and kidnappings that my friends no longer do that. It's too dangerous.

  7. Holy Smoke, Maggie, things have changed a whole lot since I left 30 some years ago! and not for the better, either.

    Damn. Just damn.