In honor of November’s Veterans Day, my guest writer is COLONEL US Army (Ret) Dan M. Vannatter with a Remembrance Day story for you.
In early 1990, I was finishing my third year as the G2 of the 7th Infantry Division (Light), the Lightfighters. The Division had recently returned from Panama where we had been deployed on Operation Just Cause to oust the Panamanian Dictator, Manuel Noriega, and assist the Panamanian people to establish a democratic government. The 7th ID (Light) was called the Bayonet Division and following our success in Panama, every member of the Division received one of the Soviet Bayonets we captured in the operation.
One of the perks for being involved in the success of Just Cause for the 7th Division (Light) was to be selected by the Joint Chiefs to participate in exercises with other countries in this hemisphere. Following the receipt of a JCS directive regarding an exercise in Paraguay, I was selected by the Division Commander to lead a team of nearly 40 personnel to travel to Paraguay with the mission of teaching and demonstrating to the Paraguayan Command and General Staff students how we conduct combat operational planning at the Division level.
As the G2 of the 7th ID (Light), I had participated in multiple field training exercises (FTXs), command post exercises (CPXs), two of the US Army’s Battle Command Training Exercises (BCTPs) as well as Operation Just Cause. I, along with my G2 staff and the other staff offices (G1, G3, G4, G5, etc.), were well versed in executing these operations from receiving a warning order, developing an initial plan, vetting it through the chain of command, revising as necessary, distributing the plan throughout the division and implementing it.
Prior to deploying with the entire contingent, I took a handful of selected 7th ID (Light) staff members to Paraguay multiple times for coordination meetings to discuss the conduct of the training, determine the goals that the Paraguayans desired to achieve, examine the parameters and logistics and to develop a rapport with the senior hierarchy of the Paraguayan Military. We were exceptionally well treated and our interactions were both friendly and professional. Following several well-attended discussions and intense question/answer sessions, both sides agreed to a training CPX in which the 7th ID(Light) staff would conduct a live CPX demonstration with all of the staff offices represented utilizing a scenario where Paraguay was fighting a war with a neighboring country and preparing for a decisive battle against this neighbor. The country was referred to as country Blue and was depicted as the aggressor with intentions inimical to Paraguay.
Once the details were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, we returned to Ft Ord to brief the 7th ID (Light) Commanding General and his staff and to prepare the full team for deployment. That preparation took the form of several rehearsals with those who had been chosen for deployment and a refining of our presentation to meet the standards expected of 7th ID (Light) Lightfighters. Once we had satisfied the CG, we began the process of packing and preparing to deploy. We deployed without a hitch and air landed in Paraguay fully ready and anxious to illustrate our prowess and professionalism to the Command and Staff of the Paraguayan Military.
When we were met at the airport by several senior Paraguayan Officers and transported to our hotel, I was informed by one of the senior officers that we would have a kick-off ceremony the following morning at their Military School with all of their students in attendance along with the Paraguayan General Staff and all of my 7th ID (Light) instructors. I would then be introduced on stage and expected to give a speech to inspire and inform their students…..in Spanish!
Once I had the content prepared to my satisfaction, I attempted to then translate it into Spanish. I took my Spanish effort to one of my officers who was fluent in Spanish for a review and corrections where needed.
Though I was a Latin American Foreign Area Officer (FAO) and had attended Spanish Language School as part of the FAO training, I was somewhat taken aback by this news. I isolated myself in my room and wrote what I considered an appropriate set of remarks to open the training and set reasonable expectations for both the students and my contingent of staff procedure instructors. We were, after all, recent combat veterans from Panama as well as multiple iterations of the Battle Command Training Program. Once I had the content prepared to my satisfaction, I attempted to then translate it into Spanish. I took my Spanish effort to one of my officers who was fluent in Spanish for a review and corrections where needed. He was very helpful and made several suggestions that I adopted and he also added indicators where I should pause, slow down or raise the volume to emphasize my points. We practiced my delivery that evening several times and I went to bed much more confidant than I had been earlier that day.
The following morning our entire contingent was transported to the Paraguayan Officer’s Military School by bus where we were met with a high level of pomp and exceptional friendliness. We were escorted into a very large classroom where nearly 80 Paraguayan Officers were already seated awaiting our arrival. Our 7th ID (Light) officers and enlisted soldiers were then seated off to the side and I was led to the raised stage area where I was introduced to the group of Paraguayan Generals who were seated several feet behind the podium. Once we were all seated, the senior General approached the podium and spoke briefly of the importance of the training about to take place, his deep appreciation that the 7th Infantry Division (Light) had made the long trip to his country to assist in the education of his officers and the positive impact he anticipated this training would have.
The General then introduced me as the leader of the US contingent. I stepped to the podium, shook his hand and thanked him and the Generals behind him for this very special opportunity.
I was emphasizing how the battle would progress in our favor, how they would learn to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle, how we would begin to win victory after victory and how we would ultimately be victorious on the battlefield.
I began my presentation with a little trepidation, for I was briefing the best of the Paraguayan Officer Corps, those who were expected to become the Colonels and Generals in years to come. A few sentences into my speech, I began to notice that they all were listening very intently as if every word I spoke was very important. My confidence was boosted immediately and I began to actually feel the rhythm of my presentation and my emphasis on the polemics increasing as I spoke. I was emphasizing how the battle would progress in our favor, how they would learn to get inside the enemy’s decision cycle, how we would begin to win victory after victory and how we would ultimately be victorious on the battlefield. As I was speaking, I noticed that most of the officers in front of me in the audience were shifting forward in their seats and I could see smiles and almost feel the aggressiveness growing with every phrase. My voice mirrored their enthusiasm and I was truly caught up in the moment myself. I was now much more forceful and the volume of my voice had increased to a near-crescendo.
At this point, I was nearly finished and I made my final utterance with my arm raised and my fist tight. I called on these officers to come with me and “Vaya a la battalia!” Let’s go to the fight!! Much to my complete surprise, the place went wild. Officers were standing on their chairs, hats were thrown into the air, everyone was screaming and hollering at the tops of their lungs, fists were being shaken and I just stood there, nearly dumbfounded, watching the pandemonium. I was thinking, “what have I done?”
It was at this point that one of the Paraguayan Generals stepped up to the podium, placed his arm around my shoulders and said to me in perfect English, “Son, if you had talked for two more minutes, you could have taken over the country!”
I wish to thank my guest writer, Dan M. Vannatter, COLONEL US Army (Ret) for sharing his amazing story with us for Veterans Day in the United States, and Remembrance Day in Canada. These are the stories we so seldom get to read but are so important.
Great Story, Often we underestimate the power of our spoken words.
Indeed we do Larry Tyler. Thanks for the comment.