Part two of a six part series.

It was a couple of years before Howard was allowed to go to the actual SF courses. First he had to gain his actual Army commission in 1988, which he did, and in the meanwhile he was placed in charge of the unit admin section, then Intel, and finally he lead the training team, a sub-unit that specialized in getting soldiers ready to attend the SF course. Also, he had to complete Infantry school for officers (IOBC) at FT Benning, Georgia.

Then the fine day arrived that he was allowed to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS)– three weeks of hell. It was in this period that a lot of changes were occurring within the SF community, both administrative and in terms of training. Howard received the benefit of the refinements- a grueling “gut check” of a course designed to weed out the stupid, the rash, and the weak.

The selection course that SF finally settled upon “drew heavily upon the British SAS, who had their own Selection, or with the Ranger Training Brigade, to see what Rangers did… we needed to find out the basic things, to see if soldiers had it, or not.” Originally the selection course was called Special Forces Orientation Training, or SFOT, and the original classes were “bedlam,” before “it all shook out.”

The questions the school wanted answered were “Do they have the mind, the grit, the stick-to-itiveness… can they prepare themselves, can they put up with misery?”

Howard reflected that by the time he got there, SFAS was a well-oiled machine. As far as he knows, it hasn’t changed much since the late eighties. “Sore Feet And Shoulders” is still the same, and Lieutenant Pearce was not successful on his first try. However, he was allowed to re-attend the school, and he did.

I asked what percentage of candidates were washed out. “It’s not like the song, “one-hundred men, they’ll test today,” that’s a song.” (NOTE: That song is “The Ballad of the Green Beret” by SSG Barry Sadler. JL) “I will tell you that the highest pass and selection rate (at SFAS- JL) is somewhere around fifty percent… if you look at the entire course, the number is significant, a significant emotional event.

There are some basic requirements for attending the school- time in grade, and a basic physical fitness score (based upon the 17-21 range, regardless of age).

“What struck me when I showed up, I’d been through a number of Army courses… there’s always that ‘we’re going to get off the bus and here we go.’ Get yourself ready for the barking, the yelling, and all the stupidity, reindeer games.” He rolled his eyes, paused, and continued. “There was none of that…there were five hundred people there, all of them in uniform with their decorations…I saw a big dude, I thought “he’s going to walk through this course,” I saw a little dude, wondered how he would do…Just about every person I saw, I was wrong.” “The big dude? He quit halfway through the first week…that little dude? He was the first one in on the last ruck march.” He paused. “I learned a lesson from that; you don’t know what’s on the inside, you see what people can give you.”

Howard was surprised the most at the lack of yelling. A student was tasked with holding a formation and getting a count. He did it once, the cadre told him the count was wrong. So the poor guy did it again, once again the count was wrong. Finally, the cadre showed mercy. “Did you count yourself, Sergeant?” The whole time, the trainer spoke in a quiet, level fashion, and finally only corrected the soldier after several tries. That incident set the tone for the school. The only facial expression the cadre member showed was a slight smirk.

Then the students had to do some basic Army physical tests. They did the Army Water Survival Test, then they did the PT test- a series of calisthenics capped off by a two-mile run.

“When you had to do the push ups, they would say “Your time has begun.” They wouldn’t count, they wouldn’t tell you how you were doing, they stood there and watched you and at the end of the two minutes, they’d say “You’re done.” He’d write something down on his clipboard, and that ended up being the mode for that course.” Howard continued. “The Army usually gives you task, condition, and standards…the whole thing with the SFAS course was that you would get the task, the condition, and no standard. And sometimes the condition would be a little fuzzy, too.”

He told an example of how everyone was told to be at a trail in the woods at 0445, wearing uniform pants, a t-shirt, and they had to have a canteen. The instructor spoke. “You will run down this trail as fast as you can… Does anyone want to quit? Your time has begun.”

Howard furrowed his brow at the memory. “You had no idea if it was a two-mile run, a five mile run, an eight mile run. You had no idea. Your job was to go run, and run that course…One thing that I felt proved to be a challenge for some folk…was that there was no reinforcement, positive or negative…I just remember them (the cadre, JL) standing there, “Do you have any questions? Your time has begun.” And they would stand there and watch you. They want to see what you do, they want to see what you do when there is no-one backing you up.”

As an aside, he told a story from later in his career- it serves to illustrate a typical SFAS event. A trainee was sent out on a ruck march to a given point. At the point were several water jugs of varying weights, the trainee had the task of bringing back a jug, he could choose among them. Well, the trainee lifted each jug in turn, and chose the heaviest one. The cadre were watching, unseen. Later they asked the soldier why he had chosen the heaviest jug. He said that he grabbed the heavy one to help out other guys on his team who weren’t as strong or fast. That type of thinking is EXACTLY what SF is looking for in their candidates. “That’s an example of a guy you want to have on the team.”

“You have to remember that the intent behind this is not to see if he’s a dumb grunt who can get by anything we put in front of him, we want to see what he’s gonna do when there’s no one watching him…there was a certain degree of trimming that happened…anyone who looked a little heavy was given a tape test (where they measure the circumference of your gut JL)…glasses? Eye check…You feel bad about it, but it is what it is.”

“You get out to Camp Mackall, and you do your first week which is called “military orienteering.” It is not land nav; you are basically doing mounted navigation on foot… you had your ruck, your weapon… but you never knew how many points you had to hit.”

“One time I came up to a point, and guys were in the woods with their boots off, eating… “Roster 199, give me your score sheet.” Howard handed over his score sheet, with points from the land navigation exercise recorded on it.

The cadre member handed Howard his score sheet back with a new grid coordinate for Howard to find. Howard looked down the road; he had fifteen minutes left before time ran out. He knew he wouldn’t make it- there was no way. The point was kilometers away. The cadre asked, “Do you have any questions?” Howard shook his head and said, “No, Sergeant.” He started to haul ass down the road in an attempt to make it. Howard hadn’t made it fifty feet when he heard a truck horn. He looked back and the cadre waved him back. Howard hurried back. “Give me your score sheet, go over to the others and follow instructions from roster number 323.” Howard went over to student 323 (Note: no-one in SFAS wears a name tape, everyone has a roster number instead. JL). 323 said, “You’re done.”

It was a devilishly effective mind-fuck. The next guy who arrived had the same thing happen to him. That student, unlike Howard, quit on the spot. The instructor gave the guy kudos for attempting the course, the fellow sat down and he was promptly whisked away, never to be seen again.

At this point Howard came back to the school’s attrition rate. “This wasn’t like any other course in the Army where if you appropriately train and select your soldiers you’ll get a 70, 80 or 90 percent pass rate. This is not PLDC (Note: NCO School, JL), we had to make this clear to the state of Ohio, who thought our unit was all screwed up with a fifty-percent pass rate.”

“In the general Army, the preparation was awful… there was a kid who was a cook from Germany… members of his unit made a bet which day he’d be washed out… turned out to be day three.” Howard recalled that he said to the kid “Do you have any idea what we’re about to go through?” The cook didn’t, and it showed.

Howard said the instructors provided multiple opportunities to drop out with the quietly stated question, over and over, “Do you want to quit?” Another thing that really struck him was that they did not cajole or motivate, they would simply watch. It was nerve-wracking. “It filtered out the people who physically couldn’t make it, or didn’t have the mindset that would allow them to continue.”

“And once you made it past that (SFAS, JL), that’s when you made it into your qualification course.”

The fun had hardly started.


The Journey Begins


This will be a six-part series.

On an overcast late morning on the 26th of August, I sat down in a parking lot with LTC Howard Pearce, a good guy and proven combat veteran. He’s been retired for a while now, and he has settled into his post-service civilian life fairly well. The interview was informal, conversational. Howard started with his early career, and then he progressed into his Special Forces track training, and then mentioned a few aspects of when he was operational.

From here, I’ll let Howard speak.

“I was in ROTC in college.” This was the summer of 1986. As part of his training, Cadets were authorized to attend one Army school, Howard chose Airborne School. “I went through the Basic Airborne Course at Ft. Benning Georgia.” I asked if he thought it was challenging at the time. “Oh, hell yeah.” “When I went through Airborne School, it was ROTC central… Ninety percent of the students would be five-jump chumps and then never serve again in an Airborne unit.” This was not to be Howard’s fate, but he didn’t know it at the time.

“Most of the enlisted soldiers were probably going to one of the Airborne divisions.”

“You know, one of the great things about military service is opportunity… being in the right place at the right time.” The school happened in the summer between his sophomore and junior year in college, he realized that he was not going to get a scholarship and he needed to pay for college somehow. So, he looked up an Army Reserve recruiter. “I had been back from Jump School for maybe a week.” The recruiter took him to a unit that “needed some cadets.” “I remember walkin’ in there… just out of brainwash central… in Jump School there were the songs, playin’ Flight of the Valkyries as you were walkin’ out.” “It was real intimidating to me at the time, but later on I learned it was a standard Army school. It was not a big deal. I remember SEALS there, who had to go through Jump School, who giggled their way through it… It was truly a vacation for these guys.” But for Howard, the school was “pretty intense.”

So, back at the Service Support Reserve unit, Howard talked with the commander, “the oldest captain I had ever seen.” The officer wanted to “put me in charge of the baking platoon, or something like that.” Howard withheld his judgement until he returned to the parking lot with the recruiter. “No,” he said to the recruiter, “You don’t know me, we are not doing this.”

This experience led Howard to expand his search. He found a Special Forces unit in Youngstown, Ohio, and his first question about them was “Do they jump?” The person he spoke with said “Howard, it’s an SF unit.” Not having a clue what SF was, Howard replied “Yeah, but do they jump?”

Howard went to the unit, was happy with what he found, and joined their ranks as a cadet. And yes, he jumped. He completed his 6thjump, his “cherry jump,” in December of 1986, on his first drill. Howard didn’t know it at the time, but he would remain with that unit until close to his retirement.

The following summer, he left for the traditional junior-senior advanced camp for ROTC cadets. Howard was ambitious- he wanted to attend Air Assault School as well, but the rule was that cadets could only attend one school. It was a share and share alike system. He did get an opportunity to shadow an Infantry lieutenant for three weeks; he did this at FT Carson, Colorado.

Something came up, though. One day he was called in from training, and he learned that an Air Assault slot had come up in his ROTC unit because another cadet had broken his arm. They asked Howard if he was willing to attend. It meant a full summer for Cadet Pearce, but of course he said yes.

He attended Air Assault School at FT Rucker, Alabama, home of Army Aviation. “All the pilots who flew us were Orange Doors.” “Orange Doors” were student pilots. “Air Assault School was more difficult than Airborne School in every way.” “Physically, it was tougher… we had a First Sergeant who had a thing about flutter kicks.” I laughed at this point- flutter kicks are the devil, very painful. “Once you get past a hundred, and he’s still rollin’, his boots had to be filled with helium or somethin’.” Howard continued. “I was a young soldier, I hadn’t broken the stupid out of me yet.” He made the mistake of joining the “fast” ability groups for the grueling runs. “The group was runnin’ six-minute miles. They were haulin.” And of course, there were timed road marches.

However, Air Assault School also had a strong academic component, it wasn’t for dummies. “Knots, sling load procedures… written tests, sling-load tests. Wow, that’s where you lost a lot of folk. You had to find the deficiencies on all these things that were slung, even a Gama Goat.” A Gama Goat was an antiquated amphibious vehicle. It was typical Army to throw a curve ball like that at you in training. “It was an indoctrination into the military way of doing things.” He quoted an instructor, with some examples of the confusing nomenclature that everyone had to master. “You will now take your elastic retaining band, yes, that’s a rubber band. When you are securing your kit bag, you will use your slide fastener… a zipper.” He laughed. “I still refer to blue pens as Article 15 blue.”

Howard graduated successfully, and back in ROTC land he had “two scare badges… a double bubble.” What was interesting for him was that while he was attending his officer’s training in college, he was also serving in a Reserve SF unit that had a cadre of Vietnam veterans. So while his badges were a big deal among his fellow cadets, back at his Reserve unit the cadre weren’t impressed. He wore the Green Beret, but he hadn’t rated the Special Forces tab, nor was he authorized to wear the unit “flash,” or the shield-shaped colored patch under the regimental crest or rank.

“Every single guy on the team was a jumpmaster… I learned from them what it was to be SF.” “We were always dealing with small drop zones, with sticks of seven or eight jumpers… the drop zone was only six or seven seconds long.” He continued. “The only person who ever yelled in the plane was the jumpmaster.” This was a real contrast with an opportunity Howard once had to jump with the Eighty-Second Airborne, “It was bedlam, not at all what I was used to.” “I learned that the whole idea behind a jump was to keep your mouth shut, and you focus on being as calm as you possibly can.” Exuberant outbursts “was not the way these guys ran things…we were out here to do things, and to do them well. It really set the tone.”

Until he had proven himself in SF training, however, he was still just a guy.

Interview Preview, 26 August 2018, 1100-1300hrs, US EST.



Hey readers,

I was fortunate enough to be able to have a sit-down today with LTC Howard Pearce, Special Forces, US Army, (Ret). For his background, see the article a few posts below. We both traveled quite a way to make this happen, and it was nice to have a sit down to catch up with a friend and comrade.

First we had some breakfast and caught up about personal matters. You know, how the families were doing, future plans, et cetera. Then we went outside and had a seat in the grass and discussed Howard’s career.

This guy is a wealth of information, and our discussion covered a wide range of topics over a two-hour period. Yeah, two hours. Airborne School. The Air Assault course. Special Forces Assessment and Selection. The SF Qualification Course (“Q-Course”). SERE School. His first mission. His last. There was a lot of ground covered.

So what my task is over the next couple of days is to break down this discussion into easily digestible bits while attempting not to leave out any color or cool stuff.

The discussion was remarkable, really. He started the interview with his earliest days in the service. As a ROTC cadet he had the chance to go to Airborne School, and he graduated from the course with five jumps and gained his basic Parachutist’s Badge (joining the ranks of what are known as “five-jump chumps.”). Upon his return to ROTC, he made contact with an Army Reserve recruiter. The gentleman tried to put Howard into a Quartermaster unit, where the commander of the outfit (“The oldest captain I’ve ever seen”) threatened to put him in charge of the baker’s platoon.

Well, Howard didn’t feel like baking bread. So, he asked the recruiter if there were any Airborne units around. The recruiter thought about it, and asked Cadet Pearce if he was interested in Special Forces. Howard said, “Do they jump?”

And so the story begins…

Stay tuned- more follows soon.

Work spaces


This is my new improved place of business. I can’t even describe the 90 day odyssey to transform the old kid’s play area into a semi-civilized home office, a room where I can shut the door and get stuff done.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been working on a project on my wife’s laptop in the living room- nothing like trying to write a coherent short story while flooring guys are running around, with more distractions than you can shake a stick at.

The flooring was the only bit of the job that I hired out. The rest was done in house- sanding, plumbing, painting, electric, etc. Had some help from my dad and a good friend. Their technical know-how sped the process.

Oh yeah, re-did the adjoining bathroom as well. No sense freshening up one room when the next one needs help as well. The project started in May, and is nearly finished. In any case, the furniture is back in the study, and we can use it again.

It’s important to have a decent work area, a place where when you sit down you can say, “OK, now it’s time to get something done.” I did write my books in this same room, but now it feels official. It’s not just a catchall room anymore, where you trip over a doll house on the way to the desk.

This has been a long-needed upgrade, and I’m glad it happened.

I’m also glad the job is done. There went the summer of 2018…



Cool Mars Mission Stuff


Long time readers, and even not-so-long time readers will know that I’m pretty darn enthusiastic about Elon Musk’s plans to colonize Mars. Space X is doing good stuff in terms of launching satellites into orbit, and hopefully the US will have a manned spacecraft capability again soon.

At the moment we subcontract out to the Russians, and I’m not so sure about the long-term sustainability of that approach.

So here is a pretty interesting article I stumbled across recently about a hush-hush conference Space X had with people who have studied the Mars habitability problem for a long time, including representatives from NASA.

Go ahead, read the article. It’s cool.

Groovy lighting- Dirk de Jager


Huh, you think. Looks like a light. Well, as Dirk’s writeup will make clear- it’s more than just a light. This is a mil-grade, no-kidding, Austin Powers mood altering smart gadget that will change how you approach lighting in your love crib. Whoa- you can alter the colors in your pad with a swipe of your phone.

I will hand the floor over to my resident tech master, Dirk. He’s a lot more qualified than I to address this topic.

Dirk sez:

A small class on Domotics

Domotics are a part of the landscape with the title Internet of Things. In essence it means that via an internet connection devices can talk to each other. You can make that as elaborate as you want. Let’s take an example.

Say you are part of a modern couple. You and your partner are living somewhere in bourgeois suburbia, both have a paying job and have a home whose roof is plastered with solar panels. Normally washing would either be in the evening or in a weekend, or handled by some service. With domotics you could fill up the washer (don’t forget the detergent, but in the near future a feature that warns you that you haven’t will probably be incorporated as well) and switch on sleep mode depending on your preferences. Something like: Whatever happens, be ready at 5:30 PM.

Then the fun starts. While you are away, the system works out a moment to start and stop the cycle. When your panels give x amount of juice at 11.30 and your power wall or neighborhood-battery is at 95+% charge, it starts then. Or it communicates with the system and joins a queue after Ms. Jones ’s dishwasher has finished. If economy is your thing, you will come to love IoT.

So the possibilities are theoretically endless. Adding an assistant will enhance that even further because then you add brains to the operation. Until 18 months ago, though, a lot of the interoperational communication was locked down. And with stuff from Apple – and I say this without malice –  it mostly still is.  So choose your biosphere wisely in choosing an assistant.  With the battle of the assistants raging (Hi Alexa, Hello Siri, Hey Google, hoi Homey!) I was looking around to see what is on the market at the moment. And let’s start simple by locking in a light bulb.

50 shades of lighting

When it comes to “smart lighting” there are a few options. Most commonly sold at the moment over here in the Netherlands are the Phillips Hue (US), Klik Aan Klik Uit (overseas better known as Trust) and the IKEA Tradfri systems.

They work on the basis that you need (mostly) to use a proprietary hub. Also, you have to hook onto your home network. This hub works with 433 MHZ radio signals to communicate with the different devices. Why 433? Well, it is an older frequency that punches quite nicely through walls. And the datastream it has to send to the lamp is small; in essence “lamp 1 on” and “lamp 1 off”.   The hub also makes a 2.4GHZ WiFi connection to your network. Punch an app on your smartphone or hook the hub up to one of the assistants, and everything flies.

The hub also has the advantage that you can use different kinds of sockets. For example; a GU10 bayonet sockets in spots, or a small E14.

So why didn’t I ram in a Hue, stuff from KaKu or Ikea? First off, I hate extra hubs, especially when they are proprietary (yes KaKu I’m looking at you!). Secondly, I wanted a light that could do color. So there went IKEA. Trådfri only comes in white. Hue does color, but a hub and a set of lights will set you back around a € 160,- over here. In the US they charge about $ 145 w/o shipping.

So I went on the slippery slope to find an alternative for a E27 connection. And I found one made by Xiaomi. Never heard of that? Well, I can imagine that. The company is only 8 years old and was at first only aimed at the Chinese and Indian markets. That’s 3 billion customers and counting. They are dipping their toes now into the US and EU markets.

The good, the bad and the ugly.

I bought myself a Yeelight Smart LED Color Bulb in the EU standard E27/230v configuration. They also make them in E26. But look carefully at which one you buy. They come in different flavors.

The older model is grey and its serial marking is YLDP02YL. That one puts out 600 Lumens; roughly the output of an old 60W bulb. Nice for scenary lighting but not enough oomph for an avid reader as myself.

Since last June, however, there is a second version with 800 Lumens. They come in shades of white (YLDP05YL) and a color version (YLDP06YL).

The set-up is simple. You screw the bulb in a socket that is off. Fire up the app, and turn on the juice to the lamp. Register it to an email account, select the lamp you want to add, and voila! Let there be light. You can use the app also to make it work with Alexa, Google or If This Then That.

It’s a heavy bulb, though, and the design on it needs a little work if you want to screw it into an open sconce. But in a floor lamp or a covered ceiling construction they are fine.

Where can you get one?

Well, mail order will probably be your best option. The Beast in the US carries them for $19.99 for the white one, and $29.99 for the multi colored bad boy. Or if you don’t mind paying customs, you can go via AliExpress or a similar service.

Final remarks

Would I screw in one in every available socket? Eh, no. I like redundancy in my lighting. Were my internal internet connection to fail, I wouldn’t be able to fire up the lamp. I don’t need the internet for a normal bulb.

What’s next on the shopping list? Well there is a Google Home on it’s way, so I’ll see if they talk to each other. First in English, as el Goog will be speaking Dutch probably around Christmas. And I am keeping my eye out for a socket thing, so I can switch a fan off and on. After that? I don’t know yet. Maybe a nice little beamer in the bedroom powered by a Chromecast? I’ll keep you posted.

If you have any questions, punch them into the comments below or get in touch with the proprietor of this humble website. He will know where to find me and forward my mail.

And that’s all that Dirk had to say for this installment. Keep an eye peeled for future technical bits by him.

Future Interview- Colonel Pearce

howard all dressed up

Over the course of my career, I was blessed to have known some excellent soldiers. You can see one of the finest in his official photo above, Lieutenant Colonel Howard B. Pearce, Special Forces, United States Army, (Retired).

I couldn’t have asked for a better commanding officer in combat. He was aggressive, extremely mission-focused, approachable, and a subject matter expert in his field- a combat advisor and trainer of allied soldiers.

Let me give you a few facts from his bio. He served 27 years in the Army Reserve and Guard. The man has serious desert time- Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan to name a few stops. He also saw the sights in garden spots such as Kosovo and Eritrea. He’s trained soldiers from all over- Jordanians, Moroccans, Hungarians and Kuwaitis to name just a few flavors.

He finally retired in July of 2013 after a full career. When he hung up his boots he had accumulated no fewer than five sets of foreign jump wings to go along with his Master Parachutists Badge. He wears the “long tab,” or Special Forces tab. This sets him apart as a fully qualified SF soldier. In addition, he wears the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and two Bronze Stars. I could keep going, but you get the idea. Here’s a professional who has been tested and found worthy.

On the civilian side he graduated from Cleveland State University, and he’s been married to an incredible woman, Cara Kless, throughout his career. They have two children together.

col p and ana

Howard Pearce has made an enormous impact on my life. In the photo above you can see him at work, as I came to know him as a comrade. Where do I even start describing all that we went through?

Let’s talk about the photo above for starters. The truck in the background was our combat vehicle, MAT-V 3-4. I served as the gunner, LTC Pearce was the vehicle commander, and SGT Robert Fears (our medic) was the driver. The situation was during combat operations in the Andarab Valley, a weeks long torture test in Afghanistan. Every single day we rolled out on missions in an extremely unfriendly neck of the woods. Colonel Pearce drove himself, he did what leaders are supposed to do- lead from the front, set an example, and share the dangers with your men.

I could go on and on about this soldier, mentor, and friend.

Suffice it to say that I feel privileged to know him as a comrade and a brother.

And I’m damn lucky that he has consented to be interviewed in the near future.

Stay tuned, readers.