Jim Smith gained fame as a member of Delta Force who was aboard Super 61, the first helicopter that was shot down in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Jim then bravely defended the helicopter and his comrades from onslaught of enemy combatants, receiving a gunshot wound to the left shoulder from an AK47. Today, Jim works as firearms instructor through his company Spartan Tactical. He provides lectures both to US military and law enforcement as well as to interested civilians around the world, including periodical lectures in Slovakia.
Rozhovor v češtině si můžete přečíst zde: Jim Smith: Legálně ozbrojené a řádně trénované obyvatelstvo pomáhá státu se zajištěním bezpečnosti a stability
Zbrojnice.com is a Czech language website that deals with practical, legal, cultural and social issues of civilian firearms ownership. This interview was conducted in English and thus you can read it also in original language version below.
Jim, what led you to the armed forces? Did you aim at Special Forces from the beginning?
I saw an old movie titled Apocalypse Now about the Viet Nam war. Seeing this movie inspired me to join the Army. I did initially attempt to join to be a Special Forces soldier but at that time they were not taking new recruits into the Special Forces, SF. The army recruiter suggested that I join the Army Rangers who have a similar mission in Special Operations as the SF has. The Rangers were a great place to start as they taught me two very important principles, attention to detail and discipline. These to characteristics have stayed with me throughout my career.
Popular fiction often depicts Special Forces as extremely effective, but also kind of flamboyant and almost arrogant to other units. Where’s the truth in that?
There is a lot of truth in that statement. To do these small unit missions often with little or no conventional support it takes a different breed of man. A SF soldier is a man who is self-reliant and is confident of their abilities. Some people may take this behavior as being or seeming arrogant on the surface.
Concerning the flamboyant statement it would appear as such to a conventional Army unit. SF has a different mission and operates in a different environment so by the nature of this they are very different. One of my commanders grooming policy was: its ok for you to look like you work at the 7-11 store. But it’s not ok for you to look like you will rob the 7-11 store. These conditions create the necessity for different grooming standards, (beards and haircuts), different uniform standards, different weapon configurations, etc.
To what other places did you deploy apart from Somalia? Was Somalia in any way special before your helicopter was shot down?
I deployed to many high threat areas during my time in the Army. I was in Desert Storm at the very end of things. I was deployed on small two man missions in various high threat areas.
Somalia was a lawless and wrecked country when I was there. The end of colonial rule, mismanagement from the Somalia ruling class and the infighting from the various clans had left its mark on the country.
We had a capture or kill list of the transgressors and their military organization. Once these individuals were captured or killed we could go home. It was just business to me so that the UN could operate successfully and stop the famine. I believe before we got involved in Somalia approximately 300,000 people had perished from the famine. This was during the Rwandan Civil war between Hutus and the Tutsis.
The United States didn’t want to get caught up in a civil war in Rwanda and so the world ignored the loss of life and suffering going on in Rwanda.
The US congress decided to act in Somalia to attempt to stop the violence so the UN could distribute aid. This was perceived by congress as a quick and easy action to remove a warlord and stabilize the situation.
To what degree was the depiction of the Super 61 downing and your fight on the ground fictitious? Was there anything the moviemakers got wrong to the point it made you angry?
As in every movie, the events depicted and the number of participants portrayed are adjusted by what we call “artistic license” to make a better movie or to make the movie easier, cheaper to make.
For me while watching the movie it was difficult to see the command structure between the rangers and Delta. The Rangers was Deltas external security and they were OPCON to Delta, (meaning that Delta was in charge of the mission and all actions on the ground). The movie depicted these cool delta operators hanging out with the rangers but you could never discern who was in charge and what the command structure was. I thought they also played up the Ranger officer’s bravado.
How about the depiction of general situation, both on the ground before the battle and during the battle?
The depiction of the situation was stylized and false. Once again it was difficult to see the command structure and exactly what the overall mission was. During the battle it was depicted totally false.
One must remember the movie came from the book. The book was written with only one Delta Operator being interviewed. So the book was written from the Rangers perspective. The Rangers were Deltas external security so where they were located they didn’t see events but yet these events were written into the book from hearsay incorrectly. I am not saying anything negative about the Rangers as I started my Army career as a Ranger.
The movie depicted the equipment rather well, the setting for the movie was morocco I believe and it looked similar to Mogadishu, the enemy situation was somewhat real depicting the number of enemy fighters. The timeline for the missions was somewhat close to the real event.
The story was incorrect in many instances.
You continued your career in the military also after the Mogadishu Battle. Have you ever had second thoughts in any point of your career?
I have never had second thoughts about the career that I chose for my self. I had a great time and the way my career unfolded it made me be the person that I am today.
After 9/11, you took part in establishing the Air Marshal agency that protects commercial civilian aircraft in the US. Could you describe what exactly changed after 9/11, and your role in it?
One week after the towers fell in New York, I and six other former Delta Force mates were in Atlantic City New Jersey forming the training cell that would train a new US Law Enforcement agency from the ground up.
We wrote all of the classes to be taught during the three week Air Marshal training course. We established the firearms, combatives and tactics training protocols that would be taught during the course. We wanted to eliminate the possibility of a commercial Airliner to be used as a ballistic missile in the future.
During the first year we trained close to 4000 Air Marshals to the highest standards in the US Federal Law Enforcement system. I was responsible for a firearms training team of 10 instructors during this train up.
After working with the Air Marshals for close to three years you went back into the Army as a contractor to better the Army’s training program. Could you describe it?
Yes, I was one of a small training team that was part of the Asymetric Warfare Group. Initially we were four former Delta Force operators who wrote a training program that’s sole purpose was to change the way that the US Army trained their soldiers. The team was composed of Pat McNamara, Mike Pannone, Chris Crider and myself.
We wrote a five-day and a ten-day carbine-training program to highlight a different training methodology. We trained 40 small unit leaders from an individual battalion. The concept was to train the trainers from an individual Army Battalion. Then these soldiers could bring these training techniques and training principles back into their respective units to better the army.
This program was called CATC and was very successful and we trained many hundreds of soldiers. We decided on training the units with the M-4 their primary weapon so there would be two fundamental retained lessons after the training; Increasing lethality and improved survival-ability. Also hopefully the soldiers would understand the different training techniques and principles that we wanted them to take back to their units.
After you ended work for the government, did you naturally become private instructor, or did it take some time for you to get to this role?
When I left the Asymmetric Warfare Group I had been running my small training company for a few years so I focused on building my training company. I also was busy consulting with various US defense firms to assist them to improve their products.
If you look back at your own boot camp and at the way riflemen are trained today, are there any fundamental changes on basic level (notwithstanding technological upgrades)?
Too often in a training scenario the trainers get lazy and only train their participants to accomplish the final test. They train their students so that they can pass a specific test. Our procedure was to attempt to make the participants a master of the subject matter by systematically training them in a building block fashion, and then by testing the students throughout the process to insure that they understand the principles and techniques.
In the CATC program we went into the Drill Instructor schools to change the way that basic trainees are taught weapon-handling skills. Too often outdated Viet Nam era fallacies’ were still being taught that was totally false.
One of these old myths was that you could not shoot the rifle in the prone position and place the 30 round magazine on the ground for stability and support. They incorrectly thought that this would create a malfunction of the weapon.
How much ammo/equipment did a Delta Force soldier carry for a Mogadishu mission, would it be different today?
In my chest rig I had six to seven 30 round Car-15 magazines and two 30 round magazines on the rifle. I also had a claymore mine canvas bag with 13 loaded magazines in it. I had a 1911 45 caliber pistol in a belt holster with three nine round pistol magazines. A MX300 Motorola radio and an additional survival radio, two quarts of water, medical kit. I had body armor on with Kevlar front and back inserts and a ceramic rifle stop plate in the front. I was wearing a Pro Tac plastic bump helmet with goggles as necessary for brown outs when fast roping or disembarking helicopters. I also had ANVIS -9 dual tube night vision goggles with an Aim One IR laser on one of my rifles.
I had a M-21 762 rifle with a fixed 10 power Leupold scope on it along with ten 20 round magazines in another claymore canvas bag.
Today the equipment is better but in effect similar in nature. The GPNVG18’s, four tube night vision goggles are much better than our older ANVIS -9’s. The PEQ15 is a big improvement over our primitive IR lasers back in my era.
Go Bags were a lesson learned that went service wide after the battle of the black sea. A go bag contains what you need to extend the duration of a mission if you are placed in that position.
A part of your course focuses on learning the theory behind shooting, e.g. rigging the rifle, ballistics, positional shooting, etc. To what point is that necessary to become a good marksman and to what point can practicing and intuition make up for lack of that knowledge?
Being a trainer who has trained thousands of people and who has wrote large major training programs I will always default to training. Training will make a person learn quicker with no “training scars”, that will need to be forgotten by possibly initially learning the incorrect way to accomplish a task.
Regular correct practice is important and intuition can help in the natural learning process. But a great instructor can improve an intermediate pistol shooters ability in just two or three days time saving time and money.
How many countries have you trained military, law enforcement and civilians in? What surprised you most while doing that? Are Czech students in any way different?
I have trained in probably 20 plus countries over the years. There are distinct differences in every country and culture. When training in Mexico it is similar but very different than the Middle East. Even in America the east coast is different from the western part of America.
The knowledge in the shooting community within the Czech Republic is at a very high standard. I was greatly impressed on my first training trip there. All of the shooters that I met were responsible and skilled with their firearms. I have enjoyed working with them in the past and I look forward to many more future courses.
You are fortunate to have good training companies in the area. I have personal experience with Akademie Aegis located in Prague and RDA Academy in Slovakia.
You have many good stores selling firearms and equipment in the Czech Republic. I have shot one of the local Czech companies rifles and I was greatly impressed with this rifle. The company is Pro Arms and their PAR MK3 rifles are a very high standard rifle in terms of quality and accuracy.
I personally know these companies and I respect and trust their abilities: PROARMS Outdoor Center, PROARMS Armory, Selection Store and Selection Armory.
The one area where I saw room for improvement was concerning firing ranges. In my opinion there could be more ranges and longer ranges for rifle and carbine.
Apart from AR 15 platform, what is your favorite modern semi-automatic rifle platform?
I don’t think that you can beat an AR-15 rifle platform. I have trained on AK’s, VZ-58, SCAR’s, M1A1’s, etc. There is nothing that offers the same efficient manual of arms, ergonomic efficiency and accuracy.
For nostalgia I like the Springfield M1A1 in 762. I respect the AK-47 for what it is meant to be. I like the upgraded performance of the VZ-58. I like the unique differences of the SCAR. But none are better that the AR-15 and AR-10 style of rifle in my opinion.
When you train military, how much time do you need before you can turn a fresh recruit with no shooting experience into a rifleman?
I must say that I have no experience in training raw untrained recruits. I can estimate it would take ten days to three weeks with an efficient training schedule and the proper resources available to produce a finely tuned and accurate rifleman.
Civilian firearms ownership is often mentioned as a way to prevent tyranny, foreign or domestic. It is surely true for the US or Switzerland. As a former special forces soldier, do you think this argument can be valid also for a low-firearms ownership country like the Czech Republic?
To me this question is best answered by looking at: what protections for your god given freedoms does your countries constitution safeguard? I address this some on the second half of the interview talking about our system in America. [Note: Second part of the interview was conducted before the first one]
In my opinion a legally armed and properly trained populace only assist the government forces with safety and stability.
Too often countries are disarmed to protect one more child from needless violence. Then look about what we have seen in the recent past. Governments have killed more people in the twentieth century than anyone could imagine. Look no further than Mao Tse Tung of China, Joseph Stalin of the USSR and Adolf Hitler in Germany.
Millions dead in these countries that were forcibly disarmed from one reason or another.