Soldier of Fortune Turns 35: An Exceptional Magazine & More
JAMES SIMPSON: Like most things unapologetically conservative and unapologetically pro-American, Soldier of Fortune magazine has been pilloried for years by the organized Left’s venomously anti-American press and culture. But SOF, founded in 1975 by decorated Special Forces veteran and lifelong adventurer, Lt. Col. Robert K. Brown (USAR – Ret.), stands out as a singular example of American exceptionalism in print media. But that the rest were half as good.
SOF is more than that too, for unknown to most people, Soldier of Fortune magazine and its staff of intrepid reporters – almost all with special operations backgrounds, some who paid the ultimate price while on assignment – has voluntarily assisted the U.S. military and our allies for decades, with little or no recognition, providing intelligence, training and combat support to freedom fighters throughout the world. They did so much of this in fact, that they could almost be characterized as the first “private contractor,” except they did all their work for free, with expenses being covered by the magazine itself.
Started in 1975, the year of the Vietnam War’s ignoble end, Soldier of Fortune magazine quickly gained a wide following among Vietnam veterans. It was one of the few journals then in print that gave an honest and appreciative assessment of veterans’ wartime sacrifices, with articles written mostly by fellow veterans who knew about war firsthand, up close and personal.
The magazine remains dedicated to our Nation’s military and is avidly read and appreciated by veteran and active duty alike. As editor Brown stated in SOF’s 25 year anniversary issue:
Overnight, SOF offered Vietnam vets the recognition they deserved, a home in a sense, a meeting place for like souls. Like a banner, it acknowledged their sacrifices and continues to do so, loudly and loyally.
Americans fed on network news had little idea what was really happening over there. Many still don’t. Shamefully, the mass media (they are not mainstream) has never come clean about their central role in the systematic deception of the American public that led to America’s first military defeat. America did not lose the Vietnam War on the battlefield, despite military missteps. It was lost due to a conspiracy of deliberate misreporting by American media and the incompetent, feckless and in some cases treasonous, activities of the White House and Democrat-controlled U.S. Congress.
In addition to becoming a voice for Vietnam vets, SOF rapidly gained a reputation for cutting-edge reporting at the front lines of bush wars throughout the world, many of which were and still are ignored by the mass media. For example, since 1982 SOF has reported on the plight of Burma’s Karen people, who have fought a war of liberation against that country’s brutal, Stalinist regime for decades.
SOF’s reporting on the Karens inspired Sylvester Stallone to make his 4th Rambo movie about the Burmese conflict. As Sly puts it:
I think SOF has proven time and time again that it has its thumb on the pulse of what is really transpiring in the remote, dark parts of the world that the drive-by media tends to overlook.
One of SOF’s correspondents, Lance Motley, was killed by Burmese forces in 1989 while reporting on the conflict. Wounded three times on previous expeditions around the globe for SOF, Lance was as usual, right on the front lines.
Motley personified the archetypical SOF reporter. A West Point graduate and Special Forces officer, Lance quit the Army out of boredom. He then made a solo trip to Afghanistan. He had no backing from anyone, no knowledge of the people, language or culture, but managed to sneak in, find his way to the action, fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviet occupiers, and help compile a list for the U.S. Congress of weapons the Afghans needed – all in six months! This was before anyone had ever heard of Charlie Wilson. Lance’s obituary is a testimonial to the caliber of men who wrote for Soldier of Fortune.
SOF is about the only journal that has reported on Laos and Vietnam’s relentless genocide against its indigenous tribes. The Degar people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, known collectively as “Montagnards” (mountain people) fought valiantly alongside American Special Forces throughout the Vietnam War, but were shamelessly abandoned when we decided to pull out. The U.S. government forgot about them, but their former enemies didn’t. Since that time, the Degar have been systematically repressed, with many tortured and killed in “reeducation” camps.
The Laotian Hmong who assisted the U.S. during its CIA-operated secret war in Laos, have suffered similarly. For the last thirty five years, the Laotian communist government has engaged in a bush war with the goal of exterminating remaining Hmong, killing as many as 100,000, including the use of chemical weapons. Remaining Hmong have retreated to remote mountainous areas, where they survive in primitive conditions, living off the land.
To add insult to injury, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, (ATF) saw an opportunity to lure Hmong expatriate leader, then 77 year-old Major General Vang Pao, into a sting operation. Vang led Laotian forces for the CIA during the secret war and has spent his life devoted to the Hmong cause. He remains a widely respected leader, both among the Hmong expatriate community and in Laos. Those remaining in Laos would likely have perished long ago were it not for the external assistance provided to them through Vang’s efforts.
ATF agents convinced Vang to become involved in a plot to overthrow the communist Laotian government. Assured that this was a CIA-backed operation, he agreed. He and his compatriots were later arrested and charged with violating the Neutrality Act. Fortunately Vang’s case was dismissed in 2009. The fate of his co-defendants has not yet been determined. See a very good video about this case and the plight of the Hmong here.
The reality of Southeast Asia’s Communists’ brutal genocide against the Hmong and Degar people stands in stark contrast to their wartime propaganda about “liberating the oppressed.” But for SOF, we wouldn’t know about it.
Meanwhile, American communists like Bill Ayers and Tom Hayden, who actively, blatantly supported communist North Vietnam during the war, have nothing to say about the miserable aftermath they helped bring about. Many of these same Leftists, by the way, were the foremost organizers of Progressives for Obama – just one great big cesspool.
SOF’s Brown also became personally and professionally involved in the search for living POW/MIAs after the war, dumping about $350,000 into the effort. This unfortunate chapter in our Vietnam experience had its share of charlatans, who capitalized on the hopes of POW/MIA families and concerned veterans like Brown. SOF, however, wasted no time in challenging those who appeared to be frauds, even fellow decorated Special Forces veterans like Bo Gritz.
SOF was also one of the few, if not the only, publication that reported on the situation in Afghanistan during the years between the Soviet withdrawal and the rise of the Taliban. By reading SOF, one would come to know the various factions within Afghanistan and especially, dispositions of the large, Soviet-backed force organized to continue the war on the Soviets’ behalf after they left. This force was commanded by Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious, brutal communist warlord, who has figured prominently in the post-9-11 Northern Alliance.
During the 1980s, SOF staff took many trips to Afghanistan. One trip yielded two 5.45 mm cartridges for the new Russian AK-74. Neither the weapon nor the ammunition had previously been seen by Western intelligence. This new ammunition was believed to be the culprit in massive wounds reportedly being suffered by Mujahideen in their battles with the Soviets. On a subsequent trip, Col. Brown smuggled out another 5,000 rounds of ammunition and a sample of the AK-74 weapon itself, turning it all over to the military attaché in Islamabad.
SOF staff has engaged directly in training of allied troops, supplementing the U.S. military’s effort. They were particularly active in Central America’s recent civil wars. A recent Newsmax article by Barrett Tillman relates:
The byword is professionalism. For instance, a 1983 report describing the work of a 12-man SOF team in El Salvador covers 47 pages. It includes weapons maintenance, sound discipline on ambush, field medicine and sanitation.
On September 30th 1995, the El Salvadorian government awarded Brown their Combat Star medal. The citation reads: “In Recognition of Your Combat Support Services With Units of the Armed Forces of El Salvador, 1980 to 1992.”
SOF provided similar training to Nicaragua’s Contras during the Nicaraguan civil war. While they were at it, Brown grounded the Sandinistas’ entire fleet of Soviet Hind attack helicopters by posting the advertisement shown here. I interviewed Unintended Consequences author and firearms expert John Ross about it by phone, who confirmed the following account:
“In the 1980s, Danny Ortega’s oppressive Communist regime in Nicaragua received a fleet of Russian Hind helicopters… to put down the Contras. When the Contras started to take heavy losses from these gunships, Bob Brown single-handedly grounded the entire fleet in less than 72 hours. How? By printing a full-page ad in his own magazine offering a million dollar reward to anyone who would bring us one of these choppers. The Russians knew damn well that every Cuban pilot would jump at the chance to fly into nearby El Salvador and get a million bucks and a Miami liquor license for his efforts. Bob’s actions helped cause Ortega’s fall, and stopped the spread of Communism in Central America dead in its tracks.”
Ross’s account is exaggerated but not entirely off the mark. An ABC reporter, Peter Collins, who had contacts in the Nicaraguan military, confirmed to Brown that they had, in fact, grounded their fleet of Hinds for three weeks because it took that much time to bring in trustworthy replacement pilots.
Brown had placed the ad hoping it would have just such an effect. As explained to me for this article, the idea was modeled after a similar PSYOPS plan conducted during the Korean War to ground MIG-15s in advance of an important bombing campaign. Brown had no interest in actually securing a helicopter.
The history of SOF is replete with such examples – too many to mention. Brown himself has received numerous awards and citations for his contributions by governments far and wide. His unique staff of reporters recall the “warrior philosophers” of ancient Greece. Fearless, highly intelligent, well-read and well-educated, (many without benefit of a college degree), they provided on deadline, crisp, clear, straightforward analyses of complicated political/military issues that still vex ivory tower political scientists.
Some paid the ultimate price. Lance Motley was mentioned earlier. Three others were killed in action. These men reflected the dedication and ability of SOF’s unique staff.
Lt. Col Robert MacKenzie was SOF’s contributing editor for unconventional operations. A truly gifted soldier, MacKenzie was retired from the Army 70 percent disabled two years after enlisting, due to a wound suffered in Vietnam. Not to be deterred, in 1970 he joined the Rhodesian Special Forces (SAS) and served 10 years, receiving both the Bronze and Silver Crosses of Rhodesia for bravery and leadership in action. He later served as second-in-command of the Transkei, South Africa Special Forces.
Hired as an SOF journalist in 1985, MacKenzie reported on conflicts all over the globe, including Bosnia and Croatia, African hot spots, Russia, South America and Southeast Asia, to name a few, and was responsible for rescuing seven Westerners held hostage in Africa. He was hired by the Sierra Leone government in 1995 to train government forces, and was killed in an ambush by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) guerillas while trying to assist another wounded soldier.
Mike Echanis was a U.S. Army Ranger, renowned martial artist and martial arts editor for SOF in the mid-1970s. . In 1978 he was he was working in Nicaragua as a contractor for the CIA, and was killed in a helicopter crash after a bomb planted on board detonated. Foreign correspondent George Bacon III was another highly-decorated soldier, who received the CIA Intelligence Star for his work in Laos. He was killed in Africa while fighting for the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA). Motley, MacKenzie, Echanis and Bacon share a special place on the SOF masthead, along with a list of other noteworthy contributors who have since passed on.
Keep in mind that all these men (and many more) died in the line of service fighting enemies borne of the worldwide communist movement, which has prospered largely because incompetent, cowardly and sometimes treasonous U.S. “leaders” have allowed it to. Never has this fact been so clearly underscored as with President Obama and the radical leftist Congress. Fortunately, a record number of military veterans are running for national office this year, who, if elected will bring a measure of sanity back to our Nation’s capital. Please check them out at Veterans for Freedom, Iraq Veterans for Congress and Combat Veterans for Congress and do all you can to lend support.
For his part, SOF founder Brown spends little time behind a desk. He was one of the first journalists to enter Kuwait City following its liberation by American forces in 1991 and SOF provided extensive on-the-ground reporting of the first Gulf War. It continues to provide cutting-edge coverage of operations in Iraqi, the conflict in Afghanistan, and other conflicts large and small throughout the world. Through its unique network of contacts, SOF continues to scoop the mass media on major stories involving military and intelligence issues, and brings a refreshing, insightful perspective that you will not find in the militarily-illiterate, anti-American mass media.
Finally, SOF and its editor are tireless advocates for gun rights. Col. Brown has been on the NRA Board of Directors for decades. Over the years, the magazine has featured reviews on new firearms and equipment and columns by noted gun experts such as John Farnam, Maj. John Plaster, Jeff Cooper and others.
In summing up his attitude toward life, Col. Brown says, “Slay dragons, do noble deeds and never, never, never, give up.” That attitude is certainly reflected in the storied history of Soldier of Fortune magazine, 35 this year and going strong.
Businessman and Examiner.com columnist Jim Simpson is a former White House (OMB) staff economist and budget analyst. His writings have been published in Big Government.com, American Thinker, Washington Times, WorldNetDaily, FrontPage Magazine, Soldier of Fortune and others. His blog is Truth & Consequences. © James Simpson, 2010.