We explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 6,076,847-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This week’s entry: People’s Republic Of Pineland
What it’s about: The United States has been invading countries for a long time, since a failed attack on Canada during the Revolutionary War, to our ongoing forays into Iraq and Afghanistan. But no country has been invaded by American troops more times than Pineland. Over and over again since 1974, Operation Robin Sage, a staged invasion of the fictional People’s Republic Of Pineland, has been carried out as training for the Army’s most elite troops, the Special Forces soldiers informally known as the Green Berets.
Strangest fact: We train the Green Berets by having them invade North Carolina. Pineland, the fictional country that serves as the Special Forces training ground, comprises 15 rural counties in the central part of the state covering 50,000 square miles. (By comparison, Iceland is roughly 40,000 square miles.) The training simulation acts out a scenario of “political instability” in the fictional country, in which the Green Berets must train local guerrilla forces who are trying to overthrow an oppressive government. The exercise includes 100 prospective Special Forces soldiers, and nearly 400 Army personnel playing the roles of guerrillas, counter-insurgents, and “cadre,” which is not explained here. Pineland even has its own currency, the Don, which looks like Monopoly money and is used throughout the exercise.
Thing we were happiest to learn: The Green Berets serve in other ways besides planning insurgencies. Once their training is complete and they don the berets for the first time, members of the Special Forces both continue learning—in specialties including free fall parachuting and combat diving—and teaching, both to other branches of the service and to allied militaries. Special Forces Medical Sergeants also work in civilian emergency rooms in between deployments.
Thing we were unhappiest to learn: In 2002, the fake invasion got too real. Randall Butler, a Moore County Deputy Sheriff, pulled over three men he thought were acting suspicious, suspecting that they were looking for robbery targets. They were, in fact, Lieutenant Tallas Tomeny, Staff Sergeant Stephen Phelps, and civilian volunteer Charles Leiber. Butler questioned Leiber, who was driving, but his two comrades believed it was all part of the training exercise, as local law enforcement was generally well notified of Robin Sage. In the interest of playing along, they attempted to bribe Butler with Don, not realizing that he had no idea about the staged operation or the fake currency.
Butler attempted to search Tomeny’s bag, which contained his service rifle. Tomeny, still believing Butler was participating in the exercise, refused to relinquish the bag. The two men tussled, and Butler pepper sprayed Tomeny, “until the pepper spray appeared to run out.” Phelps, still in the bed of the truck, and still believing this was part of the exercise, grabbed the bag and ran for the woods. Butler shot the already incapacitated Tomeny, killing him. Phelps slipped on wet pavement and fell to his hands and knees; Butler shot him twice while he was on the ground. A civil jury awarded damages to both Phelps and Tomeny’s family; Butler’s $5 million suit against the Army for “emotional distress” was dismissed.
While the military had previously assumed local law enforcement were fully made aware of Robin Sage, they changed future operations so that police participating in the drill would wear distinctive uniforms to avoid potentially deadly misunderstandings in the future.
Also noteworthy: The lead-up to the Pineland invasion is grueling. Preparation includes long distance “land navigation,” in hilly terrain, carrying heavy equipment, under a time limit. Recruits also have to move heavy loads in teams, like felled telephone poles, or jeeps stuck in the sand. The final event is a 32-mile march. Recruits who quit are not given another chance to join Special Forces; those who are not selected as Green Berets, however (or those who can’t finish due to injury), are allowed to reapply in a year or two.
Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: One of the prerequisites for Special Forces training is completing the United States Army Airborne School. Informally known as Jump School, it’s open to men and women from every branch of the service, including ROTC students, and has been teaching soldiers how to safely jump out of airplanes since 1940. A 50-man test platoon practiced on 250-foot parachute jump towers built for the 1939 World’s Fair in Hightstown, New Jersey. The tests were so successful the Army bought four of the Fair’s towers and installed them at Fort Benning for further practice. Six weeks after the platoon was formed, they jumped from a Douglas B-18 bomber, and became the 501st Parachute Battalion.
Further Down the Wormhole: Another part of the preparation for Robin Sage involves learning about other real countries’ social systems, politics, language, and culture. Culture is a broad catchall term that includes a society’s social behavior and norms of conduct, as well as their beliefs, customs, and art. Philosophers have argued that culture is as important to human development as intelligence and rational thinking. However, in their attempt to explain every aspect of the human condition, one thing philosophy has traditionally been a loss to explain is why we think something’s funny, although many Theories of Humor have tried. We’ll over-explain the jokes next week. Stay safe, everybody!