Soldier of Fortune Magazine, liberal Boulder’s favorite mad aunt in the attic, will put out its 35th anniversary issue next month. So in honor of the occasion I thought I’d share some SOF stories.
But first full disclosure. I first met Robert K. Brown, the future editor and publisher of Soldier of Fortune Magazine, in 1961 during the Bay of Pigs invasion.
OK, we weren’t on the beach, on the boats, in the loop, or any closer than 2,500 miles from the action. But we were both all for getting rid of Castro.
At the time I was a freshman reporter for the Colorado Daily. Brown, a CU alum who at age 29 was 11 years my senior, was back on campus to talk about the invasion (it didn’t collapse for another day or two) and drum up support for the rebels. Then, as now, he gave a terrific interview. I got a great story out of it. In the late ’80s and early ’90s I worked for SOF as an editor and later as a freelance contributor. My name still appears on the masthead as Gun Rights Editor.
Anyway, by the time the Bay of Pigs operation went down, Brown had been a Cuba liberation activist for at least five years — first as a supporter of Castro and then, following a visit to Havana after Castro took over, as an opponent.
In 1957, Brown raised money on the CU campus for the Fidelistas. His appeal was about as subtle as a Code Pink pie in the face. Brown had acquired use of a big, tripod-mounted 20mm anti-tank gun with a long, menacing barrel. He would set it up on a table outside the UMC with a donation jar in front of it. People gave.
My favorite SOF story is about how Brown rode into Kuwait City during the 1991 Gulf War together with the first coalition troops to enter.
Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in early August of 1990, and by mid- December it was clear that the U.S. would use military force to toss him out. A month later Brown landed in Saudi Arabia.
The war began in the early morning hours of Jan. 17, 1991, with massive allied air strikes on Iraq and Kuwait. For the next five weeks, the war consisted of relentless air attacks and not much else. The press grew restless. By week three the reporters took to interviewing each other (never a good sign). In due course a reporter for the Wall Street Journal interviewed Brown, who by then had discovered that a) some reporters had a lot more access to both the troops and the Coalition command than others, and b) he was not one of the chosen. Which prompted him to unburden himself of the following sentiment to the Journal reporter (I’m quoting from memory here):
“I didn’t come over here to sit around in briefings with a bunch of dorks who don’t know anything. I want to be on the lead tank into Kuwait City.”
When I read that quote I figured a) if the brass didn’t consider Brown radioactive before, they did now, and b) somehow he was gonna be the first journo into Kuwait City.
Here’s how it happened. Once he concluded he wasn’t going to get any access from the Coalition command, he hooked up with another writer who was getting stonewalled, and the two of them, to borrow a phrase, went rogue. They acquired a desert camo-painted SUV and went driving around the Desert Storm staging areas and various Saudi towns. One sortie took them to Hafar-al-Batin, a town about 65 miles from the Saudi-Iraqi border and close to Saudi Arabia’s largest military base.
Brown made contact with a local sheik, who was doing military construction near the border, and asked him if he could help Brown get access to the front. The sheik said he would see what he could do. Brown gave him a knife as a gift. In due course the sheik arranged for Brown to visit a joint Saudi-Kuwaiti mechanized brigade that was to participate in the invasion.
The night before the planned visit Brown stayed in a hotel in Hafar-al- Batim. At oh-dark-30, there was a knock on Brown’s door. It was an ABC News crew who had heard that Brown had gotten access to the front and wanted to know if he could get them in as well.
The next day Brown went out to the Saudi-Kuwaiti brigade’s camp with the ABC News crew. The ABC reporter went off in the desert to tape a report, and Brown stayed back with the ABC van. After a while the reporter sent a note back to the van. It read “Lose Brown.”
Brown saw it, told the ABC guys to go bleep themselves and got out of the van. The ABC crew left to file their story. At about the same time, the brigade started to move out. It turned out the land assault on Kuwait was just hours away. In short order Brown found himself standing alone by a desert road 70 miles from the nearest town with some serious rock ’n’ roll about to start.
Just then the last vehicle to leave the camp came by and stopped.
It was a jeep driven by a young lieutenant.
“You have ride?” he asked Brown. Brown: “No.” Lt.: “You want ride?” Brown: “Yes.” Lt.: “Please join us.”
Brown (after a while): “Where are you going?” Lt.: “To liberate Kuwait.”
When the jeep caught up with the brigade, Brown spotted a freelance journalist he knew. The guy had been hired by a Saudi prince to shoot video of the invasion. Brown asked if he could go along. The prince said yes.
Good move. The Coalition high command had already decided that the first troops to enter Kuwait City would be Kuwaiti — just as the first allied troops to enter Paris during World War II were French — and Brown had just informally embedded with the unit.
And so a couple days later, Lt. Col. Robert K. Brown, U.S. Army (Ret.) came rolling into Kuwait City with the first liberators — to scenes which he avers rivaled the liberation of Paris.
Inexplicably, the Wall Street Journal failed to note the accomplishment. Even more inexplicably, neither did ABC News.