The following is the transcript of a speech given by Staff Sergeant Roy Harris, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, at the Association for the United States Army annual meeting in the year following the Texas/U.S. conflict. Harris had the dubious distinction of being the first American prisoner of war taken in the conflict.
He was on board a domestic airline flight between St. Louis and Houston the night the Texas Defense Force executed “Operation River Dance”, which was their pre-emptive strike on U.S. military forces. After being caught in the crossfire of an aerial skirmish, he was promptly arrested by TDF military police upon the landing of the plane in Houston.
Ironically, Sergeant Harris was privately a great critic of how the Wilton Administration was handling the standoff with Texas, and had family in that state. He was attached to the U.S. Army recruiting command in Houston, and would have been evacuated from the area the following week. He had a background in intelligence and in special operations, and was widely considered one of the best recruiters in the command. As such, he was one of the first U.S. Army combat veterans to get an “up close” look at the Texas Defense Force in action that would translate to useful insight and intelligence later.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. It’s truly an honor to get the opportunity to speak here, among so many warriors and their families. I am so proud to be part of the United States Army; not only because of the courage, skill and honor we demonstrated on the battlefield during the conflict in Texas, but also because we so diligently study the aftermath and seek to learn not only about our opponent, and his strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, but our own as well. This continues to be one of our greatest assets—our will to learn from our experiences and build a better Army from them.(Applause)
Thank you. Some ask how much I could have seen of the Texas Defense Force while I was a POW. I tell them that I was a POW only part of the time. Most every unit I wound up with was ill equipped to handle and process prisoners, so I spent a lot of time sitting in the corner and being watched while the unit in question executed their mission. Most of the time, I was being guarded by TDF troops that would have rather been doing something else and had neither the time or resources, or in some cases the interest, to keep me from hearing and seeing what was going on around me. And, like many soldiers, they were proud of their organization and didn’t mind boasting about what they could do, particularly with a little bit of careful needling!
I suppose I could begin by talking about the typical TDF soldier I saw. One word comes to mind above all, and that was “diversity”. I saw very young men and women, and older men and women. No matter how much we preach the virtues of a diverse force, the TDF, in my opinion, truly practiced it. For the most part, they had no choice. Their leadership was faced with the vexing problem of recruiting hundreds of thousands of people, mostly covertly. To them, loyalty was much more important than technical skill, although they seemed to get the recruits an adequate skill set also. Infantry, tank crews, and combat arms members were almost always male. Ages varied from the teens to the forties. Their origins were all over the place, but they all seemed to have at least an adequate command of the English language. I saw Hispanic members, Asians, some Europeans and Africans, and a lot of women from India and that region as well, interestingly. Over half of the force consisted of Americans, or former Americans, that I could best describe as disillusioned. It seems that most of the foreign—I guess we could call them—members had been recruited years before, and most of the Americans were more recent arrivals. I found out that many of the foreign troops had been found by the TDF when they were in orphanages overseas. I asked several if they felt used or exploited because of this, and they all replied that they did not. They felt that the TDF had given them a much more fulfilling life and opportunities than they could have ever had in their home countries. This appeared particularly the case for some of the women. I saw quite a few female pilots.
Their leadership ethos was remarkable. All of the units and personnel I saw seemed very close and had built strong cohesion. All of them signed up, regardless of their capacity, knowing that their lives depended on how well they stuck together and helped each other out. I saw very few obvious cases of indiscipline. In the TDF recruitment program, you either got with the program or you were canned to an unpleasant holding camp. The need for operational security and cohesion, not only before the conflict but during it, caused the TDF’s rank and file to pull together, and everyone had a strong investment in the person next to them doing their job adequately.
I saw excellent field discipline among all of the TDF troops. Troops that halted took cover. They prepared fighting positions. They camouflaged well. They camouflaged their vehicles and heavy weapons well. From what I could tell, fear was their primary motivator here. They knew their opponent-- us-- had the world's best surveillance and targeting systems, and had made people disappear rapidly in previous conflicts. They took nothing for granted. Tanks would laager up properly, and in East Texas particularly, there was a lot of natural cover for them to work with.
So, on that note, I guess I should talk about weapons and equipment. First and foremost, their units appeared to be equipped according to whether they were regulars or militia. I should have mentioned that the people I spoke of before were members of the regular TDF units. The militia were added later, after the main force landed, and they were overwhelmingly composed of Americans who lived in Texas or came down to Texas after the secession vote. Some of the latter were much more gung-ho than the natives.
Among the regulars, the standard weapon was the M-16 rifle. I saw some M-16A2 models that could have been right out of any U.S. armory. I also saw ones that were combinations, with A1 upper parts, and when I was able to get close looks at the receivers, I saw various manufacturers stamped on them, and sometimes none at all. I found it surprising that, given how much attention they paid to high-tech equipment, more was not paid to basic arms. It struck me as very catch-as-catch-can. Many TDF soldiers carried sidearms, which again, varied in manufacturer, but they seemed to be nine-millimeter and be of modern high capacity. Some were issued them, and many more bought or found them on their own. Many militia troops used semiautomatic AK-47 type rifles. I got the impression that these were arms that they bought on their own years before and hid, possibly.
I saw different types of web gear. Some units used old ALICE-type harnesses, and I saw a few H-style harnesses that would have been early 1970s or late 1960s in origin. Others had very modern vests that distributed weight over the body. Body armor varied. Some troops used hard armor, but many chose not to, due to the weight. Some used soft body armor that was effective against handguns and some shrapnel. All TDF troops wore the spotted German-style Flecktarn green camouflage, usually with boonie hats or with U.S. Kevlar pattern helmets with those covers. The regulars would wear berets while in garrison. For the militia, I saw a tremendous diversity in uniform material and web gear; some of it was excellent, and some bought from the action-adventure discount catalog. Their heavier weapons were issued by the regular forces.
Once you got to crew served, squad, or heavy weapons, the uniformity increased vastly. Each infantry squad would carry a German MG-3 machine gun, using a three man team, and the squad would usually be composed of twelve soldiers. Two more would have the RPG-7 rocket launchers, and two would also carry the Ultimax light machine guns. They were firm believers in letting the machine gun-- through effective grazing fire-- fight the firefight for them. The squad would protect the machine gun well. Each infantry platoon would have two sections that carried Russian Kornet laser-guided ATGMs, and occasionally one that carried the Igla surface to air missile. They would occasionally have designated marksmen with Romanian PSL rifles, or Remington 700 police models, or other weapons. Not all of their units were armed exactly the same way. Mechanized forces carried heavier weapons than light infantry formations. For the most part, their light fighters were determined to stay as light as possible.
As far as vehicles go, most of you have probably seen videos of the T-97 main battle tanks. As you might expect, I didn’t have a chance to get close to one of these; in fact, I tried to stay away! (Laughter) But from what I could see, they were well put together. They had diesel engines. I have seen weight estimates for these tanks in the sixty ton range. I would say they were closer to seventy-five tons or heavier. They were versions of the German Leopard Two tank, but larger, with a somewhat heavier main gun. Their armor was made of advanced composites, such as we have on the Abrams. I saw several that had been hit one or more times in the front and turret by either our ATGMs or shoes from Abrams main guns, and they had weathered the hits.
Most of their surface to air missiles were mobile. They moved around a lot, and would never remain in the same location after firing. Again, they knew what they were in for with U.S. SEAD assets.
The vehicle crews? Well, again, they were highly diverse. I may have seen one or two women. But it was very hard to tell from a distance, with everyone having helmets on.
Vehicles other than tactical ones were civilian models. They had large numbers of pickup and other trucks that were either painted in camouflage patterns or what appeared to be hastily applied olive drab tones. They appeared to have rigorously broken down their gear buying according to whether military-grade equipment was needed, or whether civilian grade equipment would do. If the latter was the case, they bought it from civilian sources in the United States. I saw many field tents that could have been, and probably were, bought at camping stores, along with field stoves, earth moving equipment, medical facilities and equipment, radios, and so forth that were pedestrian. They worked. That was all that mattered.
Most of their artillery, mines, grenades, other heavy weapons, and such else was Russian in manufacture. When well handled, it works. Now, to aircraft. The majority of the TDF’s aircraft was Russian built. The only obviously non-Russian plane I saw was the Mirage fighter that was quasi-Israeli in origin, I understand. For the most part, I am ill-trained to talk about aviation, and I viewed all of these items from a great distance. They used several versions of the Russian Mi-24 and Mi-35 Hind, as well as Russian cargo helicopters. I saw two SU-50s parked on a strip at Ellington Field in Houston when we were preparing to evacuate U.S. military personnel there that were wounded. The crews handling them appeared to know what they were doing.
I should talk about U.S. wounded for a moment. Towards the end of the conflict, there was a very large triage and treatment center set up in Hermann Park near the Houston Medical Center. They were short on doctors and medics, and I mentioned that I had training in this area. I was allowed to work there, treating U.S. wounded that were evacuated, and in that capacity I worked with and alongside quite a few TDF personnel and some doctors that were actually TDF members. People ask me about how wounded U.S. troops were treated, and whether the TDF acted humanely towards us. I can report that I never saw any instances of TDF personnel showing any less concern for U.S. wounded than they showed for their own. The doctors seemed to be disgusted with the whole thing and want it to end. We had Red Cross and international relief organizations that were allowed to bring in supplies and observers. I didn’t sense any animosity towards me or the U.S. military, but a tremendous amount towards the Wilton Administration in Washington and many U.S. politicians. Psychologically, it seemed the TDF and its supporters had separated the “them” of the U.S. military and the “them” of some of the U.S. leadership apart. They seemed to respect us the way they would respect a tough opponent in football or such. Privately, some of their personnel confided to me that they were ashamed they had had to shoot at U.S. soldiers. It was especially hard on TDF soldiers that were U.S. military veterans. I don’t think we can underestimate the mental toll the conflict took not only on us, but on them.
My rating of the TDF altogether, when stacked against the U.S. military, is as follows; again, based on my own private assessments. Their technology and armaments were adequate, with a few examples of limited superiority; such as the added signature reduction technology they put on their fighters and items like the Matador radar. Where they really pulled ahead was in cohesion, borne of desperation. They had nowhere to run to if they lost. Such was not the case for people fighting on the U.S. side. It was hard to imagine us losing our whole future if we failed in that conflict, but this was not the case on the TDF’s side. I have to believe that their will to fight was greatly underestimated by the political class in the United States, and that, together with the very peculiar restraints that the U.S. had placed on it during the fight, made a huge difference. This leaves aside the use of their weapons of mass destruction. We forgot the reason why we so feared chemical weapons and nuclear devices—it was not because they were inherently evil. After all, the U.S. had used them in both previous World Wars. It was because they were effective. Planners excluded them from the contingencies, largely, because they were a contingency we had no answer for.
For all of the lessons that can be learned, or re-learned, from the conflict, the central one, in my opinion, is that you cannot allow preconceptions about a military opponent to dictate your planning on how to deal with them. The failure of certain individuals to do this in past wars had a limited fallout on us, as those wars were fought overseas. However, this one was far different. I think in part the political polarization that occurred in the years leading up to the conflict was a factor in creating the conditions for this. We were unable to look at ourselves honestly, and thus were unable to look at an enemy honestly; all the more so because we had spent so much time casting the cultural opponent in the role of devil. This would have a very, very steep price to exact ultimately, in the form of a conflict that would forever change the United States; one that may also have greatly encouraged adventurism on the part of foes overseas. How much we will be forced to pay to set things right—how much this conflict has truly cost us—remains to be assessed. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you.
Sgt. Harris was interned throughout the conflict, and was well treated during his time in custody. He was promoted to E-7 shortly after the end of the conflict, and now is serving in a classified capacity in USSOCOM.