October 19, 2001

Special Forces Leave for War Without Fanfare


CLARKSVILLE, Tenn., Oct. 17 - Judy Pryor did not show up to teach her
aerobics class at the Clarksville Athletic Club on Sunday evening. She
apologized to her students the next day. She had been saying goodbye
to her husband, who is a member of the Fifth Special Forces Group,
one of the Army's Green Beret units based here at Fort Campbell on the
Kentucky-Tennessee border.  He had received orders to leave for operations
in Afghanistan.

As the air attacks on Taliban targets in Afghanistan have presumably
softened the Taliban's air defenses, commando units are widely expected
to begin their search for Osama bin Laden soon, and some of them will
come from Fort Campbell, which is better known as the home of the 101st
Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles.

But unlike a full-scale deployment by the 101st Airborne, which occurred
in the gulf war in 1991, with big Air Force transport planes lifting
out thousands of soldiers from an airfield inside Fort Campbell, the
special forces troops are leaving quietly, with no fanfare and amid as
much secrecy as possible.

Laura Skelly's husband, a captain in the Fifth Special Forces, left
almost immediately after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, going somewhere in Uzbekistan,
the former Soviet republic on the northern border of Afghanistan, she
said. Lisa Kirkland's husband, Sean Kirkland, a staff sergeant in the
Fifth Special Forces, left on Oct. 1. And one woman who works as a Web
site coordinator for the press office at Austin Peay State University
and spoke on the condition that her name not be used, said she expected
her husband to leave in the next few days. He has already left twice,
but each time returned the same night after someone changed his orders.

Mrs. Kirkland, whose husband is a sniper in Bravo Company of the Fifth
Special Forces, said she did not know where he was, except that it
was in "a forward position." He has been sending her e-mail messages,
or telephoning, every day, until today.

"That is kind of scary," she said. "Maybe they are going into action."

Sergeant Kirkland was excited to go, said Mrs. Kirkland, who is a
receptionist at the Clarksville Economic Development Council. Clarksville
abuts Fort Campbell, and with a population of 104,000, is the fastest
growing city in Tennessee. The Army is its biggest industry.

"He's wanted to do this since he was 5 years old, in Wyandotte, Mich.,
honestly," Mrs. Kirkland said of her husband's reaction to going to
war. They have a photograph of her husband, as a 5-year-old boy, with
a rifle and army gear. "Now he was really anxious to get there and is
very proud of their abilities in unconventional warfare," she said.

Sergeant Kirkland's company trained in Uzbekistan for four months last
spring, his wife said.

As for her own feelings, Mrs. Kirkland said, "I'm torn. I'm happy he's
actually getting to do what he trained so hard for, but he's not playing

The woman at Austin Peay, whose husband is a first sergeant in the Fifth
Special Forces, says she and her husband, both from Springdale, Ark.,
had been watching "Band of Brothers," the HBO series about the exploits
of the 101st Airborne Division in Europe in World War II. "He loves it,
seeing all the tactics, and it has really helped him," she said. "He
knows from watching it he can't be afraid."

"But I look at it from a different perspective," she said of the
combat scenes.  Referring to all the casualties, she said, "I say,
`Oh, that could happen to him.' "

To try to prepare herself, and help her husband, she has written him a
series of letters and sealed them, so that when he gets into combat and
is not reachable by e-mail, he will have something from her to read.

"I read my Bible," she said. "It's what gets me through the day."

"I know I have to hold myself together now, till he leaves," she
said. "Otherwise, it would upset him."

One of the last things the soldiers did before leaving was strip off the
shoulder patch in the form of a lightning bolt that identifies them as
members of the Fifth Special Forces, and their insignia of rank. "It's
in case they get captured," Mrs. Skelly said.