FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. – Leaders and future leaders of Fort Leonard Wood had the opportunity to hear and question the retired Sgt. Major Dennis Wolfe today at two Leader Professional Development sessions at the Lincoln Hall Auditorium – one in the morning for the permanent party and one in the afternoon for students.
Wolfe joined the Army in 1962 and was an explosive ordnance disposal technician before joining a US Army special operations unit that involved him in missions such as attempting to free American hostages in Iran in 1980 – now known as Operation Eagle Claw – and the Brigadier’s rescue. General James Dozier in Italy in 1981. He was a team leader during the invasion of Grenada in 1983 – called Operation Urgent Fury – and helped develop a plan for the transfer of soldiers from the Sinai desert afterwards. that 248 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division were killed in a plane crash in 1985.
“It sounds like James Bond stuff, but it actually happened,” Wolfe said.
In 1991, Wolfe was able to help develop a much needed major addition to Special Ops responsibilities.
“Most of us remember important events in history,” he said. “Most of you remember where you were on September 11th. Someone of my generation would remember what he was doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. But for me, one of the most important dates is New Years Eve in 1990, when Gorbachev announced the dissolution, the collapse, of the Soviet Union.
Wolfe said there was immediate concern about the responsibility and safety of the Soviet nuclear stockpile, much of which was in the separatist republics.
“The concern was whether these republics would return these weapons to Russia and whether there would be a vulnerability to theft during this process,” he added.
Wolfe spoke of a meeting called by General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at which the question was asked: “If any of these weapons are lost or stolen, which unit is responsible for recovering it? “
“There have been discussions about it,” Wolfe said. “In SOCOM’s mission statement – they mostly focused on hostage rescue at the time – there was a little blurb that said ‘and / or sensitive items and equipment’. It was just kind of thrown in there. Well, of course, it was never meant to involve nuclear weapons – at least foreign nuclear weapons – but General Powell said, “Well your mission statement comes closest to what might be needed. , you have the job. “
The EOD equipment available at the time was not created to deal with the dangers of life in a special operations unit, Wolfe said, so he had to provide information to help with the development of various equipment. More information was also needed on Russian weapons for which Wolfe and his unit are believed to be responsible.
“We had a meeting at the Pentagon and started trying to figure out how to get more information from different organizations,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why don’t we just ask the Russians?’ Would they ask for our help if any of their guns were stolen, and if so, would they provide the appropriate information about that gun? I thought it was some sort of wild request, but a few weeks later I got a phone call.
The Russians have been contacted at their embassy in Washington, DC about the request, and Wolfe has learned that a meeting is being held – at the Pentagon. For Wolfe, who lived through the Cold War, welcoming Russians into the heart of the Defense Ministry was a strange feeling.
“The last thing I would have thought of doing is sitting down with the Russians in the Pentagon,” he said.
After sharing a bit of his story, Wolfe answered questions from attendees, many of whom just wanted to know how he accomplished what he had done in his career. He said he had never given leadership or the ability to motivate others to think in terms of process.
“To me you say, ‘What is leadership? “It’s problem solving,” he said. “It gets things done, and there are a lot of ways to do it. “
Wolfe said finding the right talent in the right job is essential.
“They say if you find a job you like, you never have to work a day in your life,” he said. “If the army as a whole could match the man with the job, you wouldn’t have discipline issues. You wouldn’t have to find ways to encourage people to do things. They will take the initiative because they love what they are doing; they love what they do.
One of the participants in the morning session was Lt. Col. Patricia Kast, commander of the 701st Military Police Battalion, who said Wolfe’s story was “absolutely inspiring.”
“For me, I think it’s important, both to have a perspective on what was accomplished and how,” she said. “I was so impressed with the barriers that had to be crossed just to get so many organizations, agencies and governments to collaborate and cooperate – I was curious to hear how he did it.”
Following his morning LPD session, Wolfe’s exemplary service in the Chemical Corps was honored with the Old Order of the Dragon Medal of Excellence, presented by Col. Adam Hilburgh, Deputy Commander of the US Army Chemical, Biological , Radiological and Nuclear School and the USACBRNS Regimental Command. Sgt. Major Christopher Williams.
Wolfe also received the 2018 SOCOM Arthur “Bull” Simons Award for embodying “the true spirit, values and skills of a special ops warrior.” The Simons Prize is often considered the highest honor bestowed by SOCOM.