‘CAG’, also known as the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) was founded in 1977 as an answer to the dramatic increase in terrorist attacks, hijackings, kidnappings, and targeted violence against Americans and US interests both CONUS and OCONUS during the 1970’s. Since Chuck Norris’s 1986 film, it has been known as ‘Delta Force’.
SFOD-D had counterterrorism and hostage rescue as its primary role. Its mission has grown to include counter-narcotics work, direct action, and targeting of high-value targets (HVTs) during the GLOWOT Global War on Terrorism.
SFOD-D, DEVGRU, and the US Air Force Special Operations Command’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron comprise the “known” Tier 1 units in the US Military. Tier 2 units include the 75th Rangers, Navy SEALs, the USMC Special Operations Command, and US Army Special Forces. Tier 3 units include the 10th Mountain Division, Marine Recon, and both the 82nd and 101st Airborne units.
It’s common for JSOC (joint special operations command) to mix and match teams from the tiers to meet the special needs of a mission. I have been lucky enough to work with, for, or train each of these units.
I first met the men of CAG during Urgent Fury in late October 1983. A soldier from a JSOC blended unit was calling for close air support, looked at me, and said something like, “here comes Task Force Green – just follow them.” Back in the days before JTAC, they were called Forward Air Controllers and on this morning on this island, this guy was earning his keep.
I kept looking towards where he pointed and all I saw among the fog and smoke were half a dozen civilian clad, bearded dudes that could have blended in any current San Diego fitness class. Other than them being armed and buff, you’d a never seen them coming. They were my reluctant guides from Point Salines Airport to St. George’s University a few miles north.
Chuck Beckwith led Deltas in the early days. It was his idea and his ugly baby. SFOD-D was newly minted in 1979 just before the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran was seized by “students”. This action became known as the Iranian Hostage Crisis and lasted 444 days.
The Iran hostage saga.
Beckwith was tasked with freeing the hostages. Operation Eagle Claw was hatched. Beckwith’s teams went in on the 24th and 25th of April 1980. What followed was aptly called the ‘Debacle in the desert’ by the press. A commission was formed to review the aborted mission – the first true test of the SFOD-D. What the commission discovered is you can’t launch an elite team with support from the regular ground, air, and sea units. Special units need special support given by specially trained units.
The mission was aborted because of rotary-wing failure, unexpected weather, and C² problems (command and control) that arose because of distributed leadership from multiple commands. Add a collision between a helo and a fueling tanker and you had a mission that couldn’t succeed. 8 US Military professionals died.
Our Military and Government were embarrassed by those events. Instead of disbanding the Deltas, our Nation’s leadership doubled down. By 1981 the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) known as the Night Stalkers was created to support special operations requiring air support.
By 1987 DEVGRU, or US Navy’s SEAL Team Six, was formed to address maritime counterterrorism missions. Instead of responding by taking their licks and going to a neutral corner, the US special operations forces increased their level of training and turned into high performance, low drag operators cared for by the best-trained support personnel in the military.
That isn’t always how things are done. Sometimes agencies choose toys over training.
In 1986, FBI special agents Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove were killed and five agents wounded when Will Matix and Mike Platt decided to shoot it out with the cops rather than surrender. The FBI agents outnumbered Matix and Platt four to one and had the element of surprise, yet they soon found themselves overwhelmed by a high volume of well-aimed semi-automatic rifle fire. Even though Platt and Matix were shot a number of times, they continued to fight the agents. Had the FBI agents underestimated the resolve of these two criminals?
Matix and Platt were former soldiers and they knew how to fight. Matix had military police training, Platt was former infantry and had served as an Army Ranger in Vietnam. Although both Matix and Platt were hit multiple times during the shootout, Platt fought on and continued to wound and kill agents.
Matix had been suspected of killing two women at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio during a workplace violence incident. Killed were Pat Buchanich (Matix’s wife) and her coworker Joyce McFadden. Police interviews at the time show that Matix had suspected that his wife Pat had cheated on him with his best friend, Mike Platt.
Mike Platt and Will Matix moved to Florida and went into business together. Their legitimate business was landscaping. Platt was divorced and in 1984, Platt called police to report that his wife Regina had committed suicide. Police suspected foul play but the single shotgun wound to the head was ruled as self-inflicted.
Two friends, no criminal records, great military records, both suspected in the suspicious, violent deaths of their wives.
In early October of 1985, Matix and Platt were BZO-ing their guns at a rock pit when another citizen showed up for target practice. 25-year-old Emilio Briel was shot to death, then robbed by the pair. Matix and Platt also stole Briel’s car and used it to commit a number of armed robberies.
A week and a half after killing Emilio, Matix and Platt robbed an armored truck parked idling at a Winn-Dixie supermarket. The guards fought back, shooting at Platt and Matix who retreated after killing one guard. As police were nearby, Matix and Platt abandoned the scene without any money.
After a week they robbed a Florida National Bank and a Professional Savings Bank. They took a break for Christmas then started off 1986 by robbing a Brinks armored truck, shooting the guard. The mistakes they made led to their undoing. Even though they were careful to use Briel’s stolen car during the robberies, they staged their own car too close to the robbery locations. This time a citizen-witness followed Matix and Platt from the scene and took down the information on their white Ford pickup truck.
In March, Matix and Platt decided it was time for a new car. They still were unaware that local law and now federal agents were narrowing down their search, especially now armed with information from their Ford pickup. Old habits die hard, so Matix and Platt drove to the gravel pit and took turns shooting until another citizen showed up for target practice. They ambushed this citizen in the same manner as Emilio Briel; shooting and then robbing Jose Collazo, stealing his Chevy Monte Carlo, and leaving him for dead.
What they didn’t plan on was Jose Collazo surviving his injuries. Jose got up after Platt and Matix left and walked three miles until he got help and medical care.
The stolen, black Monte Carlo.
In early April 1986 Platt and Matix used the stolen Monte Carlo to pull an armed robbery at Barnett Bank. Unbeknownst to this hardcore crew, the FBI had saturated the area and was actively searching for them. Agents still were unaware of the names or backgrounds of their suspects, but 14 Federal Agents in 11 separate cars were on the hunt for the stolen black Monte Carlo.
As luck or fate would have it, two agents in one car spotted the stolen VIC and called out their location to the other units. The driver of this unmarked government ride made the choice to conduct a traffic stop by forcing the stolen Chevrolet off the road and into a tree. All the other agents hadn’t arrived to assist.
As FBI agents continued to converge, Matix and Platt began shooting. Armed with a number of shotguns, handguns, and a Ruger Mini-14, Platt and Matix were spraying the agents and their vehicles in front of a house at 12201 Southwest 82nd Avenue. A series of unrehearsed, unplanned, and ironic incidents happened next. Some of the agents had their weapons drawn and dropped them during the collision with the suspect vehicle. One dropped his glasses. Many were hit by shrapnel or bullets coming from Platt and Matix and were now unable to fight back or were hindered in their ability to shoot accurately.
Fortune begins to favor the bold.
Despite being shot numerous times by the agents, Platt and Matix continued to shoot, move and communicate, confounding the efforts of the FBI agents to outshoot or outmaneuver them. I’ll let you read about the mistakes made and the lack of training on the LE side that led up to those mistakes. You don’t need me for that. It’s a great homework assignment. There are numerous articles, books, training films, and even a Hollywood movie created about the incident.
I also don’t want to bash the memories of those brave agents from the FBI. They did their level best – but agent Grogan and agent Dove didn’t deserve to die on that fateful day. Suffice it to say for this installment of Lessons Learned that both Matix and Platt had overcome their opposition, entered an FBI vehicle, and were now attempting to drive away from the scene.
A marked Miami Metro-Dade unit showed up and the two coppers dropped in on what you can imagine was a hectic scene. Shots being fired, field-expedient first aid, reloads, weapon swaps and even though the entire incident lasted only a few minutes, over 145 shots were fired.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
There were a lot of heroes that day, and two terrors. Platt and Matix were finally killed at the scene ending their reign of terror. They weren’t drunk or on drugs, they were committed and resilient. When the FBI opened their Miramar, Florida office in 2014, they dedicated two towers of the building in memory of Agents Grogan and Dove, the two special agents killed by Platt and Matix.
Here’s where I am going to lose some of your loyal readers. You will want to focus on the guns and ammo and stopping power while I will insist the losses were a function of poor tactics, training, and a lack of rehearsal which would raise to the essential level of ‘practical application’.
Instead of addressing the TRAINING of the agents on the scene (operating under extreme human performance conditions), the report (and many subsequent reports) focused on the handguns and calibers that the agents carried. The reports state that the .38’s and 9mm’s weren’t “powerful” enough to stop Matix and Platt.
Just FYSA, the argument made about stopping power discussed wound ballistics and ‘shot placement’. And, while terminal ballistics is an important discussion, the training necessary to survive a chaotic event is much more important.
One reason I chose this specific shootout was that the FBI chose the 10mm Auto to replace their sidearms. This is the same choice made by SFOD-D during nearly the same time frame. Both the SFOD-D and the FBI dicked around with the 10mm ultimately exchanging it for the .40 S&W which is for all intents and purposes the same round. Since then – both units have changed back to 9mm’s or are still on the hunt for the perfect caliber and delivery system.
That’s ironic to me because every time there is a shooting of this magnitude involving coppers, (for example the North Hollywood bank shooting in Los Angeles on 28 February 1997) shooters clamor for better weapons and calibers. Better gear. Better toys.
Toys versus training.
You need to understand that this type of thinking filters down to agencies all over the country. Whether they have encountered this type of determined, deliberate gunfight or not – the administrators and training officers spending their limited budgets on more and better guns rather than better tactics and training.
That fervor even spread to my agency. We were given a choice, we had to choose from a semi-auto and whichever pistol had the most votes would become the one our agency was going to purchase. They wanted everyone to carry the same gun in .40 S&W and offered that the ‘stopping power’ was going to be amazing in this ‘controllable pistol’.
The logic was simple, easy to buy ammo, mags, conduct training with other officers of the same agency, mass purchase holsters, etc. They even allowed us to try out SIGs, Glocks, H&K, Beretta, and assorted S&W platforms before choosing.
They called us in off the road by groups to test fire and evaluate the weapons. Two considerations they neglected. First, they didn’t account for the large variety of sizes and experience levels of our officers. Second, they didn’t increase the training budget, add high-stress mag change training or officer additional shooting from cover opportunities.
They bought off on having new toys in “an amazing NEW caliber”, but that’s not what a detailed review of the Miami incident would say was the most essential takeaway from their shootout. Not the overarching factor that would have saved their coppers from having been killed in action.
In memory of Stephanie Horton.
So, I’ll end today with a horrible situation that will perhaps better illustrate what I have been saying. Today, the motivation for writing this specific Lessons Learned cam when Bruce Gomola Jr., 51, lost his temper at the Delaware Valley Urology office. Bruce, a New Jersey corrections officer, was overwhelmed by events, worried about his father’s urology appointment time, and did not want to hear that his dad’s appointment couldn’t be changed.
While his dad waited in the car completely unaware, Bruce pulled out his Smith & Wesson .40 caliber semi-auto handgun and acted out his anxiety, fear, and rage by shooting the 44-year-old mother of two Stephanie Horton in the chest. Stephanie, a patient advocate, was trying to calm Bruce down when the .40 caliber bullet performed admirably, as designed, killing her then entering and wounding an uninvolved patient sitting in the office awaiting her appointment.
Two lives were lost. Stephanie Horton was killed. Bruce Gomola Junior will likely spend the rest of his life in jail. The articles both in print and on the TV News went into great detail about the weapon used and the caliber. There was no mention of training to detect pre-event indicators or mitigate the likelihood of violent encounters. No mention of de-escalation training.
Training changes behavior.
Sometimes agencies choose toys over training…Tweet