Fond memories from a US military attache
Col Larry Redmon, ex-Army Attache at the United States (US) Embassy in Bangkok, who retired from the military position last month, had played a big role in strengthening Thai-US military cooperation while in Thailand. WASSANA NANUAM talked to him about his experiences.
American Green Beret and soldier Col Redmon was first deployed to Thailand 35 years ago for a mission with the Royal Thai Army (RTA) Special Force Soldiers, then later as an exchange officer attending the Thai Army Command and Staff College Class 77.
Later stilll he was part of the Joint United States Military Advisory Group, Thailand (JUSMAGTHAI) and finally, six years ago, he came here as the US Army Attache.
What was your mission the first time you came?
I was deployed in 1986 as a team of US Army Special Forces to train with the RTA Special Forces Soldiers in Lop Buri. We had a lot to learn from them, as Thailand had combat experience in counter insurgency since it still had problems at the Thai-Cambodian border during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.
We trained the RTA Special Forces in combat skill training, such as patrolling, ambush, reconnaissance and jungle survival. We would teach airborne insertion techniques, doctrine, medical training and use of new equipment and technology.
I was a very new Special Forces soldier at this time so a lot of my training was taught to me by Thai Special Forces in Lop Buri, Lampang and Phitsanulok. They taught me many survival techniques in the jungle, how to recognise dangerous snakes and animals, traps, jungle food, but also many techniques from their combat experiences and operations. It was also during this time that I met many Thai Special Forces soldiers some of whom are still my friends and brothers to this day.
What was perception before you were deployed here?
I only knew about Thailand what I read in books. As a young boy I had read a lot about Thailand just by chance because I found an article in National Geographic about a kingdom which had a king born in America.
This was fascinating for me. Then many years later when the Vietnam War was going on, my uncle was wounded and sent to Thailand to recover at an American hospital.
When he returned home, he told me stories about a wonderful country where he was taken care of and treated kindly by many people. It was, of course, Thailand. Since that day I was keen to one day visit Thailand. So, I had favourable mindset from earliest of times.
My chance came one day when many years later, I joined the US Army. I graduated from Special Forces school and even though I did not get the choice as to which unit I would go to, I learned I was assigned to the First Special Forces Group that operated in Southeast Asia, mostly Thailand.
I didn't know at this time that the US Army had units that trained in Thailand. I was excited once I learned I would be going to Thailand, in fact up until this point I had never been outside the US before.
Who knows, maybe this was destiny, it is kind of interesting that from a story about Thailand when I was a boy, I was assigned to a US Army Special Forces Group in Thailand.
What was your proudest mission?
In Phu Hin Rong Kla, Phitsanulok operation. We were not involved with the battle between Thai soldiers and the communist insurgency in Laos. But at that time my team was training up in the mountains while Thai soldiers were fired on by Laos artillery and their radio signals were easily intercepted by the enemy.
So, we showed them how to use our jammers, and this helped prevent the Thai communication devices from interception by the enemy.
We also trained them how to use our special encryption techniques so the enemy would not know what the Thais were saying, I believed this helped to save many lives. We also trained the Thai soldiers in advanced medical techniques employed by American Special Forces; this too helped save lives.
Another mission, we did training at Nong Ta Koo camp in Pak Chong district of Nakhon Ratchasima with Thai Special Forces in helping to train military rangers. Again, this was still at a time when there was a problem in Cambodia. We provided training for the Thai side to use a weapons tactics and combat survival skills. I think that was useful.
One of my greatest honours was in 2019 and 2020. I was honoured to be asked to teach a class to Thai Military Academy Cadets in Nakhon Nayok with Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn. It was such an honour that I will cherish all my life.
Princess Sirindhorn attended the class when I lectured about US strategy or doctrine and always treated me with kindness and grace. Princess Sirindhorn was graceful and had a wonderful sense of humour. She even sang me the song called The Ballad of the Green Berets.
I could not believe she knew this song and I asked her how she knew it. She said she went to the Special Forces Command in Lop Buri with her father, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, and met a team of US Special Forces there.
She told me that her mother, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit The Queen Mother, always liked the American Green Beret songs and had memorised many of them. She played the songs so she learned them this way and never forgot them.
Do you take part in any secret operations in Thailand that can be revealed now? Thais believe US Special forces come to Thailand with secret missions.
No, we have no secret operations in Thailand. I mean all of our training and exercises were photographed and people join the opening and closing ceremonies, everything we do is done with our Thai partners. Often you see such exercises and events on TV, like Cobra Gold.
How much do you know about the political polarisation in Thailand? Have you heard that some Thais don't like the US playing a role in Thai politics?
I do not get involved in politics, sure I see it on the news and it's hard to ignore when the protests take to the streets but in my view, these are internal problems best left to Thailand to resolve.
I am aware about negative American views and of course I see it on the news and I am aware that some people do not like America or Americans.
Yes, it hurts to hear that and I do understand sometimes why there is this perception among some people. Maybe they were done wrong by an American, perhaps they disagree with American culture or policy.
I know my country is not perfect and I am not an apologist for our actions but I do believe we try to do the right thing with Thailand and its people. We are not perfect but I also think we should remember the good we have done here in Thailand.
I still believe in the US-Thai friendship and I believe this friendship is even more important than it has been in the past.
How do you feel upon leaving?
Sadness. Since my first deployment to Thailand in 1986, I have spent most of my adult professional life here. I have spent a considerable amount of time with my brothers among the various units of the Special Warfare Command, whether it be training exercises, travel and trips. It has been a special time in my life.
I told everyone, my friends here, that when I leave Thailand, I will get homesick because I have spent my entire life stationed here in Thailand. I am waiting to return, I'm proud to be here. I will come back in the near future.