Read Part 1 HERE
The Light Reaction Company nearly had their first counter-terrorism training course cut short as the military wanted to deploy them immediately down south to Basilan. The mission was to locate and rescue two American missionaries who had been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf. Martin and Garcia Burnham were taken from a resort they were staying at while celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary. The LRC hit the ground and began their search but suffered from command and control problems. It was an issue endemic among Philippine SOF units that while deployed they fell under the command of local area commanders who usually did not have Special Operations experience or know how to properly employ such units.
The Light Reaction Company also deployed in their search alongside a company of Scout-Rangers and a company of Special Forces, together creating the Counter-Terrorism Task Force. US Special Forces advised and tried to help as best they could. It was just months after the 9/11 attacks shook the world and the War on Terror had a different urgency for Americans than it does today. Rumor has it that some US Special Forces members wore Philippine military uniforms and were on the front lines with their host-nation counterparts. At this time there were also Philippine commanders who were assigned American Special Forces advisors. Those advisors had to go wherever their counter-part did, so if he was on the front then so were they. However, these American soldiers did not engage in firefights against the enemy in as far as SOFREP discovered.
With LRC’s initial deployment, other problems began to emerge. The unit was down in Basilan for over a year looking for hostages. “The LRC has to be a highly specialized unit, you can’t keep them in the field for more than six months. You have to bring them back and re-train them,” Dizon said. Now it was becoming apparent that the unit could not function as a company but needed to become a battalion strength element with three companies. The Philippine Armed Forces were learning the same lessons that the US Army did when it stood up Delta Force. A-Squadron and B-Squadron were initially created, but soon they realized that a C-Squadron was also required.
Since there was only one company at that time, “You could not rotate, the guys were burned out so the recommendation was to have three companies so one would be deployed, one training, and one on alert,” Dizon said. Back at Fort Magsaysay, 1st LRC was now training 2nd LRC, having drawn on men from the Scout-Rangers and Special Forces companies within the counter-terrorism task force that they had back in Basilan. Colonel Dizon’s colorful military career had taken many unexpected turns and having survived a court-martial, he was now a staff officer at Philippine SOCOM at Fort Magsaysay, hoping to take command of a Ranger Battalion. As it turned out, he received orders to the training branch. Meanwhile, his old classmate from PMA received orders to take command of the LRC which was now becoming LRB, a Light Reaction Battalion.
“We are now looking at training soldiers in a urban settings so in a way it was something I was familiar with. The Army at the same time was coming up with a CT task force. We talk a lot, you basically know what is happening, something is happening. What is this new unit?” Dizon said in an interview. His Special Forces friend knew nothing about counter-terrorism but knew how to run the school-house. Dizon had CT experience from his time at the SAF and had worked with the LRC when he was part of the anti-kidnapping task force. The two officers convinced their superior to allow them to swap orders with one another. Dizon was now the first commander of the LRB.
Reporting for duty in 2004, Dizon went to the LRB compound and asked where battalion headquarters was.
“Battalion headquarters?” a Sergeant asked in confusion.
“Yeah, I’m here to report to battalion headquarters,” Dizon insisted.
“Well, if you are here to report to battalion headquarters, I guess you are it sir.”
And so, Colonel Dizon began putting the unit together as an actual battalion.
At the time, the unit had a shoot house, an old dilapidated hospital that they also used for CQB (Close Quarters Battle) training, and the 2nd LRC trainees were living in tents. Now it was up to the new commander to secure funding so that it could be stood up as a battalion. “Whoever is the main effort will get the funding,” Dizon said. “Your task is to make your commander think or feel that you are the main effort. You can scrounge, steal, borrow, but you have to find it and take it.” The Army gave Dizon 1.5 million pesos to create their premier counter-terrorism unit. That amounted to about thirty thousand dollars. The LRB needed barracks, a headquarters, and a store-room. Eight container vans were arranged as a store room, the barracks were built under budget by getting an Army engineer to come over as a foreman and tell the LRC operators where to swing their hammers. But the unit also needed roadwork and electricity.
Fort Magsaysay had recently replaced their wooden electrical poles with new cement ones. The old poles were sitting around on the property books of another unit. “We all went out to do PT in the morning and when we came back we were doing log runs!” Dizon said laughing. When the unit commander came angrily asking where his electrical poles are, Dizon informed him that they had been re-arranged but that he still needed the wires so the unit could either issue the wiring to him or his men could steal them. It was also discovered that SOCOM had a new temporary command post that no one was using so Dizon offered to test it for them. Once assembled, he had the floor cemented in place so that the temporary command post became permanent.
The Army also had some old Quonset huts that it didn’t need and said LRB could have them. 1st LRC dismantled one, brought it to their compound, but couldn’t figure out how to put it together. The new 3rd LRC decided to just carry the second hut, about ten meters at a time all day long from 0500 to 1800 in the evening. After that, they figured out how to load the huts on flatbed trucks. The good news was that the Army noted Dizon’s resourcefulness and now allotted him 8 million pesos to complete his job. But the unit had another problem, getting more officers into the unit as the Scout-Rangers and Special Forces didn’t want to give up their men. As it turned out, there were a number of officers just sitting around Army headquarters who were under suspicion for their participation in the Oakwood mutiny. Ironically, the 1st LRC had been poised as a Quick Reaction Force during the Oakwood incident. The officers had excuses ranging from that they were just following orders to that they didn’t know that they were participating in a rebellion. The LRB now gave them a fresh opportunity. The slate would be wiped cleaned for them, provided that they towed the line.
Coming in part 3, combat operations, test missions, and expansions.
[Lead image: the LRC training with US Special Forces in late 2001]