Late to the party

So I had a quiet 4th of July at home with my wife and mother-in-law (as my wife has managed to break her tibia, she is unable to walk for about the next three-four weeks), and am just now getting caught up here at the Hall.  I came across Grim's An Independence Weekend Story and was reminded of a man I knew, who perhaps never fought for the Finns or Nazis, but did serve in the US Special Forces after fleeing the Soviet Union as a boy.  His name was COL Sobichevsky, and I met him in 1993 during cleanup of the Defense Language Institute of Monterrey as we were expecting a Base Realignment and Closure Committee visit.  So all the lower enlisted got to edge curbs, mow grass, trim hedges... all the normal spit and polish nonsense which kept up (or so the theory goes) from plotting bloody mutiny.  He came up to me and asked to speak with the NCO in charge of my detail, so I pointed out SGT Schwartz and got back to work.  He told my SGT to let us all know that we were doing a good job, and to let us know why we were out there... "Because those mother****ers want to close my base."

Perhaps a little insight into the man's history would give some clarity on why he made such an impression on me 20+ years ago.  Vladimir Sobichevsky fled the Soviet Union in 1943 with his mother.  They emigrated from a displaced persons camp to the US in 1949.  Seven years later, he enlisted in the US Army, and joined the first Special Forces group.  He spent his enlisted career in Special Forces and rose to the rank of Sergeant First Class, and decided to become an officer.  He then proceeded to spend almost all of his commissioned career in Special Forces.  For those who know of the Army's preference to "cross pollinate" officers between different branches of service, this will come as a surprise.  For those who don't, then just know that this does not happen in the US Army.  Officers don't get a choice in the matter, most times, unless that choice is to resign their commission.  My own father went from an Armor Officer to Quartermaster.  No one asked him if he wanted to.  But every time orders would come down to transfer CPT (or MAJ, or LTC) Sobichevsky to another branch, his commanders would send a request up the chain of command stating that Special Forces could not spare Sobichevsky, and so he would be left in branch.  One time (so the story goes) the request went before President Reagan himself who ordered Sobichevsky left in branch.

But we (of Military Intelligence) got COL Sobichevsky in 1992 for one very specific reason.  In order to advance in rank to BG and stay in Special Forces, one of the BG's in charge of Special Forces Western Hemisphere or Eastern Hemisphere had to go.  And neither was due to do so.  So, for the first time in his Army career of nearly 40 years, COL Sobichevsky found himself out of Special Forces.  We (lower enlisted soldiers) were more than a little intimidated by him, when he first arrived.  And I think he was more than a little discomfited by us and our non-SF ways.  One of his first acts upon being made Commandant of the school was to hold inspections of each soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine attending his school.  Since he really wasn't up on the uniform regs for the other services, they were mostly judged on the shine of their boots, while we soldiers got a full uniform inspection.  As I recall, he was impressed by the Marines, horrified by the sailors, lukewarm on the airmen, and we soldiers did okay (he passed by me without remark, not all were so lucky).  No official condemnation or corrective action ever came because of his inspection, but it gave us our first glimpse of the new Commandant.

In researching for this article, I found that COL Sobichevsky retired in 1995 after completing his tour as Commandant.  I was a little saddened by this, as it seems an ignominious close to an otherwise epic career, but a more earned retirement (39 years of service is a LONG time) would be difficult to find.  I hope the good COL (Ret) is doing well, and I wish him all the best.


Grim said...

The other thing that being a career SF officer will do for you is stop you at O-6, which apparently happened to your comrade as well! I've known a couple myself, and prospects for becoming a general officer are few and far between.

Great guys, though.

MikeD said...

I found this article which mentions the COL's early career:

douglas said...

That's awesome. ALS Monterey (school not institute back then) is where my Dad was stationed when he met my Mom in San Francisco. It'll always be a special place in our family. Fantastically beautiful area of California, too.

Matt said...

Oh yeah, he could make an impression. I was at DLI in '94 and we were renovating the old base gym for an MWR office. One Saturday Col. Sobichevsky showed up in his civvies. One of the civilian DOD employees who didn't know him asked him what he was doing there. He responded "I'm the foreman of this f***ing ranch. Who the f*** are you?"

Frederick Chiaventone said...

Was saddened to learn of Sobi's passing in mid-July of this year. Col. Sobichevsky, SSG Sal Suarez, and myself worked with Sobi in Special Operations & Training for LTG Dave Grange at 6th US Army. Sobi was a great boss with a wonderful sense of humor. We had some great chats at one of his favorite haunts - The Miniature Russian Bakery - run by a woman he had known as a kid in Kiev. Had a great time setting up special courses, keeping Mark "Zippo" Smith from throttling a Vietnamese "chieu hoi" he knew from post-Loc Ninh, and getting Sobi's son through school and then airborne school. He was a great fellow and will be missed.
F.J. Chiaventone
Lieutenant Colonel, (ret)
Professor emeritus - counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism
US Army Command & General Staff College
Ft. Leavenworth, KS