Sleep-Away Camp for Postmodern Cowboys

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Katsotc Warrior Competition ChineseThe New York Times describes the fifth-annual Warrior Competition at Katsotc — which rhymes with “aquatic” and stands for the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center — as sleep-away camp for postmodern cowboys — which sounds simultaneously insulting and inviting:

Organizers have referred to it as “the Olympics of counterterrorism”: over the next four days, the teams would raid buildings, storm hijacked jets, rescue hostages and shoot targets with live ammunition, all while being scored for speed and accuracy. It was a stage-managed showcase for the 21st-century soldier — not the humble G.I., but the post-9/11 warrior, the superman in the shadows, keeping the world safe from murky threats.

The descriptions of the teams are full of colorful stereotypes:

The Swiss team, the Skorpions of the Zürich Stadtpolizei, looked like off-duty ski instructors in their matching black jackets and mirrored sunglasses. The Lebanese Black Panthers, the SWAT team for Lebanon’s Internal Security Force, strutted in black hoodies and combat boots. The Jordanian special ops team stood straight-backed in their red berets, quietly confident in their home-field advantage. And the Russians, a bunch of ex-Spetsnaz and K.G.B. members who now worked for a private bodyguard service based in London and owned by an Iranian, showed off Chechen bullet wounds and waved the flag of the Russian Airborne. Its motto: “Nobody but Us.”

Everyone agreed that the Canadians would be tough. They were from Canada’s Special Operations Regiment. Recently back from a tour in Afghanistan, they sported combat beards, intimidating tattoos (Revelation 6:8, “And behold, a pale horse: and its rider’s name was Death”) and the kind of burly frames that come from carrying big guns over tall mountains for weeks at a time. “They look like the dudes from ‘300,’ ” a member of one of four U.S. teams said. Another said, “They look like werewolf lumberjacks.”

But most eyes were on the Chinese. China had two teams, both from the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force. The Snow Leopards were the favorite: formerly the Snow Wolf Commando unit, they were a counterterrorism squad established ahead of the Beijing Olympics. There was a rumor going around that they had been to eight more-specialized competitions and never finished lower than second. (The Chinese maintained this was their first competition.) They marched to the mess hall in formation and did push-ups for fun. By comparison, the American teams — three Army and one Marine Corps, who were at that moment posing for team pictures and smoking cigars — looked like high-school kids on a field trip.


The next morning, the Chinese jumped out to an early lead, winning the first three events. They were well on their way to winning the overall trophy. Watching them conquer an event called Method of Entry — breaking down three doors, scaling the side of a building, shooting a series of steel targets and sprinting back to the start — was simultaneously impressive and terrifying. Team America, who spent the previous night in their barracks drinking contraband rum, had trouble getting inside: they wasted five minutes trying to open the door the wrong way and finished near the middle of the pack.

The description of the Chinese reminds me of the Japanese team from the original Rollerball.

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