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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

PROMIS: Viet Nam

Jack Murphy's novel Reflexive Fire is due to come out any time, now, and I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, he's begun a series of short stories which comprise the mercenary career of his Reflexive Fire protagonist's father, Sean Deckard. In Issue #1,we find Sean Deckard on a SOG team snooping and pooping in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, during the post-Tet chapter of US involvement in the region.

The innocent-sounding "Studies and Observation Group," more widely known by the SOG acronym, is surrounded by far more secrecy than I once assumed: I heard some of the old-timers talking about it (though never in specific detail) when I was a lowly grunt. Now I wonder if those people had any actual knowledge of it, or were just passing on vintage scuttlebutt from the pseudo-mythical CIA operations in southeast Asia.

Both the CIA and Special Forces branched out from Wild Bill Donovan's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) of WWII fame. During the tragic fiasco in Vietnam, the two organizations came full-circle to reunite in the form of SOG. As I mention in my Elite Forces pages on my website, special operations/unconventional warfare forces are most effective when operating with their own intelligence-gathering capabilities organic to their organization(s). Futile sacrifices of the lives of elite warriors like Pont du Hoc; or just plain wastes of effort and resources like the Son Tay raid demonstrate this principle. SOG, therefore, should have been a force to be reckoned with. Though still shrouded in secrecy, by all accounts, they were. But like the entire Vietnam experience (and, arguably Korea and other military misadventures), tactical success after resounding tactical success all are rendered meaningless, along with their cost in human lives, when the command structure that put our men in harm's way is not committed to achieving strategic victory. Jack Murphy gives us a short glimpse into this insane mess through the eyes of Sean Deckard.

Deckard was recruited into SOG from the LRRPs (Long Range Reconnaisance Patrols--later organized into Ranger companies), and he is a hard-charger. Whatever his inner motivations might be, he is the ideal soldier, dedicated to his mission at the cost of most everything he might hold dear. However, he is on his way to some hardcorps disillusion when he proves just a little too effective at what he does.

In the interview segment below, the author provides a link to some information about PROMIS. It is spooky stuff, if true, and evidently not easy to explain well in simple terms. This process, shrouded in even more mystery than SOG, provides the subsurface impetus for the surface action in this series. I'm already fascinated to watch how this technilogical monstrosity is unveiled throughout the series.

But even without all that, Issue #1 of PROMIS is a great read. I would have finished it in one sitting if life hadn't got in the way. The action is fluid, visual, and at no point made me groan in disbelief. Jack did his research well enough that I had nothing to nitpick. On top of that, he's a veteran and knows how to write about combat operations without sinking into shellshocked introspection. He knows how to tweak real-world scenarios to make an entertaining read without interrupting our suspension of disbelief.

PROMIS is short, but packs a wallop. At 99 cents, you can't beat it. I've spent much more for fiction not nearly as good. I plan to buy the whole series as he writes it.


2FB: Let's start with some biographical info.

Jack Murphy: I’m originally from New York and enlisted in the US Army at age 19. I went straight from infantry basic training to Airborne school and then to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP). Upon graduating, I was assigned to 3rd Ranger Battalion at Ft. Benning, GA. While there, I served as an Anti-Tank gunner, Sniper, and Team Leader. After my second deployment with Ranger Battalion I attended Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) and got picked to go to the Special Forces Qualification Course. After about a year of training I was assigned to a HALO (military free fall) team with 5th Special Forces Group at Ft. Campbell, KY. I completed three combat tours and graduated from Ranger School, Sniper School, SERE, HALO, and other courses too numerous to mention here. Last year I decided to leave the military and attend college. Currently, I’m working towards a degree in international business.

2FB: First of all, thanks for your service to our country, Jack. BTW: The man I dedicated my first novel to was in 5th Group during Vietnam. He was an old-school NCO, and probably the best one I've ever known. Anyway, though there have been some notable combat veterans who authored books about war, it's still kind of unusual to encounter an action-adventure writer who earned both Ranger and SF tabs and served back-to-back tours in Injun Country. How does that happen?

Jack Murphy: I started writing when I was a teenager, mostly short stories. I was a big fan of action-adventure novels and started writing about the types of things I would want to see in one of those books. I suppose not much has changed in that regard. I wrote a little here and there while I was in the Army but it wasn’t until I left that I felt comfortable really sitting down and hammering our fiction for public consumption. Special Operations has it’s own type of culture and none of us really talk to civilians about what goes on “behind the fence” so to speak.

2FB: It strikes me that you've noticed some of the same sad states of affairs I did in our military.Few Americans could even imagine it--especially those who support our deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jack Murphy: Most Americans try very hard to ignore that we are even fighting a war, or if they do, have no idea how it impacts them. I can understand the second point because I’m not sure that it does. Sadly, I have to say that the US military has put career advancement ahead of victory in Afghanistan and Iraq. The bureaucracy and risk adverse attitude of commanders, even in Special Forces units, is completely unreal. That’s a message you won’t be hearing from the mass media anytime soon.

2FB: And it was surprising to me how far back it goes. Even our "great patriotic war," WWII, the last declared war we fought, when everyone from the top down was earnestly seeking victory, some of this garbage was going on. But nowadays it's the rule, not the exception. Ahem. Were SOG operators still on US Army (or whatever branch) payroll, or were they "officially" civilians working for the CIA?

Jack Murphy: From what I have read it appears that SOG operators were always under the Army's chain of command.  SOG was commanded by an Army Colonel and fell under the Army's Table of Organization and Equipment.  However, SOG drew from all branches of service and combined them with the unique capabilities of the CIA.  This fusion of Special Forces combat troops and intelligence gathering seemed particularly effective, and to be frank, well ahead of it's time.

2FB: Back to you and your books: Tell us about your fiction.

Jack Murphy: I wrote a novel called Reflexive Fire which I am still preparing for release, but what I have out as of now is a short story called PROMIS. It is the first issue which I hope to serialize into a longer plot that follows the career of a professional mercenary through the 70′s and 80′s. I was inspired to write this series because of the research I have done into unconventional warfare, a hobby as well as my former profession. Through my research I discovered some of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of Special Forces, accomplishments that the public at large has little if any knowledge of. In this sense, PROMIS is like historical fiction and brings factual events and histories to new audiences, or so I hope.

2FB: How would you classify this series, and how does it differ from other work in the genre?

Jack Murphy: If I were to assign a genre to PROMIS, I would put it under military fiction. It is an action-adventure short that follows the career of a Sergeant serving in America’s Studies and Observations Group (SOG) , a highly secretive Special Forces unit that conducted cross border operations during the Vietnam War. Very little has been written about SOG, and if you read between the lines of what has, I suspect a lot of their activities are still highly classified to this day. PROMIS is unique because it draws upon source material and speculates on subjects related to espionage and Special Forces missions that most people have never even heard of.

2FB: Where does the title PROMIS come from?

Jack Murphy: PROMIS is the name of a controversial computer program developed in the 1980's by a company called INSLAW.  PROMIS stands for Prosecutors Management Information System.  Back in those days the Justice Department was losing cases because they couldn't keep track of the files in the primitive computers they had.  PROMIS was developed and sold to the government to allow various computer systems to cross talk and communicate between each other.  The software was eventually stolen by the CIA and allegedly used to launder millions of dollars of drug money.  This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the PROMIS software scandal and any investigation into this subject will inevitably lead down a road that takes the researcher into subjects like Iran-Contra, the October Surprise, and the murder of a journalist named Danny Casolaro to keep it all quiet.  I can't do the subject justice here but those who are interested should read "The Last Circle," by Cheri Seymour or for a primer read the following article: ""

I named this series PROMIS because the over all story arc will cover the development and intrigue surrounding the PROMIS software scandal.  In issue one we see the very beginnings of a fictionalized PROMIS in Leon Petraska's formulas.

2FB: Every book presents a challenge of some sort when writing it. What was that challenge with this one?

Jack Murphy: My greatest challenge in writing PROMIS was getting the details correct. Although I served in Special Forces, things were a little different back in 1970 when this short story takes place. I went through great pains to “get it right” but really I have Paul over at to thank for really keeping me honest. His group does Vietnam reenactments, including SOG, and has spent a huge amount of time communicating with Vietnam vets and putting together uniforms and equipment with an extreme degree of attention to detail.

2FB: Expound, if you would, on the scene where Sean flips out on the top brass. Not just their reaction to Petraska's predictive algorithm, but the business of the Soviet military advisors in the COSVN.

Jack Murphy: The existence of Soviet military advisers and the Viet Cong's headquarters, called COSVN, is highly controversial to this day.  From my research, I believe that SOG came damned close to catching up with several Soviet advisers.  If you read about the dirty little wars of that era, you find communist advisers from Russia, China, Cuba, and East Germany all over the world.  Western intelligence agencies were playing chess with the Third World and it would be naive to think the Soviets were not doing the same.  In regards to COSVN, I think it existed, SOG certainly did, but probably not the way I wrote about it in my short story.  COSVN was probably a fairly small command and control element that stayed highly mobile and coordinated certain actions along the Ho Chi Minh trail.  We see the same thing happening today in Iraq and Afghanistan where the enemy maintains a command and control node across a border into an adjoining country, hopefully out of American reach by their logic.  Although terrorists operate in a decentralized manner, they still have some higher functions coordinated by well placed individuals or groups.

In PROMIS, the brass reacts poorly to Sean Deckard's discoveries, in regards to the subjects mentioned above, because they are in denial and also because acknowledging the issue would mean having to do something about it.  In 1970, something that explosive could have potentially led to World War Three.  The sub-context of course, is that such a discovery could have led to the end of the Vietnam War, something that certain vested interests were in no hurry to have happen.

2FB:  It surprises nobody, I'm sure, to hear that Vietnam was a dirty war. Still, every time I hear or read about specific dirty details of it, I get pissed all over again. I'm gonna cut myself off right there or I will turn this blog post into an ugly, angry rant.

Thanks, Jack, for taking the time to answer my questions.

Jack has his own blog, Reflexive Fire, linked in the blog roll to the left, with many posts of interest for military/paramilitary enthusiasts. You can buy the PROMIS ebook by clicking the links on his blog. And, of course, you can click on the one below.



  1. Great summary and commentary Hank, I can't wait to throw myself into issue two. Some of the stuff I've uncovered about the Rhodesian SAS is pretty amazing, their accomplishments just as impressive as SOG was.

  2. I've read just enough about the Rhodesian units to pique my interest, so I'm really looking forward to that chapter. And it will be an added treat, whatever creative license you must take to make it palatable, to read about how the PROMIS system ties into that conflict.

  3. There will be some conspiracy stuff but PROMIS will be on the back burner until Issue 3 (South Africa). Issue 2 will introduce the two other protagonists and get a little deeper in the characters and their motivations.

  4. Thanks for dropping by, Russ. Good to hear from you.

  5. to JM:

    If you will be able to find translator, u'll get more realistic data about USSR role in the conflict. Btw, China rejected USSR request for military airfields placement during the conflict. I'll find some more material about Soviet SOGs in Nam. I've met 2 fellows in my past life who served in Nam and Angola as a "special teams" of Soviet airborns.


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