FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Nov. 15, 2021) — Fort Leonard Wood leaders and future leaders were given the opportunity to hear from and pose questions to retired Sgt. Maj. Dennis Wolfe today during two leader professional development sessions in Lincoln Hall Auditorium — one in the morning for permanent party, and one in the afternoon for students.
Wolfe joined the Army in 1962, and was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician before joining a U.S. Army Special Operations unit that had him involved in missions such as the attempt to free American hostages in Iran in 1980 — now known as Operation Eagle Claw — and the rescue of Brig. Gen. James Dozier in Italy in 1981. He was a team leader during the invasion of Granada in 1983 — called Operation Urgent Fury — and helped develop a plan to transfer service members from the Sinai Desert after 248 101st Airborne Division Soldiers were killed in a plane crash in 1985.
“It sounds like James Bond stuff, but it actually happened,” Wolfe said.
In 1991, Wolfe was able to help pioneer a much needed major addition to the special operations responsibilities.
“Most of us remember significant events in history,” he said. “Most of you remember where you were on 9/11. Someone in my generation would remember what they were doing when President Kennedy was assassinated. But for me, one of the most significant dates is New Year’s Eve in 1990, when Gorbachev announced the dissolution, the collapse, of the Soviet Union.”
Wolfe said there was an immediate concern about the accountability and security of the Soviet nuclear stockpile, a lot of which was located in the breakaway republics.
“The concern was, would those republics return those weapons to Russia and would there be a vulnerability to theft during that process,” he added.
Wolfe spoke about a meeting called by Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where the question was asked, “If one of these weapons is lost or stolen, which unit has the responsibility to recover it?”
“There was some discussion about that,” Wolfe said. “In the SOCOM mission statement — they were focused mostly on hostage rescue at the time — there was a little blurb that read, ‘and/or sensitive items and equipment.’ It was just kind of thrown in there. Well, of course, it never was meant to imply nuclear weapons — at least foreign nuclear weapons — but Gen. Powell said, ‘Well, your mission statement comes closest to what might be needed, you’ve got the job.’”
The EOD equipment available at the time was not created to stand up to the hazards of life in a special operations unit, Wolfe said, so he had to provide inputs to assist in developing different equipment. More information was also needed on the Russian weapons Wolfe and his unit would be responsible for.
“We had a meeting in the Pentagon and began trying to figure out how to get more information from different organizations,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why don’t we just ask the Russians?’ Would they ask for our assistance if one of their weapons was stolen, and if so, would they provide the appropriate information about that weapon?’ I thought it was sort of a wild request, but a couple of weeks later I got a phone call.”
The Russians were contacted at their embassy in Washington, D.C. about the request, and Wolfe was told a meeting was set up — in the Pentagon. For Wolfe, who lived through the Cold War, hosting Russians in the heart of the Department of Defense was an odd feeling.
“The last thing I ever thought I’d do is sit down with the Russians in the Pentagon,” he said.
After sharing a little of his story, Wolfe addressed questions from the attendees, many of whom simply wanted to know how he accomplished what he did in his career. He said he never gave leadership or the ability to motivate others much thought in terms of a process.
“To me, you say, ‘What is leadership?’ It’s problem solving,” he said. “It’s getting things done, and there are many ways to do that.”
Wolfe said seeking to put the right talent in the right position is key.
“They say, if you find a job you enjoy, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” he said. “If the military as a whole could match the man up with the job, you wouldn’t have discipline problems. You wouldn’t have to find ways to encourage people to do things. They’ll take the initiative because they like what they do; they love what they do.”
One of the attendees of the morning session was Lt. Col. Patricia Kast, 701st Military Police Battalion commander, who said Wolfe’s story is “absolutely inspiring.”
“For me, I think it’s important, both to get perspective on what was accomplished and how,” she said. “I was so impressed with the barriers that must have been breached just to get so many organizations, agencies and governments to collaborate and cooperate – I was curious to hear how he did it.”
After his morning LPD session, Wolfe’s exemplary service in the Chemical Corps was honored with the Ancient Order of the Dragon medal of excellence, presented by Col. Adam Hilburgh, U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School assistant commandant, and USACBRNS Regimental Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Williams.
Wolfe was also the 2018 recipient of SOCOM’s Arthur “Bull” Simons Award for embodying “the true spirit, values and skills of a special operations warrior.” The Simons Award is often referred to as the highest honor SOCOM gives.
About Fort Leonard Wood
Fort Leonard Wood is a thriving and prosperous installation that has evolved from a small basic training post 80 years ago to a premier Army Center of Excellence that trains nearly 80,000 military and civilians each year.
Fort Leonard Wood is home to the U.S Army Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and three U.S. Army schools: the U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School; and the U.S. Army Military Police School. In addition to training engineer, CBRN and military police specialties for the Army, Fort Leonard Wood also provides gender-integrated in-processing and Basic Combat Training for new Soldiers.
Fort Leonard Wood also hosts and trains with the largest Marine Corps Detachment and Air Force Squadron on any Army installation as well as a large Navy construction detachment.
More information about Fort Leonard Wood is at: https://home.army.mil/wood/index.php/about/mission