HEIDELBERG, Germany — The Asymmetric Warfare Group must have the most arcane motto of any Army unit: "Normal is the cycle on a washing machine."

To complicate matters, the motto on the group’s logo is not in English, but in the Blackfoot Indian language.

The motto, "Otatsiihtaissiiststakio piksi makamo ta psswia," came from a book about the Vietnam War, in which asymmetric warfare — where one side is far more powerful but the other side compensates with its own deadly tactics — was the norm, just like in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was translated in honor of an AWG member who was a member of the Blackfoot Nation.

The group, which began its missions in 2004 and was formally stood up as a command two years later, grew out of a task force set up to counter makeshift bombs, and is looking for "innovative thinkers" to join its ranks.

AWG members must also, according to brochures being handed out across U.S. Army Europe units in Germany this week during a recruiting drive, be "seasoned warfighters" yet also "quiet professionals."

Composed of senior enlisted, company-grade officers and contractors, the group is deployed, often in pairs, to advise combat units on various asymmetrical warfare threats and how to counter them.

It’s not Special Forces, although many of its members once were.

One major distinction, according to Greg Melcher, a contractor with the group, is "We don’t conduct operations."

Instead, they’re sort of expert consultants, "operational advisers," who, when deployed, go from unit to unit dispensing their expertise that’s ultimately supposed to save U.S. lives and win the war.

"They don’t stay with one organization," Melcher said during a recruiting stop in Heidelberg on Tuesday.

"They’ll be wherever the heat of the action is."

AWG members deploy for 90 days in Iraq, Afghanistan, and increasingly, Melcher said, other global hotspots, such as the Republic of Georgia, the Philippines, Peru, Thailand and Mexico. Depending on whom you ask, they might or might not also advise agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The combat units they work with either "take our advice or they don’t. We don’t let it hurt our feelings," said Hank Lafferty, another contractor with the group, and a former Special Forces soldier.

Usually, the group is pretty well received, he said.

Because the group has only an advisory role, women are not barred from the unit. In fact they’re encouraged.

"We’re trying to get our first one to selection," Lafferty said.

Selection for operational advisers happens only twice a year and includes, in addition to psychological and physical fitness tests, scenarios in which applicants are supposed to demonstrate problem-solving, communication and creativity skills.

About 35 percent of applicants are chosen, Lafferty said.

Among the more common reasons for not being chosen are less-than-stellar communication skills or an off-putting personality.

Because they’re supposed to advise a wide variety of people — brigade commanders down to privates — Lafferty said the ability to persuade and engage can be "a critical thing."

The group also has a sort of research-and-development function.

One of their claims to fame is a fogger devised to obscure snipers’ views.

The Army already had a smoke grenade, but it took a while to actually put out smoke.

Something quicker was needed, and they figured out how to do it, Lafferty said, after "blowing up some fire extinguishers."

Then they got it distributed quickly, another distinguishing group characteristic.

"Our doctrine teaches us to ‘Do it this way,’ " Melcher said.

"It doesn’t allow for that freedom of thought. We’re designed to augment the doctrine."

The group also takes credit for the airdigger — which remotely shoots dirt off suspicious mounds to see if bombs are buried.

After stops in Heidelberg and Baumholder earlier this week, the recruiters will be in Stuttgart on Friday and in Grafenwöhr next week.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now