A retired Delta Force operator reflects on his career, his missions and his service

Jack Murphy
April 08, 2020 - 11:25 am
Retired Delta operator George Hand

Courtesy of George Hand

While the American public may have seen the 1990s military as a place where soldiers served in peacetime assignments, the reality is that there were many covert and clandestine operations being planned and actioned behind the scenes.

One of the soldiers assigned to carry out those shadowy tasks in places like Bosnia and Colombia was George Hand, who served as an operator in 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, commonly known as Delta Force. Delta is known as the military's most elite and most professional unit.

Hand was a young soldier looking for a mission in what was largely a peacetime Army. He became a Green Beret but was still unsatisfied. Taking the next step to try out for Delta was also a way to get away from his company commander while he was an instructor at the combat dive school in Key West, Florida.

"I had a dangerous relationship with my company commander, he was talking about jail and this and that," Hand said. The instructors at the schoolhouse were just about fed up with the decisions being made by their commander and several times Hand tried to rally the troops and get them to air their grievances with their captain. In the end, it was just Hand going to confront the officer.

Hand went into his company commander's office and said, "You know something, sir? You're a dick!"

The captain looked shocked before shouting back, "You know something Sgt. Hand? You're a dick too!"

Knowing that his company commander pretty much had it out for him at this point, Hand said he knew the only way out of the situation was for him to take the "long walk" as it is called, by going to Delta selection. He passed selection on his first try and then graduated from the unit's intensive operator training course.

"It's the real McCoy," Hand said of the training he received there. 

George Hand
Courtesy of George Hand

Two of his deployments to Bosnia were focused on hunting down Persons Indicted For War Crimes (PIFWICs) by the Hague.

"I was involved in roundups of three generals, or ex-generals," Hand said in a recent interview.

During these deployments, George and his teammates worked directly with the CIA out of safe houses in the former Yugoslavia. While the CIA ran human assets on the ground, Hand would then conduct recon missions where suspected PIFWICs may be hiding.

Some of these missions were done by driving around town or hanging out in cafes with female soldiers assigned to the unit. Within the military, these women assigned to Delta are sometimes referred to as the "funny platoon" but are more formally a part of the Advon Troop. Both men and women were assigned to the Advon Troop, their responsibility being to prepare the battlefield for the future deployment of Delta operators.

While driving around in the plainclothes, these women helped break up the profile of the male operators, so instead of a lone fighting age male conducting reconnaissance by himself, it looked more like a husband and wife.

"Everyday was at least a 5-6 hour drive just to get to one city, to drive down one street, to get one chance to look at one thing," Hand described. "We were also able to get into restaurants and other establishments, hoping to see a certain person."

With the recon complete, George and his teammates would put together the framework of an operationalized plan to detain the targeted individual and submit it to their command. If the intel was solid, a team of Delta Force operators would be flown from Fort Bragg, North Carolina to execute the mission.

During Hand's time in Bosnia, they launched Delta three times to spin up for live missions, where they staged out of huge clamshell aircraft hangars at the airfield. All three instances resulted in mission success with PIFWICs captured and brought to justice.

One mission had a particularly humorous ending when Delta's B-Squadron was spun up and flown in from Bragg. When the operators arrived at the target location, "there was a car there and a couple of local boys," Hand said. "There was the guy, hogtied, with blood running down his face." Their target had already been detained by locals and was handed over to Delta.

"They were frustrated because they didn't get to do a actual capture mission," Hand said. "They were calling him a GIFTWIC."

When not actively running recon missions, Hand stayed busy with other tasks. Able to speak a half dozen languages, he was proficient enough in Serbo-Croatian to get around on his own and often was detailed to scout out locations for new safe houses and negotiate prices with the locals. 

As an operator, he was also deployed to Somalia after the ill-fated Operation Gothic Serpent made famous by the film Black Hawk Down. He was also sent to Colombia to help hunt down wanted members of the Cali cartel, where he trained a host-nation counter-terrorism unit and on occasion went out on missions with them.

In once instance, he wore a ski mask and picked open the lock to the door of the target building that his strike force was to hit. Inside were stacks of money, but the cartel members had fled. From Hand's point of view, their mission was stymied by the fact that the unit's commander was secretly on the cartel payroll.

"He made the cover of Colombia's answer to People magazine. He came out on the cover of the magazine laying in bed with a hooker, who was a cartel set up," Hand said.

During the wide-ranging interview, Hand also spoke about training for missions that never happened in Libya, Haiti and preparing to capture weapons of mass destruction in enemy hands.

Hand is nearly finished writing a book about his own experiences in the military and is also ghostwriting a memoir for a special operations aviator.

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.