Green Berets with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), accelerate their Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 as they start their first lap in the Mint 400, March 06, 2020, in Primm, Nevada. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Moeller).
Most car owners would not drive a Ferrari into a war zone, for the same reason you would not drive a Humvee onto a Formula One racing circuit. But that logic did not stop a team of Green Berets from hopping into a historic off-road race through the desert that neither they nor their vehicles were ready for.
“We are excited to see how we compete and see where we stack up with the industry professionals that are here,” said Capt. Eric, the commander of an operational detachment alpha (known as “A-Teams”) with the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), in a recent Army press release. Eric’s last name was not disclosed.
“We have these vehicles loaded out how we would have them for combat and we’re excited to push their limits and see what they’re capable of,” he added.
Earlier this month, Eric and his fellow commandos raced in the Mint 400, a 400-mile race through the desert outside Las Vegas, Nevada that first started in 1968 and “is considered to be one of the most challenging and prestigious automobile races in the world,” according to the race organizers’ Facebook page.
The event hosts an average of 500 racers driving 80 classes of vehicles, from million-dollar trucks to Volkswagen Bugs, the page said. But even in that motley company, the Special Forces A-team stood out. After all, Green Berets and their equipment are not designed for racing, they are designed for war.
“These vehicles are not built as race vehicles, they are not built for speed, but we are looking to push the limit with them,” said Eric. “We’re constantly looking to develop ourselves and our equipment and anything we can do to take us outside our level of comfort is great for us.”
Any U.S. service member worth their salt knows the phrase ‘train how you fight,’ and what better way to train for mobile desert warfare than by beating your truck over hundreds of miles in Nevada? That was part of the appeal for these Green Berets, who wanted to put their Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1s through its paces. The lightweight GMV 1.1 is a recent addition to Special Forces fleets that can quickly move crews of up to nine soldiers across the battlefield, according to the Army Acquisition Support Center.
“When going off-road and staying off-road in rugged and extreme terrain across hybrid mission profiles is your goal, the Flyer 72 is the vehicle you need,” wrote the manufacturer General Dynamics about the vehicle on which the GMV 1.1 is based.
‘Rugged and extreme terrain,’ happens to be a great way to describe the Mint 400 racecourse, which features jagged rock; deep silt, cactus, dry lake beds and tight Joshua tree forests, according to the race Facebook page. Because the terrain is so challenging, some classes of vehicles complete only two or three laps of the 100-mile course.
The Green Berets in their GMVs were among them, completing two laps for a total of 200 miles. Still, it was an exciting sight to see modern-day military vehicles crewed with real soldiers wearing Army uniforms and carrying weapons coming down the track.
“I’m just so happy the race invited the people who provide our nation’s security, and especially the Special Forces guys because they work everywhere in the world, under every condition you could possibly think of, whether they have to jump out of a plane or come in on a raft they’re going to help defend our country,” said former race director and Vietnam veteran K.J. Howe in the press release.
This was the first time an active-duty military team competed in the Mint 400 in uniform, the press release said, but the race organizers hope other services will get involved too.
“Because the word started to spread, 5th Group was able to put together a couple GMV 1.1s and get them out here fully kitted out to show the American people what we’re all about and what we look like when we’re out there fighting and defending this nation,” said Col. John “Jody” Lynch, a Marine Corps special operations commander who participated in the Mint 400 last year.
Though they did not win any medals, the Green Berets showed plenty of class: they received an honorary finish award because they spent most of the race pulling other drivers out when they got stuck, or sometimes towing other vehicles through the end of a lap so they could be fixed in the pit. As much as the soldiers helped out others, they also learned from their fellow racers too.
“This is the top end of a capability in terms of off-road mobility, and there is so much to learn from this industry, there’s so much to learn in how to drive your vehicles, how to manage your vehicles,” said one Green Beret identified as ‘Albrecht’ in the press release.
“I hope this is the start of something bigger,” he added, “maybe we could even use this as a testing ground.”
David covered the Air Force, Space Force, and anything Star Wars-related for Task & Purpose from 2019 to 2023. He previously covered local news in Maine and FDA policy in Washington D.C. David loves hearing the stories of individual airmen and their families and sharing the human side of America’s most tech-heavy military branch. Contact the author here.