Ernie Tabata – SF Legend – RIP

Ernie

Excerpt from Chapter 3: The Q-Course 

Almost four months ago, while writing about my time in the Q-Course, I wrote a few paragraphs about SF legend Ernie Tabata.  At the age of 84 Ernie passed away on August 10, 2015.  In memory of a great man, warrior and teacher I want to share the passage about Ernie.  

The one thing that all 18-charlies have in common, both current and former, is that they were taught by Ernie Tabata. In 1946, Ernie joined the Hawaii National Guard then went on to fight in both Korea and Vietnam. Ernie retired in 1981 and began teaching Special Forces engineers in 1984. By the time that I went through the Q course, Ernie had been teaching for almost 30 years.  He still jumped out of airplanes and was always an active participant at demolitions ranges. One time he lit himself on fire while throwing a Molotov Cocktail. To say Ernie was crusty is an understatement. He used the phrase “God-Damn” so much that I was afraid God might smite Ernie before our very eyes and then the rest of the class for listening to him.

During classroom sessions, no matter what the topic, Ernie always started talking about Vietnam. When the lesson turned from explosives to living in a Montagnard village in the Vietnamese highlands, Ernie’s demeanor, tone and face changed. On one particular occasion, Ernie told us about a period in the war when the Montagnards (indigenous Vietnamese tribes that detested the Vietnamese. These tribes were aligned with the US during the war and were often trained by Green Berets) turned against his ODA. The Montagnards were fed up with how the war was going and upset with the US Army and government. They had taken all of the ODA’s weapons and were holding them captive. Ernie passionately told us how the Montagnards could have easily killed the ODA, but his team had built up such good rapport with the Montagnards that after a few days the two sides were able to work through the situation without anyone getting hurt. Ernie stressed to us that earning rapport with the locals and your fighting force was the most important thing you could do as a Green Beret. Ernie said that as Green Berets we would always be outnumbered by the indigenous forces we were training.  He emphasized that the guy to our right and left would not be an American, but rather a foreign fighter that had put their faith, trust and confidence in the US and the Green Berets. Ernie made it clear that your indigenous soldiers would only perform as well you trained them.

During this story and all the others, Ernie worked himself into such an emotional frenzy I thought he might start crying. The look in his eyes showed us that he was no longer in the classroom as an 80-year-old man, but a Green Beret in his late 30’s trying to survive in Vietnam. These bits of knowledge were much more useful than anything I learned in the classroom or from a textbook. Ernie’s stories gave me context for the problems I would face in the future and a way to solve them. The time and place of the war may have changed, but the problems remained the same.

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After graduating from Union College (BA), Kevin R. Flike served as a Special Forces Engineer assigned to the 1st Special Forces Group and deployed to the Philippines, Thailand and twice to Afghanistan. On September 25, 2011 during his second deployment to Afghanistan, he was shot in the lower abdomen and was medically retired due to his injuries. In the spring of 2016, Kevin completed dual masters degrees from the MIT Sloan School of Management (MBA) and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (MPA). Kevin is currently employed within the financial industry in Boston, MA.

3 thoughts on “Ernie Tabata – SF Legend – RIP

  1. Where do I begin my name is Brandie.Ernie knew me well I was the photographer the SFA chapter 118 for five years and I can honestly say to you every meeting that man met me with a smile on his face my husband had gone to the Q course as enlisted and also as an officer and he was the best respected man. I know I could see him at the GB club back in the day and he would come with a big smile on his face and a beer in his hand. But yes he was the best engineer we’ve heard about there some stories I could tell but then people would not understand rest in peace Ernie we will miss you

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