CABANATUAN, Philippines – CISAC Senior Research Fellow Joe Felter co-teaches the popular class, “Face of Battle,” which dissects several of the great American battles such as Gettysburg and Little Bighorn.
Few of his students, however, likely know of his connection to the little-known, ongoing battles raging across the world in southern Philippines.
Felter was awarded the Assaulter Badge on Feb. 8 by the Philippines Army in recognition of his support in forming the country’s first counterterrorism unit. The Light Reaction Battalion has been battling terrorists and rebels in the Southeast Asian nation for a decade.
Felter, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel, worked closely with Brig. Gen. Dionisio Santiago, the now-retired Philippine Armed Forces chief of staff, to form the elite unit during his stint as a U.S. military attaché in Manila.
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Dionisio Santiago, former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, looks on as Felter receives his award.
The battalion, which fights communist and Islamic militants in the restive south – where more than 40 years of insurgency has taken thousands hostage and claimed more than 150,000 lives – will be expanded to a regiment of 1,500 soldiers.
Felter received the honor during a 10th anniversary celebration of the unit, which was initially trained, equipped and sustained by the U.S. Special Forces.
“It was a real privilege to help the Philippine military establish this counterterrorist unit,” Felter said. “I have so much respect for all they do here and the challenging missions they take on, so it feels great to receive this honor on this special day.”
The ceremony was held at Fort Magsaysay in Cabanatuan, the storied city where the Japanese imprisoned Filipino and American survivors of the brutal Bataan Death March. Filipino and U.S. forces liberated some 500 POWs at the end of World War II in what has become known as The Great Raid. The two militaries remain closely allied today.
The certificate that accompanied his badge of honor says Felter “exerted tremendous effort” in convincing the U.S. government of the need for a counterterrorism unit in the Philippines. Once he did so, he helped activate and train the unit – and kept on the U.S. Special Forces to remain involved.
“Col. Felter has exemplified the essence of soldiery in the fight against terrorism, earning him the admiration, gratitude and respect of the officers, men and women of the Light Reaction Battalion and making him worthy of the honor of being a member of the Counter Terrorist Brotherhood,” reads the certificate.
Felter has spent a decade building an unprecedented database with Filipino military colleagues and coders which tracks tens of thousands of terrorist attacks in the Philippines since 1975. His Empirical Studies of Conflict project is also building insurgency data in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan and Vietnam.