Thursday, May 28, 2009


“Snake Eaters” is a military slang term for Army Special Force (a.k.a. “Green Berets”), and YES we DO eat snakes. This is part of our survival training, although I have slayed and eaten snake in the field to supplement the rations, and because basically, snake tastes good.

I have encountered snakes (and eaten them) throughout my career. I have eaten cobra in Thailand (and drank the blood mixed with Mekhong whiskey), Eastern Diamondback in Mississippi and copperhead North Carolina. For what it’s worth, I prefer rattlesnake; tastes like chicken.

Back in '99 I did a six-month stint in the Ivory Coast. The base we stayed in – Camp Akuedo – was adjacent to the city dump; the place was overridden with vermin. Vultures, kites and ravens patrolled the skies. I didn’t have a solid bowel movement the whole time I was there, and every day we either killed a cobra, some kind of evil viper, or one of these lobster-sized scorpions that infested our Company area.

Well, we had this Warrant Officer Eric Red (best damn Warrant I ever worked with and one of the bravest men alive). For this deployment he was the Company XO, and he lived in the Company Supply room. The word around camp was he kept a mamba and a mongoose in there with him. Because he visited the Embassy a couple of times a week, Chief Red operated a check cashing service out of the supply room; he’d have us go in and stand in front of this desk he’d made out of MRE cartons, it was just like the old-time pay call.

One day I asked him, “So what’s this about a mongoose and a mamba, Chief?”

“Oh, I kicked the mongoose out. The damn thing moved his family in, and they kept me up all night with their fighting and scurrying about.”

“Uh-huh. So, uh, what about the mamba?”

“I kept the mamba – it keeps the Africans out.”

“But . . . but . . . but . . . it’s a MAMBA, Chief!”

“Yeah, but it’s only a GREEN mamba,” he shrugged.

Whenever I went in there to cash a check I always looked over my shoulder for the mamba.

A reader who does the 3d World Bush Tour quite a bit asked me for info on what to do in the event of a snake bite. This opened a can of worms, to coin a phrase . . .

As far as first aid goes, I refer to Army Field Manuel 21-76 SURVIVAL (which I helped write).

The advice from the SAS Survival Handbook, Vol I – Outdoor Survival by John ‘Lofty’ Wiseman (HarperCollins Publishers, London 1996), stresses avoidance:

Snakes have excellent camouflage, only movement gives them away. In snake-infested areas you will pass many every day without ever noticing them.

The chances of being bitten are small and all but the worst cases recover. In Malaysia, more people are killed each year by falling coconuts and in India rat-bites produce many more cases for hospitalization!

A bite from a poisonous snake should always be taken seriously, but there are degrees of severity. When biting in self-defence, many snakes inject only a little venom, occasionally none at all. If the snake is out of condition or has recently bitten something else, its venom may not be fully potent and there may only be a little in its venom sacs. Clothing or shoes may have deflected the full force of the bite. In many poisonous snakes the dose of venom needed to kill a man far exceed the amount that can be injected in one bite.

Funny thing is, I’ve always worried about falling coconuts. Seriously. Never knew they were THAT deadly; I just always had a sort of feeling. Just goes to show . . .



  1. In my time in service, I met only one snake eater. He was the physician who gave me my ETS physical. I don't think either one of us much enjoyed the experience. My limited experience aside, much respect to you guys.

  2. Grew up (as much as I did) with UDT/SEAL family on one side of us, USAF SOCOM down the block family, dad's first cousin who was an "official US Army MACV/SOG medic snake eater". One of my current shooting buddies is ready reserve Scout Sniper.

    By my experience and reckoning, ya'll are all snake eaters. :-)

    That's a great line "it's only a GREEN mamba"....

    1. Mambas really scare me so much: one bite and you are death. simple and lethal.

  3. Hehe. My kid had a game where his character would " roger, I'm in snake eater mode". He'd ask me what a snake eater was, I told him that book is closed son.

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  8. You have no idea what you are talking about.

    John F. Kennedy came through the Fort Bragg, Camp McCall Demonstration area, part of which emcompassed survival techniquies.

    When John F. Kennedy got to the survival demonstation area, my first sergeant was standing their with a live rattle snake.

    Kennedy asked him - if you do not have a knife, how would you kill it. Whereupon, my first sergeant bit the head off the rattle snake.

    Kennedy went down towards the other demonstration areas, and stopped. He turned to the General and said "I want 10,000 more troops like this. Whereupon the Colonel walked back to my first sergeant who was and E-5 at the time, and told him to go put on E-7 stripes.

  9. Oops. forgot to say - Every other branch of the service teaches survival training. Those branches teach how to live of the land. That includes eating snakes.

    There is only one unit that is called "snake eaters" and that unit is called the "Green Berets," all because John F. Kennedy - after going through the demonstration areas henceforth referred to them as the "snake eaters."