In the candidate barracks, we were over 100 strong, and from every walk of the military. There were mostly Rangers and GBs, but there were representatives from many other facets of the Army. For instance, there was the guy from the Army band; I guess all the marching and flute playing got him in shape for the 30 days of humping through West Virginia. There was a chaplain’s assistant, but a hardcore chaplain’s assistant. That said, he would soon find himself riding on the short bus with the flutist back to the airport.
There was a rather youngish, meek fellow from a conventional support unit: no combat patch, no jump wings, no SCUBA badge, no…nothing. He sat on his bunk and listened to the war-story swapping going on between the Rangers and GBs, all in a nervous attempt to gain some notoriety and respect from each other. They were stories about HALO malfunctions, night Dreagger infiltrations, all measure of hooah. The following morning, the fellow’s bunk was neatly stockaded and he was gone. That’s the last time I ever saw the lil’ guy.
The whole thing reminded me of when I graduated jump school at Fort Benning some nine years prior. Twenty-five privates and I were going to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC). We were, at that point, authorized to wear sterile green berets—berets with no unit identification or crest. The 25 all immediately shoved pizza-head berets on their noggins. I couldn’t bring myself to be that presumptuous, and instead stuck to wearing the usual garrison cap that looked like a baseball cap.
We would travel from Ft. Benning, Georgia to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina by charter bus. I was put in charge of the busload because, as a corporal, I was the ranking man. To be on that bus of jackasses was to be on the verge of vomiting for hours on end. Nothing but pompous false macho bravado spewing from gaping cake-holes nonstop throughout the entire trip. We stopped once halfway through transit to eat at a Bob’s Big Boy. I reveled in the chance to get away from this fraternity and stayed on the bus. I sat in back where I could watch my crowd. There was one other man up in front who stayed on the bus as well—one Private Richard P. I remembered him now. I remembered he kept totally quiet and to himself in jump school, and especially on this endless bus ride.
When the frat returned to the bus and we got underway, a two-legged shithead with chocolate ice cream on the corners of his mouth made his way back to me and said, “Corporal, I would like to voluntarily terminate my status in SFQC.” I regarded him with irritation and responded, “OK stud, but could you please wait at least until we get to Bragg?”
One month of pre-phase, one month at Camp MacKall, one weapons phase, and one Robin Sage later, the only two remaining of that contemptuous mob were one Private First Class Richard “Rich” P. and one Sgt. George E. Hand IV. We displayed thumbs up and chin-tipped each other from across the graduation formation. That’s the last time I ever saw Rich.
Back to Delta selection. There was this South Korean officer in our class whose name tag reflected that he was indeed from the Republic of Korea—the letters ROK were followed by his self-chosen American name. In his case, he chose the name Peter. His name tag read, “ROK Peter.” We just called him “hard dick.” Hard Dick was married and his wife was pregnant. Just a short couple of days into the course, he received news that his wife was struggling with a complication to her pregnancy. He threw his things together and was gone in a flash. In his mad dash to leave, he had rifled through his stack of MREs—gutting them for the components that he wanted to keep and leaving the rest behind. One of the guys poked through the remnants and remarked, “You know, all he took was the rice.” You can’t make this stuff up.
As the training began, the crowd began to show signs of the endurance scythe slicing into it. Eventually, the two floors of the barracks were consolidated to the ground floor only, and just one man per bunk. Scores of other misfits went adrift. One poor, disillusioned troop went on record as having lamented, “But…they sent me a letter. They sent me a letter.”
“You moron,” a Ranger leveled, “We all got fuckin’ letters.”
As part of its recruiting effort, Delta sends recruiters to speak and show a hooah film to select groups of troops around U.S. military installations. They also screen records to determine eligibility for service with the unit in terms of rank, time in grade, time in service, record of conduct, etc. Those eligible would get a form letter inviting them to try out. Some poor slobs take it as an “in” and figure selection is just some annoying red tape they have to endure en route to their locker in a squadron team room.
There was the good ol’ boy Hans H. He was a medic from 10th Special Forces Group. I found him easy to talk to and pretty intelligent. He really had his act together for the most part. I did notice, however (in all my own perfection, mind you), that he was a rather particular fellow and a bit quirky at that—very fussy and fretful of germs and dirt and the like. He decked himself in field attire and kit that made him look more like he was in costume rather than uniform. To each his own, I always say.
He seemed to be coping with the phases of the training well enough. Brown’s Mountain walks, instructor-led walks, admin walks, he was still with us. As we drew down to the last day before the final stress phase, where we would not be returning to the barracks at the end of our days, I discovered that my flashlight primary was no longer working, and my backup was mysteriously missing. That graced me with a stiff bout of worry. I observed that in Han’s gear layout on his bunk, he had three Maglights. I promptly requested that he kindly loan me one of his three, as I had none. He paused for a moment, pensive. I wondered what could there even be to think about? He finally explained to me that he could not loan me his Maglight, being that I was probably not going to make it and he would be out a Maglight.
After stress phase, and at the end of the long, 40-mile walk, I sat by the bonfire with my boots off and a canteen cup of hot Long Walker in my hand. I gawked at the stars in the ink-black West Virginia sky, and I thought of the valiant Hans, his superman cape flapping in the breeze behind him, his Batman belt of worthless trinkets around his waist, his brown scarf in sync with his flapping cape, his Robin Hood-shaped cap complete with feather, and his three Maglights shoved up his ass where he lay upside down in the bottom of some laurel-choked canyon. Here’s to you Hans. Karma is a motherfucker, ain’t it?