Alas, my story starts before then and it is one that made an everlasting impression on my character. I begin my experience as I drive through the gate at Ft. Bragg, fresh from OSUT and Airborne. I had just turned 18 and still had my parental consent forms hot in my pocket that allowed me to sign up at 17. I was a cherry to the Army, Infantry, Airborne, and being away from home on my own in general. Needless to say, much confusion ensued as I entered Ft. Bragg – “Home of Special Operations Forces.”
MapQuest (yeah, remember that?) had gotten me this far but it was up to my own sense of direction to get me to the SOPC holding area. After driving around for what seemed like an hour, partly due to apparently HAVING to stop for EVERY soul that wanted to cross the road, I found a sign that said JSOC and a guarded gate. Now, you would think I would know what this means but I don’t and my only guidance from Ft. Benning was that “It’s a dump, you should find it.” Thanks bud. Whoever you are, I hate you.
So, since this is the first sign I see that had three of the four letters I was looking for (SOPC? JSOC? close enough) I turned toward the gate. I am in a ’97 Dodge Dakota, looking frail and too small to be the correct owner of the vehicle as I approach the gate. I see some fences and a bunch of wood line with no buildings in sight. I thought this had to be it, SF guys tucked into the woods away from everyone else, ya I am going to be a Rock Star rolling through here. I roll down my window and hang my arm out with my ID in hand. I begin to talk to the guard (POG I thought to myself) and I rattle off way too much information than needed. He looked me up and down, absorbed my ignorance, and cut me off midsentence. All he did was point in the direction I came from and said, “Turn around, leave, don’t come back.”
I was crushed. This guy wasn’t joking. Denied access? I was thinking I was black listed and kicked from the program. Even that I was maybe a day late and they started without me. I drive further with my tail tucked between my legs and stop at a park that looked friendly. I then do what everyone does when they run out of options, I called mommy. I explained everything pathetically and she said, “I’m on it, I’ll call you back.” Not but 30 minutes later, my mom calls back and says, “Someone should be calling you soon.” A guy calls me, chuckles when he confirms that is was my mother that had called him, and told me how to get to where I needed to go.
When I show up, it is a dump as described, but the guy that was on the phone immediately tells me to cut the crap with the “yes sergeant, no sergeant” and waved off my picture perfect parade rest. His demeanor was calm and confident. I smirked and thought this is where I belong. He then asked if I had an E-Tool. I said yes. He followed up with, “Dig a hole, you’re late.”
This was just report day. We had many more experiences, including 24 hours of changing into different variations of uniforms (ex: Class A jacket, PT shorts, combat boots). Each piece had to be in perfect inspection condition, because we were inspected every hour of the 24 hours. If we couldn’t play by “Big Boy Rules” then we received corrective training or “F*ck-F*ck games” as described.
But the best experience that inspired this post came from when we were being taught SF history and a cadre randomly asked for someone to stand up and sing the National Anthem. Someone stood in front of the class, and we all got on our feet. He started singing and was nervous. The first line wasn’t even finished and the rest of the class joined in and we shook the walls of the compound that day. Each of us with hand on heart, praising our great nation deep in the North Carolina woods. No audience, no celebrity destroying its melody, only the men that would directly defend its honor.
I’ll never forget it.