With “Murphy’s Law” just a few weeks away from publication, I thought I might share a few stories that just didn’t make the cut for the book. When I wrote it, I really focused on what I thought were the most important or interesting aspects of my life and discarded a lot of material that I know has been written about by others. For instance, stories about the experience of going through Infantry Basic Training or Ranger School.
I forgo most of those trips down memory lane in the book to keep things moving and give the reader some material to chew on that they haven’t seen before. By page 10 of the book I am attending the Ranger Indoctrination Program and by page 20 I’m on my first combat deployment. That said, I’ve had a few people ask me to share some of these stories that didn’t make it into the book or on our podcast. In a recent podcast, I told the story about how my basic training platoon was stealing Choco Tacos from the chow hall, inevitably got caught, and then blamed the entire ordeal on the mega-shitbag in our platoon who always shamed out of training. Another early reader of “Murphy’s Law” asked why the story about my Golden Patrol in Ranger School was not included.
As noted, this story doesn’t appear in the book, but makes for a pretty funny anecdote to publish here.
There I was, a brand new E-2 in 3rd Ranger Battalion. I had been there maybe two months when the battalion sergeant major told our company first sergeant that A/co was not sending enough of our guys to Ranger School. We were light on tabbed Spec-4s at the time. So, in accordance with the sergeant major’s wishes, all the non-tabbed enlisted men in the company were sent to Peden Field to take a PT test.
The top performers would get to go to pre-Ranger and then Ranger School. I was probably the most cherry guy in the company at that time and was no stellar performer as I had already racked up a summarized Article 15, but everyone without a tab had to go take the PT test. I was 19 years old at the time and being super motivated helped make up for my lack of job competence. I maxed out the PT test and, by decree, was then sent to regimental pre-Ranger.
Holy shit, did that suck. My ordeal there was even worse by virtue of the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Having only been in Ranger Battalion for a few months, I was tactically inept and had zero leadership abilities. I was a good private despite the occasional fuck-ups, but that was about it. I certainly wasn’t ready for what has been called the hardest school in the Army. As you can imagine, I struggled through Ranger School. I got recycled in Darby Phase because the ink on my map sheet bled when it got wet in the rain. I had the correct hole punch, proving that I had found my point on the Land Nav course, but the number of the point that I had written down was illegible. “At this time you are a no-go at this station, Ranger.”
I got to recycle but had to wait until the next class started after Christmas exodus. I think RTB kept us around just so they had some scrubs on hand to do details. Waxing and buffing floors, trash details, polishing brass door knobs (seriously), and that sort of thing. The holdover/recycle platoon was called Vaghn’s Platoon, but I figured that I had been there so long they should have renamed it Murphy’s Platoon.
While there, a Ranger instructor (RI) caught us stashing Playboys in a Monopoly board game box in the barracks. He kept screaming at us for violating the rules, and while chewing our ass he would say things like, “Why did you have pornographical materials in the barracks?! You know you are not supposed to have pornographical materials! Pornographical materials are against RTB rules as clearly stated in blah, blah, blah.” I thought it was hilarious that he kept repeating the word “pornographical.” When the RI caught me smiling he smoked the whole platoon.
Anyway, we did get two weeks of Christmas exodus. When we came back I started up Ranger School again and soon found myself patrolling the forests of Ft. Benning. In Darby Phase you are graded on squad-based patrols. Some RIs are very professional and do a great job at teaching, coaching, and mentoring. But they are also evaluating you and it isn’t their job to bake you cupcakes and give you attaboys. Well, except for this one abnormality called “The Golden Patrol.” The Golden Patrol is sort of a myth and legend. It goes like this: A Ranger instructor has been assigned to Ranger School for several years, and before he gets reassigned somewhere else, probably back to the infantry, he will do something special on the final patrol he grades.
I kind of thought it was bullshit, and the notion was the furthest thing from my mind. Like I said, I was motivated but clueless when it came to patrols. I knew it and was sure I was fucked, but per the Ranger Creed I wasn’t allowed to quit. I’d give my best effort in the meantime.
One morning a new RI came on duty to grade my squad on their patrols. My name got called for a team leader position. In other words, I was in the hot seat and would be graded that day. If I failed, I’d probably recycle again. That, or I’d get kicked out of the school entirely. Our patrol moved out in a wedge formation and maybe got 100 meters before our new RI started throwing artillery simulators. They whistle and then go bang like fireworks do.
Whenever a Ranger patrol comes under indirect fire they have to conduct a battle drill called, you guessed it, “react to indirect fire.” You hit the ground until the simulated fire explodes, then get up and haul ass as fast as you can to get out of the kill zone. Note: This is difficult to do while carrying a hundred pounds of gear. You have to keep running and bounding until you reach a covered and concealed position. Whenever we did, our patrol would then get hit with another arty sim from the RI.
Man, that must have gone on for a couple of klicks at least. Our squad was completely fucking smoked.
Our RI saw how we were dragging ass. He told us to stop and gather around. We were going admin to do a mid-patrol AAR (after-action review). That never happens. He had us line up in a half circle around him. I remember looking at the faces of all the guys in the squad. We were smoked. The RI asked us how we thought the patrol was going so far. He directly asked each of us, one at a time, going down the line.
I answered the same as everyone else: Our patrol looked like shit.
“You’re right,” the RI said. “This patrol does look like shit.”
We all stood in shameful silence.
“But I don’t give a fuck because this is my last patrol and all of you are getting Gos.”
This woke me up out of my low-glucose coma. Say what? This must be one of those Ranger School hallucinations you hear about, I thought.
The RI then dropped his ruck, opened it up, and started handing out food. Snickers bars, sandwiches, sodas, the works. I was still wondering if this was real as I shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my mouth. Our RI then told us how this was going to work: We were going to build a campfire and hang out and eat food. When the hit time arrived for our ambush, we would simply walk up and occupy our ambush site, expend as much blank ammunition as we could on our OPFOR, finger drill the rest of the ambush, and then come back and enjoy the campfire.
And that’s exactly what we did. I thanked our RI for a job well done and wished him luck in his future endeavors. I had a “go” for my graded patrol and would be moving on to Mountain Phase of Ranger School. They say the Golden Patrol is a myth, but for me it was more like an ecclesiastical experience.
“Murphy’s Law” is available in hardback, ebook, and audiobook on April 23rd, 2019.