Damn the luck; damn it all to hell.
I separated from Delta and the Service on 01 January 2001. Eight months later the reason to stay in Delta materialized — eight months too late. By that January, all I had left to look forward to was my fourth trip to the Balkans. And by the Gods and all that I hold holy, I just didn’t want to go back there. “Mission burn out” crossed my mind, and then it crossed it again. I was double-crossed by mission burnout and I knew it.
I’m a firm believer in the adage: “Worry not, for you’ll know when your time to act is nigh.” True. I can tell you how in recent years I sat wringing my hands and agonizing if or when I should get my ruined knees completely replaced with rusted iron hinges. Suddenly there was a bright star in the night sky of the east and I knew that Mary had been fooling around again.
Seriously though, the resolution to get the surgery was so profound that I actually went to meet my orthopedic surgeon with a toothbrush in my pocket, in the magical event that there might be a cancellation that very afternoon. I even told the Doc that I had the toothbrush and meant business, despite my asymmetric behavior. After my first surgery, my Doc asked me in recovery when I wanted to schedule the other knee. I replied: “Daktari, I still have my toothbrush with me.”
So as it happened with me when my time in service was up and I had the Balkans yet again before me. It was in my backyard tilling in our vegetable garden with my (then) wife. I was tilling away in the lettuce row when the lettuce suddenly spoke to me. I froze in shock and listened: Lettuce leaf: “let us leave, Geo… let us leave now; let us leave Delta and the Army… let us be free!”
“YES, LETTUCE LEAF; LET US LEAVE NOW!”
“What??” My (then) wife puzzled.
“Oh, uh… I’ve decided just now that my time is up and I’m getting out of the service, my (then) Dear!”
By the time the 9-11 attack came just eight months after my separation, we had 13 former Delta men working in various projects in Las Vegas, NV as subcontractors to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). All 13 of us had bailed from Delta within very short intervals of each other, each man carrying a wealth of knowledge and experience from the Unit with him.
Try as we did, we could not be thought of by the rest of the workforce as anything other than “Snake-Eaters, Baby-Killers,” and by the DOE manager herself: “The Crazies,” — real creative, that manager: she thought we were all crazy, so he called us “The Crazies,” you see what she did there?
We came together and talked a few times, we Delta brothers. We vented our frustration over having anguished the decision to leave the Unit, only to have this Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) burst out. We straw-manned ideas, spit-balled, what-iffed… what if we asked to go back?
“I’m not a flake,” I stated flatly, “I’m guilty of no pretense here. I left to be as far away from dead and soon-to-be-dead people as possible,” I lamented once and for all. If I contemplated what an impact the departure of 13 senior Delta Force men in a short amount of time had on the organization… I was about to find out for sure.
James Nelson “Conan” Sudderth, the kingpin of our group of 13, the man who searched out and hired us all announced to us one morning:
“Sergeant Major (SGM) Robert Hallings is coming in from the Unit to talk to us all this week. What about — your guess is as good as mine, but I think we all can put two and two together to make three.”
After a pause: “That’s short, James.”
“That just what I’m getting at; the Unit is short and want’s us back. Everyone makes his own decision on this. It won’t be a group-think event. Everyone is his own man; every man forges his own fate.” A wiser group of statements Conan never before made, and we were all on board.
SGM Hallings arrived within days to a warm greeting, one that was reserved for Unit men by virtue of their stellar reputations, the specific reason for their visit notwithstanding. James reserved a conference room for our privacy. After a good bout of catching up, Rob finally got to the brass tacks:
“I’m pretty sure there is no real mystery why I came here this week. The Unit is asking for you all to return to duty at Bragg. We’re prepared to make you any number of offers to get you back. Honestly, it really almost doesn’t matter what you do if you come back, as long as you come back. If you aren’t sure what you want to do, I have dozens of exemplary ideas where you can work and what you will be doing. The rest of you can decide what you want your job description to be and present it.
You are welcome to operate as far forward or to the rear as you want. By that, I mean smashing your fist in some toad’s face in Asscrackistan or staying back in S&T training new Operators. Hell, if you want Mary’s (Commanders’ decades-long secretary) job, as long as you can collate, welcome aboard — we’ll issue Mary a Mag-58.”
The job descriptions captivated the room. Some wanted to hear the ideas and others threw examples out to SGM Rob. He almost appeared to be a “yes-man,” a thing that coaxed a little suspicion from me: “Hmmm… yeah sure, just get them out here and we’ll figure out what to do with them later.”
Everyone in the room spoke several times when Rob looked over and asked me:
“Geo, your reticence suggests you have no interest in coming back, is that right?”
“Well no, Sergeant Major, I have a tremendous interest in coming back, it’s just that I made my decision to leave the Unit, and when I left, the Unit didn’t lift a finger to try and get me to stay. That tells me that the Unit didn’t lose any sleep over my departure and will continue to snooze just fine without me.”
I felt like a monumental penis for having said that, but I was smug in my position of having said in official forum exactly what I had said many times in sidebar discussions with my brothers. I felt quite devoid of even the slightest doubt that I would be the only man still working their place with the DOE within the next two weeks. That was ok with me. I was no great leader, but I didn’t ride well on bandwagons either.
“Every man is his own man; every man forges his own fate.”
James N. Sudderth had a penchant for a very irritating practice, well… he had a bunch of irritating practices but one, in particular, was to spring a decision scenario on people, putting them on the spot and staring them down waiting for a satisfactory answer. Those of you readers that knew James are nodding right now.
“GEO!! You’re the Captain of a sinking ship in a terrible storm. You have two lifeboats each with enough room for all of your men: one is powered by an engine and the other only has manual oars. You can take one or the other but not both — in one aphoristic sentence explain your decision and why — GO!”
I had made my decision immediately but wording the response was causing my brain to red-line torque. For a reason, a word-play joke popped into my head, and with a minimum of creative flow I returned:
“Muscles rush in where wizardry fears to fool.”
I glanced at my watch (for effect) and left the room. Before I reached the first corner James had popped out into the hall and voiced firmly: “That was badass, George… you’ll write your own tickets in this place — BADASS!!”
Well, the first ticket I wrote for myself was to stay in Vegas with no return to Ft. Bragg and the Delta Force. Sure, I regretted my decision not to return to the Unit, but I regretted my decision to stay much less. And in the end, of the 13 of us Delta brothers in the DOE clan, zero returned to Ft. Bragg.
“Worry not, for you’ll know when your time to act is nigh.” I can paraphrase this with words from venerable Chief White Eagle, Poncha Indian Tribe: “For so long as you are enveloped by mists, be still and wait, wait until the sun shines through and burns away the mist, as it certainly will… then go and act with courage.”
By Almighty God and with honor,