(Author left, and assault team engaging targets with Mark 19 in extreme cold weather environment)
Since I first started my physical training program(s) at 13 years old, I never took intentional periods off for rest: not a month, not a week, not a day. There certainly were days where it was not possible to train, otherwise I was putting in the time daily.
Even trapped in the in-law’s house for Thanksgiving or Christmas (yes Christmas!!), doomed to endless hours of eating and watching mindless football, I would customarily bail out to hit the neighborhood streets for a solid run, punctuated by an eventual vault over the fence at the elementary school for pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, bar-dips at the playground jungle gym.
Back home at the Unit, a typical week would look like this:
Early morning arrival for PT consisting of either a five mile run in under 40 minutes, an eight-mile ruck march with Selection standard wight of ~50 pounds, or a run down range to complete the formidable obstacle courses our engineers built for us. Coupled with a decent bout of stretching, these events covered all four pillars of combat physical training.
In the late morning, the squadron stopped training at ~1030hrs for PT, which for me consisted of either a two-thousand meter swim, or weight lifting, which in general rotated between push and pull exercises; push one day, pull the next day. That was a one hour event followed by a mad dash to the chow hall in the last half hour prior to 1300hrs.
After work, I liked to calm down with a turn on the stair climber or stationary bike, or a bout on the rock climbing wall.
Several events I would engage in to focus on individual pillars included work upstairs in the boxing ring: heavy bag work, speed-bag work, and sparing among the pure-of-heart fighters that fancied the challenge. I had the good (or bad?) fortune of routine boxing, kick-boxing bouts with American Bad-ass Dr. Dale M. Comstock, Josh Collins, Jim “Smokey” West, and Gracie Jujitsu brothers Royce and Rorion Gracie.
Another event I tackled intermittently I called “Climb-Push-Climb” entailed a climb up a five-story climbing rope in the gymnasium, followed by a set of 50 pushups, followed by a climb up a five-story caving ladder that hung next to the rope, descent from the top on the stationary steel maintenance ladder, topped off with another set of 50 pushups. That was purely training for strength.
In West Virginia Selection I am put in mind of the Dietary Supplements Store appearance the inside of the barracks presented. There were Power Bars, Power Jells, Power Powders, power this, power that, just POWER!! I was afflicted then by the overwhelming feeling of being Kwai Chang Cane standing in front of the three hundred pound caldron of roasting-hot coals, wondering how the hell he was going to be able to lift and displace the caldron with my bare forearms. “How can I possibly make it through this course, being just a man… one without power bars, jells, or powders? All I had was a granola bar that my then wife sent with me. She had no clue what I was about to embark on, but I accepted the granola nonetheless, beguiled by her sterling intent.
I drug my barless, jellyless, powderless ass to the first event of the course, a night forced march with heavy load. It was an individual effort that would travers some ~20 miles. I stood on the cold rain-soaked ground littered with bar, jel, and powder wrappers that the north wind kicked up and spiraled upward in an edie of inversion. I had with me my granola bar, air, and tap water in my canteens to catapult me through this, seasoned by the annoying sound of Swing Low Sweet Chariot playing in my head.
A whistle bleated and our mass commenced a speed march of unknown distance and unknown overdue time. The power crowd left me in their wake as they sped off. Within the first hour I elected to woof my granola bar down, simply so that I would stop thinking about it non-stop. To my chagrin the ground took an unanticipated upward slope that continued for near two miles.
I had already stuffed the whole bar in my cake hole, when I realized my work rate was spiking my breathing rate, and a mouth full of Californians (flakes, fruits, and nuts), was preventing me from supplemental breathing through my mouth. I began to feel hypoxic, and ended by spitting out the granola in an isolated projectile purge.
Then a thing began to happen. By my estimate I was roughly 50% through the march, when I nearly stumbled over a mass in the road to my front. It was a brother who had collapsed.
“Jesus… get out of the middle of the road, (BKSE)fucker!!!(BKSE)… oh man, I’m sorry… are you alright??”
“Yeah, yeah… I’m done—just go.”
“Poor guy… well, you’d think he could at least move out of the center of travel, right??”
There was then another mass, and another, and a batch of masses… these were the power boys, the supplemented soldiers, the camp-booty commandos, and I was putting them behind me. They had almost what it took, they had the strength, the endurance, the speed, the flexibility… ah, but they were missing the abstract fifth ingredient; they were missing that mental audacity to give pain, fatigue, and despair the middle finger and drive on; they were missing determination.
In my squadron, in the realm of of the four pillars the power bars still existed, as well as the jels and powders. Men took Creatine, MET-Rx, T-Rex, Malcom-X, X-Box and X-Rays religiously, to their expectation and content. I became open-minded to it all eventually, and vowed to go on Creatine for a three month trial period largely out of curiosity for what it might do for my strength game.
I dedicated the training time to the weights, downing my Creatine dutifully. Station after station I was soon stacking out the machines. I hit the bench press with a personal goal of pressing 300lbs. In the end, I made it only as far as 285lbs. The first time I decided to crank out a mile run from down range to the squadron bay, I was horrified that in less than a quarter mile I ground down to a complete halt, feet clad in lead boots, heart racing, chest burning. I was pathetic. With that, I was satisfied with my honesty in evaluating training amid the power crowd. I found my balance between the pillars shifted wildly to the power side, leaving a deficit in the other pillars, as I saw it.
I faded by to my former training routine, resuming my vigil of anxiety over failing in combat for lack of the best balance I could achieve among the four pillars.
At home on the weekends, I typically came in to the Unit once to workout moderately, or sometimes I would go to a closer gym on main post Fort Bragg. At home, I had a treadmill and some other exercise apparatus. If nothing else, I had a rucksack and miles of pine forests surrounding my house. I could just set my watch and push into the thick for a stalwart rampage.
Throughout the training cycle in the Unit, all were subject to the many “Gut Check” episodes from team, troop, and squadron-level leaders, who all planned no-notice alerts to return to the Unit. Some eight or so hours later one might finally be coming to the end of a marathon event that might have started off with a parachute drop far off from the compound. The return route would include running, rucking, bicycle riding through sandy fire-breaks, miles of paddling down rivers, obstacle courses, live fire drills, anything and everything the leadership could pile on, to prove their men were the toughest in the Unit.
While these events were ball-busters without peer, they were adventurous, and brought teams together with a solid bond of brotherhood.
It calls to mind my own awareness of nuance I noted among the men of Delta, one that I had not acknowledged in other Special Operations Forces I served with. Conversations with my brothers outside Delta tended to gravitate toward stories to the effect: “remember that time we drank the beer, and got so drunk, and it was so funny how drunk everyone was, and that made us drink more beer and have more fun and beer…?
In Delta, after our sprint from the gym to the chow hall, conversations embraced a penchant that drove stories that more so went: “Remember that ‘death-march’ on skis we did that night in Camp Ethen Allan Vermont, that night it was 45 degrees sub-zero? How we scratched and clawed our our way though some of the worst conditions imaginable? We thought we might even lose a man or two to that extreme climate. Remember that?