This article is dedicated to SOFREP brother Jerry “ol’ Jer” Sullivan; thank you brother!
When I grew up I became a professional soldier. That is what I did when I grew up at about 20 years old. I never embraced the sham that I would be in my 40’s one day saying lamenting that I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was never 40 or 50 years young; I was always since 20 years old, all grown up. Today I fancy myself a mature man, that I do.
I never just didn’t want to be the daddy in any situation, the one who was ultimately responsible for something or someone important. I would take over being the daddy from someone who didn’t want to do it. I never wanted to be Peter Pan and run off to join the circus in Never-Never Land. I was a grown up at the stroke of 20 years, and ready to harness and shoulder the responsibility of a man. I was a professional soldier and all grown up.
Me, I was born to carry a rifle; carry a rifle out ahead of a pack. I was born to carry a rifle, to run with a rifle, to carry it out ahead, and bring it back with more than I started with. Since my time even in kindergarten before real school, I knew I wanted to carry a rifle and a heavy load; to run with it ahead of an advancing pack of marauders, a murderous bunch, and return it all with plenty. Imagine my surprise when I grew up and learned that to do that an actual thing. I wanted to do it even more by the time I found it I really could.
And that is what I did.
“We carried 120-lb rucks on that operation,” boasted an SF man in a no-shit-there-I-was article I read once almost through to the end. I had read the same article before authored by a different name, and then another. “What’s with these 120-lb rucks?” I anguished at length. It was some sort of magic number, I ventured, these 120-lb rucksacks! My God, that would be heavy, right?! I wondered in bewilderment.
I reckoned at the time that the 120-lb figure must have worked its way into the (SOF) English language as the catch-all, he-man figure numerical figure, the load weight that surpassed all expectation of the supreme warrior. It was the magical weight of rucksacks strapped by those dauntless few en route to destroy all opposition and liberate nuns and orphans.
I lived in Washington State in those years, serving with the 1st Special Forces Group. My tiny hood was gauged from a vast parcel of coniferous forest. It was a thing to draw a body in, time after time, as I so often took to running and rucking through the green expanse for miles on the weekends.
Rather than a rifle, I carried a length of 2” schedule 40 PVC pipe filled with sand and capped on both ends. I wanted the weight of the rifle to remind my arms of their contribution to the ruck march/runs that they were part of. That and keeping in mind that I was also part of a civilian population of brothers and sisters that wasn’t used to seeing a man run through their backwoods with an assault rifle at the ready. I wasn’t completely without feelings after all.
“Phuq ‘em if they have no sense of humor,” was an available mantra, but I conceded to the notion that it would be easier for me to feign the rifle while appeasing the peasants. There was a peaceful equilibrium in balance, you know. More importantly, I could still club the dog shite out of man or beast with a pipe full of sand, I say! I treated myself to that vestige of justification, at any rate.
So, to put to bed a mystery I packed a rucksack that weighed 120 pounds one day. First of all, it was near impossible to get my ALICE-Large to that weight without shoving in either sand or pure Knox gold, the latter of which I had none of, so sand would have to do.
I was not a wimp in the day, that I positively did not fancy myself. With the weight of the ruck on my back, it was a chore to even stand, and took most of what I could muster to stroll across relatively even ground. Crossing a fence with it on was a near-miss impossibility. I took it off and shoved it under ahead of me, or pulled it through behind me.
Once on the other side, I face the rude dilemma of the absence of the convenient waist-high shelf that I had in my garage to help me get the ruck on. Picking it up and slinging it like a grade school book bag was not on the menu, and I was without a bro for mutual aid. I got it on, but it was neither a swashbuckling nor debonair sight worth beholding by any stretch.
For that matter I didn’t even tote my vaunted sand pipe that day, for you see: ounces were sacrificed that day for the sake of longevity of joints below the waist.
I think all-in-all I covered between two and a half to three miles under that load. Conclusion: hear ye, hear ye, SF beer bellowers: those who would swill beer and bellow forth tall tales of flying bullets and impossibly heavy rucks… don’t ask for me to be on your A-Team because I can’t pole-vault with my 120-pounders! And it was not long thereafter, my friends, that I parted the pretense of bravado, and left SF in my rear and side-view mirrors for good.
I took to wondering how I, who had not yet even left the Shao Lin temple, could attempt to try out for a “Delta Force” if there even was really such a thing as one. The answer lay best in a quote from a dear friend of mine: “Delta isn’t necessarily looking for the best man; it’s looking for the right man.”
Delta, as it turned out, wasn’t after the Gomer Pile who could heft the 120-pounder, or the 150-pounder, or the 200 hundred-pounder, or the sand pounder, or a Napoleon Six-Pounder; they wanted just the man who could carry a wisp of a sixty-ish-pound rucksack, and carry it chasing behind a Mortar Ring through the desert until his heart exploded. They were after perhaps the brother who was too stupid to quit, one that was alarmingly unsure of the procedure on how to quit, one who dreaded to death the aspect of trying to fill out the “quit” paperwork.
“Then that means we don’t have to be a physical Adonis to pass selection!” Yeah well, let me know how THAT works out for ya.
That I reckoned I could do, the running-forever-with-a-heavy-load part, though at five years old the notion struck me as hellishly unsavory. The distinction all the while lay in the eventuality that the men carrying the sterling storybook 120 lb knapsacks all had to stop and rest–some time! I never needed to rest, and I never did rest on my 40-ish-mile blaze through West Virginia. Any thought of rest was just a thing I chose to replace with mental assessments of terrain states and physical position in space and time.
The second I set foot on my trek, my weight never came off my feet until 40+ miles later where they lay next to a wood fire under southern stars. By the end of it all more than eighteen hours had gone by. My feet and especially my heart had no idea what to make of their owner, but this is how it was to be from that point on. I apologized to them both in advance.
There’s a bond that Rangers share, one that SEALs share, the one that Marines and PJs share … and the one that Long Walkers share is no less revered. And even the Long Walk quickly became just a vestige of a stale tale that got swallowed up by much more significant accounts, never to come up again during storytelling; that is, until days like these.
I was born to carry a rifle and heavy load, to run ahead of a marauding pack and return with more than I left with.
“L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace! (Napoleon Bonaparte by way of George S. Patton)
“The heart wants what the heart wants, and will die to get it.” (geo)
By God and with honor,