Rhymes With “Most”

“Cos” was the nickname I gave to my brother, Mark Stephens. It was the second syllable of the Spanish version of his first name, Mar-COS. He must have liked it because I heard him explaining the second-syllable-to-the-Spanish-version-of-his-name equation on more than one occasion. That told me that to him; it was worth the work of having to explain the origin of his nick to keep it — Cos:

“He’s the mos, from cos-to-cos!” was a catchy catchphrase I liked to lay out there on occasion if I sensed Cos’s morale sulking.

Cos and his wife, Ms. Caitlin, as they appear today. The cartoon feature image of Cos is, of course, a gross exaggeration, but then again… not really that gross of an exaggeration at all.

Climbing the Army Pipehitter Ladder

Cos was a signalman in the First Green Berets (1st Special Forces Group), where I was assigned in the mid-80s. He was not a formally qualified Green Beret at the time, rather working in the technical field of communications support. He and I attended a rigorous formal communications course that lasted several weeks. Cos and I got along famously and spent a great deal of time together working through the drudgery of the course.

In the years after my assignment with the first Green Berets, I got the news that my good buddy Cos had sought after and passed the six-month-long Green Beret Qualification Course (SFQC).

“My man Cos,” I mused, “is now a pipe-hitter — none other more fitting… hell, he was always wielding pipes as far as I’m concerned, but I reckon now he is slinging those pipes with conviction and a diploma!”

My assignment post-First Green Berets was at the Combat Diver Qualification Course (SFCDQC) teaching pipe-hitters how to conduct tactical underwater infiltration swims. The students there swam horizontally through 3,000 meters of ocean at a 33-foot depth, breathing pure oxygen, surfaced, and beat the crap out of enemies of the United States — with pipes!

Cos in his days after the Army, still keeping the faith with regard to dive operations. Here he is seen just before entering the water with an advanced pure oxygen rebreather apparatus.

Imagine the pride I felt to see Cos also become qualified in the specialty so coveted by all men in the Special Forces community — Combat Diver. My, but Cos had certainly come a long way and risen to such heights in the SF community. I felt an almost (almost) fatherly sort of pride. I just didn’t know that feeling at the time because I had no children back then.

Duval Street, Key West

I recall talking to Cos out on Key West’s famous Duval Street on no particular evening. While we two chatted, a young woman of undisputed good looks darted by and stuffed a slip of paper into his hand. The surprised Cos had a glance at the paper, which appeared by my intelligence-collecting prowess to be a seven-digit number — not unlike that of a typical phone number. Cos stuffed the paper in his pocket, otherwise losing no detectible meter of our conversation.

It was at that moment that I realized for the first time that Cos was quite a dashing sort of fellow — easy on the ol’ eye, as they say. I have no appreciable respect for a handsome guy who women fall over. But Cos had discovered a way to be devastatingly handsome while still avoiding the simultaneous urge to lose his freaking mind over it. That combination also served to validate his superior intellect. In that, tremendous respect for my brother Cos was manifest.

My post-SFCDQC assignment was with the vaunted Delta Force. “No place to go but up,” I always said. To me, Delta had always been a bright star much farther beyond just the horizon as to ever be untenable; that is, untenable to me. But SFCDQC proved to be a decent stepping stone to Delta. The cadre there were already in splendid physical condition and mentally hardened from the daunting training required to perform combat diving.

Cos on combat operations in Afghanistan.

A Pleasant Surprise

As I reported to Delta — the Unit — I was dumbfounded, stunned, flippin’ freaked the phuq out (to borrow a clinical term) to find the perennial Mark “Cos” Stephens already there in the building traversing the long expanse of the building’s spine. Cos had applied for a position with the Unit in their Signal Squadron performing his Alma Mater skill as a technical communications specialist. What a gargantuan thrill it was to be back in elbow range of the venerable Cos!

I brace myself from seated posture as I tell you of the best of it: Imagine my (almost) fatherly pride when I tell you that from his position with the Unit’s Signal Squadron, Cos applied for and went to the Unit’s Selection and Assessment program — and passed! Imagine then my pride when Cos came to my own Squadron… and then to my own five-man assault team. I was so beside myself they had to assign me a second locker next to my own.

Fate can be a princess akin to her being a fickle bitch — for every action exists an equal and opposite reaction. Fate it was that brought us Cos, or was it fate?

Slammer: “Geo, we’re getting four assaulters assigned to A squadron from this next graduating OTC class; B-Team is understrength by two assaulters, so you’re getting one. If you know anything about any of these new men, any druther, I’d like to hear.”

“Easiest question you’ve ever asked me, Slammer — Mark Stephens is better than as good as they come. I have personally known him since he was a support bubba in First Green Berets with me back in the 80s. He’s a wrecking machine that eats special operations qualifications for dessert. He’s strong, fast, smart as hell, motivated, circumspect — handsome too, if that means anything to you — not that there’s anything wrong with that, Slammer.”

The Slammer left me standing there with one last glance from his skunk eye.

Cos was just one of those rare brothers for whom the six-month probational status for new guys just didn’t apply — it broke down quickly, and Cos was a full-caliber squadron player in just a few short weeks. The keep-your-mouth-shut policy for new guys did not favor the squadron where Cos was concerned.

A cartoon from the very first days of Cos participating in A Squadron training operations liberating some Prisoners of War (POWs). Cos hotwired a dump truck in a time of need and raced through pine woods to gather the POWs, at one point coming close to taking out our snipers holding down a security position. I took my jump-off for this cartoon from a reference one of the men made to the blocking position nearly being mowed down by the dump truck “like bowling pins.”

In his case we wanted him to speak at every opportunity to gift us his opinions and expertise in tactical matters where assault plans were concerned. Let’s just face it: blanket policies, rules, and regulations… never work well across the board when humans are concerned. There are always exceptions to everything. That was Cos; Cos was an exception to most things.

The God of Gear

Cos had a remarkable penchant for advancing tactical technology. He kept abreast of the latest ideas and configurations for assault hardware. If there was a report or rumor of any new kit available at our central issue, Cos deviated his route immediately to swing by for a pickup.

A cartoon bagging on Cos for the uptake of so much assault gear.

Some folks called that being a “Gear Queer,” but to call Cos that was to have a skewed definition of gear queer:

Gear Queer: [ɡir kwir] NOUN (usually a male) a person who has gear, who loves gear, loves to touch gear and smell gear, to wear gear… to be born again into a world where only gear holds the key to salvation and true happiness.

Yeah, that was not Cos… Cos wasn’t giving gear the shelf-life test; he was giving it the sink-or-swim test all the time, kicking its ass and seeing what it was made of. Worthy gear became part of Cos’ exoskeletal assault kit. That which did not make the grade could be seen wandering aimlessly out in a fenced-in pastoral setting of rolling green hills, nibbling dandelions and swishing away gadflies with its tail.

Another cartoon ribbing COS for the volume of assault kit that he accumulated.

Cos pulled more than his weight on the team. In an environment where men were in a constant gridlock to figure out ways to honorably cut down on the amount of kit they wore, Cos was adding more capability to his config. Adding kit meant pulling more than his weight. Every ounce of kit meant something positive to the team, and we knew it. It also meant something negative to Cos personally.

On this, Operation Gunsmoke, Cos is clearly kitted to the nines as always — more so than the rest of us. (L-R) author, Cos, BP, Jefe, Guy Cutino (KIA).

Cos’s joint and musculoskeletal systems have an elephant’s memory, though. He suffers today for every ounce of extra weight he carried. They say it’s not so much the years but the miles, and Cos put in some pretty extraordinary mileage in just a short span of years. But like his attitude toward equipment performance, his attitude toward his own moxie is the same; he continues to live life in a large fashion.

I’m put plumb in mind of the first urban combat training mission Cos, and I were on together because I’m the type of person who remembers most worth things — or at least fancy that of myself: Cos stood in the end position of an assault stack we five were in, poised to enter a building. As unfortunate as it was sudden, an explosive charge detonated on the kit of the assaulter just next to Cos. The explosion made a spectacle of the man who carried it. I grabbed my aid kit and started an assessment. Cos was having a moment. I grabbed his arm:


With a fake grin and a vigorous head shake, not one of “no” but rather of “whew!”

“Holy Shit, man!”

I was annoyed: “This is how it is — pull yourself together, man.”

Then I looked down to notice that both of the legs of Cos’s assault trousers were blown away by the blast, and dozens of holes in both his calves were oozing blood. I was stunned:

“Cos, here you go, take it easy, brother — it’s ok, man.”

And Cos immediately went to work to render aid to the stricken brother.

For his performance in combat, Mark “Cos” Stephens was awarded one Legion of Merit, Five Bronze Stars for Valor, and Four Purple Hearts for wounds received in operations in the Middle Eastern Theater of Operations. Cos, a grateful nation salutes you with pride and sincerity!

By Almighty God and with honor,
geo sends

— Editor’s Note: This story by Geo Hand first ran in SOFREP in February 2020. Let’s all do Geo a solid. Go out and buy his book and visit his website. I promise it’s all good stuff. — GDM

Cos and his equally badass son, Josh Stephens.