I can define two distinct classes of soldiers training up for the Delta Force Selection and Assessment (S&A) tryouts in West “by God” Virginia:
1. Those who insist that their training regime is the best and only way to adequately prepare for a successful run at S&A
2. Those who quest to discover from others the exact regime that will see them through
I found myself in the second class. I had no mentor in the form of a friend who had successfully made it through, and who could put and keep me on a training path that made sense. I fell somewhat prey to speculations and second and third-hand advice from men that had friends and friends of friends who had made it through S&A.
It was my great fortune to never enamor myself with any one school of advice. Had I done so I might have doomed myself to succumbing to some dolt’s quackery. At some point I was even convinced that the normal human body could not endure the trial, and only by a spirited intake of strengthening supplements could I have a fighting chance.
I had at a minimum the innate grace to forgo that ridiculous notion and move on to the next equally ridiculous one.
Gosh, I can’t remember the name of the man who sold me this snake-oil theory. If I could I would promptly send him a letter of instruction inviting him to kindly slap himself as hard as he can across the face.
He confided the following to me in a low whisper, having looked first to the left and right to ensure that nobody was around and then leaning his head in close:
“The secret, you see, is that the key to accurate navigation in mountains like those in WVA… is altitude. Only with a barometric altimeter will you truly know your exact position on the mountain at any one time. Ok then… you never saw me, man; I was never here!”
And just like that, he was gone. I gazed out over the horizon with a forlorn look. How would I, in the days before the Internet and Amazon’s next-day delivery, being just a man, ever acquire such a thing as a “barometric altimeter?”
But I did it: I bought a watch that had an altimeter in it — Delta Force, here I come! Sadly, where I lived at the time in Florida I was only ever about three to five feet above sea level depending on the state of the tide. Because I had to test my altimeter, I climbed structures as tall as I could find. To my dismay, my altimeter appeared to have a figure of merit in the vicinity of nearly 50 feet of error at any one time. There would be no Delta for geo.
And never mind the altimeter because I hadn’t even solved the boot equation. Somewhere in the world’s inventory of a million styles of macho boots was the magic pair that had the exclusive power to carry a body over the rugged mountains of Selection. They were sure to cost a fortune. But this time I would boast no luxury of having a genius look first left then right, lean his head in close, whisper the name of the magic boots, and then be gone with the wind.
A thing I felt strongly about, one that I would eventually prove to be a worldly truth, was that the unassisted mind and body could make it through the course; that is, the body without Creatine, MetRex, Tyrannosaurus-Rex, power this and ripped-fuel that… feet without Danners, Scarpas, Salomons, Merrells, Vasque, Chippewas, Chippendales…
To denounce the notion of special footwear I took a day to drive the 300-miles to the nearest military clothing sales store at Homestead Air Force Base in Miami, Fl. There I bought two pairs of the most basic leather boots offered. I labeled them pairs A and B and planned to rotate them equally from march to march. I shut down all channels to incoming black market secrets on how to pass Selection. I accepted the reality that I would win or lose the struggle fuelled solely by my personal spirit and character — this would have to be a purely inside job.
I remember that I would cease my weight training routine in the evenings. There was just no time for that vanity in my regimen. My focus had to be on the conditioning of my legs, back, shoulders… my core that was needed to endure hundreds of miles of carrying heavy loads through brutal terrain with violent altitude changes. Since there was no such natural environment in Key West, I, therefore, took to climbing, while carrying extra-heavy loads, the fire escape stairs on the highest building I could access.
Each morning I would get to work early. I would ride my bike in the dark on a 25-mile trek along the freeway so I would gauge my distance by the mile markers. After my ride, I would do some upper body exercises so as not to completely neglect my vanity sinews. I did (and I am looking to the left and the right, leaning in close and whispering to you in saying this): “Push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, bar-dips, rope climb… ok, you never saw me; I was never here!”
I partook in a specially metered and prepared diet of Campbell’s Split-Pea soup, spooned cold right from the can, Hungry Man frozen dinners, macaroni and cheese sandwiches, Chef Boyardee’s Beefaroni, Ramen noodles, Frito Lay’s chili-cheese corn chips, and the occasional fist-o-gummy worms. The point I’m making here, as I rat myself out at the same time, is that I ate what I always ate: I didn’t eat a special diet because to me that would be admitting to myself that I ordinarily wasn’t living right — an accusation I feel that I was rather above.
(*the author did not, in reality, partake in the jokingly representative menu above)
As often as I could, I made my ruck marches my mode of transportation. I would substitute car travel for a ruck march as a legitimate means to get to a location for an official duty action. That was provided that the action on the other end of my ruck march would allow for a ravenously stinking sweating pig of a man. I always let my ruck dry overnight and loaded it in my car every morning for marches of opportunity the following day.
I fancied marches along the freeway for the mile markers there. Since I typically traveled the same stretch of the highway I gained some mild celebrity from the locals who frequented that same stretch of freeway. I was recognized several times in public venues in town and inevitably queried as to why I was engaged in such a monstrous affair.
SOFREP’s own Skip (Skipper) is such a person. He quite coincidently was in Key West himself during those years and wondered what calamity I had committed that punished me with such a harsh sentence. It is great to hear testimony from Skip for those times when I come to doubt whether I had ever really done all of those things. Well, it is written so it must have happened!
“Excuse me… oh, you mean my SOFREP T-shirt?”
“Yes, I’m a reader. Do you read?”
“Yes, I read, and my father writes for them.”
“Woah… who is your dad?”
“George Hand is my dad.”
“Wow, your dad is no kidding George Hand? I’m a fan of his writing!”
And so it went, as demonstrated by the conversation between my first daughter and an Air Force Pararescueman during a chance contact in Albuquerque one day. She told me about the meeting and she stayed in loose text contact with the man whose name is Able Humble. I thought it was an amazing encounter, beguiling for sure. A fitting moment to all join hands and sing “It’s a Small World After all.”
At some later point she told me that Able was asking permission to contact me in the hope of gaining some advice on how to train up for Delta Selection, a thing he was strongly considering:
“Absolutely not. I didn’t have a mentor so he can go figure it out on his own. He’s probably a punk anyway. Well, he’s obviously not a punk being Pararescue… but he needs to just handle it.”
Ok, that was multi-faceted bullshit right there. That isn’t how I treated anyone ever. I needed to have something to say to the man because he thought enough to ask me for help. I knew, as well as the next Delta bro, that there is nothing, nothing in the world you can tell a brother that will enable him to pass the course. The problem was that he had to walk the walk, and all the talk in the world wouldn’t help him.
Able called and we talked. Then we talked some more and some more. All I concentrated on was what I did to prepare with what was a pretty grass-roots and simple philosophy. I advised him to never get caught up on what the men around him were saying about what they thought was going to happen. I advised him not to listen because none of them really knew for certain and because Delta Selection was an individual effort:
“Be a man, but be your OWN man, Able.”
Able made it through. Yes, he did. He kept me posted by text and even called on the occasions when he progressed. I can say that I worried about him, but always with pride and confidence.
He passed through Albuquerque one last time to collect his belongings and move to Ft. Bragg. We met on his last evening in town to tell Selection stories and pat each other on the back for a couple of hours. The frosting on this cake was that Able had another man in his class who passed with him — that man is the oldest son of one of my own assault team brothers, who was killed in action while we were both in the unit together. Soon the son will be occupying his dad’s former wall locker in our team room.
No man needs a mentor; they want them or they do not want them. Some men, I reckon, were just destined to have mentors and the mentors destined to have them. There was just a thing about Able and his request for an audience with me: a thing I couldn’t touch or even point at. I just really felt like this man truly didn’t need my mentoring whether he realized that or not. But I also felt in the very mid-region of my heart that it would be a well-deserved and generous thing to put his mind at ease.
By Almighty God and with honor,
Dedication for this work goes to one of Delta’s newest men, Sergeant Able Humble.
This article was originally published in 2019.