“Yeah, well, there’s strong and then there’s K2 strong,” was a catchphrase among the men. I just didn’t get it. As I saw it he was medium in every way: medium build, personality, intelligence, spirit.
I just didn’t see where the super strength part came into play; perhaps I eventually would.
In my day, the Unit was a fairly even split with half of the men coming from the 75th Ranger Regiment and the other half, including me, from the Green Beret Groups. To us, the Rangers were rigid meatheads. To them, we were lazy and cheaters. I sheepishly agreed with the Rangers‘ assessment of us Green Beanies — in fact, it is the principal reason why I left the Groups to vie for a position with Delta.
At first K2 and I rarely spoke. I still remember the first time he spoke directly to me during our Selection and Assessment course. It was the night before our final test of strength and endurance. We were given a chance to sleep for almost three hours. Twenty men hit the ground to bag out. I and another man from the Groups stayed up and started exchanging a litany of disparate nonsense.
K2 sat up, looking like a mummy in his bag. He unzipped only to revealed a disenchanted expression:
“You guys mind shuttin’ your Goddamned pie holes?” He zipped up and laid back down.
“That’s the first thing he’s said to me this whole month!” I whispered to my bro. “Same here!” he whispered back.
Ah, but we whispered! You see, us lazy cheaters were at least sensitive to the fact that we were jerks for talking while the men tried to sleep. Moreover, we both felt a distinct aura coming from the man whose strength wrought an aphoristic statement from his brethren: “the night is as long as K2 is strong.”
Lazy and, to the degree that back then I might have been, a cheater, I still didn’t need Albert Einstein with an easel and pointer stick to explain to me the purely negative ramifications of disrespecting K2; more productive hobbies I could easily have found. What’s more, K2 didn’t sport an instant replay or a rewind. He said things once only; if you missed it you asked someone: “What did K2 say?” but you did NOT ask K2 to repeat himself — it was a thing you simply didn’t do.
After we graduated we moved on to the advanced skills training phase, an event of some six months in duration. The heavy lift subject for us was Close Quarters Combat (CQB), a subject for which Delta has no peer. It’s a subject that we treated with a total immersion intensity throughout the six months of our skills phase.
Precision shooting, surgical strikes, repetition, maximum lead sent down range. We fired so many thousands of rounds downrange that we got to the point that we could, on many an occasion, see our .45 caliber bullets fly toward the target. All sceptics feel free to line up in front of me and argue that statement; I’ll take yooz all on.
My brother Sam Booth Foster told me one day on the range:
“Every time I fire my pistol I can see tiny gold specks fly from the chamber. It must be tiny bits of brass ejecting. Do you see it too?”
“No, Sam, but at night I see a gargoyle come into my room and rummage through my sock drawer to pull away a couple of singles and leave me short pairs. Do you see that?”
(The plus side of Sam being a certified, laminated card-carrying sociopath is that you couldn’t hurt his feelings with remarks like that. He understood that he just didn’t get the feedback he was after, but then forgot about it and moved on to the next thing.)
Countless days and the thousands of bullets whizzing by, inches from every one of us, rendered a couple of holes through pant legs. That was cringeworthy but so far nobody was getting hit. That is, up until the day K2 got hit squarely in the leg from a 9 x 19mm round from a Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun. The stray round had travelled along a wall and punched through K2’s leg.
Once the target was secure K2 pulled up his trouser leg and observed his wound. He approached the instructor in charge of the day:
“I’m hit,” he stated as flatly as if ordering a cheeseburger from Wendy’s.
“What do you mean you’re hit?”
“In the leg, I’m hit in the leg.”
“With a bullet, I got shot through the leg just now with a bullet.”
“Well, Judas freakin’ Priest… try to calm down will ya, K2!?!
K2 was hit with a thrown round that had missed its target. It was a good thing it had happened in training, as once assigned to a Sabre Squadron a round off-target could get a man reassigned from the Unit. K2 looked instantly worried — not about his injury, rather about his ability to remain with the class.
We returned to training K2-less, as he was taken to the compound clinic for an in-house treatment — to take him to the main post hospital would raise unnecessary attention. His wound was through-and-through soft tissue trauma. No bone was broken. But it was still a lump of lead that entered a human body, travelled all the way through it, and came out the other side.
The decision was that K2 could remain in training for as long as he felt he could continue. That was great news — except for the bad news, which was that we had a ten mile run scheduled for that Friday. It would not be possible for K2 to finish that. The collective question from the class was if K2 could skip or at least defer that run until later?
The answer was that he had to complete all events with the class.
It was a gloomy Friday morning when we collected to start the run.
“How’s it going, K2?” I asked.
“Not so good, Geo… those twinkies and raisin vinegar I had for breakfast this morning are really talking to me,” he (jokingly) confided.
I chuckled and slapped him on the back. We ran and K2 ran. He ran in the middle of the pack with his head up and an almost indiscernible limp. We whispered back and forth that K2 looked great and how great it was that he looked so… great!
At perhaps the six mile mark K2 slipped to the back of the pack slowly. His head was bowed low and he was no longer paying attention to his surroundings. He ran the next couple of miles with an intermittent skip, as if he were trying to hop on his good leg. We stressed over him.
Eight miles in K2 fell back behind the pack. Falling back is not falling out, we postulated — he was still in the run. Two men fell back to run with K2 to encourage or even pull him along.
“Get back up in formation!” admonished the cadre.
That was certainly the end of it, as nobody dared to disobey ANYTHING at this point in the training course.
The two men stayed back with K2. Another man fell back and then I stuttered my step to join the pull for K2.
“If you don’t finish with the formation you will not pass the event!” the cadre warned.
K2’s shoe was soaked in blood from where his wound had begun to seep. It made a squishing noise with each step. K2 regarded our staying back with him with pain, disbelief, and more pain still. He couldn’t run any faster; he just couldn’t do it. We were of the unified mind that we weren’t going to leave him.
And then a thing happened.
Ahead of us, the Delta cadre sergeant looped his formation back around and brought it up behind the K2 clan at a reduced speed. We all finished with our heads up and our K2 out front. The sergeant quickly slipped away.
In the mingling sea of back-pats and handshakes, K2 grabbed a shake from me thanking me for what I had done. I “confessed” to him that I was just lazy and a cheat and used him as an excuse to fall back and take a gravely-needed rest, a thing that made him grin a powerful K2 grin.
“Good luck in training today, Geo,” K2 bid me as we parted.
“You too, K2 — break a leg, aha!”
In some cases it may take you a lifetime to finally recognize the true strength in a person. For me with regard to K2, it had taken only ten miles.
By Almighty God and with honor,