Read Part One HERE
“Good morning, Jimbo,” I piped gleefully as I passed en route to my team room. The Terminate and Stay Resident application in my brain alerted me that the foot steps behind me had stopped when they should have kept going. As I paused at my door to punch in the combo I slung a glance at James just standing there, glaring at me with his precursor-to-knife-hand-confrontation glare.
Oh, no… I thought, it’s that shit I said about his foot that time back in Key West! What time was it this morning? All I knew is that it was still very early and I had already pissed off the mighty barbarian.
“Sssup, my bruthah?”
“My name; my name is James, not Jimbo, or Jim, or Jimmy, or J-Train, or J-Money…” he went on to list the many nicks that bros tried to pin on him over the years.
“And James it shall be, my bruthah!!” I assured him.
“Or it’s Conan,” he replied.
“My name, my name can also be Conan; it’s either James or Conan, my Unit call sign.”
So that went well, I mused as I changed into a Nomex flight suit for the day. I could totally appreciate James (or Conan) wanting to be referenced by his proper name. It wasn’t snobbery, he was just proud of his full proper name.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? Not a big deal, but if absolutely nothing else James earned the right to be called the name he wanted to be called, and in Delta he would only be called JAMES… or Conan. Regardless, any day you could avoid a knife hand confrontation from Conan… I have to say, was a good day; you wouldn’t even have to use your AK.
James, like many men in Delta, was a nice guy… until he wasn’t a nice guy anymore. As imposing and menacing as he could be at (many many) times, he actually had a tremendous heart, one like the Grinch who stole Christmas… but the heart after it grew the three sizes normal and broke that square measuring bracket thingy.
Conan had a good enough sense of humor, but one that cowered to his sense of urgency and pragmatism. I reference a day we were at our parachute rigger shed packing parachutes for a high altitude jump we were to make the following day. James walked in smiling and nodding greets to the boys.
He approached one of our parachute riggers who was lying on his back on the floor with his legs crossed and propped up on a rigging table, hands pillowing his head on the carpeted floor. He was waiting for us to call out for rigger packing inspections.
Master Sergeant Sudderth (MSG E-8) asked the junior Sergeant First Class (SFC E-7) rigger:
“Dig you get my air tanks jammed yet?”
“Nope… too busy.”
Not even a respectable complete sentence to James’ question, and with body language in this case being the other half of the sentence; a supine nap posture does in no way match the declaration “Too busy,”
And, by the way, we are, after all still in the army, SFC.
James took a step back and Conan the Barbarian took two steps forward. His clenched fists of fury slowly stiffened into the straight locked daggers of the dreaded knife hands. The audible pops of his carpel to metacarpal lock called all eyes in the shed to jerk toward the scene. All parachute packing activities momentarily froze in the space/time continuum, threatening a temporal rift.
We braced as: “Alright that’s it motherfucker! ON YOUR FEET NOW GODDAMNIT!!” he roared. The water vapor in the air boiled behind his knife hand as it shrieked toward the expected’s chest, leaving a condensation trail behind it.
The rigger appeared to momentarily levitate several inches off the floor as his body snapped upright and erect into the formal locked position of attention. “Yes Sergeant?” he warbled.
The horrified head of the senior rigger emerged from his nearby office as he recognized the voice of Conan the Barbarian lash out at one of his charges. He lunged forth to put his apologetic body between Conan and the soon departed. He placated and pleaded poignantly, posturing to coax the Barbarian outside, away from the source of his rage where they could barter a solution.
The room remained a vacuum, all animation suspended, glances were exchanged sporadically, and then from afar the sound of a tiny pin bouncing against linoleum flooring tinged. “Um, ri-rigger check… channels are clear.” a man meekly sounded off.
The rigger’s head creaked around to the requester. He walked slowly to inspect, as the white noise hum of the day returned once more: the cyclic whir of the air conditioner, the baluns’ buzz of the florescent lights, the snapping of rubber retaining bands, the “motherfuckers” of men trying to stuff ten pounds of parachute into an eight pound deployment bag.
Being in Delta was cool. We got to grow long hair and put our hands in our pockets. We got to roll our combat blouse sleeves up like kids, and stroll about with our trousers hanging slovenly outside our boots, or Teevas. We got to have as many starches as we wanted in the chow hall, and even two desserts if we wanted. We got to keep crew-served machine guns and live ammunition in our teamrooms, and at times not even know where the machine guns were for a couple of days because another team ‘borrowed’ them without notification.
Yes it was big boy organization with big boy rules, and a monstrous intolerance for even the slightest infraction of the few hard fast rules. But at the end of the day, a Master Sergeant was a Master Sergeant, and a Sergeant First class… well, he was still just a Sergeant First Class. For those who couldn’t quite remember that, there was an old-school song that could pique their memory:
(to the beat of marching drums) “You’re in the army nowwww, you’re not behind a plowwwww,
You son of a bitch, you’ll never get rich, you’re in the army nowwww.”
Conan was a dead-serious realist when it came to training, and ‘train how you’ll fight’ was his mantra. He didn’t believe in decorating his assault weapons with cool guy nicknacks. Target acquisition and fire and control optics had to earn their keep before James would incorporate them. “If it performs well, you take it to the fight; if it doesn’t, you prop a door open with it,” he was known to say.
All of Jame’s gear had to fit the description of functional and top performance. The day he was presented with Bolle (bow-LAY) googles and told they would not fog up, he rendered a cynical glance at them: “Oh really, no shit they won’t fog up?” James grabbed a set of Bolles for each of the men on his team, took them into the squadron lounge and stuffed them into the freezer: “Well see about the ‘no fog’ claim.”
The next morning as I set off on a quick two mile run, I passed a group of five operators running the other way. It was Conan’s killers, each wearing a pair of Bolle goggles, scooting along at a healthy clip, breathing like Clydesdales and sweating FMJ bullets. None of their goggles were fogged up, not one bit. I still have my pair to this day.
If new kit could pass the James “Conan” Sudderth sensibility or operability test, then it was widely disseminated and accepted by the Unit. James would laugh and joke on occasion, but for the most part it was all business, in all seriousness. I could always respect that because Delta was at war 24-7-365 someplace in the world, with no detectable end in sight. That’s why we were all there.
(Dedicated to Mr. Robert Garrett and image courtesy of Robert Garrett)