“Sssup James, my brothu?” I worded carefully. No response. James had ‘the look’ on his face that was just ambiguous enough that you could tell he was really mentally focused on a thought, or he was pissed… a dangerous pair of curtains that Carol Merrill is showing us on ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ Fifty-fifty odds… I don’t like it; at least in Russian Roulette you had a one-in-six chance of living.
“James… Conan… James are you bent at me for something?”
“Huh? …no Geroge, we’re fine” he insisted. “And I’m not pissed at that shit you said about my foot in Key West, heh heh heh.” So it was the former that gripped him. I couldn’t resist because I am a nosey sort, or at least I fancy myself one. I stepped over to the door jamb of his team room to have a hear.
“You, what are you doing right now?” Conan woofed.
“I’m getting ready for the range, James” his newest charge returned.
“Nope, your not doing that right now, because right now you’re doing something else” James redirected.
Handing the man a quantity of money: “You’re going to the commissary; get some turkey, enough for the whole team. Get roasted white meet only already sliced… and I want my change back!! He shouted at the back of the quickly shrinking head of his envoy as it headed for the building exit.
“We’re trying a new diet over the next two weeks.” James explained to the rest of his assaulters. “Ok lets get what we need for the range and get going; we’re running down to the range this morning.” Ok so that’s a mile one way in assault kit, just sayin’.
“George are you coming with us, or is there some other reason you’re standing outside my tearoom door?” So it appears I will be running to the range in full battle rattle this morning,rather than my half hour of women’s yoga on TV. It wasn’t so much the run down and back, as it was the combat shooting drills that sucked so much in between:
Quick draw dry fires x 100 to warm up
Shoot a string, pull ups, shoot another string
Shoot a string, push ups, shoot another string
Fireman carry a ‘wounded’ brother, strong arm draw and engage targets on the move
100 meter sprint to firing line, engage targets with primary, transition to secondary
Do it again
At 0945 we are are airborne shuffling back to the building for PT, which started typically at 1100hrs.
“James, I feel like an oxi-moron running to ‘PT’… what are you going to do today for ‘PT’?” I huffed.
“Today is the ride-swim-ride (stationary bike for 30min, lap swim for 30min, bike for 30min), you want to do it with?”
“Naw James… I was thinking more of doing the walk-eat-walk to the chow hall, come with?” I puffed.
“Heh, heh, heh… sure, after PT George, now lets go!”
And so it went.
Now it was curious to me why James eventually got sent ‘upstairs’ to work in our Squadron HQ. All the guys there were operators, but typically they were operators weaning off of an injury, or affliction on the home front. There was nothing wrong with James as I saw it. Maybe the boss was just after the best man for the Operations Sergeant Major position. Why not? Treat yourself, I always say; make things easy on your self.
Mistake: the incumbent commander’s personality was a purple polo shirt, and James’s was a yum-yum yellow pair of parachute pants. East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet. In this case the twain that would carry James away from this situation had already left, and he wasn’t on it. Worse, the fingernails on that chalkboard were extremely durable, and would last at least ten months.
Sam rushed passed me: “Geo, going upstairs to chat up the Smadge (SGM), BRB.”
Suddenly Sam was already back, too early to have talked to the CSM. “Are they at it again, Sam?” “Yes, the happy couple is at it again.”
And they were; they were Conan and the Boss (Sqdn Commander) putting yet another shouting match behind them, one of many the day had to offer.
“You know that’s just embarrassing… I mean, how does that look to the other squadrons?” Sam conjectured.
It really didn’t matter how that looked to others in the building, because that is just the way it was, and it was going to be like that for another ten months, so get onboard, or get outboard as I always used to say. I was a clever guy with words, or so I fancied myself.
At the end of another day I headed to the showers to peel off the evidence of another grueling day. James was just coming out, but stopped to sit wrapped in a towel and typing on his pager. I looked down involuntarily at his damaged foot, rendering its eternal Vulcan Salute. “Live long and prosper” always flashed through my brain; I didn’t even realize I was doing it.
I jerked my glance away from the foot and saw Jame’s face. It was too late, he had already locked eyes and had target acquisition; all that that was left was to estimate range. “You have something to say, George?” James challenged. “Uh, it uh… it looks like what you are typing there looks pretty gosh darned important, Conan… so you better keep typing.
I swiftly pulled my towel off and hung it on a hook: “Oh, now I’m naked, James, and that means nooo bodily contact! That’s the rules; I don’t make them, I just meticulously follow and enforce them. Now I would remain in the shower for the next ~190 minutes, ensuring that James had left for the day, and taken his knife hands with him.
In Camp Ethan Allan Vermont our squadron was deployed for cold weather training, EXTREME cold weather training. On this day we were preparing to be inserted into woodland with heavy snow for several days of rough winter terrain movement. There were to be live fire assaults on target objectives.
Heading outside to jettison some trash into the dumpster, I spied James, not Conan, sitting on a log fence looking downcast or maybe pensive—I don’t know because it was just too hard to figure out James’ moods or emotions. I just wanted to make sure I would spin the cylinder on that roulette pistol as few times as absolutely necessary.
“Sssup, my brother, taking a break, James?”
“You could say that; the old man just fired me.”
I was stunned, no really stunned. I stood a spell then pulled up a spot-o-log next to James. I slowly put my arm up around his shoulder, then immediately jerked it back.
“James, this is fuqt up… he is bat shit crazy for firing you. Headquarters will be sucking wind for months trying to recover.” I consoled.
“Oh, I’m not worried about it George, this is just the first time today; he fires me several times a day.” James stood and stomped snow from his Danner boots. “Well, back to work” and he walked toward the building entrance.
“James, aren’t you fired, you just said so.”
“He fired James, I’m Conan and I’m going back to work.”
Bam! Just then he sported an odd George W. Bush smirk on his face, like he even surprised his own-self with his unintentional serendipitous wit. That’s just how it was with James and the old man; they fought like obstreperous siblings and the boss fired James two to three times a day; so it went.
I won’t tell the story of Operation Acid Gambit and how Conan and other beasts of A Squadron stormed the Panamanian Modelo Prison to liberate incarcerated CIA operative Kurt Muse. The story can be captured here:
James suffered bullet wounds and lost part of his foot when his helo was shot down trying to leave the prison roof with Kurt Muse. The helo came down hard and pinned his foot with the skids. James was trapped, pinned by his foot for several minutes. He struggled and kicked until with super-human strength he was able to break himself free, tearing off several of his toes.
James came back to Ft. Bragg where he was placed in Womack Army Medical Center to recover. When his doctor for the first time saw James with his glassy eyes and empty stare, he ordered: “This soldier needs to come down off of Morphine immediately?” James recovered enough to return to duty with Delta, but he would suffer through 71 operations and medical procedures over the years, corollary to his wounds suffered during Acid Gambit.
Kurt Muse and James became great friends, maintaining contact and getting together once per year with the rest of Muse’s Delta liberators at a reunion hosted by Kurt himself. I became friends with Kurt years later purely through my association with a man greater than myself, James Nelson “Conan” Sudderth; there can be only one. I loved James like a brother, a big brother; he protected me and brought me up in Delta. He was three years younger. I swear I have a tiny tear in my eye, one that I will never own up to.
(Dedicated to Ms Rita Malone Paul)
Photo of downed helo courtesy of www.psywarrior.com