I was stationed in Key West, Florida, at the U.S. Army Special Forces Combat Diver Academy as a SCUBA instructor. I had intentionally sought out that assignment to avoid a mandatory levy into the Special Warfare Center (SWC)—a duty that all Green Berets inevitably faced in their careers at some point. Rather than get stuck in some miserable assignment, I went proactively after an assignment with the deeply revered academy.

After three years in Key West and facing a deteriorating relationship with the company commander, I resolved to engage in a train-up regimen and requested to try out for the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, the “Delta Force,” “The Ranch,” “The Farm,” “Behind the Fence,” or, as we jokingly referred to it in A Squadron, “The After-Charlie Force” or the “Before-Echo Force”—avoiding the secret letter Delta and opting for its left and right neighbors in the alphabet, Charlie and Echo.

It was an unspoken expectation in those days that the unit commander of a Delta candidate would grant time off during the duty day to allow for the intense train-up for the selection and assessment course. My commander granted zero quarter, insisting that I engage during my own time. My CO at Key West actually came from Delta, and yet he treated me like that. He and I had a distinct rub. None of the enlisted cadre at Key West liked him, and as we barged into his office to tell him so, I noticed I was suddenly all by myself. I recall one session ended with me blurting out, “Sir, you’re a dick!” He glared at me in disbelief and responded, “Well… you’re a dick, too, Sergeant Hand!” A pregnant pause, then I held out my hand. He shook it hesitantly, and I left.

Worse yet, Key West had a mean altitude above sea level of two feet—navigating the nose-bleed hills of West Virginia would be tricky. I took to the highest structure that I knew of to train—the bachelor officer’s quarters (BOQ) building across the tarmac from our campus.