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.

It was a towering 12 stories high, and I commenced climbing up and down the outside fire escape ten times with a 50 lb. backpack (rucksack) twice a day, at lunch and after the duty day. The cadre before me that tried out and left for assignments with Delta all went in pairs. They teamed up and trained as a buddy team to keep each other motivated and have company. In the beginning, I had my good bud Joe “T-Bone” T. to train with. Eventually, it came to a family decision that he would not try out for Delta after all.

In those days, I had no children and an independent wife. T-Bone had three magnificent daughters and gained even more of my respect and admiration for choosing in their favor. That being said, I continued to have at it alone. It is just as well, as selection was entirely an individual effort.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.44.11 PM

I typically started the day off with an early mountain bike ride in the dark to the neighboring annex of the Naval Air Station (NAS) Boca Chica. That was about a 20 mile round trip, and I always wore combat boots on those rides. At lunch time, I would ruck the BOQ building the usual 10 times. On my first couple of mornings at the BOQ, I kept running into a maid who would use the fire escape to move between floors. I was either going up or coming down when she saw me and always gave me the most puzzled “WTF” look. Eventually I remarked to her in Spanish, “No me recuerdo en qual piso me quedo.” (I can’t remember which floor I am staying on.) I won a chuckle and a dismissal as the crazy gringo.