Graded and Recorded Phase – Reality Sets In

All the practice days were over. At this point, we would move into a final week of harder movements, with heavier loads and additional stress added. What’s more, we would not retire to the comfort of barracks and master chef Mike W.’s cuisine. At the end of the day, if you were not pulled from the course for being too slow, quitting, or losing your map or rifle, you found yourself trucked to a gouge in the mountain, free to make a shelter, a fire, eat, and sleep.

During the practice weeks, it was with great hope and expectation that you would manage to pull all of the mistakes from your arsenal of idiocy and shake them out once and for all. At the end of the final practice week, you dragged all your injuries—to both your body and psyche—along to meet the fearful specter of the selection and assessment course. In this phase of the course, where once I felt a harmony of equal participation between my mind and body, my body began to slip away from its contribution to equality. My mind would have to step up and shoulder the extra burden.

Priorities of work once a shelter was set up were:

  1. Take care of your transport mode (your feet)
  2. Eat preferably hot food
  3. Hydrate
  4. Sleep

There would be a great deal of sleeping like logs and babies in the mountains on these nights. The difficulty came in getting oneself up at zero dark thirty, packing up, and making sure you were standing out on the mountain road when the truck drove by to get you. Miss the first truck? The second truck would be by later to bring you back to the barracks, then to the airport.

My First Night On The Mountain

My first night on the mountain, it had poured rain, but my extra attention to my shelter the previous evening had paid off. My cover had remained strong, and I had remained dry for the most part. In fact, through the night, I slept somewhat oblivious to the torrent raging “outside.” When I awoke, my head felt like it weighed 20 pounds. I had to manually bend my lower joints, working them back into motion.

I got up early to have a hot cup of coffee. This was my plan the previous night. The cup of hot coffee would serve as a psychological maneuver to get myself out in front of my mental demons. I packed up quickly first, then slowly burned a cup of cold brown water into steaming java. I was supposed to only suffer this morning, but my coffee was beating down the system, cheating it out of delivering at least one more punch in the gut first thing in the morning. I threw a glance skyward to sift through stars for a wink to a friendly constellation. The firmament revealed nothing.

At our starting point, my truckload of candidates sat silently in the back of the truck, shivering and silent, all heads bowed. Each ran through his own rendition of mental preparation. Some call it “soul-searching.” I have always hated that phrase. Soul-searching is something hippies did at Woodstock. The men in this truck were proven, experienced, hard pipe-hittin’ sons of bitches. They meant to be here and weren’t ashamed to admit it.

As the numbers were called and the truck began to empty, it began to rain again—not a downpour, but a dribbling rain. Oddly, a bird in a tree just next to our truck began to whistle and chirp and sing in the most spirited fashion, totally out of keeping with the weather and setting. Rob L.’s number was called. He exited the truck, profiting by the height of the bed of the truck to slip on his ponderous rucksack. Just as he left for the front of the truck, he paused, looked back at us with an expression that would christen the day, and said, “That bird…that bird can go fuck itself!” And he was gone.