Editor’s Note: Geo’s memoir, “Brothers of the Cloth,” a true account of special mission unit soldiers, has sold out in hardcover and will soon be coming out in paperback! You can keep an eye out for it here.
I’m put squarely in mind of an amazing brother of mine who went by the call sign “Crapshoot.” It is the vision of him I see just past his breaching through an incredibly thick steel vault door with a Broco exothermic plasma torch.
Crapshoot half crawled and then was pulled out of the hole in the door like a rat. His face was black and he was coughing, having pulled his gas mask off at some point during his ordeal. He had crawled in there with a full leather welder’s apron on over his combat load. It hung down to his knees and was spattered with slag burns.
His hair and mustache were singed and he had smoke coming off him… somehow. He was helped up and sat down with his back up against the concrete bunker. One man was left to stay with him while he rested for a spell and traded the contents of his lungs for actual air. He cradled his rifle in the crooks of his elbows like a man whose hands were burned.
One by one we wormed through the hole in the gargantuan portal door. We all regarded Crapshoot in a positive manner as we passed him: a sap on the leg or the shoulder, a punch in the arm, and a compliment for a job well done. Crapshoot had an imitation grin on his face, but otherwise closed eyes that were so glad to be done fencing with a demon for the last 20 minutes.
Those were the days of the inception of the Hardened Deeply-Buried Targets (HDBT) problems. The target set that included hunting and accessing nuclear weapons cached in deep underground structures was a unique one, and we had to invent a way to cope with approaching and destroying such threats.
With already full plates on our hands, the HDBT problem was a heaping ladleful of mashed potatoes that started to flow over the edges of those plates. I distinctly remember thinking of my brothers and me as engines that the unit kept trying to put bigger and bigger transmissions on. And when the transmissions weren’t spinning fast enough they just kept trying to soup-up that same engine time and time again — eventually, that engine is going to throw a rod and blow!
If Rod Serling will imagine, we have a fully kitted-out operator ready to lay down some original smoking scunion. Now he has to affect heavy breach operations — how much more can be piled onto this guy?
We practiced chopping through heavy steel vault doors and several feet of reinforced concrete wall — and doing it all while down in bottomless holes and (seemingly) endless tunnels and drifts. So many problems are associated with that sort of work.
The atmosphere deep underground may be poisonous or nonexistent; we had to wear open-circuit pressed air or closed-circuit oxygen rebreather systems — all heavy and cumbersome affairs. Now, a breacher wielding a welding torch has to drape himself in a full posture of leather floor-length aprons to be protected against molten slag. Everything was hot and heavy and men keeled over out “cold” from overheating. It was dangerous work, I’m here to tell you.
Every heavy breach seemed to sport its own personality, each being a major brain-buster to defeat, as well as a physical nightmare to tackle. The buzz phrase for every event became:
“HOLY CRAP — NOW WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO??”
Beyond learning the function of the breaching tools, systems, and apparatus, the pattern of maneuver was on us to figure out. As with most special operators, the temptation was very often too great for the pipe hitters who were responsible for pulling security while the brothers breached. Security kept letting themselves get sucked into the breaching work like they were on the Event Horizon of a Goddamned Black Hole!
I mean some folks might be happy as a pig in shit that they are not caught up in a particular struggle within their eyeshot, but pipe-hitters seeing their bros having a tough time with a thing are all in. “Sucks being you” is an expression that is vigorously filtered through the Unit’s personnel firewall. Indeed, it occurs to me that I may have never heard: “Hey, can you give us a hand over here?” a phrase that is simply not necessary with pipe-hitters.
The matter ultimately came down to this: the men can no longer be expected to fight and breach. The decision was clear, though it gave rise to the next problem — how to remedy that issue into a cogent solution. The answer in, my what-it’s-worth, opinion was brilliant: We outsource all our breaching to the Chinese! I’m absolutely kidding about the Chinese; I actually wouldn’t even outsource rectal boil lancing to those haters.
The Unit formed another internal group that was to be the dedicated heavy breach cell. The men to handle the work (this was the brilliant part) were 18-Charlie Engineer sergeants from the Green Beret (GB) Groups. It was a stellar deal for the GB Engineers who wanted to be in the Unit but were not necessarily able to pass the Selection and Assessment trials. It also provided a sergeant major with a leadership position to fill, thus allowing him to remain in the Unit.
Such was the fate of a master sergeant (MSG) getting promoted to sergeant major (SGM, Smadge) in Delta. There was no guarantee that there would be a position in the Unit for the new SGM, resulting in him being reassigned outside the Unit — even back to Big Army! That horrifying threat alone was enough to make a brother resort to snorting crushed glass.
The new 18-Charlie GB engineer pipe-hitters did a bang-up (no pun intended) job. Well, they did an absolutely remarkable job at an ultimately stellar level. Not only did you have a shit-hot team of heavy breacher bubbas, you still had all the treasure trove of skills and abilities that Green Berets — arguably the most versatile race of people on the planet — bring to every situation.
“By George (no relation), I do believe I am one brilliant son-of-a-bitch!” suggested the Unit commander regarding his decision to establish the heavy breach cell.
“Yes Sir, I do believe you are ready for the post-examination!” brown-nosed his suck-up executive officer.
“How did the breaching get done before the heavy breach cell came to the Unit,” a junior operator once asked me.
“We did it ourselves — we had to. We slung our assault rifles and we breached,” I replied to the incredulous little brother.
It sucked, really (REALLY) truly sucked, but I’m glad I was involved at the inception of the heavy breaching capability. I respect my time standing around in pissing rain with 70 lbs of assault kit and breaching gear hanging off me while staring at a failed breach:
“HOLY CRAP — NOW WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO??”
In fact, the huge concrete core-cutter barrel did grind its way through the approximately three feet of solid concrete. The cutter was shaped like a huge three-foot hardened steel cup that mounted to the wall hydraulically, spinning and cutting deeper into the concrete as we dumped a steady stream of water into the hollow of the cut. It was a welterweight chore to keep it running.
“WATER UP!” and a pipe hitter with gat slung across his back came jogging up toting five-gallon water cans — one in each hand.
“HEY, YOU PHUQRZ NEED TO GET BACK ON SECURITY — DROP THOSE WATER CANS!”
With the cut complete the core cutter barrel was yanked out of the hole, but the concrete core slid right out of the barrel and lay there in the hole like a giant plug — enter:
“HOLY CRAP — NOW WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO??”
“By God… that is enough!” hissed the Grinch.
The Grinch, who was always already pissed off from the very beginning of EVERYTHING, had had enough. He stomped over to a Pinzgauer and started thrashing around with lumber and cargo straps. He configured (I am not shitting you) a battering ram with a 4 x 4 wooden beam strapped firm to the bed of the Gauer protruding about three feet past the edge of the Gauer.
“STAND CLEAR!” someone hollered as the brothers pulled back away from the wall. Grinch backed the Gauer until the ram was just touching the concrete plug. He lined up, then pulled forward about 40 feet, put it in reverse and — slowly at first then picking up speed — he headed at a healthy clip toward the wall aiming for the plug.
The grinch spanked the plug hard and popped it right through and into the building with a helluva din. It had taken one shot, just one shot — badass Grinch!
“I hope nobody was standing in front of that thing!” I shouted to the grinch in the pissing rain.
“I do!” the Grinch certainly shouted back at me with a look on his face that was just a smidge south of enchanting.
We pipe-hitters threw breaching gear away, snatched our gats forward, flung a baker’s bushel of bangers into the gaping hole, and started pouring through the tunnel in the wall, heads-first, spitting lead.
In Delta, it was good to be king, even while snaking through a concrete tunnel in the pissing rain.
By Almighty God and with honor,
This article was originally published in March 2020.