(dedicated to Staff Sgt. David J. Whitcher)

I’m the combat diving sort, a salty sea-faring fellow, that I do fancy myself. I had the great fortune, or the grand derangement, of attending the Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC)—twice! Indeed, I did not make it through the first week of hell and high water.

It was on Wednesday, middle of the week, during the crossover exercise that I suffered a mild shallow water blackout, hallucinating that Apache Indians were galloping along the deck of the pool shooting arrows into the water as we swam back and forth: “Engines!” I cried out, “Circle them wagons!”

Apache charge or not, I was out of the course, of course, and spent the rest of my 28 days in Key West landscaping the school grounds during the day, and performing Gilbert and Sullivan on Duval Street for free beer in the evenings. Great work if you could get it.

I returned to my Green Beret dive team, which immediately deployed to the Frozen Triangle, just south of Fairbanks, Alaska. I had one month before I would return to Key West Florida for my second chance to pass the dive course.

Fairbanks Alaska! Why, I couldn’t possibly divine a fairer place to train up for what is arguably the toughest course in all of the Army. Sure, why not; I can just do some crunches on my bunk, I can toss this mat over there next to the shitters and do some yoga and pilates. Is this great or what? I’ll pop in my Buns of Steel tape as soon as the brothers are done watching Devil in Miss Jones, one of those exorcism stories, me thinks.

In truth, I shoveled a path through the snow between two telephone poles, and packed it down good, giving me ~100 meters of dash room. It was there that I ran hundreds of icy wind sprints in desperate attempt to keep my wind up for the school. My lungs were ever so grateful for the article cyclone I force-fed them. When I was done with wind sprints, I would just shovel snow mindlessly as hard as I could. I imagined it was like chopping wood, only the opposite. By the time I left Fairbanks I had cleared enough space to land the Space Shuttle, and at no time did I even once hum the theme to the Rocky movie. Oh Goddamn… but I’m humming it now in my head and it won’t stop!!

And so it went.