Sometimes it is weird how a picture or something you see on television can trigger a memory. The odd thing is that many times, these things can be totally unrelated to the memories that they trigger and yet, they all come back in a flash. And this one memory about being a student in the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) resurfaced precisely like that.
This is what happened on Sunday night: My wife and I were watching the Super Bowl and I made a ton of Buffalo Wings and was hoping that the sauce would loosen up my stuffed up sinuses as I’d been sick as a dog all weekend.
So, here we are watching the game and the commercials, which are always pretty good every year, and I see Bryan Cranston (Seinfeld, Breaking Bad) doing a Mountain Dew commercial and quick as a flash when I see that maniacal grin of his as he breaks through the door, I get a flashback to the Q-Course. I immediately laughed out loud.
My wife said that she liked the commercial too. I said, “I really liked it, but it jogged a memory and that’s what made me laugh out loud.” She asked which one it was, and when I told her, in-between scarfing down more wings, she got an incredulous look on her face…” That commercial jogged that memory of the schoolhouse?” When I said that it did, she laughed again. “You guys are soooo weird,” she said. I couldn’t agree more.
“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, the old guy SF class rides again.”
When SF candidates graduate from the SFQC or the Q-Course as we called it, guys were given an MOS of 18E and of course their Green Beret. Most guys pictured themselves as barrel-chested freedom fighters, who carried those Rambo knives that resembled a Roman gladius and would be slinging death to whoever crossed our path, hopefully, one of those evil Commies that we trained for a generation to fight… and never did. Our battles would lie elsewhere, but only Rambo, John J. would go toe-to-toe with the Ruskies… oh and Bill Murray too.
But commo guys should have been given a secondary MOS as 18P (Pack Mule). Because the rucksacks were weighed down with a shitload of heavyweight crapola that didn’t work half as well, nor have as much power as our allies had. And even though we pictured ourselves firing those nuclear-tipped arrows that Rambo had, it would have been tough hitting anything more than five feet away walking hunched over with an enormous green tumor on your back like that.
Back then, the SF commo guys had to know Morse code and it was a big part of the course. Because near the end of the MOS phase of training, Phase II for us fucking dinosaurs, we’d either jump into Pisgah National Forest or Camp Bullis, Texas to make commo shots back to Bragg and use burst and manual Morse. I heard that is Morse code no longer a requirement… dinosaurs.
We had an eclectic group of guys in our class, all great guys, no shitbirds and we just all got along tremendously. But you had to have an extremely thick skin because no one, no one, was immune to the collective ragging everyone got every day.
The cadre told our class leader that we had to have a class motto. “We don’t need no stinkin’ motto was our reply. We went half the course before they made us come up with one. One lame motto after another was shouted out and then quickly shouted down in derision. Finally, the lamest of them all was shouted from the back, “We Won’t Quit, You Can’t Make Us!” That was followed by hoots of abuse, and then one loud voice way in the back yelled out, “FAAAAAACCCCCK YOU!”
Our class leader then decided that THAT would be our class motto. So every morning we’d get called to attention and we’d sound off loudly with our class number and then “We Won’t Quit, You Can’t Make Us… FAAACCCCK YOU!” When we graduated nearly 7 months later, we repeated that one last time in the JFK Auditorium, in front of our families who flew in for the graduation. My dad loved it. “I see nothing changes in the Army,” he said.
With Sean K., who is still one of my best friends today, we went on the 5th SFG together, then behind the fence with Delta and finally on to 1st SFG before he retired as a Team Sgt. He now works for another government agency and is still serving. That’s a healthy retirement check eh?
Sean would lace his coffee with Sweet & Low in the SF Code room. One day Tom Chambers, an SF Reservist and one of the funniest guys I ever met took a sip off of it, he went “WOW!” and started running around the building bouncing off the walls, all the while mumbling “K-Code, K-Code.” So, Tom thought it would be funny to open a bunch of Sweet & Low packets, lay long lines of them like coke and put a small sign that “Reserved for Sean K.” We thought it funny and left the arrangement undisturbed. That afternoon BG Dave Barato chose to visit the schoolhouse. He looked at the lines and asked Phil Brown, “So who is Sean K.?” OOPS.
Joe B. was a great dude and everybody in the class liked him. If you spent two minutes with him, you’d feel the same. Joe was also the only black guy in our entire class. The puzzle palace cadre were always worried about Joe feeling isolated (he definitely was in the sense he didn’t have another black guy to talk to) and picked on (he definitely was not). Nobody cared, we were all looking rifle green as in the color of the SF beret. Joe was one of us and we were all tight.
So whenever a bean counter would show up to ask him how he was being treated, Joe responded that he fit in because he joined the Klan just to be like the rest of the crackers in the class. The brass never knew how to handle that. Yes, we were an eclectic group.
But I digress, “Get to the damn point already…right?” So, here we are, zipping along in a C-141, flying NOE (nap of the earth) over Texas, trying not to puke and we parachute into lovely Camp Bullis, which in the summertime had temps around triple digits by 9 a.m. Camp Bullis is right outside San Antonio but doesn’t quite have the charm that the city does.
After a beautiful parachute landing fall — something akin to a lawn and garden bag filled with 100 pounds of dog crap thrown off the roof of your house — we gathered up our gear and turned in our chutes and moved (waddled) off to go make commo.
The next morning, the heat out there (Deep in the Heart of Texas) by 8 a.m. was stifling. It was hotter than a two-dollar pistol. Our rucksacks looked like they would burst at any second if another matchbook was put in there. We got our marching orders; we had a long-ass movement to where we were supposed to set up and make our commo shots back to Bragg’s base station.
One of our guys, who we’ll call TL for our purposes here, was trying to motivate the rest of us. He was all full of piss and vinegar and hopping around saying his ruck didn’t weigh shit and we’re going to smoke this, yada, yada, yada. You get the idea. His two best friends, Lee and Bugsy, weren’t having any of it. “Shut the fuck up TL”, they cut him off.
After humping for a while, we took a break and rucksacks flopped into the hot-ass dirt. TL was chatting nonstop and talking smack about how this was nothing and how we were smoking this movement. As TL went behind a scrub oak to take a leak Lee had a brainstorm: He jumped up, grabbed a huge rock from the ground and stuffed it in TL’s rucksack. Not to be outdone, Bugsy grabbed another rock and together they pushed them into the top of TL’s ruck somehow and cinched it back up. We all watched soundlessly but were chuckling that he’d definitely notice as soon as he would put it back on.
Sitting beside me, Wally, another future Delta guy, smiled, “that’s some cold-blooded shit,” he said. We all cinched up and struggled to our feet. Everyone was watching TL. Lee put his finger to his lips to get us to be quiet.
As he lurched to his feet, TL hunched over to ease it up on his shoulders for a second. “What’s the matter Hee-Ro,” Lee asked him. “You lose some of your shit-talkin’ steam?” We all stifled a laugh. “Holy shit!” TL exclaimed. “I guess I shouldn’t have stopped, this fucker feels like it weighs 20 pounds more.” I’d say he was spot on there.
We only moved a short while when one of the guys had to stop to readjust something that was rubbing his back from the inside of his ruck. TL helped him and Lee and Bugsy took the opportunity to once again unseen put another rock in his ruck. This time he had to notice…right? Nope.
When we started off again, TL was no longer the voice of motivation and talking smack. Instead, he was lamenting what a lame-ass he was and that this was kicking his ass. Lee was about to tell him what had happened when a truck pulled up next to us and the cadre members got out to check on us and give us further instructions.
“How y’all doing?” Kenny Black, our senior instructor asked. At that point, TL did the rucksack flop and the extreme weight of his ruck coupled with the angle of the ground caused his head to go back a bit and he thumped it on the top of his ruck flap with an audible plop. A large rock slid out halfway from under the top flap.
“What the Fuck!,” TL exclaimed. He then proceeded to toss the rocks from his ruck onto the ground. “Lee you’re an asshole!” Lee, spit out a stream of Red Man and smiled that maniacal Bryan Cranston smile and then replied… “What?!?!”
Our group cracked up and our instructors joined in, which made the whole incident even funnier. We were almost rolling on the ground at this point. Kenny Black asked him, “what did you do to deserve that, did you piss in his cornflakes this morning?” TL was half-pissed off and half-laughing, “he’s supposed to be my buddy!”
“Buddy’s only half a word,” Black said. The cadre would ruck with us and switch rucks with one of the students to ensure we’d all carry the same weight. “I’m glad I never switched rucks with you,” Black said, shaking his head. “You ain’t the brightest bloke in the world, are you?”
Yep, that was an eclectic group of guys. Did we go through the last hard class as every other SF guy swears to? Nope, we went through the first easy one because we had the best group of guys anywhere — and in my house, this isn’t a subject for debate.