Editor’s Note: Geo’s memoir, Brothers of the Cloth, a true account of special mission unit soldiers, is now available for pre-order. You can purchase it here.
By my title I mean to say that nobody moves through the countryside like Army Rangers. Patrolling is the cornerstone of most of what the Rangers do in the realm of Small Unit Tactics (SUT). Rangers are so well-versed, practiced, and so good at moving through areas undetected that they continue to do it subconsciously long after they have retired from the Military.
I ran into a former 2/75 pipe-hitter at a city park recently. I never even knew he was there until he bumped into a waste receptacle and made it rock back and forth. I said:
“Woah, dude… were you ever in the 75th Regiment?
“Oh… heh-heh-heh, yeah — how did you know?
“Because I can’t see you, dude!”
Then he stepped out onto the pavement where I could see him and we shook hands and introduced ourselves.
In my Green Beret qualification course (Q-Course) we had, according to our cadre, an unusually large consignment of Rangers from the battalions seeking positions in the Green Beret Groups. It was explained to me that some manning changes in the Regiment were forcing Rangers to seek reassignments elsewhere. At the time the only other assignment Rangers could stomach was with the Green Beret Groups; at least they would still be paratroops and wouldn’t have to rub elbows with reprehensible Legs in conventional units.
Groups were cakewalks for Rangers who had been pulling rigorous duty for years in the Ranger Battalions. The only thing they had to tolerate was becoming one of the dishonest and lazy Green Berets for whom they held a level of professional disdain. Sometimes I think that if it weren’t for the Rangers in my Q-Course I would have learned very little of value during our Patrolling Phase.
I dreaded our Patrolling Phase. I heard we would have to go out for many days in the subtropical jungle brush of Mackall, move long difficult distances, sleep almost never, eat very little food, and conduct many combat patrols — mainly raids and ambushes. The Rangers only ever said “meh,” to the notion of patrolling.
I had gone through a Patrolling Phase with my conventional Leg Infantry unit years prior. It was the most mesmerizing troublesome waste of time I had endured by that time in my military career. I walked around all day long with a giant red question mark hovering over my head day after day:
“Hand… take down that Goddamned question mark — the enemy can see us coming for miles!” the cadre bitched at me.
I tried to take it down time and again, honest I did… but it just kept popping back up:
“GODDAMNIT HAND… I SAID TAKE DOWN THAT QUESTION MARK, MISTER!!”
“I’m trying, sergeant… but I’m just so confused!”
“Hand… I’m going to crack that question mark in half over your pinhead and shove both halves up your ass if you don’t take it down NOW!!”
“I’m trying, sergeant, but I just have no idea what we’re doing!”
“Hand… we’re holding here just shy of the raid objective while the machine guns hammer it by keeping all the enemy’s heads down. When we see a red flare, the machine guns are going to keep firing but shift their fire slightly to the north of the target while we assault the objective from the south — understand??”
“I… I… I do — I DO, I DO… I DO UNDERSTAND!! I understand what we are doing now, sergeant. I’ll be ok now.”
(Sergeant glancing up over my head and seeing only Orions belt, takes the cigar out of his mouth and) “Good job, Blythe — DAMN-GOD job; now I’ll see ya in Berlin, ya crumb!”
“Berlin??” I puzzled and I heard that “POP” sound over my head.
The Patrolling Phase in the Q-Course was a ball-dragger for sure, but I never once felt I was worse off there at any point, so I kept my wits and motivation about me. I was never so sleepy in my life. I was actually ok while on the move, but every time we came to a halt and went on perimeter guard I was nodding off like the audience at a Perry Como concert. I remember even falling asleep while walking, barely catching myself before I nosed into the dirt.
I slapped myself, shook my head, and tried to prop my eyelids open with little twigs. That didn’t work because I fell asleep anyway but with my eyelids forced really really wide open. I tossed pack after pack of coffee powder followed by swigs of water and shook my head all about to mix it up, then swallowed it. That helped but the coffee packs were at a premium.
I remember a Lieutenant student came up behind me and slapped my foot:
“Hand, are you awake?”
“Yeah, LT, I think I’m awake… do you see a snowman with a stovepipe hat there in front of us?”
“No! Goddamnit Hand you’re asleep you idiot! Move back and let me get in this position before you get us all in trouble!”
I swapped with the LT and fussed with my rifle for a bit. When I looked back up, there was the LT out cold and snoring like a charging bull. My God, he was flat on his back, his feet were facing outside the perimeter where typical your head is supposed to be. Both hands were out to his sides like he was making a snow angel. His rifle was balanced on his tummy, rocking back and forth and rising up and down with his breathing.
“Great job, LT… we’re all saved now.” I thought to myself.
Fancying myself a soon-to-be Green Beret, I thought to try my hand at a little lying/cheating. I pulled a small copy of the New Testament from my cargo pocket, opened it, and bowed my head over it to sleep. While I slept one of the cadres came to me and kicked my boots:
“What the hell are you doing over here, mister??”
I awoke, raised my head, and stated: “Amen.”
The sergeant glared at me, down at my Bible, and back at me. Then he looked out to our front:
“Is that the Goddamned LT asleep out there like a Goddamned thumb-suckin’ self-shittin’-on little baby??”
“Yes, sergeant, that would be him, and there is a fundamental truth in your assessment, sergeant.”
The cadre moved forward to tuck in the LT. I still had my tiny Bible but felt oddly somewhat refreshed — it is amazing how much recovery and refreshment potential is contained within a scant 45-seconds window of sleep. I figured I got 15 seconds of fitful rest, followed by 15 seconds of productive REM sleep, followed by 15 seconds of unrestful premonition sleep knowing I was going to get rudely awakened by a heretic.
I was alert as the LT got slapped and kicked awake and took great pleasure in the scene. When the cadre passed by me the sergeant paused as though he wanted to say something. I just fixed my aim out to the perimeter, out over the great wet spot where a snowman with a stovepipe hat once stood.
(finally) “Hand… you know, I’m a religious man too. I mean, I don’t go to church all the time… or ever really. But that doesn’t make you a bad person; you don’t have to physically go to church to still believe in God and do God’s work…”
I couldn’t believe he was actually giving me the “God Guilt” speech because he had disturbed a “holy man” who was “reading” a bible. Oh, my Lord, the “God Guilt” speech! None of what he said hand any impact on me, for I was raised a Catholic and have it on good faith with Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost that ye who do not attend church every Sabbath and put paper money in the plate are going straight to H, E, double toothpick.
The sergeant was done speaking his piece but there was an awkward pause remaining that I recognized was there for me to provide some sort of salvation to the man. In the vacuum in my head that remained, where good ideas used to prevail, I lifted my head and told him:
“I forgive you, my son — go in peace.”
That same sergeant came upon us a follow-on night to check on our security posture where we lay in a patrol base. He rousted the whole base from sleep in a fit of anger and wanted to lecture us on our transgressions:
“Men, I showed up here just now to find y’all wrong people asleep again. I pulled up a man and asked him who was on the machine gun. You know what he told me??? SPANKY… that’s right SPANKY… is on the mother fuckin’ machine gun — SPANKY!! Who in the name of Christ is SPANKY!!” The group was momentarily frozen silent quite by the wrath of the sergeant.
I knew well who Spanky was. There was a small clique of guys who assembled often and identified closely with each other. They had names for each other such as Gopher, Maximilian, Smalls… and Spanky. They bunked in a group, ate meals as a group, took all breaks together. I admired them if nothing else.
I noticed they were even so close as to wash each others’ backs in the shower, a thing I grew up largely with no discernible predilection for, though I thought nothing of it otherwise. I was ok with my world such as it was. I mean it was just alright without men in it named Spanky who scrubbed my back while I was naked. I resigned to the notion that I had the power to auto-cover all my body parts solo, yet how did I even know what I was missing?
“WHO IS SPANKY?? roared the heathen sergeant with bile and bitterness in his breath.
Spanky slowly stood up to identify himself. As he did another man also jumped up and nearly simultaneously the two men stated: “I am Spanky.” The group — especially Spanky — was shocked. Then another, and another, and yet another man stood up and announced loudly: “I am Spanky!” Soon every man in the patrol base was on his feet at 0300hrs in the morning shouting defiantly:
“I AM SPANKY… I AM SPANKY… I AM SPANKY!!!
Each of us was systematically strung up on makeshift wooden crosses that lined the long snaking road that leads into Camp Mackall. There, we were left to boil and blister in the sun and to slowly succumb to the parched agony of thirst, whilst ravens pecked at and devoured our eyes. I recall distinctly how in my final few moments I turned my head one last time at the man to my right, as on my left the brother had dearly departed. He must have sensed my gaze for he lifted his head and saw me. Struggling greatly with a desperate sense of urgency he did ultimately utter:
“Hey, that dude Spanky… next time he can go fuck himself!”
(Story dedication goes to recently departed Kirk Douglas.)
By Almighty God and with honor,
This article was originally published in February 2020. It has been edited for republication.