I was a grunt, a ground-pounder, a door-kicker, a knuckle-dragger, a dog face, and a devil dog. I’ve been dogged-out and dog-tired; I’ve rucked until my dogs were barkin’ while it rained cats and dogs. I’ve had a dog in the fight, lived a dog’s life, gone to the dogs, been in the doghouse, and doggone it I’ve seen the tail wag the dog. I’ve seen a barking dog bite, dogged-shut a submarine escape hatch, had a dog as a best friend, ‘cause every dog has its day. I’ve experienced the dog days of summer, listened to Three Dog Night, and I’ve seen a dog that won’t hunt in this dog-eat-dog world. You feel me, dog?

When I was a regular Army grunt, I was in a mechanized infantry unit. The only time I ever had to carry a rucksack of any appreciable weight was in some of the professional development courses I attended in hopes of catching a timely promotion. Still, occasionally, I found myself at a grassroots level of basic Army life, living in tin huts in the Rocky Mountains and living out of a rucksack for days on end. For a young soldier of my intellect and experience, it was a praiseworthy undertaking, but I would not know what a truly heavy ruck or long march was until I transitioned to the ranks of the Green Berets.

A Green Beret's Dog Days in the Republic of Korea (Pt.1)

U.S. Army Rangers are the daddies of heavy rucksacks; there is no disputing that. Having a former 2/75 Ranger as a team sergeant ensured that we Green Beanies would never wander too far away from appropriate respect for the very pinnacle of light infantry—Army Rangers.

Our team sergeant was not even an average Ranger but rather a cut-above Ranger who had fallen on tough luck with a physical injury during tryouts for Delta selection in West Virginia. Ironically, Sergeant First Class (SFC) Mark B.—who just went by “Buck”—was not even technically our team sergeant. Buck was just an SFC—team sergeants were master sergeants (MSG). We had MSGs on our team who came and went, but we always regarded Buck as our de facto senior sergeant. He was the voice of common sense and authority. Once the MSG of the team had finished spewing edicts, all eyes would shift to Buck for the earthly version of what had just been said. We ultimately would do what Buck told us to do.

Most of my time overseas in my years with the First Special Forces Group (Airborne) was spent in the cold-weather months in the Republic of Korea (ROK)—land of the little PX, land of rotting cabbage and burning tires in winter, land of Reebok tennis shoes and women with flat buttocks, land of endless rice fields and animal manure, land of one-eye buffalo and Kiamaster trucks. It was the land of Soju, Maekju, Bulgogi, Pibimpap, and the KATUSA.

The Flights

Deployments to Korea were cheap. As long as we conducted a tactical airborne drop in-country, the Air Force would regard it as training for them and not charge the Army for the use of their aircraft. That meant a 16-hour non-stop flight with multiple in-flight refuels and in-flight rigging for the jump. An hour or so prior to a tactical drop, an aircraft will drop to a very low altitude and fly a nap of earth (NOE) profile. That is, it will fly at a fixed low altitude above the contour of the ground in an attempt to avoid being ‘painted’ by enemy radar, so the aircraft is in a perpetual state of rising and falling.

Just prior to an in-flight parachute rigging under an NOE profile, paratroopers are required to consume monstrous amounts of Twinkies and vinegar. I’m just kidding, but for those of you who have never experienced the trauma of this event, let me paint the picture: The ambient temperature inside the aircraft climbs to around 98° F. No room to sit turns into no room to stand. Projectile vomiting seems to become some sort of morbid competition. No room to stand turns into no room to set down your barf bag.