Here at SpecialOperations.com, we try to give our younger readers who desire to be members of the Special Operations brotherhood the tools to be able to navigate the rigors of the Selection courses and then follow on with their qualification courses.
In our articles, we tell our prospective candidates to do everything the right way and don’t break the rules. Well, today’s story isn’t about breaking the rules per se, but we definitely bent them just a little bit to our advantage. Just one of the little tricks of the trade that you can get away with when you’re in one of the units down the road.
First, a little background. Back in the late 80’s -early 90’s somebody at SOCOM had a wonderful idea (insert sarcasm emoji here). Before Special Forces A-Teams could deploy, they would have to “recertify” that they knew their jobs well enough. There would be days filled with basic tasks, and each night a long-range ruck march. There would be a training mission thrown in followed by one more long range (22 miles) ruck march to finish things off.
This particular time was a difficult one for members of 3/7 SFG. The 3rd Battalion which had been stationed in Panama for a long time was being redeployed back to Ft. Bragg, minus Charlie Co. which would remain. There wasn’t even a home for us there. While the powers that be were trying to scrape together a dilapidated World War II shithole for us to live in, we were sent to the Old Delta Compound, which was the Ft. Bragg Stockade in years past. For us leaving Panama, going to the Stockade seemed apt since no one wanted to go back to Bragg.
Our team had just lost our Team Sergeant, Joe P. who died in a car crash on his way to see his parents in NYC just days after getting back. A good friend of ours had lost his leg and was in the hospital in Womack Army Hospital. Joe had been working his tail off getting everything settled in back at Bragg and was taking a 4-day pass. I saw him the night before at the hospital visiting our friend and he looked exhausted. I asked if he’d be ok to drive early the next morning and he said he’d be fine…RIP brother.
Our Team Leader was already cleared because he was going to a school but he did most of the Recertification with us anyway…that’s just the kind of guy he was. So we’re doing this wonderful Recertification and we’re back at wonderful Ft. Bragg and morale is sky high. Many of the teams were bitching that the Battalion had just finished “Operation Just Cause” and the follow-on “Operation Promote Liberty” in Panama and now we have to certify that we know our jobs?
But we drove on with the program… that is what SF guys do and the Group SGM on the second night’s ruck march was offering his usual encouragement by checking everyone’s belt they were wearing under their BDU shirt to ensure no one was wearing that unauthorized A-7A strap, that now is issued to the troops… That’s leadership. (where the hell is that sarcasm emoji?)
So our Battalion Commander who had come over from Delta is giving us our briefing for how things will go and he mentioned the final long-range ruck…twice in his remarks. It was to be a 22-miler back to Ft. Bragg. In his briefing, he twice mentioned that it was a non-tactical road march along the boundary road (Plank) back to the base.
The second time he said “non-tactical” my senior commo man Luis Z. looked at me and smiled and raised his eyebrows twice so I knew he had a plan in mind. So, as soon as it was done, I asked Luis what was up. He’d obviously already spoken to the rest of the team as they all looked at me like, “Are you going to be a team guy or just another ahole officer?” I laughed and said, “Why not?”
The teams would be sent out 5-10 minutes apart, our team would be the third team out and our plan was this. We were going to go all out right off the bat, setting a murderous pace to try to catch and pass the two teams in front of us. So then we knew our times would be well ahead of the other teams. Our Team Leader who was on leave would have a truck at the halfway point (11 miles) with dry clothes, Gatorade, cool water and fresh fruit.
We’d then take a quick break, change into dry clothes and socks, get a quick refresh and drive on again to the finish. The kicker was the music….Music? On a 22-mile road march? Our commo man Luis had a boombox in his rucksack. Once we got ahead of the first team out, he would pull out the boombox and strap it to the top of his rucksack and start blasting AC-DC, Metallica and the like.
Our team had one of the best ruckers in the Battalion in Ed Y. A full-blooded Navajo, Ed’s normal gait was a trot to the rest of us. We set out and he set a blistering pace. Before long we caught and passed the second team out, who derisively talked crap to us that we’d burn out and they’d see us again soon.
It wasn’t long before we could see the first team in the far distance, Ed picked up the pace on a long downhill slope to almost a jog and we then passed the first team out. So now our time was about 30 minutes faster than theirs. Time for the music… Without stopping, we continued on and two other guys helped Luis get the huge silver boombox out of his ruck and strap it down on the top of it.
They cranked the volume all the way up, the first song was Ozzy with “Crazy Train”. As soon as Ozzy yelled, “All Aboard…hahahaha” the sound was incredibly loud on the otherwise deserted Plank Road, we all cracked up. The team that we had passed was far behind us but could hear it and we heard a few of them yelling.
The miles melted away. Sure enough at the midway point was our support truck. Everyone did a quick change into dry clothes and had a drink. The Gatorade and sliced oranges were awesome. In five minutes or so we were all ready to go. It was then that our team leader told us we weren’t at the halfway point or the 11-mile mark but at 12 so we had just 10 to go. There was still plenty of water, Gatorade and oranges left so he said, he’d remain there for the follow-on teams until it was all gone. Like I said, he is a good man.
The miles flew by and we eased the pace down to a dull roar after that. But the music was a difference maker. Instead of hearing just the squeaking of those damned ALICE packs and the shuffle of boots, we were a motivated bunch. About ½ mile from the finish point, which we could see in the distance, it was time to shut off the music and pack it away again. That was the longest stretch of the night.
We were the first team to finish by about 18-20 minutes and our team had by far the fastest time that night. At the finish point, the Bn Commander came over to tell us “well done and whatever other motivational stuff that LTCs say at that time. I don’t recall. The Adjutant knew what was up and had a big shit-eating grin on his face.
He winked at several of the guys as he followed the colonel back over to where the staff was. The Bn SGM, a very good man, unlike the Group CSM, came over and said, “What’s up Cacique?”, which is Spanish for Chief. He too must have heard what was up, he went over to Luis’ ruck and picked it up, “Carrying a little extra weight in there?” We all laughed. He didn’t say another word and shrugged and walked on.
Of course, somebody complained, especially about our support truck at the halfway point with water, fruit, and Gatorade. But our Company Commander, Mike B. wasn’t having any of it. “No one complained when they stopped for a drink too, just suck it up.” And as Mike pointed out, the Bn Cdr said twice, it was a non-tactical movement.
The music angle didn’t hit the head shed for about a day. I was at the Bn HQs talking to the Adjutant when the Bn Cdr stopped me. “Hey, were you guys playing music during the 22-miler,” he asked? Thinking quick, I said, “I’m a terrible singer, I sing really loudly but off-key,” I said. “I figured if my Sinatra couldn’t get the boys to move fast then nothing could.”
And I added…ever the smartass, “Since we were “non-tactical” I didn’t think it would matter to anyone.”
There were about 5 seconds of stony silence. The old man finally said, “uh-huh.” and that was the end of it. The Adjutant looked like he was going to turn purple trying not to laugh.
So the moral of the story to our prospective Special Operations candidates is to always, always follow the rules, especially while in the course. But also, listen very carefully to instructions. And then follow them to the letter as well.
So, who is up for a quick 20-miler this morning?
Photo: US Army