Friday, May 25, 2012

The Army I Knew: Indigestion on Honeybun Hill (SFQC 2)

So when we last peeked in on the U.S. Army and PFC Chief circa 1981 we were loafing around the 1st COSCOM area over on the far side of Smoke Bomb Hill and the piney woods of Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, waiting for the opportunity to become a one of America's Best, the Green Berets.

(First - I should tell you; I have no photos of the actual places and people of this part of my story. I have, instead, used images of the places I went at other times, and with other people)

What I was actually doing was officially known as "pre-phase" and was the holding unit for the JFK Special Warfare Center and School's first phase of the SF enlisted Qualification Course.
(This guy, by the way, is supposed to be the "Special Forces Memorial Statue" and in my day he stood outside the front of JFKSWC and was universally known as "Bronze Bruce" or "The Gay Beret" from his limp-wristed posture)

Now the Army hates idleness in general and idle enlisted scum in particular, so though there really was no instruction to be done there the troops foregathering amongst the Cosmonites were kept as busy as the Army and USAJFKSWCS could keep us.

Which principally involved PT.

We PT'ed in the morning and again in the afternoon. Between the pushups and sidestraddle hops we ran, everywhere, and were introduced to the specialty of the special forces, speed ruck-marching.

This was a particularly grueling torture, involving a relatively light load - about 20 to 30 pounds in the rucksack plus the LBE (the "load bearing equipment" harness that supported our essential fighting tools; ammunition pouches, field dressing, compass, and canteens). The luckier among us had been issued the old cotton web belt and suspenders. These had one drawback - they tended to absorb sweat in the summer - offset by the immense plus of being cuddly soft and flexible.
(N.B. - this is me, two years later but still wearing my old cotton web LBE)

The less fortunate had to put up with the newer artificial fiber variety, which was supposed to be more durable but was also nastily stiff and rough; it was misery under the rucksack where the V-strap shoulder harness would gouge and tear at your neck. Although most of the more experienced guys - the E-4's and above - knew enough to pad their necks with an OD sling bandage (known in GI slang as a "drive-on rag") the cadre were like all cadre everywhere and were death on the drive-on rags. You could wear them, but only if you could keep them tucked down under your collar.

So loaded up, drive-on rags tucked safely away, we would take off at a fast marching pace. And by fast I mean fast; when we were moving well we were striding out just short of a moderately slow jog. These rucks were usually at least as long as a PT run; several miles, and sometimes more. And while the primary object was speed, the other requirement was murder - keeping formation.

Because like almost all route marches, our column was nearly constantly stretching and collapsing.

The GI term for this is the "accordion effect". Truly well-trained units can reduce the number of times it happens and the severity of the accordion. But I suspect that even the best marching outfits get hit now and then.

It's worst for the guys in the back, largely because they usually can't see what's going on up ahead, and especially if the guys in front slow down gradually so that the slowdown isn't really noticeable.

Because what happens is that the leaders get going again, and the guys behind them take a moment - a fraction of a second or so, maybe - to see the front guys speed away and close the gap. Every successive rank in the column adds another fraction of a second or so to the lag, so by the time the guys in the back start moving the front of the column is pelting away at a run. The poor bastards in the back then have to beat cheeks like their hair was on fire and the water bucket was in the road ahead, rucksacks slamming up and down, equipment flapping and jouncing.

Repeat this four, six, or seven times over the course of a couple of miles.

You can see how the guys in the back might get a trifle winded.

And that was pretty much that; runs, rucks, and a handful of offhand "classes" simply designed to get bodies in shape for the real business; Phase I of SFQC.

My Phase I started the way most of everyone's training adventures started back in those days; with the arrival of the "Silversides" 80-Pax trucks.
I hope you're impressed by the picture - I had to hunt like hell to find it. That is an "80-Pax", "cattle truck" or "Silversides" - I honestly I have no idea whether the Army still uses these things, but they were everywhere in the Eighties. They were just like the picture suggests they were; a civilian-type tractor and slab-sided trailer with two tall doors on the right side and rear. They had no seats other than benches down the center and along the sides, but you never sat down in them unless you were pulling some sort of Hollywood detail. You stood, grabbing the vertical poles or horizontal rails, or someone's head, or the side of the truck. They were hot in summer, freezing in winter, and rode like their suspension was made of steel rods. As a method of moving objects, they were efficient and practical.

As transportation for humans, they pretty much sucked.

I rode them to and from ranges and everywhere else in Basic and AIT, and later as a paratrooper we rode them down to Green Ramp at Pope Air Force Base to get 'chuted up to jump, or to fly off to high adventure
(that is, to somewhere usually dank and dirty, where we spent anywhere between several days to several months getting tired, bored, and filthy - adventure generally means reading about someone else's misery a long way away and long time off)
in distant lands. Just seeing the image slams me with the memory of vicious exhaustion, the reek of sweaty cotton and unwashed GIs, and distant angry voices shouting "Get the fuck in there, you fucking numbnuts! Stand on your rucksack! We need to get another fifty people on this goddamn truck!"

This trip was no different; we were jammed into these things and driven off into the piney woods for an hour or so, and then dumped out into some sort of backwoods shotgun shack village, shoved into line, and shaken down by a band of screaming lunatics.

That was my introduction to Camp Mackall, North Carolina
(Later I did some research and found out that Mackall really has a hell of a history. For all that Fort Bragg and Fort Benning like to preen about their Airborne pedigrees the real "Home of the U.S. Army Airborne" is Camp Mackall. Pretty much all the WW2 airborne troops trained there, and the post, knocked together in 1942 from pine woods and peach orchards, was the training and staging area for the 82nd Airborne long before the artillery gave up Ft. Bragg to the east.)
the location for the 1st and 3rd Phases of the SFQC.
(Here's Mackall - actually, then "Camp Hoffmann" - in 1943)

And that was very much the style of the first week of Phase I; lots of running, lots of screaming, and lots of frantic - but, in retrospect, pretty pointless - action.

This was the effect of the privates, I suspect.

The thing is that nothing we did in those early weeks of Phase I really did anything to make us smarter, more efficient, more cunning, ruthless soldiers, make us more clever at working with foreign fighters, make us into more intelligent individualistic soldiers.

It weeded out the frightened, the completely unfit, and unwilling, and - occasionally - the merely unlucky.

But it was not really a very smart way to make "special" soldiers.

And I'm convinced that is because so many of us really shouldn't have been there.

Many of us - the genuine trainees - just didn't have anything that would have helped us learn what we should have been learning. We were essentially civilians with a lick of O.D. paint on the outside.

We had, most of us, done little real work, and had little or no experience with real hardship, or with gutting out a difficult task under stressful conditions. Most of us had never been hungry, or sleepless, for any real time. We had no experience with the simplest of tactical tasks, or even living outside, other than the sad simulacrum we had enjoyed in Basic Training.

So the SF cadre had to treat us, and did, like fools, that is, like recruit privates. And that's not what a special forces soldier is supposed to be, but that's what we were.

The 1981 Phase I SFQC consisted or roughly eight weeks.

Two weeks of "general subjects", which was just more physical conditioning with some idle crap and fairly ridiculous "hand-to-hand combat" thrown in because, I'm convinced, somebody saw something like it in some World War 2 commando movie.

Two weeks of Land Navigation,

Two weeks of Starvation Survival, and

Two weeks of Patrolling.

I can't really tell the story of the whole course, so I'll try and give you just what I remember as the highlights.

The thing I remember most about the first couple of weeks were just the small change of living at Mackall.

The "barracks" were wooden shacks without doors or windows; just rectangular cutouts at the ends. They had concrete floors and metal-frame bunks with plywood planks for "beds"; you just rolled out your rubber lady (the old green rubber inflatable air mattress, although the foam sleeping mat was coming in to replace the "deflatable" piece of shit just as I arrived) and your fart-sack or your poncho liner and there you were.

They kept out the rain, though.

The latrines were real special, though; the only fourteen-hole pit toilet I've ever seen in a lifetime of camping and military service.

I shit you not; the actual crappers were arranged like a ginormous horizontal ferris wheel, each conventional toilet seat screwed down to a huge plywood disc that sat over a ten-foot diameter concrete pipe stuck vertically into the ground. You just walked up, smiled to your neighbor grunting and farting away two seats over, sat down, and opened fire.

They were fairly foul, and were made worse by trooper's habit of taking sodas onto the crapper (later in cycle when we got "pop privileges") and then hucking the empties down the hole. The suck-truck that came every week or two to drain the vile broth inside these hellmouths continually plugged and broke down trying to suck up these cans. At one point later in my cycle all the privates were marched off to have a swim and the student-NCOs (who had been tasked with enforcing the no-pop-cans-in-the-shitters rule) were offered buckets and ropes and told that they could choose to clean the cans out of the unspeakable wheatina down in the latrine-holes...or terminate the course right there; choose to drop out of the course with no chance of ever retaking it or joining the Special Forces.

I'm told that two sergeants rode back to Ft. Bragg that night.

From used food my thoughts turn to actual food, which was an obsession with all of us by that point.

I can honestly say that SFQC may well have been the longest, hardest continual work I ever did, in the Army or elsewhere. We were awake something like 15 to 17 hours a day and doing some sort of physical work almost all during that time, including some of the most demanding running and ruck-marching I've ever done. We must have been using somewhere on the order of 4,000 calories a day, and in General Subjects week we got probably about 2,000 or 3,000 going in; two cooked ("hot A") meals for breakfast and dinner and a canned food ("C-ration") at noon.

We were all constantly hungry.

The breakfast was, as Army hot A breakfasts usually were, the best meal of the day; eggs, bacon or sausage, flapjacks or waffles, toast or biscuits (and, this being the Army which meant you ate "Southern" wherever you were, cream gravy), and lots of damn hot, damn black coffee.

Oh - and I can't possibly forget this - the entire time we ate chow the cadre played the entire "Ballad of the Green Beret" album by SSG Barry Sadler over the PA system.
You've probably never heard this shit, but, I swear; if every copy ever pressed was suddenly and instantaneously destroyed - not all that bad an idea, really - I could reconstruct it, instrumentals and all, I heard it, every freaking day, over and over, to the point where thirty years later I STILL remember the horrible songs. You can't imagine how sad that makes me.

It's an awful country-western sort of thing. The famous song is the ballad of the title, you know, the one that talks about "fearless men, who jump and die"? That one? But there's more, so much more. There's an awful song about Saigon. Another one about nurses. And one about "garritroopers" - those REMFs that have sat around behind every army since Marius' day - only it's misspelled "garet trooper":

"He’s got a hip knife, a side knife, a boot knife, a shoulder knife
And a little bitty one that’s a combination flare gun, dinner set,
and genuine police whistle..."

Ugh. Barry Fucking Sadler; if he hadn't shot himself in the head in Guatemala I'd have to shoot him myself.

Let's get the hell off this subject.

Anyway, of all the yummy SF breakfast treats the big local delicacy was - and this was when the company was purely a local Southern thing - Krispy Kreme pastries; nasty oversweetened dough slathered with a layer of sugar so thick that when cool it solidified into a waxy white rind that cracked when you bit into them.
For a hungry soldier, they were fucking outstanding.

The Krispy Kreme products were so beloved that the last incline leading back to the camp gate was known as "Honeybun Hill" after the most disgustingly over-sweet fat-pill offered at morning chow. I'm not sure about anyone else, but the thought of getting outside of those evil things dragged me up that hill more than once.

And that was pretty much that; lots of healthy exercise and Army training. And then it was on to Land Nav.

Land Navigation was both genuinely challenging and good training. A low-ranking U.S. Army soldier, for all that we like to talk about how individualistic and well-trained our troopers are, isn't in practice that much better off than his old Soviet counterpart who couldn't read - not maps, anyway - and drank antifreeze strained through a bread loaf. Most of had passed some little piddly compass courses in Basic, of course, and had the rudiments of map- and compass-reading, but SF Land Nav was hard, really hard, and it forced you to learn how to move long distances through rough terrain and get where you were going.

The training I got at Mackall has stayed with me, and served me well, all the rest of my life. But ask me to remember "Land Nav" and what I recall is desperately trying to lope down the firebreak roads in the dark fearfully eying every bush and oddly-shaped tree for fear it was one of the cadre trying to catch a "road-runner".

We were warned never to use the firebreaks. If I had been more veteran I would have understood that roads and trails were places where enemies would place mines, or site ambushes, and that to use the roads and trails was to ask death to sit down and share a honeybun with you.

But at the time, all we saw were trackless tangles of wait-a-minute vines and shitty terrain alongside lovely, open, level sandy roadways. So we ALL tried to run the roads, and the cadre tried to catch us. Some got caught; the first catch was a warning, the second, automatic "re-cycle" - a return to COSCOM and beginning the next Phase I all over.

None of us wanted to be recycled.

We learned to read the terrain, to interpret the topographic lines as ridges, hills, and gullies. We learned to shoot azimuths on the run, and dodge around obstacles first left, then right, to stay in a rough line. We learned how to find our way through a place we had never been with nothing more than a piece of paper and a magnetic needle, and that's no small thing.
Next was Survival.

We called it "Starvation", because midway through Phase I we were reduced to two C-ration meals a day. A C-rat (and the Eighties C-rats were held by the Vietnam guys to be practically haute cuisine compared to the earlier C's, although they all bitched about not getting the issue cigarettes, especially Camels) contains about 1,500 calories if you eat every fucking scrap including the O.D. metal shavings inside the Beef With Spiced Sauce can.

Picky gourmets that we were, we usually ate just the main meals - although even starving nearly everyone still rejected the awful "Ham and Eggs, Chopped", a disgusting yellowish loaf widely believed to have been pressed from used diapers - the canned fruit, jam, and the candy.

The crackers and toffee-chocolate bars sucked the fluid right out of you, and outside the pound cake the various "dust rolls" (supposedly cinnamon and chocolate nut rolls) acted like sponges and sucked up a canteen of water just in the chewing.
So we were now getting something seriously less than 4,000 calories a day and still working like mine slaves; the weight melted off us. We were so starved that we had no problem eating pets and livestock.

OK, well, rabbits aren't exclusively "pets", but you get the idea. We learned how to kill and clean small game as well as getting some pretty ludicrous instruction on trapping and hunting that might have kept us alive had we been forced to live off a captive game farm. However, as a nice suburban kid I did learn that, no, meat doesn't come from a store and have never since been squeamish about butchering my own meat. When you think about it, that's not a bad lesson, either.

The largest single meal we ate during the entire two weeks came in the form of an entire haunch of goat for our squad.

This animal, a rather bold-smelling billy, was used as a teaching tool on how to kill and butcher a medium- to large animal. We sat through the last moments of the goat and the ensuing lecture with barely-contained frenzy; the minute the lesson concluded were bounded away to choose our method of preparing our meaty bounty; smoking? Roasting? How should we treat this scrumptious largesse to best produce the appropriate gorging glut of protein.

We had settled on smoking, constructed our smoker to U.S. Army specifications, and were already salivating at the delicious goaty flavor drifting up with the ash smoke when the camp commandant arrived.

We had little prior contact with this exquisite, who lorded it over us with Olympian detachment, but he seemed to look on us at that moment as fellows, as his comrades. He asked us how we were doing (wonderfully, we all said loyally, of course). He made some observations about our smoker.

And then he began to tell us about Lucky, the goat.

Lucky, it seemed, had been the most precious and adorable of kids. As a goat, he had been grown to be everyone's pet, a figure of universal love and tenderness, the very embodiment of a sort of goatish Special Forcesness. The commandant described Lucky's many playful antics, his gentle and loving nature, and his long and faithful service as the Camp mascot. Through the years he had proven to be a goat of precocious ingenuity, almost human lovability, and had followed the commandant with the devotion of a faithful dog.

And now we were going to fucking eat him.

I'd like to say that we felt too guilty to consume the backside of this wonderful goat. I'd like to tell you we sobbed as we bid farewell to the quarter of the beloved Lucky that had become ours. But I won't kid you.

We just felt a little crummy afterwards.

That, and the fact is that smoked goat tastes a lot like goat smells.

Then there was bunny baseball. But, hell, this story is long enough as it is.
Finally there was Patrolling.

As a medic this was the hardest part of Phase I for me. I had no idea what we were doing when we started. I had to learn in a week what the infantry guys had been doing for months. It's a tribute to the cadre that I learned it and can still, to this day, remember how to write a five-paragraph operations order. I learned as fast as I could - and I learn pretty fast - and tried damn hard to become an infantry sergeant in two weeks.

Unfortunately, two weeks is not a long time, learning is not the same as knowing, and trying not the same as doing.

And on top of the patrolling we added a new stress to go with the hunger; sleeplessness.

Prior to Patrolling Week we had been going on five to seven hours of sleep a night. Now we were reduced to catnaps of two hours or less. Four hours of unbroken sleep was an unspeakable luxury. Most of us were - although we didn't realize it - operating a something like 40 to 50 percent of our peaks. We were still going, however, still pushing ahead to that tantalizing doorway to Phase II and (for the medics) nearly half a year of poontang and playtime at the paradise of Fort Sam Houston.

But for me, it didn't happen.

I failed my first graded patrol; as assistant patrol leader I was in charge at the Objective Rally Point as my PL and his squad leaders went to recon the objective. As I made my way around the circle of bodies the pine woods exploded with a single shot; one of the M-60 gunners had been fooling with his charging handle and had let the bolt go forward, firing a blank round.

I stumbled on, as a regular troop; raids, recons, movements-to-contact, wedge formations, ranger files, ORPs, passages of lines...finally I got a second chance. As Patrol Leader all I had to do was move a short distance, find a hide position, set up a patrol base, and wait.
I fucked up.

I set the guys in place - in groups of three, "33%", so two could sleep while one pulled security - knowing how stoned we all were. I went around and around the perimeter, shaking and kicking troops awake. Finally, I was beat. I woke my APL, told him to give me fifteen minutes sleep, and laid down on the bare ground.

I was shaken awake by a grinning trooper of the 82nd.

"You die, GI!" he crowed, dragging his finger across my throat, and ran on.

All I remember of the next day was walking across a sunny clearing with the machinegun on my hip, and the instructor-walker pulling me aside; literally pulling me, as I was responding pretty much to direct stimuli only. Sitting on the ground listening to him explain that I had failed my second graded patrol, and was being recycled. Getting on the deuce-and-a-half and feeling the early summer sun warm on my face and wondering if the sky was ever so blue anywhere else.

I don't remember feeling peculiar, or unusual, or anything different than my what-I-thought-of-as-my-usual-self on that ride back to Ft. Bragg. I sat, and made idle talk, and dozed; I didn't understand why the guys in there with me, the other recycles, kept looking at me so oddly.

It was much later that one of them told me that all the while I was in the back of that truck chatting, and napping, and sitting I was crying constantly but silently, without so much as a sob or sniffle, just the two bright tear-falls that never stopped.

He said it was the creepiest thing he'd ever seen.

And so I returned to the old wooden WW2 barracks on COSCOM Hill having failed to do something I desperately wanted to do for the first time in my life. To find that the rest of my life had been waiting for me there.
(Next time: Almost Airborne, or, Are You SURE That Hat's Supposed To Look Like That?)


Podunk Paul said...

There’s a depth and seriousness that comes from wanting with every fiber of your being and failing, tank on empty, others doing what we could not. We go back over the scene, trying to figure how much to lay on bad luck and how much resulted from our own weakness. And after all the second-loguessing, there it stands, the time when we ate our own shit.
Some people never get past it, that abyss of abnegation. Others develop the kind of hard-eyed strength that one sometimes sees in the faces of American Indians and blacks. It’s not a bad fraternity to belong to.

FDChief said...

Well, looking back I'm not unhappy that things turned out the way they did. And there IS something to learning how to crash hard and walk away. But I can tell you that it stomp-down sucked big ass at the time; the last-day recycle just took the starch right out of me.

But that's the next part of the story...

Labrys said...

I remember C-rats from basic in Ft. McClellan Alabama in 1974---as one of the last generation of WACS!

My husband kept getting the alleged carrot of the course dangled at him while we were at Bad Tolz where he served with Group again (1st time was in Ft. Devens). He was only a 'candy bar' SF, you see...tho' he was airborne qualified he was (like me, originally) an Army Security Agency intel sort. They needed him to run their secure commo room....never time to release him for the Q course.

Only a week ago, he was musing on this and said, "You know, thinking back to how I was then, I don't think I would have made it; I didn't have the right attitude."

And now, thanks to you, I have this irrational hunger for pound cake and milk chocolate bars!

FDChief said...

Labrys: I didn't then, either. I was too soft, too happy. I didn't have the desperate NEED to be SFQ like the guys who made it.

If I'd gone later, as a senior SP4 or a buck sergeant I might have; by that time I'd caught the Army infection and wanted to succeed at all costs, plus I'd experienced some genuine hard times and gotten harder and tougher myself. And I'd learned to pay attention to detail and tricks like knowing where, when, what, and how to inspect.

Funny thing; I still loves me some pound cake, but it doesn't love me back. I can't eat it except on special occasions.

Being GIs, one of the favorite jokes we used to play on cherries (as it was played on me when I was a cherry) was to offer up a supposed pound cake during chow-swap time (when we were admin in the field we used to sit around in gaggles and guys would offer up parts of their meals for trade bait; "Anybody got something for a spag and balls?" "I'll give ya two B-2 cans and a smoke." I'll give ya two B-2 cans and three smokes - Winstons..!")

Needless to say, the cherry would go crazy - I saw guys offer up entire meals for the "pound cake".

Once the deal was made the seller would flip the can over and the cherry would find to his fury that it was chocolate dust roll or something equally inedible.

"Fuck this ain't no goddam pound cake!" he'd roar, to which someone, usually the original owner, would chuckle "Pound it up your ass and it'll be a pound cake..."

Ah, GIs; the subtle wit...

Labrys said...

Yes, the wit, lol! But yes, pound cake is still an enduring favorite in this household as well.

FDChief said...

It IS damn fine.

Leon said...

Was your camp commondant Hans Landa? Because that's eeeeevil.

FDChief said...

Leon:For the life of me I can't remember the guy's name; like I said, he didn't mingle with us enlisted swine very much. He was a Vietnam vet and (since we could wear our I-love-me-shit on our uniforms at the time) was loaded down with all the been-there-done-that gongs; electric butter knife sandwich, CIB, U.S. Ranger tab, Viet Ranger badge and Viet wings, the whole magilla.

I'm sure he enjoyed trying to make the starving joes uneasy. But at that point if we'd been presented with a naked nymphomanic we'd have had a difficult time deciding whether roasting or sauteing would be the better choice, so as I said, we bolted ol' Lucky down with barely an extra chew.

Lisa said...

FYI i believe Mackall was the first US paratrooper killed in combat. Maybe the 509 in N. Africa. I think it was a raid.
A few cmts.
-You are describing Ranger school . It's absurd that SF reinvented that wheel since only 1 of our misns are Direct action. I admit we trained hard , but we emphasized education and thinking, but WE WERE ALL BRANCH QUALIFIED back then. Most of us had line experience- we even knew how to read, and were req'd to do so in qual crs. We spent time in libraries.
-The only time the Army pays lip service to staying off of trails(danger areas) is in training. Look at the deaths from ied's- they are all from using trails/paths/roads in a predictable manner.
The history or RVN was of using enemy trails etc-look at the 5th cav regt reinforcing at x ray. They took a trail and were handed their asses. The Bn cdr was a WP'r w. tab.
-Usually from training we went d
straight to rvn.
-It's a shame that SF soldiers don't remember the diff betw SF and rangers. If we don't know than how the hell can the Army c/s know.Also i contend that when we turn out guys like Mc Chrystal we are doing something wrong.
-Iron Mike Healy was also called Crying Mike b/c he cried when told of sf soldiers deaths. Would any of the new action hero dolls do that today. Think Aaron/Simons/ and then balance them out with the assasins of today.
Enuf of my stuff.
I enjoyed your tale. Think about all of us SF officers that had all the scare badges that you described plus being wounded and decorated for valor and then getting RIF'd. That still brings tears to my eyes.
I understand your tears.

FDChief said...

jim: The interesting part about the Mackall story is that supposedly two other guys were killed at the same time (actually, I think Mackall died of his wounds several days later) but his was the first name released to the public. So even then, what mattered is what made it into the press...

After I had been in longer I realized the deficiencies in the POI of Phase I; it really did show how poor the selection process was at the time. Basically the Army's most specialized and elite organization had to spend something like 8 to 10 weeks teaching spuds 10-level tasks they should have known when they showed up. Yes, the Ph.I of 1981 was basically the Benning Phase of Ranger School. Ridiculous, but given the troops they had to begin with that's what the needed to do.

The NCOIC of the school at the time I attended had been an O-3 (selected for O-4) in 1970, A-team leader, and had been given the choice of a direct RIF discharge or a voluntary reduction to E-6 (or E-7, I don't recall). He had worked back up to E-9 by 1981. Sad. Though my understanding is he retired several years later - as O-3, the highest rank he had not been busted from. The post-Vietnam RIF really was brutal.

Lisa said...

While I enjoyed your recollection, I am very sorry it ended like that for you.

Speaking with Jim, he says it was entirely wrong to put you through that training before you'd had some real-time Army experience under your belt. It was entirely too much to expect, too soon. He doesn't understand why they would even allow it, as it almost ensured failure.

FDChief said...

Lisa: At the time it seemed really harsh. Over the long run, I can't say that if I could reach back and change things that I would; my life would have been so different that I would have been a different person.

And jim is right; it really made no sense to send privates out of Basic and AIT right to SFQC. That some guys made it is a tribute to their desire and military skills. But it was a tremendous waste of the government's money; the wastage of the E-4's and below was just too great to justify the number that did pass. But the Army was hurting like hell for bodies, in SF as everywhere else, and it must have seemed like a solution at the time. It's worth noting that almost as soon as the volunteers started coming in - about the mid-1980's - the rules were changed back to limit access to SFQC to E-4(P) and above, I think...

Lisa said...

Ah, so you were caught in that transitional phase before they came to their senses regarding the level of prior experience which should be required.

It does sound like the policy under which you entered created unnecessary waste, but I don't know when that has ever restrained government in the past :(

FDChief said...

Lisa: I think they knew, but the God of Numbers trumped knowledge. As you say, this is not an unexpected or unknown principle among governments, including our own. Sadly, I'm not sure that "coming to their senses" is what happens in cases like these; I suspect it's something more like "a change in skies forces as change in policies".

But, again; I want to emphasize that as difficult as this was for me at the time, I do not regret it. It forced my life into another track, and one that has, on the whole, been a good one. The bone, once knit up, was stronger for the break.

Lisa said...

Your strength and resignation is evident in all you do.

(As an aside, a sort of poem dropped into my mind the other day after reading a preposterous statement in the news. I may put it on soon, and it relates to this idea of happening.)

Aviator47 said...


Speaking of reasons for being "eliminated" from training, I offer the case of one of my Warrant Officer Candidate (WOC) Flight School classmates.

Among the many "rules" in our "WOC Handbook" was the requirement to report any damage or malfunction in the barracks within one duty day. Eddie G. had slammed a window in his room shut, and the glass cracked. He made arrangements with one of his room mates to have the room mate's wife pick up a piece of glass and glazier's putty so he could discretely repair it the next day when we returned from training. Glass arrives, and Eddie replaces the cracked pane.

The following day, Eddie is called out of training, and never returns. When we return to the barracks, our TAC greets the formation and tells us that "Former Candidate Eddie G." is now Specialist Eddie G, and on his way to Fort Polk, due to a serious ethical breach. Seems the TAC noticed the crack during daily room inspection and started the clock running for the required report. The next day, of course, the crack was gone. When asked why he repaired it rather than report it, Eddie said he "didn't want to get in trouble."

That's probably the most unique elimination from the 55% of our class that did not graduate, half due to "disciplinary" or academic reasons and the rest due to not progressing in flight skills at a sufficient rate.

Of course, times changed with the demands of the Viet Nam War for helo drivers, and when I returned to Ft Wolters three years later as a flight instructor, kids who got caught with pot were given a second chance so that we could keep the pipeline full.

FDChief said...

Al: Interesting; you'd think that the TAC would have been impressed with the candidate's ingenuity. But OTOH I can see how that might be an issue if, say, an A/C developed a problem and the pilot "fixed" the problem off-the-books rather than writing up the malfunction on the DA 2404 and getting it on the maint. log...

Still, the Army seems to have an interestingly flexible concept of "rules". And there has ALWAYS been one set for the Army and another set for the troops...

Oh, well. I'd probably have been a shitty Green Beanie anyway...

rangeragainstwar said...

i must reiterate a point.
In all my training we never used roads etc , avoided using a trail twice and all the Rogers rules stuff, but it never was used or req'd in combat.
usu. hasty slap together tactics were the order of the day. my evidence=the PWOT.
Even SF used trails. Rangers used trails. LRRP's used trails. Marines used trails. So why do we train 1 way and die another??
The rif'd NCO you mention in the art. KNEW THIS.
1984 was a transition period to career field 18 and we were dominated by non prior service newly minted officers from the Airborne. These guys had no fucking idea of SF, let alone how to train an sf em. Fuck -most of these guys didn't know what was req'd of the em. They never talked to them that i ever noticed.
Yep you would've been a shitty sf dude b/c thinking was not req'd in the transition period-every body was just riding the gravy train.

FDChief said...

jim: And the 82nd used roads and trails to move non-tactically; it was only when we were close to contact that we'd move off into the tules.

In Panama - the closest I've ever come to genuine jungle - you pretty much HAD to stay on the trails. Trying to move through the jungle was a) insanely slow, b) ridiculously noisy, and c) almost blind - you often can't see more than a foot or two in front of your face, and you're making so much noise that anything you're hunting will be long gone - or in position ready to ambush you - before you get there.

SDC, Franklin, TN said...

I went to SF Phase I at Camp Mackall in APR-MAY70. There were no barracks, just GP mediums (I think) with 8 or 10 trainees per tent. The tents did have wood frames and floors, and cots that we could put our sleeping bags on.
We ate C-Rations for every meal, which still had cigarettes in them at the time. I did not smoke, so I was in good shape for food as guys would trade cans of meat and fruit for cigarettes! Almost at the end of training, before we started a 3 day patrol back to Fort Bragg, they did take us to some little country restaurant where we got to eat a pan fried steak.
The entire time we were there, we got to take one shower (we were told they were broken). Another time we got to bathe in a lake, and once it rained so hard that every hardtail there was standing naked as they day they were born, with a bar of Ivory soap, bathing in the rain! However, every morning, we were compelled to shave, getting hot water from immersion heaters and putting it in our steel pots.
Even though jungle fatigues were worn by SFTG personnel, we had to wear the old cotton fatigues, which never dried out when training, as we were always walking through creeks, etc., so going "commando" was routine and that was long before that's what the word came to mean. Otherwise, the fatigues would never dry out along the waistline and seat/crotch area.
We had to double-time in formation every morning down to the airport and run all the way around it and back up before "training" started. On the days we were in the classroom, we had to stand at attention and sing Barry Sadler's "Ballad of the Green Beret" before the instructor began.
We were issued M-14s without slings, and of course, we had to double time everywhere so we were at port arms and double-timing everywhere. Instructors would try to steal the weapons from us while we weren't looking. A few guys put them under their cots and the instructors stole them and those guys washed out. I put my M-14 inside my sleeping bag with me. I know when we patrolled back to Bragg, we had M-16s, but I don't remember how or when the weapons transfer took place.
I can't remember if we had one or two canteens, but there was never any emphasis placed on water. If you ran out of water, it was too bad for you. I can remember walking through creeks running my open canteen through the water as I passed through. We'd throw an iodine tablet in it and that was it. C-Rations were issued for the entire length of the patrolling/ambush exercise. If you ran out of food, too bad.
That's all I can remember about the fun parts of it!

Snakeeater said...

I swear that we just had to have crossed paths in the Q course. Hunnybun Hill ( named after the hunnybuns that were puked on it), all that is exactly like when I went there. The plywood bunks and the air mattresses that never lasted more than two nights. And...getting back after "survival" and they gave us "chili-mac" with all-you-could-eat and I was dripping sweat after my third helping and suddenly I had to find a spot at one of those bizarre latrines where you sat in a circle. My phase one class got some pizzas delivered one night and stuffed the boxes into the latrine, as we left we could see the guys in the next class holding guys by the ankles to fish the boxes out.

Temudgin said...

Hey FYI this page just popped up in a search for "SFQC 1980" by this bored retiree. Your story brought back many memories to me as a graduate of Class 3-80 - actually I was the Honor Graduate which I still cannot believe to this day. I didn't have a clue and was so focused at the time on surviving that I felt lucky to even have made it through. I remember an instructor back at Bragg after Phase III and before graduation giving me a copy of the EER that said I was going to be the honor graduate. I must have looked so dumbstruck that he sat down with me and explained what I had done to deserve it. So many insane things happened from the time I got off the bus at Bragg from Airborne School (I was an E-1!) to standing on the stage at graduation that it still is like a dream. Thanks for sharing your story.