MOUNTAIN PHASE (Round Two)
Day 41: Saturday, 18 March
0400 wake up. Last day in Dahlonega for some, first day of being a real recycle for others. We moved out of the barracks, cleaned them up, and went to breakfast. Pretty soon thereafter the busses showed up to take the Florida guys to Atlanta; I said my goodbyes to the remainder of the squad moving forward and that was that. Chuck Labuda, Matt Noreus, Adam Deardorff, Phil Lukens, John Reinke, and Will Fowler. Good luck, fellas. The rest of us will be there soon enough. I kinda bummed around feeling sorry for myself for awhile, but I got over that and started to focus on bigger and better things... like lunchtime! Holy crap do they feed us good as recycles! Turkey, sweet potatoes, crab salad, chicken noodle soup, Welch's grape juice, chocolate milk, French Vanilla cappuccino, and pineapple upside down cake is what I had, and everyone else had a multitude of choices to pick from as well. It was incredible food, too, and you could tell the DFAC ladies actually cared about how it tasted because they would stand there and say, "Do you want some more, hon? I made this myself just this morning and I don't want you going hungry! Have some more!" Oh man, such great food. After lunch I called Erika and we talked for about an hour and a half. Definitely needed that. I couldn't have made it this far without her support and I know I'll be able to finish this thing with her behind me. Man, do I need that girl. Took an hour long nap and then helped on a detail to clean up the gym here. Finished the night out with another ginormous meal in the DFAC and then a game of Monopoly with a few of the other recycles. Hehe, I won. Hotels on the green properties is the way to go. It sucks being recycled, but only the REAL Rangers do it. Those pansies moving on may THINK they know what it's like to want and not have, but no. It's gonna be alright. Rangers Lead The Way.
Day 42: Sunday, 19 March
0700 wake up. Last night I got 9 hours of sleep. That's more than I got in the previous 6 days COMBINED and it felt wonderful. Oh, and breakfast? NOW I've had the best Army breakfast ever. Omelets, biscuits and gravy, grits, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, orange juice, grape juice, cappuccino, coffee, coffee cake, and the list goes on. And I'm not talking about regular mess hall food, either. Imagine the quality of food your grandmother is capable of making and how you can't stop eating because it's so ridiculously good. That kind of quality. Went to church at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church just outside the main gate and it was a really nice service. A bit more fired up of a preacher than I'm used to, but I liked it. We sang a hymn called "I'll Fly Away" and we Rangers have kind of adopted it as our own. The reason is that our ride out of here is on an airplane and when we get to Florida we're almost home. The congregation of the church, all 22 of them, had us stand up and sign it one more time at the end of the service so we, in our BDU's, stood up and did just that.
I'll Fly Away
Some glad morning when this life is over
I'll fly away
To a home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away
When the shadows of this life have grown
I'll fly away
Like a bird from prison bars has flown
I'll fly away
Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joys shall never end
I'll fly away
I'll fly away, O Glory, I'll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by, I'll fly away...
Good tune. The rest of the day we didn't do much except sleep, eat, or talk on the phone. It's amazing how much sleep I'm getting and yet how tired and broken down I still feel. I can't imagine how I'll feel after Florida. I have no idea how I'll be physically ready to take over a platoon of Cav Scouts when I finally get to Alaska, but screw it. Like Jason said in his letter, I'll just give a whistle for my guardian angels and life will be all good. I didn't mention this a few days ago, but the letters I got from Jason and Les were some of the most motivational I've gotten and I won't forget it, fellas. Good dudes.
Day 43: Monday, 20 March
0600 wake up. Did a police call of the entire camp and took a nap. Went to lunch and took a nap. Went to dinner, played spades with some of the guys recycling with me, talked to Braden on the phone, wrote in the journal for a bit, talked to Erika, got some little stuff done I've been looking for the time to do, and that was it. I'm finally over the worst part of learning I was a recycle. I've pretty much come to terms with being stuck here a while longer and that my graduation date is now May 5th, but screw it. A long time from now when I'm the commander of the world I'll look back and just smile because, yeah, they may be able to make me have a bad day, week, or month, but I'll never quit. I mean, we've already established that I'm pretty much immortal so all I have to do is stay patient and good things will eventually come. It sucks knowing I got a 90% peer rating this time and that 4 separate guys in my squad of the 6 moving forward told me that, "Dude, if not for your direct action and help I would not have gotten my GO." It sucks knowing a dozen or so guys from the platoon said similar things to me about their progression forward to Florida, but here I sit. And the only answer I every got from the cadre as to how this could happen? "I don't know what to tell you, Ranger." Roger that, Sir. I'm gonna make it through this school..
Day 44: Tuesday, 21 March
0600 wake up. got into PTs for mandatory PT, but the cadre never showed up so we sat around the bay reading or sleeping until breakfast at 0800. Of course, more ridiculously good food. Took a nap after writing a few letters. Went to lunch at 1230. Took another nap. Went to dinner. Volunteered to help clean the gym AGAIN. I've found there are at least 2 constants here in recycle land. You can NEVER get enough sleep and the gym will NEVER have a clean floor. It really is amazing to me how much sleep I'm able to get and yet how much I still need. This isn't laziness, people. This is straight up recovery. If you've ever run a marathon you might have a SLIGHT idea of what my body is going through right now. Before all the food and sleep I've gotten in the last few days I was 20 pounds lighter than what I started and if someone were to give me a PT test right now I would fail miserably. However, if you wanted to have a ruckmarching competition I would walk you into the ground guaranteed. Name the amount of weight or the distance, it doesn't matter. My platoon in Alaska, if it's still available by the time I friggin' get there, is gonna think I'm a weak joke because I won't be able to run like I could. Whatever, it'll all work out somehow. Went to my first Southern Baptist revival tonight. Definitely a religious and cultural experience to remember. Talked to Erika tonight on the phone, took a shower, and racked out. Life could definitely be better, but it's not that bad. One day I'll look back on this and it'll all be good.
Day 45: Wednesday, 22 March
0600 wake up. 0630 the RIs showed up. Oh, Ranger Instructor, how I've missed that sweet angelic melodic voice of yours politely requesting that we form up outside for PT. A 2 mile run? What?!? Dude... With substantial effort I managed a 15:45. Pathetic. And the "pushup improvement" afterward? Oh man am I screwed when I get to Alaska. I've still got 2 full phases of Ranger School to go. After breakfast we had a repeat class on platoon ambush and after lunch we had platoon raid complete with practical exercise on the airstrip. At least I got to be OPFOR so I just sat there and got "assaulted" along with my 4 OPFOR buddies. Fun times. After dinner I volunteered for flag detail and then had mail call. Got a letter from my sister Llaura and a postcard from Jason. Good stuff. Had my official "NO GO counseling" with the cadre. Basically I was too much of a "good dude" when in Leadership and the platoon took advantage of it. Every single observation report (OR) for my 3 missions said I did not have enough control over my subordinates because I did not give enough "clear and concise guidance through task, conditions, and standards" and that I didn't spotcheck to make sure people were doing what they were supposed to. My approach worked perfectly in Darby and got me 2/2 on patrols, but apparently that's not good enough when you're dealing with a platoon. The same platoon that needed constant supervision and "clear and concise guidance" at all times. Half of the members of said platoon got recycled for this reason so to the guys that went forward, minus 2nd squad, don't worry because I remember every single one of you and the "task, condition, and standards" you apparently required to operate as a team and which you were incapable of executing without a total jerk in charge of you. Next time around, things are gonna be different when I or any of the TWENTY TWO other recycles in the platoon are in charge. Leniency? Patience? Compassion? Understanding? No dice. Yeah, I learned a hard lesson about leading "Joe". Don't think I'll ever forget it. Haha, I'm gonna "spotcheck" your asses off. If I come across as just slightly bitter or angry, I am. I'm friggin' pissed off. 23 of our peers went forward as blue falcons and the good dudes are stuck here for another round of climbing up and down the mountains of Northern Georgia. Thanks, fellas. Your "teamwork, dependability, initiative, and self sacrifice" will not be forgotten.
Day 46: Thursday, 23 March
0600 wake up. Sat around the bay waiting on a Mac truck to show up with a shipment of MREs we were supposed to download, but it never came so we went to breakfast at 0700 and then went back to sleep until class started at 0930. The RIs went over platoon raid and patrol base until lunch, we went to lunch, and then we did a practical exercise of writing and pitching a WARNO and OPORD. Basically that meant that all the toolbags here in recycle-land got up there and did all the pointless work while Phil Neel, Jim Boland, Seth Loertscher, and I sat in the bleachers in the planning bay, along with the 40 other guys who weren't doing anything, and BS'd about life. After dinner we downloaded the 18 wheeler FULL of MREs that finally showed up. 35 friggin' pallets with 48 cases of MREs on each. With 12 individual MREs in each case that means we unloaded over 20,000 meals or enough for one man to eat 3 meals a day for the next 18+ years. That's a quite a bit of Chicken Cavatelli. Yeah, it took awhile but we got it done. I kiwi'd up the Matterhorns and did some laundry, called Erika, and after my guard shift on the unsecured 20,000+ MREs racked out at 2300. Learned an important lesson today I should have picked up on some time ago. A somewhat large group of Ranger students just standing around is very much like a herd of wildebeests. An RI, otherwise compared to the predator that preys on said wildebeests, can walk up at any time and just snatch up 3, 5, 10, and sometimes even 15 random Rangers for a work detail. Much like the pack of animals, there is strength in numbers and your best bet is to stay as close to the center of the group as possible so as not to get picked off by the constantly circling RIs. Here endeth the lesson.
Day 47: Friday, 24 March
0430 wake up. Our last full day of being recycles before class starts up again tomorrow. 0500 we were standing by (i.e. sleeping) waiting for reps from each of the 3 companies to show up and take their share of MREs from the monster cache we guarded all last night. They eventually started coming by around 0600, we loaded up their respective trucks, and away they went. 0700 breakfast. 0900 we had retraining on all the knots we have to tie next week and we tied and tied and tied up until lunch. After lunch we got a trip to the PX here and I finally got a chance to restock the little stuff I used up in the last month. Exciting day, I know. Yep. Started organizing and packing my stuff up for tomorrow and found out I'm going to 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company. My new roster number is 522. Hopefully that magic number 5 gets me through this time. It damn well better.
Day 48: Saturday, 25 March (Mountains Day Zero)
0540 wake up. Cleaned up the barracks and latrines and got our bags outside by 0700. Had our last ridiculously good meal in the mess hall. Quote of the morning: "I'm going to eat until I hurt myself." Jordan Whitlow, ladies and gentlemen. This 19-year old dude from 1st Ranger Battalion put away 3 eggs over easy, 3 pieces of toast, 3 strips of bacon, tater tots, cottage cheese, a banana, 2 slices of French Toast, 2 bowls of cereal, 2 hard boiled eggs, a large bowl of grits, a bagel, orange juice, grape juice, and milk. RIDICULOUS. But he's still alive and well along with the rest of us that gorged ourselves like that. Our week of weight gain is over and now it's back to an average of 2 MREs a day and 4 hours of sleep, at the most, per night. In a way I'm glad because it means we're one day closer to that jump into Florida, but at the same time I really don't want to do this whole thing again. Screw it. Let's do this.
This morning I made a few phone calls to Erika and my dad and then we downloaded the 18-wheeler of duffel bags from Darby. After a wonderful, and by wonderful I mean not at all good, MRE lunch we sat around and waited for the buses of 06-06 dudes to show up. Let the games begin. Again. They got here around 1315 and I found out pretty quickly I've got a half-decent squad. Trevor O'Malley and Egan O'Reilly, an '04 grad, are in the squad as well as a few other IN guys and then the normal spread of enlisted from the Ranger BN's and SOCOM. We had our bag layout and shakedown, packed the contingency bags, moved into the barracks, and after an MRE dinner got to sleep around 2330. Welcome to 1st Squad, 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company.
Day 49: Sunday, 26 March (Mountains Day 1)
0400 wake up. 0430 formation with rucks in C Co area, 0450 breakfast formation. Same ole same ole as it was last cycle. After breakfast we snuck in a 45-minute nap and then moved down to the Basic Military Mountaineering site at 0700. Rappelled down the 30' wall, tied knots, practical belays, etc. Had an MRE lunch, practiced more knots and belays, got hot chow delivered by "Starvin' Marvin" the mess hall guy, and after MORE knots and belay practice walked back to the company area. Oh, wait, we did some more knots and belays when we got there. Finally got released to the barracks around 2200 and, after cleaning my boots and a shower, racked out at 2245. My squad so far is a bunch of pretty good dudes and the platoon seems a LOT better than last cycle's A-2.
Day 50: Monday, 27 March (Mountains Day 2)
0400 wake up. 0430 ruck formation in the company area, 0500 breakfast formation. Funny how when people, myself included, have those blueberry pancakes for the first time they think it's the greatest breakfast they've ever had, but the magic has worn off for me. Yeah, they're decent, but if I think really hard I can remember Waffle House and Denny's pancakes and THOSE are good. Oh well. It'll be awhile before I can figure out for sure which one is better. Anyway, after breakfast we moved down to the BMM site, practiced a few knots and belays, went over emplacing fixed ropes, hauled a SKEDCO a short distance up a hill, fell down the hill pretty hard and laughed at the ridiculousness of it, learned and practiced the 1-rope bridge, more knots and belays, dinner from Starvin' Marvin, and then we walked back up. Good ole Marvin got that nickname because he's one of the larger guys on camp. Definitely needs 2 seats anytime he flies anywhere. Big dude. More knots after dinner and then bed.
Day 51: Tuesday, 28 March (Mountains Day 3)
0400 wake up. Had our belays and knots test after breakfast and I got 10/10 which means a major plus. Very few people failed overall. I think we had one or two as apposed to last cycle's 10. All of those guys that failed last time passed, Jeremy Murphy included. After the tests we started learning the suspended traverse (see diagram from last cycle's journal entry, haha) and I actually got to ride down it this time. Corey Steiner, my buddy from OBC who got recycled and is now in Mountains with me, found out the hard way it's not advisable to go down the "sus-trav" two people at a time. He and a guy from Greece pretty much slid down the entire hill bouncing off every tree root and rock on the way down. "Damn, that was STUPID." Yeah, but funny funny stuff. After lunch we did the vertical haul or "V-haul" and then went down the 60' wall. Braden was right. Everything is a lot easier and seems to go faster the second time around. Not that I'm 100% happy to be here, but it's not as bad as I thought it'd be. We walked back up to the company area, had hot chow in the mess hall (Mmmm... beets!!! Uh... not cool, Marvin) and then got issued a bit of equipment and sensitive items for our trek up good ole Mt. Yonah tomorrow. "Roster number 522!!" "Roger, Sergeant. Ranger Martin." "Congratulations You're the FO for tomorrow. Here's your radio, hand mikes, and PLGR." So I guess that means I get to carry the PRC-119 SINCGARS radio up Mt. Yonah... AGAIN! Screw it. My squad offered to help distribute the weight of my ruck between the rest of them, but my stubbornness didn't let that happen. We tied everything down and finally got to sleep around 2245.
Day 52: Wednesday, 29 March (Mountains Day 4)
0345 wake up. Got everything packed up, had our gear outside, and I had warned everybody that the ride to Yonah was long and not very warm so we all sniveled up pretty heavily. Good thing we did that, except not, because lo and behold they had a civilian bus for our platoon. Oh, wow, what a treat that was and you better believe we were racked OUT the whole way there. Got to the mountain an hour and some change later and got lined up for our little nature hike. I made it just fine with the good ole radio, but still traded out at the lower LZ about 80% of the way up the hill. Taylor Catrett took over for me. Last week's time to eat and sleep really helped, I guess. Just like last time we hauled "Rescue Randy" the 200 lb dummy up a not-so-fun route and had church services that night. Had a chance to catch up on life with Marshall McGurk after church. He got recycled in Darby our first time through and now that I'm a recycle we're in the same class again. A bunch of us are like that. Corey Steiner, Capozza, Curry, Jim Boland, Adam Miller, Ebarb, Loertscher, and the list goes on. All recycles, and then some. Anyway, the walk up sucked, like always, but it's not so bad at the top.
Day 53: Thursday, 30 March (Mountains Day 5)
0430 wake up. Our squad was allowed to be on chow detail for the hot breakfast the mess hall brought out for us and I got assigned to hand out 2 milks to each dude in line as they walked by. So we're serving all the goodies to our buddies as they walk by and we're BSing about stuff when all of a sudden I notice the expiration date on the milks I'm handing out and I start laughing hysterically. Well, it was more of a maniacal "I'm laughing so I don't cry"-type thing because the date on those damn milks was the same as my former Ranger graduation date: April 7th. Not cool at all, but it's all good. At least I'm not in Darby. We finally got ready to walk up to the climbing and rappelling areas and moved out after way too much yelling from our student chain-of-command about not getting things done fast enough. An NCO at the buddy climb site apparently knew me from almost 2 years ago up at school. He was part of the 101st ABN cadre helping run Camp Buckner and this morning he totally recognized me and asked if I had been a Buckner Two Platoon Leader that summer. Small Army, or something. Speaking of, a kid in my platoon named Nate Wilson and I were talking the other day and I found out he had just gotten back from Camp Arifjaan in Kuwait and when I asked him about the "lady on camp with the pink bicycle" he definitely knew who I was talking about. Good ole Mom, The Desert Chief, is now officially world famous.
Anyway, me and Corey Steiner teamed up for the buddy climb and I was assigned to be the lead climber. We had lane Green and because we were the first pair of the day that meant I had to emplace all the "runners" as I went up. Ask any RI, green lane is not easy, but I made it up without slipping. Corey took over at the halfway point and did well the rest of the way. Just after I came down and moved to the break area the man himself showed up. Chief of Staff of the Army, General Schoomaker, showed up via Blackhawk helicopter to observe training. I didn't personally see him, but my buddies that did said the RIs suddenly became extremely friendly and coach-like towards them as soon as he showed up. Good ole Pete stuck around for awhile checking things out and then loaded up with his entourage and flew away. Can't wait till I can do that someday. We rappelled off the over hang, which was pretty sweet, and then moved back up the hill to do the balance climb, otherwise known as a "yo-yo climb" in the civilian world. Fun, but tough on the hands. We moved back down to our bivouac site, loaded up with our rucks, and walked down the hill. We got on a truck this time and when we got back to Camp Merrill we got issued some more gear to carry around for techniques training. Hand-held radios, maps, machine guns, etc. As we were tying all the new equipment down the Company 1SG came out and announced, "We're going to have a health and welfare inspection at the barracks. Come forward right now if you have any contraband and your life might not be quite as bad afterwards." A few dozen guys, including myself, fell out to the side of the formation where we were told to move to the barracks and stand by to be escorted to our locker by an RI. One of the cadre grabbed me and I told him beforehand, when he asked, that I had a pouch of Gatorade in my locker. He went through the rest of my stuff and when he found nothing else he told me to pack it all back up into my locker. After that I waited outside the barracks with some other guys who had stuff and then we were marched over to the C Co Admin Building where we signed our SOR (serious observation report) paperwork and were told to go back to our squads. I'll find out tomorrow what's going to happen. It's bad enough to be recycled once when there's nothing you can do about it, but to have it happen AGAIN because you made a conscious decision you knew you shouldn't have? Good Lord...
The rest of the story...
Mountains Round 1
Mountains Round 2
Mountains Round 3