I joined the Air Force about 17 years ago, but I grew up with dreams of becoming a Marine. I changed my mind because my Air Force recruiter was savvy. I told him when I sat down that I wanted to be a Marine, so he unexpectedly tossed me a 20mm shell he had on the bookshelf behind him, I caught it, and he said, “Yep, you’re qualified to be a Marine.”
I was 18, impressionable, and I’ve always been a sucker for a good joke.
I scored well on the ASVAB, and the military was just what an ignorant teenager like me needed. It was a reason to stay in shape, a way to meet girls, and my service was little more than a glorified vacation to Osan, South Korea and Spangdahlem, Deutschland.
I wanted to be a Marine because my cousin was the coolest when I was growing up. He was 11 years older than me. When I was seven, my cousin had a crossbow, a punching bag, and Duck Hunt. I wanted to be just like the guy.
He became a Marine after he graduated high school. His dad was also a Marine, and someone I have always looked up to. My estranged father was a Marine. My Marine brother won an episode of the Price is Right in his dress blues .
I, instead, became a Munitions Systems Journeyman in the “Chair Force” and I feel like I experienced too much air conditioning to accept the same ‘Happy Veteran’s Day’ as true American warriors.
I was able to immerse myself in some other cultures, and I can’t help but feel like I got more out of it than the Air Force did.
I appreciate it, please don’t misunderstand, but it’s hard for me to accept the same recognition as guys like Army Ranger veteran Terry Whaley, of Tuttle, who was kind enough to visit with me for a story Monday. A Desert Storm vet who served in the 35th Cavalry, he became an elite soldier so he could personally see to the future of this great nation.
Enlisting his senior year of college, Whaley was already in shape from playing football at Cameron University, so he took on Special Forces training.
He said Monday, “When I went to Ranger School, that was the hardest 17 weeks of my life. When we got there and weighed in, I probably weighed about 227 pounds. Seventeen weeks later, they flew us back to Germany and I weighed 152. You just didn’t get much sleep. The last 14 weeks is on-mission, so you’re sleeping about two hours a night. Maybe you could stop and get a 45-minute cat nap some days. We only got one MRE a day, and you had to find it.”
U.S. Special Forces include the Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers, Marine Raiders, and many others. SF troops complete many forms of intense, intimidating training programs to keep themselves and their fellow soldiers alive in the field.
Like Ranger School, SERE School is one of those programs. SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Rescue, and Escape. My cousin was a SERE Instructor, so I love to talk to guys who have been. Mr. Whaley was gracious enough to share his SERE training experience with me Monday.
“You would have to find water, but even when you find it, you have to make decisions though. Your ruck is 100 pounds. You don’t want it to be much over that, because you don’t know how long you’re going to travel, and you still have to carry your weapon. Do you carry cold-weather clothing? Nope. You get rid of all that. It’s freezing, but you’re going to have to learn what is most important for you to travel with. You have to have water and you have to have ammo. Everything else you pretty much have to do away with.”
SERE School tests a service member’s mentality to its breaking point.
“SERE school plays with your mind,” Whaley said. “After a while, you’re up so much, the sleep deprivation creates points there where you start to wonder if you’re still at SERE school. You start to think ‘This is real. Am I still at SERE school or has something happened? You have to watch out, because you don’t want to actually kill somebody, but you’re really close to it. Real close. It’s all a mind trip.”
Special Forces training does not leave room for the weak.
“The whiners get cut out, and quick,” Whaley said. “I got it in my mind that I was going to make it no matter what. If they found me and I was frozen stiff at the end, then that’s what I was going to do.”
My training? I spent eight weeks in a classroom, then learned to drive a forklift.
One of those stories is better thanthe other, objectively.
I want to thank my cousin Chuck, Mr. Whaley, and all the other combat veterans past, present, and future.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank each of you for risking your lives so that our nation is able to maintain some semblance of freedom, and so that servicemen like me could serve in such a safe capacity.
To the rest of my fellow veterans, I want to say thank you for your service as well. Although I insecurely diminish my own service, I value each of you for doing your part and I salute you all.