Thinking about my two friends going into a room and a barricaded shooter taking them down haunts me still. What if I were still there? Maybe I would have hammered that guy. How many times did Santora say I need one and I fell in behind him? I searched for him through the elephant grass one night and tripped over a man with an AK laying on the ground. He could have killed a few of us, but luckily he was a coward and decided to hide. I ripped the rifle out of his hands as I tripped on his sling.
I got up like we had practiced so many times grappling and all the wrestling matches. I over took the man with ease and cuffed him. I had to find Santora! I dragged the guy to the woodline and there he was, looking like Vin Diesel in kit with his smart ass New York accent, “What the hell you doin’? Dancin’ with the guy?” He helped me cuff him to a tree, and by then, the rest of our element was a few meters away and we were assigned a squirter chase.
We ran through a Dr. Seuss village scanning windows, doors, any dark corner a person or gun barrel could be. We had to get this guy…he was a top three. I remember us all becoming a rolling death machine at the speed of light. We had to go through an entire village and follow up a rocky draw to catch this goat man at about 8500 ft elevation after we had been down around 3500 for the past few weeks. By the time we got to the top of that draw, I remember Jay puking and Kubik, too. They both had 240’s and I had the mortar. That’s ranger batt – a mission can unfold all sorts of ways and everyone has to be ready to do anything. Normally we wouldn’t be chasing squirters with all that heavy stuff, but it just so happened the guy ran right to where we were going.
He ended up disappearing over a ridge about 300 meters from us as we got up there, but surprise, we had another group of rangers we dropped off further away for just such an occasion that intersected him. Those nights replayed in my head as I sat in a hay ring looking at the full moon in the winter sky. A lot of my most exciting missions were during the winter there, just because they seemed so epic, you felt like a World War II guy in Bastogne. So when I see Orion’s Belt and the moon, I think back to Afghanistan running up mountains and running to be right on the back of a ranger buddy who called out that he needed someone and he was going in. “Yep, I’ll be there buddy. Doesn’t matter what’s on the other side of that damn door…me and you…we got this.”
When they died and I was in a hospital, all I could think of was maybe things would have been different. I didn’t do my job. I didn’t have their backs. It took me years and miles of trails to finally realize that war is a giant game of chance, just like life. I got hit by a drunk driver, they got shot in the chest. When you’re a ranger you know that can happen, that’s why the brotherhood is so tight, because every time we stood behind or beside another ranger before a breach, we knew that could happen and we would still be there.
So when you get out and start finding out what to do with the longest part of your life, you have the sinking feeling that you already did the most exciting and meaningful thing you’ll ever do. You had purpose. Now you don’t. When your friends die, you think, what didn’t I do? When people treat you like some dirt-bag because you’re irritable because your mind is still on Mars, while they are all on their own tiny version of earth…you feel like you did it all for nothing. No one truly understands but my ranger brothers and I, and they are scattered all over the country.
Visiting each other is the only thing that seems to make me feel great again. It makes me feel like I used to when we all made it back and started going to chow. My mouth is watering for the ritualistic, post-mission Dr Pepper as I type this. When they finally walk out of the airport or get out of their car, it feels like we have all just been on leave for a while. Right away we are right back to having each others backs, sharing stories that either scare normal people or they’ll think you must be crazy because of how happy you seem to be about ridding evil from the earth.
When you’re with one of your ranger buddies it’s all good again to be your true self. The one true self that only your ranger brothers really know. They know what it feels like to not have Patton, Janki or Kubick or Santora or Kopp, Dillon, Rudd, Ski, Mcghee, the list goes on and on and continues to grow even after we got out. The only way to help that list to stop from growing outside of natural circumstances, is we’ve got to be there. We lead each other now. We need to be in person with each other.
No matter what a person is going through, myself included, some gave all. Those men are the men I think of every day and thank. If we are breathing, we are in the fight. My career ended in a way I hadn’t imagined, so I didn’t accomplish the goals that my heroes, my leaders, my peers and mentors prepared me for. I met and am molded by the strongest, fiercest, most professional warriors and men in the world, capable of the impossible at a moments notice. I deployed…I fought…I shot. I got to be an airborne ranger at war for this country.
We are the scary men who come in the night to kill the monsters, but we do it for love while they do it for power and hate. A fine line to walk for a man’s soul. If I hadn’t had these men to walk it with me who knows where I’d be. These are the men who know what true leadership and brotherhood means. Men who know what perfection is and can’t stand people who don’t even try. The civilians that do support us are invaluable, but there’s nothing like a ranger buddy being there for you. If we can’t be over there destroying the evil, we should all be here for each other and really make it a point to go see someone you served with. It makes a big difference.
Rangers Lead The Way!
This article appeared in the Havok Journal June 29, 2018.