In the first segment of this piece, we talked about the initial trip down to Ft. Rucker and we introduced our readers to retired CW4 Wade Chapple, one of the bigger characters I came across in my time in the military. Wade and I served in 1st Bn. 7th SFG(A) together, went to the Warrant Course in the same class and got assigned to 3/7 down in Panama after graduation.
We were roommates at Ft. Gullick (Espinar), and to jump ahead a bit, when we arrived in Panama the housing office wouldn’t let us move in until work that was being done was finished. Well, we just really needed a place to dump our stuff and deploy anyway, and it turned into a fiasco but Wade convinced the housing office to let us move in and they were free to finish work. We lived in what was known as “the pit”, with all DOD school teachers as our neighbors.
We were just down the hill from the pool and our work schedule prevented us from using it during normal hours. The MPs were always trying to catch anyone in there at night, and Wade wanted to get his Scuba legs going so every other night, we’d sneak into the pool when we were around and swim laps and hide under the surface when the MPs would drive by. Of course, if they’d caught us, the explaining to the Bn CDR why the two new officers were trespassing would have been a good one. Never a dull moment. But I digress, and it is back to Ft. Rucker. The cadre members of the WOCS had given the SF guys the $hit detail of cleaning their offices one night. We had some of the kids helping out and in reality, it wasn’t hard.
But between Chapple and Brian Bewley we made it a UW exercise in sabotage. Bewley got a bunch of those old flash cubes that would go on top of those old film cameras. I know you younger people are like “what the heck are those?” He started wiring all of the TACs desks with the flash cubes and batteries with one of our other SF guys, a tall guy from Bad Tolz whose name, unfortunately, escapes me after all these years. Must be CTE/TBI.
However, as soon as they would open their drawer of their desk, poof! A big flash would greet them. No harm, just a startling reminder that the freedom fighters of Pineland were in their midst. As they were doing this, Chapple took an Exacto knife and started cutting around a large wooden hand that each of the TACs had outside their door. The usual procedure was for the candidates to enter the office and pound three times on the hand before entering their respective TAC’s office for the weekly counseling. Most students didn’t really pound it but would open palm it to make a loud slapping sound which would suffice. Chapple wanted to make an entrance for our next morning counseling, and he neatly cut the drywall all around the hand. Everything was set. We finished the cleaning and headed off to bed.
The TACs normally arrived about 15 minutes before the students were woken up at 4:15 a.m. for early morning PT session. By four we were all awake and dressed and looking out the window at the TACs building. They all arrived at about the same time and entered the office. Making small talk in the hallway, no one had entered their offices yet.
Finally, they sat down at their desks. Our biggest nemesis, our own “Rat-Face” a CID warrant, opened his top drawer ….POOF! He jumped back and yelled WTF!. The others came quickly. He explained what happened and opening the drawer, they found the flash cube. The others began laughing (very surprising), they encouraged him to open another drawer….POOF!. So now they were all involved going from office to office opening desk drawers laughing like kids at a park. Pressed against the glass across the street, that wasn’t the reaction we were expecting. We filed out for PT, the TACs came out and said nothing and we PT’d like any other normal day. While we were running, as one of the flank road guards, I stopped at an intersection until the class passed. One of the TACs, young Aviation CW3 stopped beside me jogging in place. As we were running to catch back up with the front, he said, “Hey,…. nice job last night.”
All of that benevolence was soon to be a thing of the past thanks to Mr. Chapple. We filed into the offices for the craziness that was the weekly counseling. I was in the office of the most bizarre Guamanian CW4 ever. In between telling/nearly yelling that I was never going to pass the course, had no leadership potential, that I should quit now, yada, yada, he kept stopping to offer me a banana on his desk. He kept saying that with the heat and the all the sweating we were doing, I needed to eat more bananas for the potassium which he pronounced “Potash-um”. It was crazy. He’d go off on a rant and stop himself and then say, “Please…take the banana…is good for you.” I was barely listening waiting for Chapple who was on deck to go next door. That’s when all hell broke loose.
When a candidate entered the TACs office, he was supposed to make himself heard…no wimpy knocks. When Chapple hammered the wooden hand, the drywall that he’d cut the night before easily gave way and the wooden hand flew thru the wall and into the TACs’ office and landed on his desk. He went ballistic. Wade was doing pushups on the floor in the hallway. The students “bracing the wall” that knew what was happening, were trying to stifle laughter, the ones who didn’t stared in total open mouthed amazement.
I was quickly booted from the other office to join him in the hallway. We were sent outside and they commenced to smoking us for a good amount of time. The sweat was running down our faces and nobody was offering me a banana now. I guess my “Potash-um” levels didn’t mean squat anymore. Throughout the smoke session, they’d ask us if we wanted to quit. Chapple kept saying, “You can’t beat me up.” Finally, one cadre member said, “What do you mean? Nobody is laying hands on you.” Wade responded, “When we leave here, we’re going to SERE School and they’re going to beat us up. This isn’t that bad.” That ended that.
Coincidentally, it was the last time we were tasked with cleaning the offices.
The flag detail mentioned in the first piece was interesting. We got tasked to do it and having never done it before, we asked the TACs for a manual which they gave us the night before. Bewley, I believe it was who took charge and assigned everyone a task and we rehearsed it once or twice. We filed over to the flagpole outside the Post Cdrs’ office. The first time went off without a hitch, it looked smooth and it turned out the General wasn’t in his office. The second time, we could see him checking us out. He had a reputation as a stickler for this particular ceremony and had the reputation as chewing out the detail and the cadre members if they messed it up.
We did…if I don’t say so myself, a bang-up job. There was no messing around here and we mustered all of the drill and ceremony pomp we could. We were pretty pleased with ourselves when the General’s aide, a young Major came out and asked us to standby because he’d like to talk to us. We didn’t know what to expect so we stood there and waited. The General came over and had a big smile on his face. “As I was looking out the window, I was thinking, these guys don’t look like the ordinary flag detail from the WOC course,” he said. “All Special Forces guys?” he asked. “What was this, some kind of punishment?”
We were all quiet and Brian said, “Ah we thought so sir, we were told that you regularly chew out WOCs at the flag detail.” The general laughed and said that wasn’t happening today. He told his aide to send a note to our cadre that the flag detail for that Friday was the most professional he’d seen since becoming the Post Commander. “So,” he asked, “Are we stealing all of you guys for Aviation?” When we told him we were candidates for the SF Warrant Program, he shook his head. “I didn’t think they’d let that many of you guys come our way.” He made small talk, asked us about some of the deployments we’d been on and wished us all luck. Who said that guy had a stick up his butt?
As mentioned before, the classes during the day weren’t anything earth shattering in terms of learning new material, for us, with an average of about 10 years of service, it was all just a rehash of things we’ve had before. One of our classes was a writing class that we had at the Instructor Training Course at Ft. Bragg. It was taught by a civilian, an older woman who looked like she was in the dictionary listed under Sweet Grandmother. She spoke slowly, softly and talked to everyone like we were her favorite grandkids.
Chapple asked her from our seats in the back row if indeed we had to have this class since we had it at Bragg. She smiled and said that we did because it was part of the WOCS curriculum. No problem, Wade said, we were just asking. And then let out another one of his tremendous burps. Grandma was shocked and her mouth made a perfect “O”. When it came time to read some of the stuff we had written, Wade read his in perfect Spanish like he was teaching a class down south. She looked at me, as she’d taken a seat in the back row. I smiled and she just shook her head. “That was very nice Mr. Chapple but can we do it in English perhaps?” she asked. Grandma was the one person Wade couldn’t rile up, not that he wanted to with her.
At the end of the WOC course, you have one final inspection, done by a group of cadre officers from another battalion so that there is no bias involved. The last two weeks that is all everyone talked about, students, TAC officers …everyone. And even though they were supposed to rotate the leadership positions every week, the cadre picked the two guys with “no leadership potential” to be the class leader and student first sergeant. That’s right Balestrieri and Chapple,…Heaven help us.
The course was winding down and the BS got put to the side, now they wanted everyone to graduate and move on. There was one thing that they didn’t play around with and in this case they were right. There was a method of rolling a tee shirt tightly when wet, then putting it on a lamp covered with a towel, called baking. It would make your shirts tighter than the third monkey on Noah’s Ark in the rain, but it also would ruin the shirt and was a huge fire hazard. And in the WWII buildings, they wouldn’t tolerate it at all. Anyone caught doing it was immediately given the boot.
My stuff hadn’t been touched in ten days, so the last few days were kicked back with just formations, PT, and chow. I was in our building when someone came and got me. Some of the kids were panicking. Worried about the final inspection, many of them were baking t-shirts. I called an immediate class formation. The switch to the SFAS cadre came right back on. This was the last thing we needed to deal with.
I cut loose on the class, telling them that anyone who was in panic mode after all these weeks was a sorry MFer and doesn’t need to be in the farkin’ course. One of the brown nosers who correctly assumed the cadre were watching, told me that Candidates were not supposed to use foul language while a student. “If my language offends you, Fuck You,” I said. We’re talking about getting at a minimum getting a student and his bunkmate booted from the course, not to mention a fire. Then winding it down, I said, we’d all got to that point, if we continue to play the game, every one of us was going to walk across the stage and graduate. I was just about to release the class when from behind me the Senior TAC appeared. He made it clear…loudly so, that this wasn’t a game and it was serious business and for me to relay that ..and then dismiss the class.
“I stand corrected,” I told the class. “This is not a game and will be treated accordingly.” The senior TAC was going in the head shed. “So, continue to participate in the sport, and you will graduate. Dismissed.” I was the only one doing push-ups that afternoon.
The CW4 who did our final inspection was a Special Forces guy from 1st Group. He was busted up and walked with a cane. But he knew Bewley and was going to play a practical joke on him. He and two of his officers came in the barracks during breakfast. And they filled Bewley’s laundry bag with a ton of contraband.
When the class filed back from chow we started the final inspection. Everything was going smoothly until Bewley’s turn came and when they dumped his laundry bag, extra belt buckles, boots, belts, and a nip of Jack Daniels came tumbling out on his bunk. The silence was heavy. “Something you want to tell us, Candidate?” Bewley’s face went red. “Obviously that was planted by someone who wanted to watch me go down in flames.” They all cracked up.
At the end of our inspection, we were all passed…imagine that. The SF warrant told us, our orders had changed and we were needed at Bragg early because SERE school was starting early. We approached the cadre and they got us out-processed quickly. But they still wanted us to go for the final “victory run”, followed by a 10 a.m. ceremony. The other guys had a noon flight that would put them in Fayetteville early. But Chapple and I were driving and that was going to take longer.
We talked it over. Wade said, “Well, we got our diploma, we are already out-processed, I say screw that…let’s sky out of here at 4 a.m.” So when everyone was woken up, he pulled his truck on the company street and we commenced to packing it up. The cadre were staring at him, knowing he really wasn’t leaving he was just loading the truck and putting it back in the parking lot. Nope. I said goodbye to a few guys and walked outside. Wade started the truck and snapped a perfect salute to the cadre who stood there staring at our tail lights going down the street. He even left on his own terms. Chapple 2 WOC Cadre 0.
A few weeks later, we were in the middle of SERE School, in the final phase, and I don’t have to tell you what happens, you’re made “uncomfortable”. We were paraded about with bags over our heads and were made to kneel in the gravel. One by one the “bad guys” were going down the line and hitting prisoners and asking some silly question. When it was my turn, I was only hit a glancing blow. “That didn’t hurt,” I thought I said to myself. But it was out loud. That got remedied quick, and yes it hurt.
As I was trying to kneel again, they popped the guy next to me and asked him, “Where are coming from?” Even with a bag over his head, I’d recognize that voice anywhere. “I don’t know, but I don’t want to go where that MFer next to me (meaning me) is going”… he was “chastised” many times by the guards for constantly asking them “What time is it?” in a subtle bit of turning the tables on them and a “small victory” for us.
Chapple 1 SERE 0.
Photos Courtesy: DOD, Wikipedia