I spent the better part of Saturday afternoon on the phone with one of oldest and dearest of friends. My buddy Wade Chapple is a retired Chief Warrant Officer CW4 from 7th SFG(A). He’s also one the funniest guys you’d ever meet and an absolute character. We spent the entire time remembering the good, funny times of our careers and my sides literally hurt from laughing so hard.
Wade was one of the most tactically and technically proficient officers I’ve ever known. After a short time as A-Team XOs in 7th Group in both Panama and Ft. Bragg, we both were team leaders as at that time there was a dearth of Captains in SF Branch. He later moved on and was the American advisor to the two Colombian Special Forces Battalions, that were co-located at the site of the Lancero School and the NCO Academy. We’ll feature more of that in a later date.
But back when we were just a bit younger, we attended the Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS) together. The Army in its infinite wisdom decided that SF NCOs who are transitioning to the Warrant program need to go back to a sillier time and learn how to roll t-shirts the size of a Coke can, stand numerous inspections and step back in time for grade school antics. Our class was filled with about 50 high school kids who wanted to fly helicopters. There were six SF NCOs and a couple of CID agents. We had known each other in 1st Bn. 7th SFG and got orders to go to Ft. Rucker for the WOCS. Rather than fly commercial, Wade was going to drive his truck and was looking for some company. “Awesome,” I said. “This should be fun.” Little did I know …
Putting two smart-assed Yankees together on a road trip to the south should be a piece of cake right? We drove down to Rucker, got on the base about 3 in the morning and were searching in vain for the Student Company. You’d think there’d be a sign right? Wrong. After driving around aimlessly for 30 minutes, we saw a huge black dude with a shaved head and carrying his luggage. Pulling over, I yelled, “Hey buddy, are you going to the head shed to sign in?” He turned and said, “Are you, two students?” …Suppressing my smart-ass response, since we needed an answer, I said, “That’s right pal, students.” “Second door on the right,” he said. “The one that has a light on.”
We pulled into the parking lot, walked up to the door and signed in. We got our stuff out of the truck and made our way to the barracks, an old Army WWII building at the end of the street.
Our very first student formation set the tone. A bunch of Warrant Officer TAC-Officers descended on the formation, trying the old intimidation game. It scared the hell of the high school kids, for us it was like …meh, whatever. Then the door to the Tac Shed burst open and the big black dude appeared. He wasn’t a student but a CW3. “Oh this ought to be good,” Wade said. The warrant was scanning the crowd and sure enough, he spotted us at the back. He tore thru the formation looking for you know who. “You find your way BUDDY?, PAL, BROTHER? ” he screamed in my face. “Yes thank you, sir.” My response wasn’t good enough for Wade. “Hey, at least we asked the right guy…er Sir.” The TAC almost laughed then caught himself and promised to keep a close eye on us two. It wouldn’t be hard.
They broke our company up alphabetically, which means that four of the SF guys, Ross Andrews, Brian Bewley, Chapple and myself were in one squad. Four E-7s and a bunch of kids right out of basic. Ross was a quiet guy with a wry sense of humor who often wondered, I thought, what did he do to deserve going with us. Brian was a former 3/7 guy who came from 1st Group and is a super dude. It was a marriage made in heaven. In fairness, the WOCS cadre had no idea then (the SF Warrant program was still fairly new) on what to do with us. The course was really designed for the high-school-to-flight-school kids. The chicken$hit harassment and games they played had the opposite effect on us. Truth be told, the kids were in awe of us. Older guys with SF. Ranger Tabs, EIBs/CIBs, Master parachutist wings, Combat Diver, HALO badges….you get the idea.
If the cadre were smart, they’d have encouraged the SF guys to mentor the young kids and show them the way. Instead, their mission was to “break and belittle” the SF guys in an attempt to get the kids to fall in line. It failed miserably. We were constantly harangued in front of the other students as having no leadership potential and were singled out constantly for the usual chicken$hit infractions. Their mind games were amateur stuff, I had just come from being a cadre member of Selection where the mind-f**k is an art form. Shortly after submitting my WOCS packet in 7th SFG, I came under orders for the Special Warfare Center, SWC. And SWC sat on my packet until they got nearly 18 months out of me. Ah, the joys of the school house. We finished a class four days before Chapple and I left for Rucker. Talk about changing hats quickly.
Our first Company run, they made the SF guys the six road guards. Four flankers and two in the front, where the pace was set. Chapple and Bewley were Combat Divers and anyone who has been to Key West will tell you that they love to run and do so fast. As the run was progressing, they kept oh-so-slowly kept picking up the pace. When we came down the company street the formation was stretched out like a snake. The TACs were pissed. We pushed Ft. Rucker’s landscape down a few inches after that.
The daily inspections were always comical. You’d come back from class to find the barracks tore up at times and it really wasn’t a big deal. The kids freaked, so you picked up your stuff and put it away…what else was there to do? Someone had told us, use Neutrogena soap, it dries with no bubbles and won’t get gigged on inspections. Sounded reasonable enough. Except that Wade decided that it looked too pretty in his soap dish, so just before leaving for the class he bit his bar of Neutrogena leaving a full set of teeth marks visible in it. He got extra demerits for biting his soap. Little did they know that this just encouraged more shenanigans.
The only peace was during the day when we went to class. The vast majority of the instructors were very laid back and good teachers. Many of the instructors would ask the SF guys to interject with any comments or experiences that could be useful. For the most part (more to that later), our times in class were largely non-eventful. But then there were the inevitable meals. Three times a day we went to the mess hall where the WOCS ate. I can say with absolute certainty that the entire system there with the “disciplined dining” rules is a pain in your fourth point of contact and served no earthly purpose for creating a better Special Forces Warrant Officer.
What it did do, however, was to create a weight loss program for WOC Steve B. I lost almost 20 pounds at Ft. Rucker. When returning to Ft. Bragg, people asked, “Is Rucker that tough?” No, it isn’t. But I rarely if ever finished a meal there. Because my good buddy Wade invariably got us tossed out of the mess hall. I’m not going to get into all of the details about the WOCS idea of disciplined dining. There were many, perhaps it teaches attention to detail, discipline and a ton of other attributes that make great pilots. I don’t know. I thought it was a load of crap. As for my buddy, he thought it “unseemly for a barrel-chested freedom fighter” to resort to such unmanly ways to eat. He immediately set out to make a statement. As per the norm, I was beside him all the way. Chapple would invent new ways to piss off the cadre in the dining hall every day. And every day we’d get tossed out with a meal, half or less eaten.
Strict silence was imposed, the WOC will not talk during meals. The mess halls were quiet except for the sound of knives and forks on the plates. Welcome to 7th Special Forces Group dining rules as dictated by Wade. He made it his mission to push against the rules every day. And nearly every day we’d get tossed out of the mess hall, for the inevitable push ups outside.
On Day 2 we were eating lunch and across the table, from me, I see that old, devilish grin and know something is about to go down. Wade chugs a glass of milk and then another. Which wasn’t too out of the ordinary as that time of year, late August – early September is hot in Alabama. But then he unleashed the loudest belch possible. It was one of those five seconds, “Revenge of the Nerds” burps that reverberated around the room. All motion stops, all eyes go to our table. Every student at our table is trying their best to stifle laughter save for Wade, who calmly munches a piece of bread. Outside we were invited to go and begin to push Ft. Rucker halfway to China.
It wasn’t long before Bewley and Andrews, our other two SF buds in the squad began getting to the back or front of the line to stay away from the floor show and eat in relative peace. They were in retrospect the smart ones.
Each class had a board in the mess hall with these little hooks like you’d hang your keys on. Each class had a color (ours was Gold), and the board had different categories, Disciplined dining, pig rights and dessert rights. Being the junior class, we were stuck in disciplined dining. At the end of flag detail which they saddled the SF guys with (again more to this later), we finished and arrived at the mess hall about five minutes before the class did marching from the classroom. Wade decided a little celebration was in order. “Hey I think we did a great job on the flag detail and the class should get pig rights. “Pig Rights” was eating like a normal person, slouching back in the chair, talking in low tones but more like a regular mess hall in the Army. Wade walked into the mess hall, walked straight over to the board and moved the Gold class tag to the column under the pig. He then walked outside and smiled….”alrighty then.”
The class arrived and as they entered the mess hall and standing at parade rest while waiting to get a tray, everyone caught sight of the disk dangling from the pig rights hook and thought the cadre were giving us a treat. The class sat and conversed without a care in the world. None the wiser. Our cadre looked over incredulous, everyone in the class was talking. Our TAC’s head snapped to the board and there proudly dangling under the pig was the Gold disk. The other TACs immediately had a huddle and thought the Senior TAC authorized it….nope just the senior SF guy.
The Senior TAC showed up as the class was filing out. A quick conversation ensued and the TAC officers waited until the class was assembled and then commenced to reading the riot act. They wanted to know why the class was using pig rights and the students said because the board said it was so. We all knew who they suspected but the flag detail although first to arrive was the last in the chow line. They stopped short of accusing anyone since no one actually saw the disk moved.
Fast forward about 10 days later, once again the senior NCOs (Read SF guys) get the flag detail in front of the Post Commander’s office. It goes off without a hitch. In fact, the Major General who was the commander of Rucker at that time was a stickler for the flag detail and liked to watch it. After it was over, his aide came out and told us to stand fast the general wanted to speak to us. Needless to say, he was surprised to see all those SF tabs there. His first comment “I thought you SF guys hated doing drill and ceremonies.” He told his aide to send a note to the WOCS that the flag detail on this day was the most professional he saw during his time there.
On the way to the mess hall, Wade thought it was time for another celebration. As we marched over, he jogged ahead to ensure he beat the class there. We turned the corner just as the class was arriving from the class building. A few seconds later Wade appears at my elbow. “It is ice cream time.” We all cracked up. Sure enough, the Gold Class had dessert rights. As everyone filed in they noticed the disk and headed to the soft-serve ice cream machine. Our TACs were livid. And our nemesis, who we nicknamed “Rat Face” made a beeline for our table. “Candidate”, he said looking at me. “Did you give the class dessert rights?” I made the most innocent face I could make up. “How could I do that?” I protested. “I don’t have the authority.” He looked skeptical. “Chapple, did you give the class dessert rights?” “Sir,” he said. “I am aware of no such action or activity…however, if I were, I would not be inclined to discuss it.”
Rat Face looked ready to blow a gasket. Just then the note from the General’s aide arrived…in a nick of time. The CG sent a message to the Senior TAC that we should be rewarded. After marching back to the barracks we stood there for 10 minutes waiting to be dismissed. The TACs finally emerged from their building and said that for the remainder of the class, the Gold Class would not be granted either Pig Rights or Dessert Rights in the mess hall without a TAC officer specifically telling us so. In the battle of psychological operations, don’t mess with the men trained in Unconventional Warfare. Chapple 1 WOC Cadre 0.
In our next segment, we’ll look at the rest of the course…and what a strange trip it was.
Photo Courtesy: DOD