When we think about Special Forces Selection and Assessment (SFAS), nothing fun, funny or silly immediately comes to mind. You’ll hear about the horror stories of the ruck marches, the soft sand of nearly every Camp Mackall firebreak, the Star land navigation course and the various conveyances constructed during Team Week.
It is known more for “Embracing the Suck” than it is for the levity of it all. And yet, while a cadre member, certain things stood out that made it very difficult to keep a straight face. I was talking to an old friend not too long ago and we began to talk about some of the crazy stuff that went on out there and contrary to popular belief, the cadre at SFAS in fact, DO have a sense of humor…sometimes.
I have a few funny anecdotes from those days of yore that some of you may find amusing. And many of you will have your own in the future. If so, please share.
Fun With the Sand Man:
Ask anybody who has successfully finished SFAS and they’ll have their own horror stories of the “Sand Man” event during Team Week. The way it worked back then was that the candidate team would ruck to a location where they’d be given the task of evacuating two friendly pilot casualties to friendly lines.
The students would be given several large poles, lashings, and a hammock to be used as a litter. The two “pilots” were nothing more than Nomex flight suits that were filled with sandbags. The weight of each litter had to be well over 300 pounds. Plus, each of the candidates had to carry their rucksacks which had to weigh 45 pounds dry, which meant without food or water.
The candidates were instructed to treat the casualties as you would an actual casualty. That meant, if you were to set the litter down, it had to be eased down and not dropped.
While walking with one group, I was right next to the second litter that one team was carrying. One candidate, audibly said, “F**k this!” and dropped his corner of the litter. Of course, the snowball effect happened immediately. On the corner just in front of the candidate who dropped it, the pole slid off that candidate’s shoulders and slammed into his foot with the force of a sledgehammer.
Candidate #2 yelped in pain and after hopping around for a few seconds, was walking in small circles trying to not show that he was in agony. Of course as a cadre member, while the urge to call Candidate #1 a two-pronged word of which buddy is the first, we’re expected to maintain our composure. “Candidate, would you like to see the medic”, I asked? He shook his head no. “Would like time to take off your boot and treat your foot yourself?” Again he shook his head, obviously thinking that if he took his boot off, it might never get back on. Like we were supposed to, my next question was also by the book, “Do you feel you can continue to train, candidate?” (Our major would have been proud), And he nodded without saying anything. I instructed the team leader to give the team a break in the shade off the dirt road, while I arranged a pickup for Candidate #1 who was done. He quit.
The white pickup arrived with one of our medics, Candidate #1 was unceremoniously put in the back and forgotten. Our medic talked to Candidate #2 who already had a drop or two of blood seeping from his boot. “See me when you get back tonight, candidate,” he said. Again, with a nod. “Yes sergeant,” was all he said. A few moments later the team picked up and moved out. The student team leader had two guys who weren’t under a “Sandman” and they gave Candidate #2 a break first and allowed him to try to get his feet back under him.
I slid up next to him and after a few moments, I asked him if he was good to go. He nodded yes again, and finally said, “I was afraid if I opened my mouth a few minutes ago, the only thing that would’ve come out was me squealing like a little bitch.” And then he looked at me in horror as if he said something wrong. I tried unsuccessfully to stifle a smile and just shook my head.
Another class with the Sandman stumbled in the Camp Mackall soft sand and they lost their litter. One candidate had the pole whack the hell out of the back of his head. He was out on his feet, but rather than go down and get his bearings, he tried to remain upright and teetered-tottered every which way. He began to stumble toward the second team.
Afraid of another group going down, I tried to lurch forward and grab ahold of him, but his teetering took on a life of its own and we looked like two drunken sailors trying to hold on to a telephone pole. One of the candidates, speaking to his classmate said, “Do you two dance together all the time.” That time everyone laughed…including me.
A few moments later, and we back on the trail, none the worse for wear. And those candidates all were later selected by the way, other than the first one.
All of our cadre members had radios that were to be on and monitored at all times. Some guys like my old roommate and best bud Dave O. never could be bothered. Our head shed would occasionally radio us for updates and want to know where certain teams were, for what? I don’t know, just to stay informed I would venture. But the other cadre members would keep each other abreast of what was going on and certain NCOs were hilarious in their descriptions of what was going on. None better than Steve S. who was a 5th SFG guy before coming to SWC and the schoolhouse.
So one day, our Major is contacting all the teams to check in and everyone did except Dave O’s group. A few minutes later, our two teams passed each other on the road and I relayed to him that they were looking for him to check in. In typical Dave fashion, he shrugged and said, “he’ll get over it.” So, just about two minutes later, the Major is calling him again…no answer. And I had a brilliant idea. I could imitate my bud’s Cuban-American New York City accent easily and I could get him off the hook.
So I responded on the radio for him and relayed his position. Then the commander commenced chewing my/Dave’s ass for not monitoring the frequency during the day as he ordered… So, I answered as I “knew” my bud would, “No worries…I’m on it,” I said. The commander Major V. asked what in the hell he was doing anyway… In my perfect accent, I answered, “Hey I’m just working here.”
Of course, all the other NCOs knew it wasn’t Dave but me on the radio and the chatter started. No one dimed me out, but everyone was calling in with their own take on how they too were “just working out here.” Major V. was pissed.
So, when we got back, the major and the sergeant major commence to chew Dave out for being a smartass on the radio. Of course, it took them all of about a minute to realize that he didn’t have a clue of what they were talking about. As soon as my group re-entered Camp Mackall, I was called for and got a major ass-chewing and a counseling statement, for “improper and unnecessary radio chatter.” As much as I proclaimed total ignorance of what transpired and gave my best and most sincere innocent look, they didn’t buy it. Dave did monitor his radio for about a day and then went happily back to ignoring it again…
What Are You Doing, Checking His Feet For!”
As I’ve written here in the past, we had one class where the candidates got rained and snowed on for nearly the entire Selection schedule. It was February, and it started as snow but then it was just warm enough for the remainder of the class for it to fall as rain.
The soft sand of Mackall was turned into a muddy quagmire. Standing water was everywhere. The candidates’ feet were wet constantly and they took a beating. By the time that class finished they were walking like a collective group of very old men. It was also the lowest selection rate we had of any class I worked.
So, in the next class, the commander stressed that the medics had to keep a close eye on the candidates’ feet and harp on them that they needed to stress their own foot care so that we didn’t have another fiasco like the February class.
So the next class comes in and we are going thru the normal first week’s gates that the candidates must accomplish. We walked them thru the obstacle course, “Nasty Nick” in the morning just prior to lunch. After lunch, we would have them conduct if for time. There was an SFAS cadre member placed at each obstacle to ensure that the candidates conducted it correctly or marking down their roster numbers if they failed. When the final candidate went thru each obstacle, the cadre would follow behind and we’d roll up at the final obstacle which was the cargo net.
Everything went very smooth, despite having a very large class. We were rolling up on the cargo net as the final two candidates hit the bottom of the net. The cadre gathered on the other side and we waited for them to get down the other side before moving back into the compound. The first candidate maneuvered easily over the top. As the second reached the top, we could see his head and shoulders as he reached over to grab a handhold. Collectively, we all turned to begin walking back into the compound.
Then everything went south. We all heard the candidate say, “SHHHHHHHIIIIITTTT!” as his hand slipped on the net and he tumbled the entire way from the top of the net, some 30-35 feet to the ground. He landed with a thump awkwardly on his upper back and shoulders in the mulch below and bounced a good foot off the ground.
Two medics, the aforementioned Dave O. and another guy rushed over, as this could be a very serious injury. The candidate was stunned and barely moving, having taken a bad fall. Dave was stabilizing his head and neck and telling the candidate to lie still. The other medic began to remove the candidate’s boots.
“What the hell are doing?” Dave asked our other medic whose name escapes me. “I’m checking his feet,” came the laconic reply. “WTF are you checking his feet for, this MFer probably just broke his fucking neck and you’re worried about a blister?” my buddy snapped in his own special kind of way. “Well, the major said…” he began, but Dave cut him off.
“Hey, this schmuck will probably be paralyzed but shit, he don’t got no blisters! Get outta here, I got this.” In case you wondered, Dave’s bedside manner wasn’t the greatest, but as a medic, there were none better. The rest of cadre moved off and had a laugh at this latest insanity that was SFAS. After a few moments of recuperation, the candidate was able to continue with the course albeit with a very sore neck and shoulder region.
CID visits the Cadre Office… Run Away….”
There is never a dull moment in SF. One morning at our building back on Ft. Bragg, we had a large, the largest at that time SFAS class we had up to that point in-processing to begin the course. About 15 of the cadre members were crowded in the front office as we had about 30 mins before we had a formation for the candidates.
As we were talking an unmarked Army CID sedan pulled up in front of the building and two plainclothes MPs got out. You could always spot those guys from a mile away. Driving a white Chrysler K car with military tags, the cops dressing in highly flammable polyester with ties out of the 1960s…you get the idea.
The effect of CID was immediate…everybody began scurrying out of the room, and Steve S. put it perfectly, “I’m not afraid of the cops, but…Run awwwwaaaayyy,” in a Monty Python voice.
The cops entered the office and I was the only cadre member left. The bigger of the two cops spoke, “where’d everybody go?” he asked. “Who?” I said. “I just saw about 15 guys in here when we pulled up and now they’re all gone…are they hiding in the back office,” he asked? Little did he know.
Calling this guy the bigger of the two was the understatement of the year. This huge black dude looked like a football nose tackle. His neck (if you want to call it that) was as big as his head and his hands were the size of catcher’s mitts.
So, he asked if we had a student by the name of so-and-so. I checked off the roster and indeed we did. They asked to speak with him. The Sergeant Major came in and they brought this candidate in and used our Major’s office for a moment with the door closed.
Shortly after, the door opened and the smaller cop came out followed by our candidate who was in cuffs. The huge cop followed with a mitt-sized hand on his shoulder. “We’re taking him with us…he won’t be returning,” the big guy boomed. And as he was walking out, he turned and said, you can tell the other guys they can come out now.”
About a year later, while attending the Warrant Officer Candidate Course at Ft. Rucker, AL, who comes walking in the door. Couldn’t miss him, the biggest candidate they may have ever had at Rucker. His name was Steve Blue (RIP).
He was, in fact, an NFL player for a short time with the Giants as a nose tackle and one of the best guys you’d meet anywhere. He was as funny as he was huge and he became inseparable with the SF guys there.
One night I reminded him of the story and he relayed the rest of it. It seems our candidate was stationed in Korea with the 2nd I.D. He married a Korean girl, got her a dependent I.D. card and such until he was transferred back to the U.S. At Ft. Ord, he married a local girl and got her an I.D. too. You can see where this is going. At Ft. Riley, the genius did it a third time. Alarm bells were ringing in the bean counting world.
So, our erstwhile candidate volunteers for SFAS. CID was alerted and they sent a couple of guys (Blue and his partner) to interview him. I asked Blue, “Did he admit to it?” He replied, “yep in about two seconds.” Steve Blue asked him what was he thinking….the guy responded, “I really did like all of them and didn’t want to lose any of them.” So, naturally, the next question was, “why did you volunteer for SF?” The guy thought he’d be able to hide overseas until the heat blew over. Blue asked the guy, “but wouldn’t you have gotten into more trouble overseas?”
The response, Well, I did hear those Colombian girls make great wives.” Indeed.
Photo: US Army