Ranger Up Bataan Victory
It was a miserable summer day in the mountains for Ranger Class 7-99. Just like most days, I was the Alpha Team Leader. We’d been moving uphill for the entire God-forsaken patrol and the blistering Georgia heat and stagnant humidity was sucking our collective will to live. Ranger “Smith”, a PFC from Ranger Regiment trying to earn his tab, was having another rough day. Smith had been recycled once already for failing patrols and this was his last shot before he’d be kicked out of Ranger School. He was a sharp kid, but he stressed out a lot when he was in charge, and didn’t have the greatest constitution despite his large stature, so he was often teetering on the brink of falling out. Regardless, he never quit, even when we could tell he was hurting and he improved every time, even though he wasn’t the strongest guy when it came to patrols. Frankly, we all liked him and were rooting for him.
At this point, Ranger School hadn’t really gotten to me. I had wrestled or fought since I was eleven years old so not eating wasn’t a big deal, and West Point taught me to operate on no sleep, so that wasn’t so bad either. When I saw Smith falling back, I pulled some ammo out of his ruck, traded his SAW for my M4, and helped him get up the hill. Over the course of the next month, I remember doing this at least three times. After all, teamwork was one of the key components of Ranger School. It is with that spirit that Ranger Up hit the Bataan Death March.
Our Latest Dumb Adventure
We opened the bottle of Maker’s Mark that I had carried carefully on our excursion and pretty much killed it inside of ten minutes.
Right about that time we found out that we beat the old record by one hour and twenty minutes. About forty minutes later, the second place team, sponsored by Crossfit, would finish. We were well into our cooler of beer by that point.
Ranger Smith made it through the Mountain Phase and was now with me in the final phase of Ranger School in the swamps of Florida. There were about 96 hours left in the school and I already had a GO. All I had to do was physically make it to the end and I was going to have the coveted Ranger Tab. Life was as good as it could be. Ranger Smith was doing okay. We still helped him a lot, but he was continuing to improve. I hoped he was going to pass.
We had a miserable patrol that night and my Ranger Buddy had been in rough shape. I took his guard shift and sat on a rock in order to keep from getting comfortable and stay awake. When the shift was over and I went to move, I fell to the ground. I couldn’t feel my leg. At first I thought that I had just cut off the blood supply and that my leg would wake up, like when you fall asleep on your arm, but after thirty minutes there was no improvement. I couldn’t even walk without tripping. My mind raced. How the hell was I going to make any of the movements? The worst started entering my mind – I was going to fail Ranger School this close to the end. My eyes actually welled up.
Fuck that. I was going to figure this out. After several attempts, I realized that if I turned my foot sideways, I could lock it out and use it almost like a crutch. I spent much of the morning mastering this walking technique as I knew we had a long movement that evening.
Evening came quickly and we moved out. I did well for a while, but try as I might, I started slipping back. The Ranger Instructor was right in my face. “Do you want to quit Ranger?”
“No sergeant,” I said with disdain.
“It looks like you want to quit, Ranger.”
“Fuck that, sergeant.”
This took him aback because generally students, myself included, were extremely subservient to RIs. I was in a bad place and didn’t care anymore so anger got the better of me.
“Ranger, if you fall back too far, you’re done,” he snarled.
I put everything I had into moving forward. I pushed so hard off of that bad leg that to this day I still have knee pain from that night, but even with that effort, I knew I was in a losing battle. We had a long way to go.
Suddenly, I felt a hand under my ruck. At first I thought it was the RI pulling me out and my heart sunk but then I realized it was Ranger Smith, pushing me forward. Pride forced me to tell him I was fine. For the first time that any of us had ever seen, Ranger Smith got fierce. He leaned in and said, “You don’t have to do everything yourself Nick. You’re sucking and you’re getting my fucking help whether you want it or not. We’re a fucking team. Keep walking.”
I shut the fuck up. Ranger Smith got me to the end of the movement. That night I got some feeling back in the leg. I graduated Ranger School a week later. Ranger Smith was there with me.
As we walked through the chute at the end of the Bataan Death March, we shook the hands of the veterans who had lived through the real event in the Philippines. During the real Death March there were no water stations, no electrolyte pills, no support of any kind. If they fell out they were bayoneted on the side of the road and left to die. When they did stop for brief rests they were tortured. These men had nothing in the world except for two things: their indomitable will to survive and their buddies to their left and right. And they did it.
The race was awful in every conceivable way. And it damn well should have been.
God Bless the Battling Bastards of Bataan!