We were hoping for a phone call on Thursday night, Day 18, but in true Army fashion, that phone call never came. So on Friday, Day 19, Madeline and I drove over to Camp Rogers at 8:30AM and hoped with all our might that he would walk out the gate at 9AM to meet us for an eight hour pass.
I am happy to report that Phase One is complete, and Andrew got a GO! He made it through the wildernesssssss! You know he made it throooooouuuuggghh…
Regarding the phone call? The Alpha Company Ranger Instructors (RIs) didn’t allow them to use the phones until the morning of pass, and at that point Andrew thought it was too late to reach me, so he was just going to take a cab home. You should have seen the smile on his face when he saw us there waiting for him!
Surprisingly, he looked good! At first when he came out of the gate (at what looks like a concentration camp – barbed wire fences, creepy, old cement walled barracks and malnourished men running around- aka Camp Rogers), I thought he looked too skinny. But I think it was just the combination of the huge duffel on his back, the fact that he was quite dirty and looked pretty exhausted. In reality, he left for Ranger School at 149lbs, and when he weighed himself when we got home he was 151lbs. He looked like he lost all the fat on his body, but that his muscles had actually got bigger. His arms and chest look strong, and his legs look a lot stronger, too. His stomach has no extra skin at all. He said it paid to be smaller in this way, that guys who went in at 200lbs were really struggling after losing 20-30lbs in just three weeks.
During pass, Andrew’s main priority was to eat. I brought breakfast for the car, although he said they had been trying to fatten them up since the previous night and had even given him a hot breakfast. On the car ride home (15 minutes), he ate a bagel with cream cheese, cucumber and tomato, two Krispy Kremes, a banana, an apple, a cupcake, coffee and OJ. When we got home, he ate an egg and some bacon. Throughout the rest of the day, he ate grapes, roasted chicken, half a supreme pizza, Phish Food ice cream, a Snickers, Dove chocolate, iced tea and a mocha frappuccino. He was SO full very quickly, but he kept forcing himself take another bite. He said he didn’t want to have food regret when he went back.
He took a hot shower, had a hot shave, clipped his nails, took some vitamins. I did three huge loads of disgusting laundry.
We went to the PX to restock supplies- more socks, 550 cord, black tape, baby wipes, ziplocks, etc. Standing in the aisles, he really started to get fuzzy. He stared at the socks for a good 30 seconds before I asked him if he was looking for size medium, the ones right in front of him. “Oh, yeah. Medium. Yeah. I need those.” Ruh roh.
He also got his head shaved again. He was falling asleep in the chair. I was worried the woman was going to buzz his ear off, the way his head was lolling around. Poor guy.
Back at home, he really started fading. The sheer excitement of getting to come home was not enough to sustain him anymore. He tried to give Madeline a bottle on the couch, but fell asleep almost instantly. The bottle dropped out of her mouth, and she started crying. He felt so bad about it, but it was also really hard for him to process what had happened. So I went and sat with them and held the bottle, and he fell asleep again, mid-sentence. But, per his request, he only slept for about an hour the whole time he was home.
He spent most of our time together telling me about the school and how he had faired.
He really had a great attitude about the whole thing. After this first phase, his squad had peered out four guys, but he feels very confident with the remaining guys. A lot of them are in the Ranger Battalion, so they are trying really hard to earn their tab. He gets along with all of them, and they balance out each others’ strengths and weaknesses. He felt great about getting ranked #2 in his squad, since he had really been trying to be a valuable member of the squad and help everyone get their go.
Andy said that 90% of the time, Ranger School isn’t that bad. You apparently do a lot of sitting around waiting, and so he said they talk a lot (about food and home) and laugh a lot. The hard part is that you never know if an RI is going to come up and move you out- it could be three minutes, it could be three hours. So you don’t know if you have time to go to the bathroom or take your boots off or brush your teeth. But all of that is intentional, to keep you a little stressed, unsure and on your toes. Getting smoked sucks, but it’s just part of it. The hardest part for him is the hunger. It’s one thing to know you’re going to be hungry and another to experience starvation. He was raving about MREs being SO good. Every day, he looks forward to his two MREs. Initially, they were trading each other for flavors, but by the end they were trading for calories. They are ALL his favorite (except tuna), and he can finish one in like three minutes. I told him that three weeks ago he would have laughed hearing himself say that. He looked at me seriously, like he doubted that could be true. Ranger School has already changed him.
Alpha Company seemed to get a lot less food and sleep than any of the other companies. He scoffed as he told me he had watched other companies get “a lunch MRE!” HA! And in the last 72 hours, he had gotten less than two hours of sleep. One hour the first night, zero the next and just 45 minutes the night before he came home. He said it was extremely rare to get more than an hour or two a night, if that. And that it was always interrupted by a 15 minute guard shift, that brought you out of your sack and back into uniform. Such a hassle.
In regards to being exhausted, he said during the day he mostly feels really good, when the sun is out. But in the night it becomes almost impossible to stay awake. He has hallucinated. And he said very often, they’ll be huddled in a circle getting a brief and someone will just face-plant (no hands out), because they fell asleep. It hasn’t happened to him, but he has fallen asleep on his feet. It’s just that when he starts to fall, it wakes him up. He said the younger guys have a MUCH harder time forcing themselves to stay awake, and that people are constantly droning.
It’s not uncommon to be out on a night patrol and totally lose track of time. One time, they had been out moving for what felt like 15 minutes. He wondered why they were stopping and looked down at his watch. It had been three hours. He was shocked. He barely had any recollection of what they had been doing that whole time. The time was just gone. In a way, he said, it was good. It makes the days go more quickly.
He said he’ll never forget the first time he watched someone fall asleep mid-sentence. He was having a conversation with a guy, the guy was saying something to him and, then, out of nowhere, the guy’s eyes rolled back in his head while he was talking, and his knees buckled. He caught himself before he fell, opened his eyes and finished the sentence. He didn’t even know it had happened. It was the weirdest thing he’s ever seen.
His body seems to be holding up well. He even went to the medic (“LTs won’t go because they’re scared they’ll get in trouble, but I know better than that now. One for sick call, please!”). He saw the medic for sores on his hips from the ruck, because all the stuff they issue you doesn’t fit the way you want it to and nothing is packed right. Plus, in addition to carrying 60lbs, on the RAP week ruck march, you had 15-20lbs of water on you. That’s when he really got cut up. (He passed land nav the first time, but, for those that didn’t, they had to redo on the third day and ruck that night. He said those guys had to wear a different color light on their ruck, because they were high risk for heat casualty. He thinks that only 2-3 guys who failed land nav and re-did it the second time actually ended up making it through RAP. Ugh! Sounds like torture!) He said a lot of guys had poison ivy, but that he had been wearing gloves, especially at night, and so far he hasn’t gotten it. He had a couple of blisters on his knee, because you spend a lot of time “taking a knee.” (He’s glad he brought his knee pads!) The medic told him that when they pop he’d be at risk for cellulitis, so he’s trying to be really careful about that. Finally, his feet are doing great, because of his Fox River socks. When he came home, he threw all ten pair of standard issue socks he had brought in the garbage. “I can never wear those again. I didn’t know what I was missing.”
Andy got assigned to lead the first patrol, because he was the highest ranking in his squad. Apparently the first patrol has a 90 or 95% fail rate. He was really concerned about it. But he ended up with a GO! And he passed his second patrol, also!
Finally, Andrew talked about this next phase- mountains. He was a little worried about it being the most physically demanding of the phases- up and down mountains with a lot more weight on your back. But all in all, he felt good about going up there, because he didn’t feel like an individual anymore; he was going as part of a team. His squad is all going to work together and get their gos. If nothing else, he’s looking forward to getting out of Darby and maybe even getting some of those famous blueberry pancakes at Camp Merrill…
The eight hour pass went by in the blink of an eye. Before we knew it, he was packing everything back up into the duffel. He was back inside camp by 4:45PM, for a 5PM formation
So there that was. Darby Phase has come and gone. I’m so happy and proud that Andrew got through this first phase in one shot. Here’s to a super quick six weeks!
A few things to note about Phase One:
- Andrew was so worried about his patches and what he needed to show up with. They only end up wearing their name tape and “US Army” tape.
- Make sure to feed your Ranger right before he reports, even if he isn’t hungry. Andrew didn’t get a dinner MRE that first night.
- We said our more formal goodbyes at home, so that when I dropped Andrew off I didn’t fall apart. I was smiling and even managed to tell him to have fun!
- He arrived at 10:45AM during the 10AM-1PM window to report. There were already quite a few people there.
- The first week is the worst week. So get the ugly cries out of the way then, because by week two you’ll be finding your groove and by week three you’re hitting your stride (and counting down the days until you hear from him)!
- The first three days were the most difficult for me. I spent them making crying phone calls to my family and friends. They built me up so much and reminded me that if we could get through a deployment, surely we could get through this. Thanks guys! Love you!
- Andrew received mail two times during Darby – on Day 12 (he got 6 of my letters) and on Day 19, right before being released for pass (he got some more of my letters, but he doesn’t think all; I sent 13 total).
- I received mail three times during Darby – on Day 9 (he gave it to the chaplain Sunday, it was postmarked Monday, I got it Tuesday; quick turnaround, since we live on Fort Benning), Day 10 (this was actually his first letter that he sent out right after RAP in the regular mail; it took longer to get to me than his letters through the chaplain) and Day 16 (again, he gave it to the chaplain Sunday, it was postmarked Monday, I got it Tuesday)
- I had put gum (five pieces) into a few of my envelopes, but the Alpha Company RIs made him open his mail in front of them and they confiscated the gum. He didn’t get into trouble, he just wasn’t allowed it. Other Rangers have been allowed to keep this. So I still say it’s worth a shot.
- Stock your fridge with all of his favorites before he comes home. Get everything he requests, even though you know he won’t be able to eat it all. Hunger is a horrible thing.
- Tell him before he leaves for Ranger School to mail you a list of things he needs to restock during the phase, that way you can limit your time at the stores.
- Put Neosporin on all open cuts.
- Restock his gum up to 70 pieces.
- Even if he can’t sleep while he’s home, he’ll still have 4 hours the next day on the bus ride to Camp Merrill to get some rest.
Do you have any tips for Darby?
21days down, 40 days to go…