Mountains is grueling. All three letters I received from Andy during this phase echoed the same sentiment- physically demanding, cold and wet, really don’t want to recycle this phase.
For me, Phase 2 was just a long three weeks of counting down. There is no pass at the end of the phase, just a phone call – GO or NO-GO. So me, my ranger buddy and the rest of the wives on the Facebook group spent most of our free time dissecting the only thing we had from our guys- letters.
I received three letters while Andy was in the mountains of beautiful Dahlonega, GA.
I received my first letter on Day 5 of Mountains (aka Day 25 of Ranger School). He had written notes the night after his Darby pass, on the bus up to Dahlonega and on Day 1 of Mountains.
This letter was mostly the happy recap of the eight hour pass- how much it meant to him to be able to see us and spend the time together, seeing how much our baby has grown in the three weeks he was away at Darby. Morale was high right after they got back to camp, but it quickly dropped as the reality of being back at Ranger School set in. He said that they had gotten a good amount of sleep the last night at Rogers and slept on the (four hour) bus ride up to Dahlonega. He described Camp Merrill as “a small camp with heavily wooded mountains on all sides. Very pretty.” They moved into barracks, and he was able to unpack some stuff into a locker. They would be sleeping in beds when they weren’t in the field. “So far this phase is much less locked down. People say that the mountains themselves make it hard.” By the end of the first day in the mountains, he wote how the day to day of Ranger School was starting to wear on him and his buddies both physically and mentally. His body was run down and lethargic, and his attitude had become more negative. “It’s like a never ending monotony of semi-misery, with periods of full-bore misery.” He mentioned that he developed poison ivy and that he was starting to get sick (headache/cough). But he also made sure to write about the three meals he got that day, including the infamous blueberry pancake breakfast! “They were honestly not great, but the quantity was staggering. They are fattening us back up for ten days in the field, which is nice.”
He sent the letter out that first night at mail call, 9/30/12, it was postmarked 10/2/12 and I received it 10/4/12 – a four day turnaround from Dahlonega, GA to Fort Benning, GA.
I received my second letter on Day 12 of Mountains (aka Day 32 of Ranger School). He had written notes from Day 2-7 of Mountains.
It rained on them the entire second day. “It was easily the most miserable day yet.” They were soaked and freezing all day and night. “The only good thing to happen today was that I got a major plus on knots. We learned how to traverse over rivers, gordges, etc.” He talked about the ruck (as squads) to the top of Mt. Yonah on Day 3 (a 45 minute bus ride away from Camp Merrill)- they did it at almost a run; it was “a real smoker.” The RIs weren’t letting them wear any cold weather gear (Alpha Company), so they went from being soaked with sweat to freezing. Out at Mt. Yonah, they spent a few days doing mountaineering stuff aka rappelling and rock climbing, and they used rope systems to move a simulated casualty up and down the mountain. Then they went back to Camp Merrill and started tactics to lead into patrolling. He said Mountains is way harder than Darby, especially physically. It’s steep up or down, never flat; very rocky, rugged terrain. He also said guys are getting in arguments and confrontations, probably due to losing patience with Ranger School, in general. On top of all that, he was still sick and had been for the last five days- fevers up to 103, sore throat, cough. The medics just gave him Tylenol. Some good news, though…they get mail every night, and the two sticks of gum I’ve been taping to the letters have been getting through, no problem! “Morale is high.” They’ve also been getting plenty to eat – three meals a day. The last thing he wrote was that they were headed out to the FTX, that everyone was really nervous about it. Apparently some days, the movements are more than 20 KM, up and down mountains the whole day!
He sent the letter out 10/6/12, it was postmarked 10/9/12 and I received it 10/11/12 – a five day turnaround from Dahlonega, GA to Fort Benning, GA.
I received the final letter from good ‘ole Daholenga, GA on Day 18 of Mountains (aka Day 38 of Ranger School). He wrote once on Day 9 and then nothing until Day 14 (after the first FTX).
He said FTX 1 was the fastest five days of his life, but it was pretty terrible. It was really physically hard. The rucks weighed 85-100lbs, and you are moving up and down steep slopes all day. The RIs mess with you constantly. You are always in a frantic hurry. (“After this, I just want to be comfortable all the time the rest of my life. I never want to be in a hurry.”) You are either sweating or freezing. The weather had been cold but not rainy. “Pray for no rain- it makes life almost unbearable.” 45 minutes of sleep per night and 2 MREs per day. But he said he didn’t feel as hungry or tired as at Darby. He said he thinks he built up an energy store during the first week of the phase. Anyone who recycled into mountains got the very first leadership positions. Andrew ended up getting one leadership position on the third day of the FTX. He thought it went pretty well, but that the RI who counseled him after wasn’t all that positive. When they came back, on Friday night for dinner, he got an MRE, four hot dogs, two candy bars, two cokes and two bags of chips (eww). Saturday morning they had the big hot breakfast. During the day Saturday, they were working on developing platoon SOPs. He got a lunch MRE (“such a luxury”) and even got 25 minutes to eat it! They sat in the sun relaxing and eating. Saturday was “easy and a nice break.”
This letter was much more scatterbrained than the rest. One second he was talking about the baby, the next…pumpkin pie, college football, holiday travel, coffee… He was still sick, and an SF medic in his platoon thought Andy might have pneumonia. Great…
He sent the letter out 10/13/12, it was postmarked 10/15/12 and I received it 10/17/12 – a four day turnaround from Dahlonega, GA to Fort Benning, GA.
Once we made it to the halfway point of mountains, I started to gather my supplies for Andy’s care package. I ended up sending one large flat-rate box from the USPS (with tracking) full of the following:
- Ritz Crackers
- Individual servings of peanut butter
- Beef Jerky
- Funsize M&Ms, Snickers Peanut Butter Bars & Airheads
- 4 packs of Extra Dessert Gum (to restock his supply)
- 3 Clif Bars (one regular, two protein – all three confiscated by an RI)
- 15 packets of Emergen-C (confiscated by an RI)
- Gatorade (two regular, one protein – he didn’t say if that got taken or not)
- Listerine Strips
- Brush Ups
- A note telling him I was proud of him no matter what happened (go or no-go) and telling him to share!
- Laminated pictures of the baby, now hole punched and on a little chain- a flipbook of sorts (I told him to put it in his pocket and to pull it out whenever he needed a pick-me-up, and to add any new pics I sent to the collection)
He got 30 minutes to eat as much as he could from the package on Friday the last day of Mountains. He said he stuffed himself so full that he almost threw up and that some guys had! He also said that prior to getting the packages they had gotten plenty of meals that day.
The Phone Call
Day 20 of Moutanins (aka Day 40 of Ranger School). We had heard calls would start around 8PM. But according to the ladies in the Facebook group they started at around 7PM. Each guy got a ten minute phone call and could get back in line to call again if they wanted to. Phones were open from 7PM to 4AM (but calls were reported as late as 6AM). The calls didn’t come in any sort of logical order, as far as we could tell.
My ranger buddy came over at 7:30PM, and we sat on the couch, stalking the Facebook Group, for close to two and a half hours.We had written down a list of last names to ask our husbands about, when we finally heard from them. And while we waited, word came in, from a few of the wives in the group, that Andy had passed!
My buddy’s phone rang first, and her gasp followed by an “Oh, thank God,” was all I needed to know he had passed!
Not a three minutes after she hung up did my phone ring. “Dahlonega, GA” I gasped and said, “THIS IS HIM!” He sounded good! Happy and relieved. Really congested and coughing (the medic had finally given him antibiotics after three visits, so he was on his way to good health). Tired. But otherwise good. Just two more weeks of real school!
I sort of rambled, excitedly, during the call, but I had a list of points written down to keep me on track (nothing crazy- his health, patrols, the package I sent, the baby). He only ended up with the one patrol, so by the end of the second FTX, he had a pretty good idea that he’d get a GO. I told him that Madeline had learned to roll over since he last saw her. He said was ready to get to the swamps and to be done with Ranger School, so he could come back home and be a Dad. He had heard that getting a GO in the swamps is difficult, but I reminded Wanger Wilhelm that he was now 3 for 3 on his patrols! He was going to have no problems! Let’s hope I’m right…
41 days down. 20 to go…
Do you have any tips for Mountains?