On April 24th, I dropped my fiance, a 2LT in the Infantry, off at Ranger School. For those of you who are familiar with what Ranger School is, you know what an awesome feat it is to complete. For those of you who are not familiar with what it is, the easiest way I can describe it is an extremely rigorous school comprised of physical and mental exhaustion (very little food and sleep) combined with tactical training. I highly recommend watching Surviving the Cut: Ranger School, a documentary created by Discovery Channel for an accurate depiction.
Below is my account of the first few days of Ranger School on my end. Let’s call it Chapter 1: RAP Week…
I awoke before my alarm and laid in bed staring at the ceiling, heavy with dread of what was to come. At 0530 it was finally time to put my feet on the floor to prepare a final meal for my guy (Alex) as he shaved and put on his uniform. One cup of Dunkin Donuts Vanilla Cupcake coffee, 3 scrambled eggs, 1 piece of wheat toast, and 1 bowl of vanilla yogurt, strawberries, and granola later, he was ready to depart our humble one bedroom apartment with duffel bags and ruck in tow.
In my mind, I expected that I would sob all morning, especially at the final moments, but I held it together surprisingly well. On the 25 minute car ride to Camp Rogers on Fort Benning, he played our song (Shotgun Rider) over and over again so the lyrics would be engrained in his memory. At 0645, we arrived in front of the vacant, but infamous obstacle course, which seemed particularly eerie knowing what pain he would endure there soon. It was time to say final goodbyes. The only contact I would have with Alex over the next 60 plus days will be restricted to snail mail, 3 one minute phone calls (if he doesn’t recycle), and one 8 hour pass (again, if he doesn’t recycle). I shuffled to the trunk of my car where he was removing all of his gear and a few tears started to well. This was it…this was the moment I’ve been dreading. He gave me a firm hug that lifted me right off the ground with ease (seeing as he’s 6’4 and I’m 5’2). I told him how much I love him and how I know he will do well. I also told him to be confident, but careful. As soon as my feet landed back on the ground, I stepped into my car and drove away before it got any harder to leave.
Once I got home, I went back to sleep to avoid reality for a little while. When I finally got up, I saw a notification of debit card fraud on his account. OF COURSE! He hadn’t even been gone a day and shit already hit the fan. I contacted the bank and they wouldn’t talk to me because we weren’t married, I wasn’t on the account, or we didn’t have a POA (Power of Attorney). Many loopholes and 2 hours later, I resolved the issue. Kate saves the day once again! Needless to say this day ended with a bottle of White Zinfandel, a pint of Half Baked Ben and Jerry’s, and a box of Annie’s cheddar mac n’ cheese.
My phone is glued by my side today and will be until Day 4. The first 4 days of Ranger School are called RAP (Ranger Assessment Phase) week. Soldiers will be dropped from the course if they don’t meet standards, including, but not limited to a certain number of push-ups and pull ups, Combat Water Survival Assessment, an obstacle course, Land Nav, and a 12 mile ruck, amongst many other things. The drop rate is extremely high, as well as the number of LOMs (Lack of Motivation…AKA quitting). No news is good news at this point. If I get a phone call, that means Alex has been dropped and has to start all over again with the next class.
The day couldn’t go by without a hiccup though. I had been dealing a logistical nightmare with our Jetta that has been in the shop for over a month. I was supposed to be leaving for Kentucky to see my mom today, but I got a call saying the shop ordered a wrong part, so they would have to order a new one and the car wouldn’t be ready for another 2 days…really…
As I readied for the sweet release of sleep, I put Alex’s phone on the nightstand next to our bed (he asked me to keep it on and respond to any messages) and I saw one of our friend’s names pop up who started Ranger School with him on the 24th. Our friend got dropped from the course today for not completing the necessary amount of push-ups (something my fiance was concerned about). Our friend informed me that Alex failed push-ups the first time, but passed on the retest (which is very uncommon to pass the retest due to exhaustion)! I was giddy with relief, but my stomach was still in knots knowing that during the next 2 days, he could be dropped at any moment for not meeting standards. I tossed and turned several times throughout the night, checking my phone at odd hours to see if I had gotten a call…still no word…good news.
Today was spent on the couch watching hours upon hours of Shameless (great show) and deciding on whether to begin a blog (clearly did). Still no phone call. I will hopefully be leaving for Kentucky tomorrow to see my mom given that the service shop figured their shit out, which I’m not exactly counting on. This Ranger School journey is an emotional roller coaster already. The not knowing is the worst part so far; I can deal with the loneliness of separation. I’m still constantly checking my phone in case I get a call saying Alex needs to be picked up. I know he is capable of doing this. He is one of the strongest people I have ever met, both mentally and physically. I go to bed tonight wondering what he’s doing at this very moment. It pains me to know that even though I can’t see or speak to him, he is only 20 miles away from me. Two more days until RAP week is over. Please get through. Please get through. PLEASE GET THROUGH. Stay tuned…
Today began with microwave popcorn and powdered chocolate milk for breakfast. I refuse to go to the grocery store in an attempt to eat every last possible edible item in my kitchen before I depart for Kentucky. So far, I have been successful…if eating strange, unappetizing concoctions counts as being successful. Most of the day was spent tooling around WordPress, trying to figure the ins and outs of blogging life (still a work in progress).
Then it was the highly anticipated time…time to pick up our Jetta that has been at a Volkswagen dealership service shop for what seemed like an eternity. So I ask one of our friends to drive me and I arrived 30 minutes later than the time I was told the car would be ready. When the service manager notified me that I would have to wait another 30 minutes for my car, I lost my shit. I had been very patient up until that point and I made it very clear that this was by far the worst service I had ever had. Turns out it pays to be bitchy (quite literally) because they reduced my payment from $500 to $250. At 1930, I finally stepped out of the hell hole of a dealership and drove away. Moral of the story…car dealerships are where dreams go to die slowly and painfully.
It has been raining, thundering, and lightning on and off all night and I’m thinking about what Alex is doing at this moment – if he’s dry, hating life, wanting to quit missing me, hungry, exhausted. Tomorrow is the last day of RAP week…HALLELUJAH. At this point all he has left is the 12 mile ruck. He has always been strong in the rucking department, so I’m fairly confident that he’s made it through RAP week relatively unscathed. I could still get a phone call at any moment, but I’m getting a little bit more relaxed as the hours tick by. I’m finally leaving for Kentucky in the morning – an 8 hour drive ahead of me.
Alex sent an owl!! As I was walking out of our apartment to take out the trash this morning, I discovered a Ziploc bag attached to our door with writings from him! I find it amusing that he asked someone who dropped the course to deliver letters to our apartment, but I’m elated that he thought to do so. I was so excited to bust them open and read them that I felt like I had taken ecstasy. He let me know of his push up crisis, which I had already learned about earlier in the week. He also sounded in despair, which is very unlike him. Alex wrote about thinking about wanting to quit often, but knowing he wasn’t going to. This shocked me because he usually doesn’t admit to weakness of any kind. Even if he’s feeling it, he puts on a mask and deals with it. Knowing he was hungry, exhausted, and in pain hurt my heart, but I know he can take it.
It is the final day of RAP week and I have not heard from Alex (aside from letters), which means he’s passed all events. Now starts what’s called Darby phase. I will know in about 2 weeks whether he passed the phase or has to do it all over again.
My long journey to Kentucky began around 9 AM and all was well until I hit Atlanta and sat in inching traffic for about an hour and a half. The rest of the trip was relatively easy and 10 hours post departure, I was hugging my mom and drinking Pinot. I thought of several random things along the way, which will be coming soon to a blog near you (aka mine). In a couple weeks, I will likely write about Darby phase and by then I’ll know if it’s on to Mountain phase or back to Darby. Keeping my fingers crossed until then…