We were in the kitchen having breakfast and my wife asked me about my Ranger training experience. As much as I explained, it didn’t come close to the real world of Ranger training.

  As I remember, my fascination of the Ranger committee at West Point made me ask the Rangers what it took to become a Ranger. He said, “commitment”. At my age I didn’t understand that word. I was only a young twenty-year-old and barely new to the active army. I had served in the Army Reserves ever since I was 18 years old and had gone to two basic training while I was still in high school.

  When I got stationed at West Point as a cadre, I hadn’t experienced the mentality of an Infantry soldier because I was not assigned to an Infantry unit. Rather, it was an Infantry detachment assigned to train and demonstrate infantry tactics to the cadets. So, my job was to support that mission in whatever capacity they asked me to. Now as a Private First Class I didn’t have any clout on what I should do but, I roll with the punches, so to speak. I noticed that the Rangers had a bigger responsibility. They were tough guys and they ran wherever they were going.  They explained that in order to be a Ranger, you have to be in the best condition physically and mentally. I took that to heart.

  Six months later, I applied to go to Ranger school and was approved. The ranger committee strongly endorsed my application with my company commander. I was on my way to Ft. Benning, Georgia but before that, I was told that I had to start getting ready physically. They told me to start running track with full combat gear on and combat boots so I could get a head start on the physical training I would get at the Ranger school.

  They were right. As soon as I arrived on a military bus from the airport where they picked me up I was made to run up the barracks where I would spend six weeks. It was not basic training but they wake us up very early in the morning and started morning exercises. We started with regular exercises then finished with a run. This was not a regular double time nor a jogging. It was a run like somebody was chasing after you and you didn’t want to be caught.

  We had an orientation and were assigned a buddy who was going to be with me all the time. Right after we attended classes all day on different topics. Mostly tactics and strategy and combat and reconnaissance patrols. After each class, we ran to the next class or chow. We were kept up late at night for night training. They also train us for swimming in the swimming pool to see if we could stay up paddling water for a long time. We would be in the swimming pool swimming back and forth underwater and learning to stay afloat. Wherever we went, we ran with full field pack loaded with 50 pounds of equipment and with a rifle.

 One of our physical training was bayonet and knife fighting. The other was hand to hand combat. Both of them were with our buddy and sometimes with others. Being smaller than everybody else and younger, I was always in the losing end. I was still a young 150 pounds and quite thin. All the others were experienced soldiers or Marines who came from combat units and had been toughened up and knew the drills. I wasn’t but, I learned how to defend myself eventually. Weapons training came next. We were to learn how to shoot with a pistol and machine guns and sub machine guns plus a course in hatchet training. Later in the week were sent out to learn ambush and recon techniques. All this to get us ready for the next phase of our training.

  Before that was to happened, we had one more obstacle to run. In order to go to the next phase, we had to prove that we were strong enough to complete our physical training by running a 5-mile course through the countryside with full field pack with our weapon. They gave me and my buddy a 30 caliber machine gun to run the course. He had his and I had mine. I figure I was in the best shape ever with all the extreme exercises we went through made myself run the course. I was doing ok but my buddy was lagging behind. If he didn’t make it, I wouldn’t make it. So, I grabbed his machine gun and carried it all the way to the finish line. My buddy almost gave up but I had to yell at him to get him going. We finished together.  However, we were not through yet. After the run, we were brought to a sandbagged arena filled with sand and were told to all of us get in the arena. We had to fight each other and the last man would be crowned king of the hill. Most of them were smart and teamed up to get others and throw them out. I took my buddy and threw him out. However, they teamed up on me and threw me out. Then they went at each other. There was blood spilled but not so much.

 That was the end of phase one. Phase two was a trip to Elgin Air Force Base in Florida. I didn’t know anything about the base. We were taken by trucks to Elgin and as we traveled through the base I assumed that we would be living on base. However, as we went through the far end of the base, we noticed trucks and tanks burning on the side of the road like a recent combat area. We finally ended up in a swampy area with wooden barracks where we would stay for another six weeks’ duration.

  We were told that we would be given field training on day and night patrols. Right after the orientation, more running. They were explicit about that. Everywhere we went, we run. I figure that it’s going to be easy. We stayed up all night and started classes again in the morning. We hadn’t slept at all when they told us to get a few hours’ sleep. They woke us up for chow and a briefing later on for a night patrol through the swamps. Fortunately for us that we had to put florescent tapes on the back of our field caps so you can follow the man in front. When we finish the patrol we had to get a debriefing to find out what we did wrong or right.

 At one time we had been going all night on a patrol and we were tired. They gathered us together and marched us to a swamp clearing. There was a large tree with steps up to the top where there was a small platform accommodating two men. We were asked to climb up to the platform with all our gear and jump down to a small square area filled with sand. It was a good 50 feet. I jumped down felled feet first with my buttocks touching the ground. Another time we did the same thing but this time the platform had a rope attaching it to another platform higher up that we had to climb up to it. From there was a rope attached to another rope which ran horizontal across the swampy river. Were to cross hand in hand like we were taught and when we reached the middle we were told to yell “Ranger”! and let go and fall down in the river. I went all the way and before I yell Ranger, my hands slipped and I fell down. They asked, “you want to try it again”? I did. By then I was boned tired like everybody else.

  Every day and night we were constantly on patrols. One day we were taken to a minesweeper out in the gulf. Our mission was to rescue some diplomat from a fortified fort. We had to use rubber boats equipped with paddles. We had trained on them before so we were used to that. We slipped out from the mine sweeper into the ocean with large waves coming our way. It didn’t look like we were moving at all. As we got closer to the mainland, we had to cross a sandbar about 100 meters across. We picked up our boats on our shoulders and took it to the other side and started back in the water to the fort. The signal was a blinking light from the mainland and we started on that course. We attacked the fort and rescued the diplomat. We then had to retrace our steps back to the mine sweeper which was way out so far that we had to rely on compass readings. In my later years after retirement, I found that the fort we used for that raining incident was St. Augustine Fort.

  After the six weeks was over I was asked to report to the company commander. He told me that I didn’t have enough points to complete phase two. I didn’t know that they were awarding points on strategy and tactics on which I was weak on. I thought I had finish strongly in every aspect of patrolling. They wanted me to do the six weeks over and I declined. Partly because I thought they were discriminating against me because of my young age. Also, all through the training, there were racist remarks from some of the others. I didn’t respond to them but chose to ignore them. So I returned to West Point a little deflated but sure of myself. That was my attitude and the Ranger committee decided to use me in their committee regardless. I had learned enough to train the cadets on how to use patrols.

   Later when I was assigned to an Infantry unit in the Panama Canal Zone. I was sent to Ft Sherman Jungle School, another Ranger type training school. While there I learned what the third phase of Ranger School was all about. There was no running but we had to survive in the jungle with no food or water, climb the sides of hills which were over a hundred feet high and rappelling down, swim a river with alligators in it and build framework for a bed with tree sapling and eat off the land. Cross a Mississippi wide river with raft made up with sticks and brush and poncho. Get to the other side and climb a tree similar to the Ranger training and slide for life on a stick on a cable wire to the other side without falling in the water. After that, I was given a jungle expert badge which I wore with distinction.

  My whole career was in the combat arms. Every time they needed a man to run a patrol, they turned to me because of the training I had gone through.  They also sent me to demolition school in Germany to learn how to blow up bridges. This happened whether I was a foot soldier, mechanized infantry or cavalry. There was always a need for someone to move behind the lines to accomplish a mission.  

Our Adventures in DAT

  Back in 2004 I started to volunteer with the American Red Cross here in San Antonio. Here’s a little history about the red cross and how it has progress.

  Now, everybody knows that Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross when she had witnessed similar operations overseas. In the twentieth century it was very well organized to the point of recruiting nurses and sending them in harm’s way during World War 2. They wore the Red Cross on their uniform and perform well in combat areas.

  After the wars, including the Korean war, the Red Cross started to assist the citizenry when they had crisis like floods and tornadoes and that led to the present way of doing business.

 I was not prepared to what I was getting into. After some classes I found that the regulations were similar to the Army regulations except for different topics and doctrine on how to operate when helping people.

  This led to my volunteering for the Disaster Action Team (DAT). Let’s say I was recruited to join the team. My first venture was a ride along to learn the actual way of assisting in a crisis. I had already attended the classes on sheltering and the forms needed to be filled out when helping a client. It was all paperwork that needed to be filled out. It was called a form 901. In the Army, if someone wanted a secret clearance they would fill out a DA form 648 which is something like the 901. It wanted everything filled out up to your family members and their ages so it could be checked out to decide what services are going to be needed.

   I learned that when I visited a fire site, that I had to meet with the Fire Department chief on the ground. He can tell me what’s going on and where the clients are located. When it’s a single family fire it’s different from an apartment fire where you’d have several families strung out all over the area.

  After being shown the ropes I was made a captain. No pay, just a promotion to handle all the calls all week long. They would let me take the van home with all the equipment in it including mickey mouse toys to give the children. At that time, I was in the office all day because I had a secondary job as a Facility Manager taking care of updating agreements and doing surveys. (That’s another story).

  So, during the month I would share duties with other volunteers who had been doing DAT all week long. The problem with that is we had to deliver the van to their home and have them drive me back to my home It was a Monday morning to Monday morning shifts. It became a hardship when a fire broke out on a Sunday evening or early Monday morning because we had to be ready to help out. We didn’t change over until we finished with the client(s)

  It was a little difficult to find other volunteers to ride along. They would attend the DAT orientation and afterwards would sign up for a day they could be called upon to assist. So we had two or three that could be available all day. This is when I asked my wife to volunteer so she could be my ride along. After taking classes, she started to go with me on all the calls regardless what time it was.

  The amount of paperwork for each client was tremendous. Besides the 901, we had to make referrals for all the agencies that could assist the client and we made vouchers for food, clothing at different stores. There were no cash allowances. That came later in the form of CAC cards. When we placed someone in a hotel, we actually had to go to the motel and set them up. The motels, which were pre-approved, would bill the Red Cross

  My wife and I have always followed safety precautions and where our safety is jeopardized, we get out of the area and come back when it’s safe. That happened one time when an overzealous neighbor who was inebriated start yelling at us and getting in the way of our helping the client. There were a lot of gang members there too.

  The changes in protocol came later but what helped us then was the issuance of the CAC card. That saved us time because we didn’t to fill out vouches any more but we still made referrals. The client could use it for the money we allowed and also pay for his motel stay. We still had the say so on which motel they could go to because we had agreements in place with every eligible motel.

  We had many interesting episodes when dealing with clients. We were servicing this family who survived an apartment fire. They had been placed at another apartment. After meeting the man of the house, who was of a different ethnicity, we asked if he could point out his wife because there were many women inside the apartment. He says that they’re all his wives. I asked which one pays for the food and clothing and he pointed to this one. So, we didn’t count all his wives for assistance. There were seven of them with all their children.

  My wife didn’t feel good about filling out the 901 so when we had an apartment fire the first thing she did was start listing the names of all that were affected by the fire and each one was called up by that list. Also, because she was bi-lingual, she would help translate. One of the protocols in an apartment fire was for all the DAT captains to come in and help with the paperwork. Another thing is that I became the Red Cross representative a few times with the media in English and Spanish. So much that I became Mr. Red Cross to my family and neighbors. When we are attending to a client, we don’t know if anybody got injured or died until way later when the fire department tells us. It was different one time that the fire department asked us to back up about half a mile along with the families who were waiting to find out if everybody got out in time. We were sitting in our van with the windows down and we started hearing a wailing from the crowd. It seems that a mother and her two children were trapped in the fire and were burned. It was a terrible feeling and we were not able to help anybody that night because the fire was so intense and wide spread.

  After so many years on DAT, my wife decided that she had enough but kept going with me if there was no one else. One time we had a large fire in a senior living apartment. I had gone ahead and waited for my ride along outside of the perimeter. I saw a whole bunch of fire trucks and ambulances in the parking lot. I informed my immediate supervisor what was happening and we decided to contact a shelter contact to advise him that we might have to open a shelter for all these seniors. Fortunately, the city had requested bus service to transport all the senior to a local high school cafeteria as a rallying point. By that time, we were able to provide blankets and coffee to all.  Later they were all transported to hotels where we provided meals.

  From that time on things began to change in DAT. We started using laptop computers to fill in 901s and connect with hotels. Now we were providing assistance through the use of the CAC card and letting them select their own lodging. The paperwork was still there but we didn’t have so much work. Everything was going digital. There is a new system (RC View) where all data is recorded. We can now do all with our smart phone, tablets or desk top computers. It is still in a production stage but I think that It’s going to be a great help. Makes me want to go back to DAT even at my age.