Congrats! You have received your Green Beret! You are a lean, mean fighting machine and you are chomping at the bit to get to your Group. You brag to your friends that you think you’re going to either get a HALO team or get selected for the CIF. You can’t wait to show up to a military unit where you don’t get yelled at for stupid things, can grow your hair out longer and where common-sense rules all! You’ve made it!! Or so you think.
Let’s talk about my first week in group and how expectations don’t always meet reality.
One thing that you cannot escape from, despite being a so called ‘elite’ operator, is that you are still beholden to the big army system. While most of my fellow graduates received their orders and left for their units, myself and about 5 other unlucky souls waited for our orders to come….and waited….and waited. Even our out-processing cadre couldn’t figure out why we hadn’t received them. They didn’t even care if we showed up to formations anymore, and many of us just spend our days at Bragg working out and pushing the limits of not shaving while trying not to go stir crazy. What made it even worse was that some of my friends I graduated with had already arrived at 1st Special Forces Group (A) and were prepping for Afghanistan with their ODA’s.
I finally got my orders 7 weeks after I graduated, and drive my happy ass across the country from NC to WA state. I go through my first few days at JBLM in-processing the big army, and then get a further checklist of things to in-process for at 1st Group. I drive over to the compound for the first time, and am rightfully in awe. There are snowmobiles and ATV’s parked in the motor pool, the gym is world class, and there is a rubber pit where a team was practicing combative at what looked like an intense level. I park at Group HQ and begin to walk in, where I catch the eye of someone I hoped to never meet, 1st Group’s SGM. He sees my stack of folders and says
“Just getting to Group?”
”Cool, come with me”
…..uh oh…… and proceeds to walk me to all my in-processing stations within HQ, chatting with me like we’re buddies and life-long SF pals. Is this really happening? Is SF so chill that the 1st Group SGM is walking a lowly E-5 around and treating him like an equal? As he turns to leave he puts it all in perspective.
“Welcome to Group! Do good things!”
Then he gets really serious and I see that SGM hatred they are so well known for come out.
“If I ever see you again, it’s probably because you royally fucked up, so I hope this is the last time we meet. Now get out of here.” Good to know some things never change.
I get assigned to 4th BN, and begin the slog of paperwork all over again. I’m with 3 other new SF guys in-processing when we get told the 4th BN SGM wants to meet with us. Sigh—here we go again. We go into his office and there are 3 chairs lined up in front of his desk. We take our seats, and he launches into a 45-minute speech on the history of 1st Group, from our presence in Asia to our responsibilities in Afghanistan and Iraq and all the trips we take around the world for FID missions. He gets to the end of his speech and asks the guy seated in the last chair “how many missions did I say 1st Group was responsible for this year?” He couldn’t answer. Next guy, same thing. He gets to me and I remembered it. He pulls out his list of teams with openings for medics and says, what team do you want? Direct Action, Dive, or Mountain? I told him i'd like the DA team, and he says "okay..done..Alpha Company, DA team. Get out of here." "You two (referring to the two other guys) apparently can’t listen for shit, so until you do…you’re on the B team..also in A Co. Get out of here."
And then I made the dumbest mistake a new guy can make….
I went back to in-processing and then went home. I get a phone call at 8pm from a buddy of mine. “hey man, did you not go introduce yourself to your new team after SGM assigned you? I talked to your Team SGT today and he is PISSED.”
Well—FML. I’ve been in group for exactly one day and I’ve already potentially been kicked off my new team before I even arrived because I was too stupid to go introduce myself right away, thinking I needed to finish my paperwork first.
That night I got ZERO sleep. Instead, my sleep-deprived new guy brain thought it would be a brilliant idea to be outside my new team’s team room at 5:30am to show them how committed I was and start to make amends for my idiocy. Jokes on me, because that was a 9am formation morning for a 4-day weekend, and I sat outside like an absolute lunatic for 3 hours before anyone showed up.
I finally meet my Team SGT, who had something crazy like 8 combat deployments over 12 years in group and is clearly a grizzled veteran. He and I had a heart to heart about expectations, which was 99% him telling me his expectations and me replying “Yes SGT” over and over. He left it with “We are too busy for me to babysit you. If you don’t keep up, do more than what is expected of you, and prove yourself every day, I’ll throw your shit in the hallway and you can find another team, understand?”
He walks me upstairs to the team room to show me my desk so I can start getting situated. I am nervous as hell at this point after the talking to I just got. Team SGT leaves, and the only other teammate in there at the time is hard at work on his computer. I sit in silence for at least an hour before I have to ask him something about passwords for the computer. “SGT….” And he spins around in his chair and goes “HEY DUDE! WHAT’S UP? First of all, I’m not SGT, I’m James, nice to meet you!” And that is how I met the man, the myth, the legend, SFC James Grissom, the senior 18C on the team. My team was a dichotomy of personalities. They were either super chill and personable towards the ‘new guy’ or they were ‘you will speak when spoken to’. I was the ONLY medic on the team for the first 9 months, and so they couldn’t ignore me or treat me like crap too long, thankfully.
The last thing I’ll leave you all with from this first experience in group comes from SFC James Grissom and is for all the medics out there. As we were leaving for the weekend, he takes me aside and says “You can be the greatest medic in the world, but if we’re at a range, and I need a Band-Aid and you don’t have one, I’ll pee in your cereal every morning for a month. Have a great weekend!” Best advice ever.