By Richard H Dick James
58 years ago, 29 September 1962, I was a Private E-2. I had graduated from the Basic Airborne Course, aka paratrooper jump school, the day prior. My next assignment was Special Forces Training Group, in Fort Bragg NC, to begin training to be a “Green Beret.”
Special Forces Training Group
Those of us who were assigned to Ft. Bragg (for 82nd Airborne Division and Special Forces Training Group) were loaded Saturday morning (29 September), at 0800 (8 am), onto a Trailways charter bus, for the 450-mile trip north, to Ft. Bragg NC and another new chapter in our lives.
We went through Macon and Augusta, Georgia, as well as Columbia, South Carolina. The scenery, especially in Georgia, was beautiful. During the trip, I was shocked by the amount of old, broken down shacks that had people living in them. I had never seen such squalor. About halfway to Fort Bragg, we stopped to stretch and have lunch. We all had a lot of time to think while on that bus.
A lot of the men heading to Special Forces training decided that they had undergone enough harassment and hard training, and made up their minds to quit, upon reaching Training Group. Of course, the rumor mill was going strong about how tough Special Forces training was going to be, some of it true, but a lot of it pure bunk. I was very tired of training and was harboring thoughts about quitting. I was certain my knees wouldn’t last through physical exercise more difficult than I had already endured.
We arrived at Ft. Bragg at 2000 hours (8 pm), having been on the road for 12 hours (remember, this was before the advent of the Interstate highway). The first stop on base for our bus that night was on Smoke Bomb Hill, in front of a sign that read, Headquarters Company, Special Forces Training Group (Provisional). Smoke Bomb Hill was where all the stateside Special Forces Groups, and Special Forces Training Group, were located. That was where SF (Special Forces) lived.
The front door opened, and out strode the CQ (charge of quarters for overnight hours), a Special Forces NCO with the obligatory clipboard, approaching the group of us who had offloaded, duffel bags in our hands. He greeted us and gave us a very short speech.
Apparently Training Group was used to quitters, because he announced that those of us who wished to quit would have that opportunity on Tuesday, so I had more than two days to ponder my future. I was later told that many men volunteered for SF and 82nd Airborne, just to keep from being immediately assigned overseas duty.
I was thinking about opting for assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division, also at Ft. Bragg. The NCO then lifted his clipboard and proceeded to call out our names from the set of orders he had, giving each of us a chance to respond when our names were called. Everyone was accounted for.
Unlike Basic & Advanced Training, and Jump School, the greeting was civil when we arrived. Nobody yelled at us, or harassed us, right off the bat. That was something new. We were being treated like human beings. We were immediately led to the unit supply room and given the usual U.S. Army initial bedding: mattress cover, two sheets, two blankets, and a pillowcase. We were then led to the barracks we would stay in for the weekend.
On Sunday morning our group was issued passes for the day. That was my first pass in over a month, and I was completely broke. I went nowhere. I stayed in the barracks all day. I figured the Army still owed me $110, but I had no idea when I would receive it.
On Monday we began the day the same way every other training day had been for me, before the crack of dawn. The first formation included roll call, followed by Police Call and PT, which included a run. That was followed by being dismissed and everybody walking to the mess hall for breakfast.
That was a change from Basic and Advanced training, where we were marched in formation to the mess hall, and Jump School, where we were run, in formation, to the mess hall. We were finally deemed trustworthy to find the mess hall, without help.
After breakfast, we had a short period of time free, until time for the second formation. The NCO read off the list of names on the orders he had for us, assigning us to companies, as we responded to our names being called. I was assigned to B Company, Special Forces Training Group (Provisional).
An NCO from each of the Training Group companies was present, to march us to our new assigned company barracks. Our barracks, like jump school, were old two-story wooden barracks built at the beginning of the World War II era, with an anticipated lifetime of five years, and . . . no air conditioning. More than twenty years after they were built, we were living in them.
The barracks were heated by coal-fed furnaces. The toilet/shower facilities were on the bottom floor. Everything was wide open, no stalls. When you sat on the can, you were on display for all to see. There were two private rooms on the stairs end of the upstairs barracks, reserved for the highest ranking of the trainees.
The squad bays on the top and bottom floors were open, with single bunk beds (thankfully no more double bunks, I had graduated to better living conditions) and corresponding wall and foot lockers lining each side. Each of the barracks housed about fifty trainees.
We were issued our field gear, which included a pack that was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was called a rucksack and was huge when compared to the military issue pack. I learned later, why we were issued such “humungous packs.” We would be spending a lot of time in the field, and once we were assigned to a unit, were expected to carry all we needed in our rucksack, for unknown periods of time in the field, or foreign country. In jump school, our equipment jump was made with a pack attached to us. In SFTG, as well as SF, we would be jumping with that huge rucksack.
We were not separated by training phase, rank, or SF MOS we were pursuing. Because of that we learned bits and pieces of the other MOSs, during our stay at Training Group. That served well for our overall Special Forces training. In fact, I was able to learn bits and pieces of communications and weapons while attending Training Group.
Our company consisted of four of those old barracks, and two one-story buildings of the same construction. One was the combination orderly room, mail room, day room (the only place with a television), and arms room, while the other housed the supply room. At the time, all of Special Forces was housed in the old World War II era buildings. Most of us in Special Forces Training Group were there straight out of Basic, AIT, and Jump School, with just a few experienced NCOs from line units.
I was thankful I had decided to stick with Special Forces. In a letter home I gave five reasons for staying around for training: “(1) I signed up for it, and didn’t feel right about backing down; (2) it will be a challenge; (3) the type of men in Special Forces are different than regular airborne; (4) it sounds like interesting work; and (5) I want to begin learning new things again.” I have always been interested in learning new things, even now (as I write this). Apparently, some of our guys who volunteered for SF did so only because they wanted to remain in the United States longer.
When Major James (the Training Group Commanding Officer) gave his welcoming speech, he told us that Special Forces had a way of weeding out those types, as well as the ones who came to SF for the rank and money. By that time, we had already lost 15 of the 55 in our group, and training hadn’t even begun yet.
Unlike Jump School, where quitters were made examples of by the cadre, in Training Group quitters were not harassed or embarrassed, but they did receive some of the lousier details, until finally receiving their new assignment orders. When a barracks-mate or classmate disappeared, we just figured they had quit or had flunked out.
Major James stated that only those who wished, from the bottom of their hearts, to become “Green Berets,” would make the grade through the training course. That evening I wrote home, requesting mom send me some civilian clothing. I was finally going to be able to wear civvies on a somewhat regular basis, on my free time.
From my Book #1, of my four-book set of SLURP SENDS! Book #1 (“SLURP SENDS! On Becoming a Green Beret Book 1”), #2 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of an A-Team Green Beret Book 2”), #3 (“SLURP SENDS! Experiences of a Green Beret In Vietnam Book 3”) and #4 (“SLURP SENDS! A Green Beret’s Experiences In Vietnam Book 4”) are all available on Amazon or from me.
PHOTOS: Trailways bus from the ‘60s / Typical wooden WWII barracks (Internet photos)