About three years into my career as a Ranger, I was assigned a team and therefore a fellow team leader. We had crossed paths several times in the past, but he was coming from another platoon so I had never gotten to know him all that well. He was a relatively normal guy, a good Ranger who knew his job and was respected by those that worked for us. Like me, he wasn’t built with 220 lbs of raw muscle, but anyone who knew him might have expected him to grow up playing sports like soccer or cross-country. He spoke with authority when necessary and knew when to relax and have a beer.
Oh, and he had also read every Star Wars book that had been written. If you’ve ever been to a Barnes & Noble, you know that is no small feat.
As it turns out, he was no exception to the rule. Sure, not everyone in SOF is some kind of nerd, and certainly not all nerds are relegated to Star Wars, but if I were to compare the number of people interested in say, “Lord of the Rings” or the “Gunslinger” series, I would have found a lot more of those in my passing RASP class than I would have in my basic training class. This is an interesting thought, since SOF certainly doesn’t make any sort of effort to attract this type of personality — but it occurred to me that, above many other things, SOF members generally have a very strong sense of self. They like the things they like, and insecurities about anyone finding out about their “guilty pleasures” are non-existent — they would rather flaunt those guilty pleasures than anything. And it’s that same strength of self that carries them through their respective selection processes.
This isn’t just why you have a lot of nerds in SOF — this is why you have a large variety of personalities in SOF overall, nerds included. Their personalities can both survive military indoctrination and yet still adopt the SOF lifestyle.
One of my favorite things about Ranger Battalion was how there were people of all walks of life — nerds, jocks, family men, frat boys, techies, skaters and infinitely more categories of people. It is unlikely that many of them would have chosen to hang out with one another outside of the military. However, when brought together in a single unit with a unifying purpose — they suddenly have more in common with each other than any of their old friends back home. This is especially true after one, or even multiple deployments. The frat boy is suddenly closer to some “Firefly” geek than he ever would will be with his college fraternity again, all because they got in a firefight together, or passed a selection course together. These are no small things.
I grew sick of living in the barracks pretty quickly, and many of my Ranger peers did too. We all pitched in, before we were eligible for BAH, and rented a house off post. The houses near Ft. Benning are cheap and actually quite nice — we acquired a sizable, five bedroom house for the five of us. We were truly brothers, though on the surface of it we didn’t have all that much in common. My roommates included a devout Christian who studied the Bible every day, but also played Dota and Starcraft online whenever he could. It included a techie whose knowledge of modern technology seemed boundless, and we would often find him soldering something in his room, or taking something else apart. Anther guy was well liked by everyone, always physically fit and extremely charismatic, who was always diving headfirst into some new fad or fashion. And of course, there is the guy pictured above — the “Star Wars” nerd that rivaled my fellow team leader, and was also an absolute monster when it came to PT.
All of these guys, from opposite corners of American society, joined together in literal blood, sweat and tears.
Images provided by the author.