Ham Slice


After giving the overview of Ranger school, Pete took another drink of his favored brew, Natural Light. He topped off his tobacco supply and continued.

First, a little explanation of terms and concepts is needed for the layman. A lot of Ranger School consists of establishing patrol bases and moving from one point to another. A patrol base is essentially a place where soldiers camp in a tactical environment. When a mission comes down (a raid would be a good example, or an ambush) some soldiers leave to execute. Others remain behind. The soldiers that go forward to do the mission travel to an established Objective Rally Point (an ORP) where final preps are made before the raid or ambush. Once the preps are finalized at the ORP, the mission gets done.

There are a lot of steps involved in the process that I have roughly outlined above, and at Ranger School the students are graded on all of them mercilessly. Also, it cannot be emphasized enough that this stuff gets done at all hours of the day on barely adequate sleep and with a daily maximum caloric intake of 1200 (that’s a typical MRE, or one US Army ration pack. A soldier should be supplied with three MREs daily- but not at Ranger School).

“After a mission you would return to a patrol base, and usually it was in the middle of the night or early morning.” The Ranger Instructors or RI’s would change shifts, and the next nightmarish day would begin. “While this was happening a lot of stuff would derail at Ranger School. An instructor would come in who was pissed off at his wife or kids… that would usually play in to how much you were going to get fucked with that night.”

“So we were in Florida Phase of Ranger School, the final phase of the school, and everyone was tired and worn out.” According to Pete, it was a dark night, with no illumination. “Someone was fucking around at the Patrol Base.” He went on to add that they had been in the woods for weeks, and that everyone’s sense of smell was heightened, in addition to being ravenously hungry. The student Platoon Leader was trying to make things happen at the Patrol Base for that night’s mission, and things weren’t going well.

Someone opened a ham slice MRE while he was trying to brief for the evening’s mission. Everyone could smell the tasty treat due to the aforementioned sharpening of the senses. The student Platoon Leader got pissed off and started to yell. “Who’s eating the fucking ham slice!?” The RI who was present called out. “Hey! This is a tactical situation! Everyone needs to maintain tactical whispering! The enemy could be anywhere at this point, and if you’re yelling out, then you’re wrong, Rangers.”

At that point, someone in the Patrol Base called out. “Fuck You!”

Pete laughed at the memory. “You have to remember that this wasn’t the millennial generation yet, yelling that to a RI was a pretty risky move.”

The Ranger Instructor was angry. He whipped out a huge Maglite, and shined his beam towards the twelve o’clock position of the Patrol Base.

“Who said that!” he demanded. He swept his beam around, trying to find the student who had sworn at him in the brush.

As soon as he called out, another disembodied voice shouted in the pitch dark, this time from the six o’clock position. “I did! Fuck you!”

“Like a dumbass,” the RI turned and swept his beam to the six o’clock. “Who down there said that!”

The words had barely left his mouth when another voice called out from the nine o’clock. “Fuck You! I did!”

From all directions, the “fuck you” chorus came in. The RI was definitely pissed. “Out came the artillery simulators,” Pete recalled.

As an aside, an artillery simulator is a fairly powerful pyrotechnic device (a quarter stick of M1 dynamite) that produces a loud whistle and heavy “bang.” The blast can definitely injure someone who is too close by; care must be used when they are thrown.

At Ranger school, they were thrown about like candy. Their use signaled that a position had been compromised.

Well, after being defied, the RI decided that the student’s position had been compromised, and he would pay them back. He started throwing the artillery simulators around and “everyone had to pack up all their gear and rucksacks in the dark.” The students had to hasten to their alternate patrol base in the swamp. They had to crawl and run several kilometers through chest deep water and heavy brush. It was a bad experience; no one got any sleep.

However, Pete thought things balanced out. “Several students got away with yelling fuck you to a Ranger Instructor.”

I asked Pete if he was one of those students. Pete smiled a shit-eating grin and answered.


And then he laughed his ass off.

More follows, readers.

Our unknowable neighbors

I spent a lot of time outdoors as a kid. Frequently, I would lie in our hayfield at night and look up at the stars. We really didn’t suffer from much light pollution, and on some nights the Milky Way stretched above me like a rhinestone rug. The views were breathtaking, and I always wondered what was out there. Later in life I spent time in places that were really out there, and the stars were even more spectacular.

Even on those squalid firebases in the middle of Godforsakenville I stood in awe of the carpet of stars. I reflected on the grubby, deadly little pursuits we were entangled in and I thought “hey, we need to do better than this.”

That’s why I am excited about some bits of news I have seen lately in regard to planets being within feasible interstellar striking range of our own beloved Sol. Whether these planets are capable of supporting life, who knows. That all remains to be seen.

What is interesting about this is that a large amount of planets are being found, at distances from four to 300 light years away. I think it’s exciting. The more of these planets that are discovered, the higher the likelihood that one of them is capable of supporting life. The closer they are, the better (maybe- they could always harbor some horrible reptile things who think human faces are the height of cuisine).

Of course, with our current (unclassified) sad state of affairs in interstellar travel technology, four light years is still an awful long way away, let alone 300. I’ve looked into various scenarios for FTL travel, and most of them involve technologies which are still pie-in-the-sky. One promising project, the original Project Orion, was terminated in 1963 for arms-control reasons.

Still though, in the late fifties some very bright scientists figured out how to cross interstellar distances at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light by detonating nuclear bombs behind a spaceship. Pretty impressive, and it was figured out over fifty years ago.

Surely we can do better now. The stars await, and we know now that they have planets nearby.

I say we should go look.

Pete’s Ranger School Overview

I interviewed Pete for the first time on the tenth of February 2017. We were standing in his shop surrounded by various tools, agricultural implements and an odd firearm or two. It was a relaxed atmosphere, a case of the infamous Natural Light beer was open and Pete would take an occasional swig and worry the tobacco in his lip with his tongue.

Pete began with a rough description of Ranger School itself, as seen through his eyes. He described it as “the hardest leadership school in the United States Military.” He went on to state that the school maintains about a sixty percent failure rate, and he asked me to confirm that he was right on the Ranger Training Brigade webpage. Later on I checked, and he had his facts straight, the school has an exact 59.5% failure rate. Pretty high.

With justifiable pride, he described it as the “School of Schools.” However, he followed this statement with the perception of veterans of the 75th Ranger Regiment. He said guys there called it “Stupid School.” The reason for that was because in the Regiment, it was expected that you passed Ranger School. It was a “rite of passage,” according to Pete. In the Army as a whole the Ranger tab sets a soldier apart, in Ranger Regiment it was par for the course.

Pete attended Ranger School as a Private First Class. He went on to describe how the Ranger tab set lower enlisted soldiers apart within his home unit, the Ranger Battalion. If a lower enlisted soldier in Ranger Regiment wore a Ranger tab, he was granted certain privileges. He no longer had to ride on the pile of rucksacks in the center of a truck, he could “smoke” other privates, and other soldiers had to address him while standing in the position of Parade Rest. (“Smoking” is the act of giving a soldier corrective training by means of physical exertion.) Also, a “tabbed” Ranger was viewed as ready for leadership positions. A tabbed PFC or Specialist was viewed as a junior NCO; they were frequently made leaders of fire teams upon successful completion of Ranger School.

He returned to the subject, which was the school itself. Pete said that at the school “no one wears rank” or “patches from the unit you’re from” but that everyone knew who the “Batt Boys” were, or soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment. The separate Battalions that make up Ranger Regiment are known as “Batts.” Pete said even though no one wore identifiers, you could always tell who were from West Point, the 82nd Airborne, OCS, and who the officers were, and who were enlisted.

Oddly enough, Pete didn’t have much to say about the first four days of Ranger School, which is where the majority of failures occur according to the Ranger Training Brigade Website (36.5%). It could be that he skipped over the hellish first four days because he didn’t think it was hellish, but I don’t know for sure. He began to discuss the meat of the school, the Patrol Phases, and how you could see what position soldiers had held in the Army by what graded positions they were given on the missions.

As an important aside, it must be stressed that leadership assignments in Ranger School are given on a random basis; they can change at any time. This adds to the stress the students are undergoing, and adds an element of unpredictability to the environment. A “fail” grade in leadership can lead to expulsion from the school, or possibly a “recycle” on a phase of training. US Army leadership schools use this as an effective technique across the board, but Ranger School represents the rotating leadership technique at its sadistic best.

Pete continued. “Platoon leaders, platoon sergeants and squad leaders were the hardest graded positions” and the toughest position “depended on what you were doing.” For example, if the soldiers were in a patrol base and you had a “dickhead RI (Ranger Instructor)” and a soldier’s current assignment was Platoon Sergeant, then one of the tasks the Platoon Sergeant would have is making sure he knew how much ammo all of his troops had. The RI would make all of the soldiers “dump their mags in a patrol cap” and he would count each round to make sure the student Platoon Sergeant’s count was accurate.

If the count was wrong by so much as a single round, the student Platoon Sergeant could be graded with a “fail” for his mission which was to report accurate information to his Platoon Leader, another student. Of course, the student Platoon Leader in a patrol base would be in charge of planning the next mission, which had its own unique series of pitfalls.

The platoon leader would call in his squad leaders and plan a mission for whenever. It is important to remember that everyone would be operating on no sleep, and very little food. “It could be a good mission, if he’s a smart guy, and it would be easy.” Then the leadership roles would switch, and someone else would be made the Platoon Leader and he would have to execute the other guy’s plan. This is where the trouble would start. One guy would “collapse the patrol base” and be in charge of movement, the RI’s would change leadership roles again, and another Platoon Leader would have to execute the plan that was hatched two people back.

It was a perfect recipe for confusion, and it reinforced the point that there had better be a rock-solid, simple plan with very little room for misinterpretation. Hungry, tired and pissed-off people would carry out the mission brief.

“You could be screwed by the guy four people back that came up with a shitty plan.”

Pete laughed. “There you are, three hundred meters from the objective, trying to bring everybody up to speed on a plan that you didn’t even make.”

I commented that the school seemed to set people up to fail.

Pete disagreed. He brought up the “Batt Boys” and the significance of the non-graded positions at the school. He mentioned team leaders; there are two in a squad. Soldiers from Ranger Battalion would frequently be used in these non-graded positions to help their fellow students pass the mission. Of course, if the person who needed help were a “dirtbag,” then help would not necessarily be forthcoming. Pete did say, though, that “Batt Boys” were expected to help people, he mentioned West Point students in particular.

That point brought him back to “Stupid School,” in that he perceived that soldiers from Ranger Battalion were expected to perform at a level much higher than other students at Ranger School. One of his perceived missions at Ranger School was to help other soldiers to pass.

Having already served awhile in a Ranger Battalion, Pete’s expectations for a school with a sign that read “Not for the weak or fainthearted” were pretty high. He “feared the smoking” given to him by his platoon mates in his Ranger Batt far more than any punishment he received by an RI at Ranger School, and he seemed oddly disappointed by this. On the last day of Ranger School, as he was sitting in the wood line waiting to graduate, he recalled thinking, “Is that it? Is that all there is?”

Pete feared failure back at the Battalion much more than “this bullshit school.”

It says something about life in the Ranger Regiment that one of the hardest of schools in the US Military, which Ranger School is, made little impression on Pete.

He spat in his can and drank some more beer. And then he proceeded to tell me Ranger School stories.

Stay tuned, readers.

Pete the Ranger


Been pretty busy the past week or so. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my third book, “Immolation,” it’s coming along nicely with some local help and the assistance of some kind folks down in Australia. I have also been busy gathering material for this site, I did some traveling to visit a friend and comrade, Pete the Ranger. He agreed to an interview, I recorded some pretty good stuff. I plan on inserting some tales from him from time to time onto this website.

First, let me start by saying that Pete is what is known as a “tabbed and scrolled” Ranger. This means that he served overseas with the Ranger Regiment (the 75th) during wartime, hence the term “scrolled.” He is entitled to wear the unit scroll of his Ranger Battalion on his uniform’s right sleeve. By “tabbed,” I mean that he is also a successful graduate of the US Army’s Ranger school, a fairly famous months-long torture test.

Pete is a long-service NCO, he has served in South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia. He is the recipient of numerous decorations and awards. He wears the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and jump wings, of course. I’m pretty sure he has some foreign wings and a German Schutzenschnur, but frankly the guy’s dress uniform looks like General Patton’s so it’s easy to get confused. In any case, he doesn’t put much stock in all the bling, anyway. I’m just putting it out there for biographical info.

Pete would like to remain anonymous, so I can’t paste his ugly mug up on this website. It’s a shame, because I have some pretty cool photos of him in various places doing things. So here goes a thumbnail sketch: He’s an average sized man of stocky build. He has a full head of sandy hair, usually done up in a high-and-tight. He likes to drink Natural Light, and his lip is perpetually full of Grizzly fine-cut chewing tobacco. Pete is usually pretty laid back as long as people don’t act like jerks. When that happens, it’s best to step aside for a moment or two, the results aren’t pretty.

I have seen Pete do amazing things on combat operations. He is a master improviser, a sound tactician, and he is an expert on any weapon system you care to name under the level of a howitzer. Well, he could probably figure one of those out, too, given enough ammo and a lazy afternoon. He has ridden to battle on trucks, a dirt bike, donkeys, various aircraft, and his own two feet.

Pete is the Renaissance Man of 20th and 21st century combat, and I count myself lucky to know him. Better still, I have the additional luck that he agreed to do the interviews.

I should have the first story out within a day or two. Keep an eye peeled.


As you, the reader may have surmised, I have a little experience with drones. Most of the time, it was intel that we would get from them. I didn’t have anything to do with targeting.  That kind of call was way above my pay grade.

The future of the battlefield, however, will be shaped more and more by the machines, and regular soldiers will operate them routinely. Imagine a portable drone that the average joe could carry that would tell him or her what was behind that wall in front of them. Those would have all kind of uses, and they will be developed. In my books, I write about such a toy, and the impact that the capability will have on the battlefield. It’ll be a real leap forward, kind of like the internet linking of all of the combatants. Mark my word, that will happen too. We are close to it now.

What I’d like to talk about today is another type of drone, one that will be death on armor. I read an interesting article about a requirement that the US Army has put out, they want an artillery shell or a rocket capable of projecting a small swarm of Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) bearing drone ‘copters above the battlefield for the express purpose of taking out scads of armored vehicles.

Oh boy. Imagine what that would do to a mechanized formation headed to Point A. All of a sudden, they would be headed nowhere. If you combined the killer cute little drone helicopters with a weapon that exists today, FASCAM, the column of tanks is going nowhere fast. And if airpower can get there too… it would make the highway of death look pretty tame.

All the more reason I don’t envy tankers, for the same reason I wouldn’t want to be a pilot. You are a big, fat target that everyone who can do so will light up with any available arms.

Of course, for every action there is a reaction, and I am curious what people will come up with to deal with the swarm of drones that will descend upon the combatants in our next war. A quick firing laser? A flechette auto cannon? Flying mines? Enhanced jamming? Hard to tell, really. I can’t imagine that such a defensive weapon would be manually operated, however.

Those little drones will be very hard to hit.

A new toy

As you may have guessed, I do like to keep up on technological developments. A company called Boston Dynamics has been doing a lot of work on a robot that they have dubbed “Handle,” the thing looks crazy. Check out the video and article here.

After you’ve seen it in action, I’d like you to think about all the implications of such a machine. Remember how we discussed automation earlier? This robot seems to be tailor made for rote tasks in a factory or storehouse. It is also quite agile.

Give it another couple of generations of development, and I can see its military applications as well. If it had legs, it could be used to carry heavy loads, the bane of the infantryman since the beginning of time. Of course, to serve in that role it would need a very good power source and robust engineering.

It could also be adapted as a fire support vehicle, a bunker on wheels or legs. It could mount a machine gun like the M-240B, which could be controlled remotely. Sensors already exist that detect incoming fire, mounting one on the Handle and programming it to return fire wouldn’t be all that great of a trick.

Of course, after the Handle or something like it is militarized (and it will be), it’s a short step to combat machines that are autonomous. We’ve all seen “Terminator,” it would be fearsome to go up against robots.

Imagine, if you will, that you have been dubbed an insurgent, someone’s enemy. You are fairly heavily armed. You have an assault rifle and something like an RPG. It’s dark and rainy, you are wet and miserable in the pre-dawn hours. Every now and then you scan the area in front of you with your thermals, there’s not much to see. You hear a muffled noise, something like rocks grinding against one another. There’s something out there. Your blood runs cold, you feel the electric shock of fear.

There was nothing on the thermals, so you look with your NVGs into the dark. The night is pitch black, you see a hazy green image of trees, buildings and a lurking black shape. The shape is new, you know this is not good. Foolishly, you hit the IR push function of your monocular to get a better look.

Depending on how the robot in front of you is programmed, it would surely detect the sweep of your mini IR light. In this case, the robot is programmed to fire when it detects an active IR emission. Before you know it, you are dead.

Let’s say you don’t use your IR push, and the machine doesn’t know exactly where you are because you’ve taken measures to reduce your thermal signature.  You decide to shoot at it with your RPG, your rifle is useless against the lurking threat. Well, you had better hit it square. If you miss, the machine will know where you are and it will kill you.

And an RPG is a notoriously inaccurate weapon.

Fighting humans is bad enough. Going up against robots would be sheer murder. The day, though, will come. You can bet your bottom dollar on this.