It was early Spring, 1985 and I was a Private in the U.S. Army assigned to the elite 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. We had a great platoon loaded with talented individuals and even a few that had cut their teeth on the recent Combat Parachute Assault into Grenada (Oct 1983) to rescue American College Students. This mission was known as Operation: “Urgent Fury.” Now today combat operations are plenty, however in the early 1980’s, there wasn’t a lot of combat action post-Vietnam Era. If you participated in Grenada with the Rangers, you were commonly known as a “Grenader Invader” and were viewed as “gods,” especially by Ranger Privates (AKA “tab-less bitches”).
The life as a Ranger is a difficult one, both physically and mentally. Every day is a test; everyday is a new challenge, everyday you have to show why you are one of our military’s finest fighting units. To be a Ranger you have to be as a minimum a three time volunteer. You have to volunteer for
the Army; volunteer for Airborne School; and finally volunteer for the Rangers which has a requirement process of passing RIP, or Ranger Indoctrination Program (this name has since changed to RASP or Ranger Assessment Selection Process. I still love the name RIP!). Just qualifying for the Rangers is only part of the process; once you complete RIP you have to earn your position in a Ranger platoon everyday and when trained enough, you will have the chance to attend Ranger School in hopes of earning the coveted Ranger Tab (which then removes you from the “tab-less bitch” listing!). Ranger School in itself is a daunting task and covers over 8 weeks of patrolling, raids, ambushes, reconnaissance, field craft, survival, graded patrols as well as food and sleep deprivation. It’s still to this day one of the most difficult leadership schools the military has to offer.
The life of a Ranger Private is a tough one. You want to prove everyday that with guidance and the proper training you can be a combat multiplier to the unit. You speak only when spoken to, and tried like hell not to ask unnecessary questions. You did know however, that your platoon “had your
back.” Regardless of rank, Rangers were committed to each other and an excerpt from the Ranger Creed specifically says “I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.” This wasn’t just a saying; it was a way of life that every man in the unit adhered to.
We had a rare weekend off after a very successful week of airborne operations and training in the field, preparing to meet the enemies of our Nation on any battlefield on a moment’s notice. While some Army units were enjoying the new Army “business like” feeling from post-Vietnam, the Rangers were training for combat! This is what we did, we were the modern day Commando; this is what we loved to do. Our barracks were relatively quiet on the weekends which I personally enjoyed. All the guys that had families or lived off-post were enjoying their time away and most the men that lived in the barracks were trying to find reasons to get away and blow off a little steam. For me, it was the simple things like being able to wash my clothes and prep my gear for another long week and enjoy a few movies in the room in relative peace. As I walked from my room (all the rooms were 2, 3 or 4 man rooms depending; I was fortunate to be in a two-man room) to the
laundry room, I arrived to a place that had two washers and two dryers to service over 30 men. You can do the math and see that this usually doesn’t work well. The room was in disarray and packed with military OD Green laundry bags with dirty, wet and dry clothes thrown in them all over the
place. It was your own responsibility to do your personal laundry. The rule was, if you don’t “watch” your laundry, someone can bump you, which means multiple bags were sopping wet with clothes. The place was disgusting and not the standard for a Ranger barracks. For the next three hours I
washed, dried and neatly folded the laundry for about 7 or 8 Rangers, who obviously were out doing more important things on the weekend (and I don’t blame them!) I completed my laundry as well and left all the other laundry neatly lined up on the drying table and separated by load. Some bags I knew who they belonged to by their name tags and some others I had no idea. It didn’t matter to me, it was the right thing to do and frankly it didn’t bother me. It was how I spent this particular Saturday night.
Sunday morning I got up about 0730 (which is considering sleeping in from our normal 0515 wake-up) and did a nice PT session of running and the gym with my roommate. We then showered, changed into civvies (civilian clothes) and hit the RDF or Ranger Dining Facility (fancy name for the chow hall) for Sunday Brunch. This was the best meal of the week and you could load up on chow and for the most part no one was going to inconvenience you; it was Sunday and even God took a break! We finished our chow and were now looking forward to the Sunday afternoon nap! All my gear was ready for next week, my clothes were washed, and now to take a few hours of relaxation!! I just nodded off and I hear “Ranger Spisso, front and center!” I was like “huh? Did a Sergeant just call my name? And please tell me it wasn’t Sergeant MacCarthy!”
Sergeant MacCarthy was a combat veteran as a Private in the Rangers, jumping into Grenada as a Machine Gunner. When he went to Ranger School a few months after Grenada, he had already been awarded his combat patch (worn on the right shoulder of your uniform and signifies you’ve served in combat) and received flak from the Ranger Instructors. “Sergeant Mac” as he was
known as wasn’t a big man, but as solid as a fire plug and had the brash and bravado to back it up. He was a PT machine, tough as nails, could fight men twice his size and win, and looked as good in civilian clothes as he did in uniform. As Ranger Privates or tab-less bitches you stayed away from
Sergeant Mac, because he would quiz you on Ranger History or a weapons system and you would end up doing hundreds of push-ups. He was a tactician and simply knew his shit, and could back it up!
I hear it again, “Spisso, front and center! I’m not going to call you again!” My roommate looks and me and says, “JB, you better go before he comes down here and strangles us both!” Good idea! I didn’t want to get strangled! I yell out “moving Sergeant!” and go tearing out of my room and
down the hallway. I stop at the intersection of our platoon entry way a few feet from Sergeant Mac and assume the position of “Parade Rest,” the proper position when speaking to a Non-Commissioned Officer (you would stand at the position of Attention for an Officer). I respond with “Ranger Spisso, as ordered, Sergeant.” (At this point I haven’t a clue on why he wants me and
was going through in my mind everything in my weekend that I possibly could have screwed up?).
Sergeant Mac says “Spisso, were you the one that did everyone’s laundry this weekend?”
I replied “Yes Sergeant.”
He then say’s “Did you know my laundry was a part of that?”
I replied “No Sergeant.”
He goes on and asks “So why would you do everyone’s laundry and not just leave it there?”
I replied “Seemed like the right thing to do Sergeant, and I really didn’t mind.”
Then, like in the Christmas cartoon the “Grinch,” I see a little smile come across Sergeant Mac’s face which I’ve never seen before and he responds with “Random act of kindness, I’ll be dam! Good job Spisso, and thank you.”
I wasn’t really sure how to respond and thought awkward thanking him back for thanking me so I did the best response for an 18 year old Airborne Ranger and just said “Hooah Sergeant!” (“Hooah” pronounced WHO-AHH is the Ranger universal word that can mean nearly anything but usually symbolizes “I understand.”)
Sergeant Mac then says “I’ll see you at PT tomorrow Spisso, go enjoy your day. Move out!”
I arrived back at my room, my roommate surprised I’m still alive, and I hit the rack for my Sunday afternoon nap knowing my random act of kindness made a difference on even the toughest of warrior!
Hooah! I hope you enjoyed this blog and remember that YOU can make a difference!