Today is the birthday of one Lee “Sonny” Deckelman, our one and only Fire and Forget Soldier – Actually, he’s one of many. That’s the point of the book. These guys are all forgotten. Anyway, in honor of Lee’s birthday, I give you Noble Hill, an excerpt from the book. It’s actually the story that first drew me to the project. It’s perfectly illustrative of the kind of guy Lee is. Happy birthday, Lee!
This was why he’d joined the army. To become a Ranger. He stood on top of Noble Hill, spent but on his feet. He had been picked out of his company to run the steep hill made of hard dirt and loose baseball sized rocks six times, while the rest of the company only ran it once. He wasn’t being punished. He was being tested, and he knew it. He loved it. This is where he would get to prove himself worthy of a transfer to the 2nd Ranger Battalion.
He had already gone through a morning of physical training: push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, squat thrusts, etc. Then he had been chosen to call out the cadence on the following four mile run. Now, sapped and invigorated all at once, he sprinted down Noble Hill after the final climb and joined his First Sergeant at the Ranger’s barracks and assumed parade rest, hands held in the small of his back. First Sergeant Luckett had come from 2nd Ranger Battalion. Having just destroyed his ankle on an airborne operation, he was reassigned to Lee’s 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry unit. The first sergeant still had friends in the battalion, and he was anxious to teach the pesky kid a hard lesson about what it meant to become a Ranger. Luckett announced to three Rangers dressed in standard Ranger PT uniforms that the kid standing before them wanted to be an Army Ranger. He wanted it so badly he had put in five 4187 transfer requests, all denied. . In short, he was making a pest of himself all in an effort to join their ranks.
The three Rangers conferred and concluded the only way to decide if the kid was Ranger material was to give him the Ranger PT test. Without hesitation, he dropped down in push-up position and waited for the command. Begin! He finished with seventy-eight. Twenty off his usual mark. Next came the sit-ups. Sixty-seven. Again, not his best, but he was nearly worn away by the morning activity. Then the two- mile run on legs that burned and cramped from the day’s hyper-exertion. In less than fifteen minutes he was back at the barracks doing pull-ups and then off to do the Ranger swim test in full gear.
When all was said and done, he sat on his bunk exhausted, aching, and quietly exuberant. He had done it. He had shown them he was born to be an Army Ranger. He was confident his next transfer would be accepted, and he’d soon be moving a couple of blocks to the Ranger barracks. Unfortunately, when the sixth 4187 transfer request came back, it was identical to the first five, a denial of transfer.
He would come to find out that his Army recruiter was the main reason he was denied a transfer. The man had lied to the young recruit. He told him that you could not make a direct request to be assigned to serve in a Ranger battalion. The best way to become a Ranger, he explained, was to sign up for a unit that shared a base with the highly trained infantry unit. Fort Lewis was one such base. Once the recruit was there, he could request the transfer. It was a simple formality. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The recruiter placed the young man in a Cohesion Operational Readiness and Training (COHORT) infantry unit. It was an experiment that the Army was running to see if a unit that trained together and worked together throughout the entirety of their service performed better. Transferring out was nearly impossible because it defeated the purpose of the experiment.
Anyone else would have packed it in. Given up and accepted that there was nothing else to be done. He had been given a shot, and he didn’t make it. Not only that, the game was rigged. He would never be granted a transfer because the rules wouldn’t allow it. But, Lee Alan Deckelman wasn’t like anyone else. He had been through hell and back for most of his life. He had survived tough times and overcome real tragedies. This was how he expected it to be. Deep down, this is how he thought it should be. If you really want to be a true Army Ranger, you have to earn it.
And, Lee would do just that.