Robert D. Russell, SA
by R.D. Russell
Note: Originally published in “To Be Someone Special – The Story of UDTra Class 29” by RD Russell
Prior to UDTRA was
Boot Camp. I had joined the Navy to fly airplanes. At that time if you had a
college degree or had completed two years of college and passed a test you went
I did however attend a lecture that was being given to all Boots, and the Big Bad dude giving the lecture was Maxie Stephenson. He stood up on the stage in his starched greens and told us he wasn’t interested in making men out of us but if any of us were already men he was willing to talk. Of course, everyone in the place grabbed an application; it was the macho thing to do.
By the time the swim trials started several days later fear and good sense had overcome the majority of the applicants and they were no-shows. There were enough left to still crowd all the decks around the pool. Down at the far end of the pool an applicant was standing with an olive drab shit can over his head and the other applicants were ordered to walk by and slap the side of the can. George Layton was under the can making a grand entrance into Naval Special Warfare.
George had done something or other to upset Filmore who was giving the swim tests and so Filmore was using a waste paper basket to retain George’s attention. I got to know George after the swim test, during our remaining time as Boots.
Cigarettes were always a major concern in Boot Camp because you were only allowed to have 2 cigarettes on you and then only in certain areas. George walked around with both shirt pockets full because of his ability to ‘convince’ other Boots to give him their cigarettes.
Layton was a riot to be around whether in Boot Camp or later in the Teams where I was privileged to hear him argue his case in the Rung Sat that the Gook’s ear went to the sharpest knife, not the fastest gun, or having him borrow my bedroom for a little ménage-a-trois with a seven foot long snake being number three to him and his girlfriend’s one and two.
My future officer’s
career was becoming more unsavory with every passing day of Boot Camp.
I rebelled saying it was non-productive. We were already getting these people up every two hours and forcing them to use the head. The idea was also not to my liking because I was the one that had to tie these ‘punishment ribbons’ on the poor folks who had to wear them ‘til after evening chow. Perhaps, too, I was starting to get a conscience and I knew this was not what should be done to anyone regardless of the circumstances. The final blow came when someone from back home turned up in my pee and poop company. He had been raised as a foster child and had dropped out of school at the age of 17 to join the Navy and see the world, but now he was on his way out with a ‘convenience of the service’ discharge. I went before my boss and told him that I was resigning my phony commission and that I wanted orders to UDTRA.
Five days before
Class 29 started I checked in to the Boots Barracks on the Naval Amphib Base for what was to become the adventure of my
life. The officers were going through their pre-training phase, learning how to
steer an IBS and such while us enlisted were painting buildings, except for
Training started with the assignment of boat crews. Edmiston, Taylor, Dulin, Jones, Kruger, and myself were issued Mr. White as our boat officer which pleased us no end because he had such a totally bitchin’ car. The fact that he could read big surf better than anyone else, even the instructors, was an additional asset.
Thus began a time
of getting to know each other and the infamous IBS. We all learned to give way
when Mr. Wootten was about to lap you in the swimming
pool. The future minister always said, “Excuse me,” when he kicked you but it
still felt like a Mike boat had run you over. We all wondered what Mr. Wootten’s speed secret was when he swam, but it wasn’t ‘til
we were in the Teams that we found out. After finishing
Pre Hell Week training was a blur of PT, run, swim, and paddle the boat. One trainee that looked like his head was going to explode after every run was Barney. Barney was a chain smoking ‘old guy’ off an LSD who arrived at the Phib base one day before training started. At the start of training Barney ran the 300 yards in 71 seconds, coming in dead last. At the end of training Barney ran the same 300 yards in 44 seconds. That is nothing short of incredible.
Hell Week was everything it was reported to be. Trainees so wasted that they went to sleep face down in their food tray at the chow hall. The mud flats were fun and games the first time but by the second time everyone had open festering wounds that burned like bee stings when the cold, soupy crap that passed for mud covered very inch of your body. On Thursday there were 75 zombies staggering around with rubber boats on their heads, 150 eye lids had broken glass embedded in them, 150 feet had marched barefoot over rusty razor blades, and 75 crotches resembled raw hamburger.
On one of those
Hell nights my boat crew was portaging our IBS behind
Shortly thereafter we launched out to sea just south of the Hotel Del rocks. The tide was way out and we were joking about the nonexistent surf and about how the other boat crews were having hallucinations but we were just fine. Then when we looked to sea we thought we were hallucinating. A humongous wave was roaring straight at us and we just ignored it. Must be one of those spooky things the other crews were seeing.
It was for sure real and it for damn sure flipped us; so much for staying dry that night. After a lifetime or two, Hell Week ended and since my right foot was the size of a football due to some weird infection, and Devine’s butt looked like a Nestle’s Crunch bar with the crunchies picked out, they sent us both to sick bay. While the rest of the class celebrated completing Hell Week that weekend, Skinner and I were soaking in tubs of hot disinfectant…total bummer.
Later during the
week following Hell Week Taylor and I went out for a victory dinner in
Things got serious
after Hell Week. Before and during Hell Week the trainee had to quit in order to leave; after Hell Week you could be dropped and a lot of
men were. Between Hell Week and
I have a favorite
Off we went running, stumbling, falling, cussing each other for letting this happen, making more noise than a couple of Brahma bulls with tin cans tied to their tails. Our navigation was dead on. We came back exactly on camp with the only problem being there was an airport between us and the huts and Mr. Sudduth had sworn to drop anyone he caught crossing the runway. We were told to go around either end but don’t you dare cut across. Tony and I decided the key word was ‘caught.’ If Mr. Sudduth didn’t catch us we could still make it back to camp on time. First we sneaked across the taxiway and nothing happened so Tony zipped across the runway. I waited a bit, looked and listened, and took off after him.
That was when all Hell broke loose. Up ‘til then the runway lights were very dim; they became super bright. The stillness of the night was torn apart by the shrieking engines of the Star Ship Enterprise as it prepared to make a touch and go. I was caught in its landing lights like a deer on the highway. My legs wouldn’t move and the edge of the runway was now on the horizon. That was how it seemed at the time anyway. I went by Tony at warp 6 and kept right on going off the edge of the cliff above the camp, my legs still churning away just like in the coyote and road runner cartoons. Cannon and I made it into camp and since nothing was said I assume no one but us ever knew of our little transgression.
It has been almost
40 years since we were all alive and together on
To all of Class 29, it was both a privilege and an honor to go through training with you.