We lined up for PT two hours earlier than usual. The humidity was so thick I felt droplets on my skin. I looked up and saw stars. Not rain.
Another Ranger Physical Fitness Test. Failure would result in removal from the pipeline. No Ranger School. No Tab. We faced away from the graders and waited for our turn. I smoked the first three events without a problem. I am a stickler for form. When other guys struggled or got busted out for being sloppy, I ticked off repetitions like a metronome.
I saw the sad faces. A few guys turned around, looking over my shoulder at the guys pushing down the ground. When someone didn’t come back to our end of the line, someone made a sad face.
“He didn’t pass!? Holy shit . . . “
Hard grader. PT Studs failed and have to retest. Whatever. You practice how you play. 300 on the APFT and can’t do 49 right?
They cut the company loose to drive ourselves over to the run route. I pulled onto a dirt roadside by the airfield blasting daft punk at an absurd volume. It was still dark. I pissed and shouldered up to Linus by the start line. I elbowed him.
“Pace with me?”
“Sure . . . what’re you looking to run?”
“Eh . . . seven minute pace.”
“Sure, man. Sounds good . . . “
Nine days out of six, Linus runs half a minute faster than I do. They gave us a count. On Go! the sound of digital watches rippled through the group. We shouldered through the crowd, fighting to the front and separating ourselves from the shitbags. Half a mile in, I could hear Linus sucking wind.
“You alright, man?”
“Yeah,” he wheezed. “Just gotta break through this . . . “
We smoked the first mile in 6:20. When I looked at my watch I could hardly believe it. I was only jogging, but I could hear the rattle half a step behind. Mile two came in at 14:08. We were dropping fast, but we were still up with the cool kids. If we could leg it out a bit, we would be right on target. The sun was coming up.
Linus wasn’t having it. I knew it without looking over, I could hear it. He could barely hold his head up. He was having one of those days. I slowed my pace.
“Hey man . . . just go ahead. Do what you need to do.”
“Bullshit. You pace with me.” I checked my watch. “We’ll be alright.”
The next two and a half miles were a suck-fest. Guys came and went, passing us on both sides. A few times people passed that I couldn’t stomach to see run by me. I pointed and told Linus to just catch it up with me. He did for a bit, before falling off again. We were separated from mid-pack. I stayed a few steps ahead of Linus, just far enough to pull him along.
“Really, man . . . just go ahead . . . “
“Fuck you, man. Who’s gonna be there when I’m sucking and I haven’t slept in a week? None of these dudes even like me . . . This shit fucking counts. All you gotta do is pass. Stay right here . . .” I pointed to the ground beside me.
“Fuck, you’re right. Thanks . . . “
“Just keep up.”
We passed mile four and time was ticking. So were we. I didn’t care about my time, or how it looked. I wasn’t going to let Linus fail. I meant what I said. He was my boy, what the fuck was I supposed to do if he washed out from having one bad day? To our right a bunch of fat POGs were shuffling back and forth up and down a side road, completely shamming their way through PT.
“Hooah, Ranger!” shouted a corpulent female as we passed.
We crested a hill and I could see the finish line ahead. I looked at my watch. It was going to be close.
“Listen guy, we gotta run right now or we’re fucked.”
Linus just wheezed. He was giving it everything. The humidity was killing him. He couldn’t breathe.
The Army likes to preach that if you stick to its core values no matter what, you’ll be alright. Take the hard right over the easy wrong. The trouble is, some of the Army’s values conflict. I was standing at the intersection of Integrity and Loyalty. In the end each of us goes on paper alone.
Fail the run and you’re out . . .
“Meet me at the finish line,” I said. I took off like a shot.
I took the last half mile at a gallop, burning past guys who had passed me by a mile before. I did a mile worth of running in eight hundred meters and thundered to a stop just past the finish line.
I turned to look for Linus coming down the home stretch. I didn’t see him. My heart sank a little. I lined up in front of the company commander to report my time. I still didn’t see Linus.
Back of the pack. With the shitbags.
I turned around and saw Linus crouching in the dirt, breathing heavy.
“Hey fucker . . . you make it?”
“Yeah . . . barely.”
He looked relieved. The 1st Sergeant called out the failures. Linus and I went to breakfast.