At 3:58 am, I woke up from an intense dream during another bout of COVID.
I hadn’t had this reoccurring dream in 30 years and for some, this is going to be hard to read, but for others this may seem oddly familiar. Familiar for some to such an extent, that it might even make you smile. This isn’t meant to sensationalize my journey, but in fact its from a well of honor and reverence for those whom have shared it with me. Everyone has their own reasons for their extraordinary dedication, tenacity, commitment, endurance, and resilience during adversity…that higher purpose I call “the mission”.
What fuels the purpose that compels you to push through the crucible in order to deliver your contribution uncompromised?
I hope this encourages when you stand in the arena and your toes teeter off the edge of the great precipice. As you stare into the inky black abyss of fear and uncertainty, remember to smile back because you are not alone.
On September 19th, 1992, I was born in 1st Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Nothing on earth could have prepared me for the crushing price required to not just be honored with that distinction, but to endure that birthright. “Rangers eat their dead”, suffice to say, and 90’s Rangers no matter where you were born, know that simple truth. All Rangers want to know about the “others” around them. For Rangers, it’s a matter of life and death, because when people fail, the mission gets harder. Rangers accept the hard truth that the burden of the mission is distributed upon all those who remain, because the mission continues even if there is only one of us left… Failure is not an option.
So Rangers have a primitive need to know what is underneath the pretty plastic parts you show the world, and we almost instinctually rip off and discard those wrappings without a thought like a 5 year old on Christmas Day. Imagine dogs of war tearing apart the squeaky plush toy with the tag still on it. Their only task is to answer one question, “Where is the squeaker?” I am going to tell you about the day SSG Saule* found mine. * = names are changed.
Though I was born in Hard Rock Charlie Company, I was blessed to be selected to work for Chaplain Steven Berry as his Chaplain assistant during his last year in Savannah. For some time, I felt like I had the call of Ministry on my life… No greater honor than to serve literally, both God, your Ranger brothers, and our country wearing a Ranger scroll. Chaplain Berry is a living legend now and a legend in the making then. There was a time after Chaplain Berry left, we were waiting on the new Chaplain for months. It was just me doing my best to fill gigantic jungle boots of whom I was not worthy to tie the laces.
No matter the origin, the crucible always seems to be the prerequisite of transformation. Regiment is such an intense environment that does not ever seem to end, and because of that there is nothing that can remain hidden. That’s the point. The crucible reveals the greatness of people and the worst of people by grand design and divine intention. A crucible can do you a grisly favor in that it often allows your facade to be stripped off down to the bare bone, lash by lash. It’s shows you who you are…. without remorse.
“SSG Saule’s exploits in Alpha Company were dark tales Rangers retold like campfire ghost stories.”
As a Ranger from a line company, serving as Chaplain Assistant, this seemed to incite a few like a lightening rod (hard to imagine) strapped to a honey badger. I get it, but it’s what I had to do. Most accepted Chaplain Berry, but why a Ranger would choose to leave a line company to serve a Chaplain was something that angered a few, and SSG Saule was one of them. SSG Saule’s exploits in Alpha Company were dark tales Rangers retold like campfire ghost stories. Many of those tales included SSG Saule’s legendary “smoke sessions”. Self-discipline is a defining characteristic of Rangers, so “smoking” was a method of intense hazing using physical training, but they were intended to be done with a “greater teachable purpose”. During those years, Alpha company had a bit of sadistic reputation and SSG Saule was no exception.
Whenever SSG Saule started smoking me, there was a deep volcanic, if not brooding rage behind his cold eyes. There never seemed to be a “teachable lesson”… and when his “smoking sessions” started slipping beyond reason, even for Ranger Regiment, other Rangers would get a bit nervous. What was going to give? Brutal was normal, but when it almost seemed to be farther and farther toward the edge. Thankfully, someone of rank would step in, because SSG Saule seemed more and more determined to break me and make me quit, and yet I would not relent. I am certain that made it worse.
What is sacred to you?
What is sacred to you? Truly sacred? What is it in your life that you will not relent? Meaning that between two choices, those things sacred and those things that are not, standing side-by-side, there would be no consideration between one choice or the other? No hesitation, no doubt, and no justifiable reason to waiver. The sacred choice is without regret or compromise. What things do you hold sacred and will not waiver? Your children? Your Family? Your Wife? Your Husband? Your faith? Can you name those things for which you are willing to sacrifice everything… everything?
Most often, when we fail in those horrific moments of our terrible choices, they are not bold Hollywood-esque scenes of heroism, tragedy, or redemption, they are sublime and cumulative like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. These are the moments which sneak up on us, then bring us to our knees, and suffocate us. They take our breath away like an unexpected punch to the gut. Ironically, when we make the right choice, usually almost no one knows it, no fanfare, and no praise… in fact, depending who we are, it’s just expected – just get back to work.
Juxtapose for a minute all those “sacred” things between your own wants, motivations, and interests- career, standing, luxury, safety, security, hunger, fatigue, fear, and uncertainty. At what point will you choose those things or the reprieve of those things over what you hold sacred? Where is your squeaker?
Hard Rock Charlie 1/75, 3rd Platoon, 2nd Squad – that has almost no sacred meaning to any of you, except a precious few in my life. I still have my original dog tags that SGT Dirk Horwedel rigged with green jump tape on my second day. I have literally taken them almost every place I have travelled at risk in service to our country. They are the beginnings of my crucible and a reminder that is one without an end. We all need reminders of what matters most, especially when we need it the most. Hopefully, the pictures and artifacts by your desk or around your desk are not for show, and you remember not to stare past them. Don’t let a virtual background portray you, betray you, or sterilize you of what matters most in your life.
Being a new Ranger and a “believer” inside Ranger battalion was like living in a meatsuit with a pack of wolves. I am by no means a Bible thumper, but the intensity of the environment always seemed more often than not, to find me in center of a feeding frenzy. If 99% of human beings cannot survive in such an hostile world like Ranger Regiment. Emerging from the frenzy with half the meat ripped right off. Rangers who were believers and non-believers would stare in horror and even with some giggling, asking me if my faith was a bug or feature. When walking through the crucible, does your “sacred” fuel your faith, that is does it make you stronger in your conviction during the mission, or is your faith and conviction a result of the crucible? Or both?
There are six stanzas in the Ranger Creed, and there is not another creed comparable in all the world. It represents sacred principles to a Ranger. Those six stanzas are woven into our DNA… no matter in success or in our failure. The first four stanzas represent the foundation of who you are, and last two stanzas represent the first four in action, endurance without compromise. Rangers have literally died rather than compromise (any) of the Ranger Creed, but especially the last two stanzas because they represent a sacred commitment to our loved ones, our nation, the mission, and our Brothers. We strive towards these ideals in relentless pursuit. While true, the Creed means more to some Rangers than others, those six stanzas are the common thread of the fabric of our expectations of ONE ANOTHER, and of OURSELVES. These bind us all as TOGETHER as one interlocking piece of chainmail armor until the very last Ranger standing.
There is no compromise, and that is exactly what makes us dangerous.
“Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.”
After three years in 1st Ranger Battalion, I was blessed with the opportunity for the Army to pay for my college degree and commission. During that time, I had been smoked by the best of them. There is something inside me that just would not quit… no matter how brutal, exhausted, and wounded I might be. It comes from my Mother, she taught me to be relentless. Just recently I gave her eulogy, and most certainly the relentless love of a tenacious single Mom saved my life, protected me in the worst of times, and gave me an enduring personal faith without compromise, no matter how difficult the challenge, moment, or season… and all the flaws that come along side it.
Then the day came as I was beginning the steps to out-process, I was walking along the quad in a pressed uniform and spit shined boots, and from the corner of my eye, I saw SSG Saule sitting there under a small tree like a pit viper waiting on his prey. There was no where to run and no where to hide. After 1pm on a blistering hot Savannah day in August, the quad was empty and I heard my name called in a low rumble, “Ranger Edens come here, right now.”
“Today is your day Ranger Edens. You are going to quit, right here, right now.” My reply was respectful, but simple, “that is never going to happen SSG Saule. I will not quit.” And then it began. Within just a few minutes, my uniform was covered in a mixture of sweat and caked on dirt. My spit shine jungle boots were destroyed as I was being rolled around the dirt by his command. One exercise after another, he was just sitting there under the small shadow of the tree, almost entirely without expression. Behind his cold eyes was rage, and I realized this time, I needed to settle in, I was going to be there for a minute.
I saw Rangers walking by watching us like indignant parents might watch another Dad give a needed butt spanking for a tantrum or for some other unknown infraction in a Winn-Dixie parking lot. But after an hour or so of a ruthless series of exercises under the blazing sun, it seemed those distant expressions had turned to serious concern, yet no one intervened. Over and over again, SSG Saule told me this would all stop if I just quit, and that I had no other choice. It was me, or me. In that moment, I realized SSG Saule had decided to find my squeaker, my sacred, to rip it open, examine it, and compare it to his own, no matter what it took.
Another thirty minutes went by, I was physically exhausted. For almost two hours, SSG Saule tried every combination of emotional leverage, physical stress, and it was shear torture test of wills. Cold emotion was long gone and he was screaming at me in every obscenity he could muster. He told me to “Recover”… which would normally be the end, and the last push ups I could barely muster, I gave my final tribute, “One for the Airborne Ranger in the Sky; one for second squad; and one for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.” With that final push up, he jumped to his feet and exploded, “Why Edens? Why in the fuck are you a Christian?” “Why did you ever want to be the Chaplain’s assistant?” Why does it fucking matter to you?” “Tell me right now.” “Why won’t you just quit?”…
And now, I finally knew…. So I stood there at parade rest and gave my testimony to SSG Saule. Soaked in sweat, covered in muck, and completely exhausted, there was nothing more I could give Him, but yet I was profoundly grateful for a Savior who change my life, saved me from the chaos of broken family; healed wounds so deep and wide, my life would have been impossible to endure without such His amazing grace.
SSG Saule listened with an intensity I have never experienced since. He was angry, confused, but quiet as I spoke. All you could hear was both of us breathing heavily as I pushed out the words from heart and my testimony in a way I hoped he would listen. After a few minutes, he told me to recover, and it was over. It was if the last two hours never happened. I walked away somewhat wounded, not sure why if anything I said even mattered. Why endure the crucible without a discernable victory? It seemed a lesson of endurance in masochism. It was a slow wound to heal for months. I did not see him again before I signed out of the unit.
Two years later, when another famous Ranger legend, Doc Donovan retired, I came back to Savannah from Cornell and was standing in the parade ground catching up with fellow Ranger buddies still there. I was talking to Chaplain Soldjem when I heard, “RANGER EDENS!!!” at the top of his lungs coming up from behind me. I froze and then all of the sudden SSG Saule’s distinct voice turned into a bear hug around the chest from behind, and picked me up. I had no idea what to do…. Then SSG Saule said, “Edens! You are never going to be believe this”… and he sat me down, grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me around. I almost ran… literally.
He had this huge smile on his face, “EDENS YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO BELIEVE THIS!!” Chaplain Solhjem was just standing there with this smirk. “I am the new Chaplain’s Assistant!” I looked over at the Chaplain thinking this was a joke. “Wait…What? I replied?” SSG Saule didn’t tell jokes. He said, “It’s true.” “Remember that day, when I smoked the crap out you and tried to get you to quit that last day I saw you….and I asked you about being a Christian….sorry about that, but ANYWAY, what you said ate away at me. So I found Chaplain Solhjem and gave my life to Christ. We have been tearing it up here ever since. Can you believe it?”
Stunned. I was totally blown away…it took me a few minutes to process. I was now staring at a man who was radically transformed from a brooding pit viper into almost literal Tigger for Christ as he bounced away to talk to some of the other Rangers before everyone left. He wasn’t being flippant about that day, you would have to know SSG Saule. After two very long years striking over and over again, He now knew me, and if it took the worst smoking session of my Regimental career to enable him to break through and break free of his crucible… We both knew I would do it again and it was worth it. The very intention of the first five stanzas of the Ranger Creed and unwavering brotherly love, is to not become the lone survivor. Redeemed or not, I think he knew what he dished out that day, and despite all accounts, what held me firm was entirely beyond me. He ripped into me and had found my squeaker that day in the quad, and I guess I finally found his. Sometimes you may never know why you are called into the crucible…you just have to do it.
After my commissioning and return back to my beloved 1st Ranger Battalion, I was informed that SSG Saule was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident about a year after I saw him. Though having served a relatively short period in his new capacity, he had made a substantial impact in the unit and in the lives of our men. He was mourned and beloved by many, including me.
“Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor. Rangers Lead the Way!”.
All the Way – Amen.
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