“Let’s fucking do it again!”
A voice called for another round of whiskey shots. My belly still burned from the last toast, so I excused myself from the table. Navigating a maze of chiseled muscles, square jaws, and long stares, I escaped to the pisser.
Waiting in line, I watched two young men with military-style crew cuts and white baseball caps, brims flat and turned backward, argue at the sink. One held the other’s shirt collar.
“Calm down, bro,” he pleaded.
“He can’t do that shit to us,” the other said. “We’re in the Army too.”
“Dude,” the first shook his head and patted his friend on the chest.
“He’s with 2-75. Just let it go.”
• • •
In February, I traveled to Fort Lewis, Washington to write about the redeployment experience of the 2nd Battalion of the fabled 75th Ranger Regiment, just home from Afghanistan. Conventional Army units deploy for 12 months at a time before returning home for another year or so, but the Rangers’ rotations tend to last only 3–6 months, with far less stateside time between deployments.
My old college buddy was in Fort Lewis, back from his last deployment. Captain Ted Janis, a 2-75 platoon leader, had spent seventeen months in Iraq and ten in Afghanistan, leading regular infantry soldiers and then Rangers in combat. I remembered him as a lanky teenager with a black hole for a stomach. Two years with the Rangers had turned him into a brawny colossus.
I asked Janis how Ranger culture differed from that of a regular Army combat unit, such as the one in which I had served.
“We’re elite,” he began. “Everyone had to earn their place here. So motivation is never an issue. The mission set is much more specific. And the deployment cycle is so different, I think that changes everything, from our mindsets to family dynamics to how we interact with the community.”
“How so?” I asked as we drove through the empty streets of Tacoma one late afternoon.
“Some of my guys have deployed nine, ten times,” Janis explained. “With us, we’re always kind of over there.”
“You think that’s a good thing?”
Janis laughed. “It’s just a thing. We’re used to it. Whether people like it or not, someone is going to do what we do. Someone always has.”
Though designed as a light infantry force for airfield seizures, the Rangers have seen their purpose morph over the course of the war on terrorism. As Iraq and Afghanistan have become more guerrilla wars than traditional conflicts, kill-or-capture raids on high value targets have become essentially the Rangers’ sole raison d’être. 2-75ers joked that “vampires see more light than a deployed Ranger,” emphasizing the nocturnal nature of their missions.
Most of the Rangers I spoke to seemed unconcerned about their constant deployment cycle—a part of the profession, they said, and a known one at that. Not everyone agrees. A patron at a local bar described the Rangers as “war addicts”; I asked some of the members of 2-75 what they thought of the label.
“It probably applies to some of the guys,” one said, “but not many.”
A longtime girlfriend of a 2-75 soldier, who asked not to be identified for fear of upsetting her boyfriend’s commander, told me, “Of course they’re all addicted to war.”
• • •
Another night, another bar. This one in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. A drunk Ranger officer found out that I was a writer and staggered up to me.
“You’re gonna do a story about us?” he asked.
“Going to try.”
“Write this down,” he told me, so I pulled out my notebook. “Fuck all of these people.” He pointed at the other people in the bar. “They have no idea. No fucking idea.”
I nodded my head in agreement. I was bitter when I came back too, and still am sometimes. “That’s true. But it’s not really their fault, you know? Just a product of the times.”
The Ranger officer shook his head. “Fuck them. Write that down.”