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Tangiers: A Delta man’s solo trip through Morocco

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Tangiers Morocco

“Selection is an ongoing process,” so goes the Delta Force saying. It could be said that it was one of our “live-by” mottos; though it was informal, it was a very important statement to all men and women occupying professional positions in Delta. It was worth pledging to it daily at the start of each new duty day: selection is an ongoing process. To forget that is to plan a new life in the daily misery of the Big Army.

What does the saying even mean? All personnel in the Unit have to go through a selection process to get a position there, and the assault squadron operators have to endure the most stringent of those selection processes by far. Key to the performance measures of the operators is the maturity to travel and work alone in any place in the world.

There was a group of U.S. cities selected as sites for our primary evaluation; those were followed by an overseas country chosen to really ratchet up the stress on the candidate. Having passed all of my state-side evaluations, I knew I would soon be roused out of my house to travel overseas for the test of a lifetime. And so it came to be as I was called for my overseas evaluation.

I made a stop in Frankfurt, Germany for a day of instructions and a harsh back-brief to the powers running the show. I was given an impossible amount of information to memorize in one night before I’d have to depart in the morning. It was six days/nights of instructions to follow, different for each day. I was afraid if it were graded on a “go/no-go” basis I would flunk within the first day.

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combat camera squadron hike
Airmen from the 1st Combat Camera Squadron hike to a scenario in Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear, during a scenario as part of exercise Scorpion Lens, McCrady Training Center, South Carolina, Feb. 26, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Sean Campbell)

I departed Frankfurt the next day… and landed in Tangiers, Morocco. A good thing I thought of while in isolation in Frankfurt was to unwrap the outer wrapping of a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom. That gave me a large “sheet” of paper, some 24” x 24” of clean paper sturdy enough to write on. At the first opportunity, I scribbled my six days of instruction down on the page and folded it down so that it fit my back pocket. What a load off my mind it was.

My first afternoon in Tangiers was a failure. I couldn’t find the place the instructions told me to find. So, I put it aside and just went for a stroll until the sun went down. But within the first seven minutes of my wandering, I was approached by a young boy of some eight years old.

Me, not wanting to compromise my heritage, immediately greeted him in Spanish. He blurted out good Spanish so that was the end of my best foreign language. I switched to French, then German, with him neck-to-neck with my pace. I stayed with Spanish to make things easier on myself. He was a con man, working for a number of shopowners in the city and his job was to bring foreigners to their shops where they tried to sell them their wares.

He led me promptly to a carpetmaker’s abode. We sat and chatted and drank cup after cup of fine mint tea. The carpetmaker had lackeys pulling down carpet after carpet and stacking them before us in huge piles. It was all so brilliant… until it was, according to the vendor, time to commit to the purchase of a carpet. I sported just enough Dirham to pay for a room at night, nothing else. When I turned him down as politely as I could he was to have none of it.

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Dye vats Fess Morocco
The famous dye vats in Fes, Morocco were breathtaking. (Photo by Mohamed Maroune/Wikimedia Commons)

He opened his top desk drawer and pulled out a wicked jeweled dagger in an equally adorned sheaf. I didn’t know what to do. Was I supposed to be scared? I was not and I didn’t plan to pretend to be. There was a plethora of small, handheld objects I could pick up in his office and beat his lights out with. That actually sounded good to me as I was offended by his actions.

Non veut dire non!” (No means no) I shouted at him in French.

“So, John Cheese you are!” the vendor blurted.

“You mean John Cleese, don’t you? Who is this John Cleese?”

“Well, he is more well-known to me than you Arabs,” I added. “Put the ‘toothpick’ back in its sheaf before I twist it into a shape that will de-cork a wine bottle.”

He pulled the dagger from the sheaf and pointed it at me. “You better hope that thing doesn’t go off on me, Hadji.”

We were at full odds with each other. If I didn’t find a way to tear myself away from this Allahu Akbar pinhead, one of us was going to pay just a little bit more than the other. I decided it would be me to back down, as I had five more days of these pinheaded people to deal with to pass this must-pass test.

Before you lose respect for me, I broke contact with the carpet vendor with just a brisk jog, and I even hooked back up with the boy whom I treated to finger food and more mint tea. That, I could afford. Yeah… I could afford just a little more than your average candidate could – thanks to my hiking shoes.

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I had 400 Dirham sewn into the tongues of my hiking shoes. I knew they were to take away all things of potential use, but the one thing I knew they could not take away, knowing the mileage they expected the candidates to traverse daily, was the candidate’s shoes!!

And I was right and stashed major value in my hikers. I was living high on the hog and off the (shoe) tongue. In fact, I could spend much… buy souvenirs… live life… but I chose to keep my head screwed on straight.

To this day I know that there were Delta men on the ground in Morocco watching me intermittently but I am damned to admit I never knew when or where they stood watching. Even if they told me, I still cannot image where they could have been.

After six days on the ground suffering scenario after scenario, I passed my test with colors hanging limp, but passed nonetheless. It was the greatest adventure on Earth for a hack like me, but I thank the men under Delta command for allowing me to take part in that exercise! Among them was my good friend Sam B. Foster. Thank you, Sam, and may you rest in peace!

By Almighty God and with honor,

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.