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The ultimate test of Special Forces’ nerves

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The backstory to this article is a well-known one for Green Berets and Rangers. Green Berets and Rangers are all aware of the coveted award that was the Combat Diver “bubble” as the badge was affectionately titled due to its appearance that is awarded upon graduating from the Combat Diver Qualification Course.

“Earning” the revered scuba diver badge meant a hike in the base pay of the recipient by $175 monthly. (That was of course a slew of years ago and I don’t know what the monthly dive pay is now – if there is still one.)

Yet, the Combat Diver Qualification Course had a hideously high attrition rate. (I had to take it twice, having washed out on my first try.) So, the command’s answer to the high attrition rate was to give the men a “pre-scuba” training course that featured the first full of extremely difficult exercises that caused the majority of failures in the actual course.

Typically the responsibility for organizing and executing the pre-scuba course was assigned to one of the battalion dive teams, which would train the other men of the unit who wanted to attend the actual dive course in Key West, Florida.

The Combat Diver’s badge. (

This is where me and my Combat Dive team of 12 men come into the picture. We were chosen by the command to organize and execute a pre-scuba course for the battalion’s “wannabee” combat divers. I loved the idea of teaching the course and looked forward to the day that it began.

I would be the lead instructor for the swimming pool training. I sat in the lifeguard’s chair and blew the signal whistle indicating the start of various difficult training events. What a skate job, right? The men grew to hate the sound of that blaring whistle.

The entire pre-scuba training course lasted one week. Oh, and there was an end-of-course tradition that was as revered and as holy as the Ark of the Covenant. According to the tradition, at the end of the week, the students rally, apprehend by force, and toss the screaming instructor into the pool to ingest a little bit of his own medicine.

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“Relax!” says Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Talmadge (right) of Portsmouth, VA as eager students fight to gain control of themselves and their gear during ship bottom search training in Mole Harbor off of Key West, FL during the Combat Diver Qualification Course on Tuesday, March 16, 2010. The CDQC is held at the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, part of the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School located at Fort Bragg, NC. (Photo by Maj. Dave Butler/United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School)

I knew it was coming for me too, but I had a plan: On the last day of training, I excused myself from the class saying that I needed to change clothes in order to attend a meeting involving the civilian gentleman who was the “owner” of the swimming pool training facility. With that, I retired to the swimming pool shower room.

Little did the men know (except a good friend of mine from my dive team), that I had gone to the Salvation Army the night before and bought a business formal suit for about $17.00 American skizzies.

“Here he comes!!” A student whisper-shouted when I came out of the shower room, and the men all poised themselves for the onslaught…

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The students approach the suit-clad Geo in an attempt to honor the long-standing tradition. (Photo courtesy of author)

But out I stepped wearing my $17.00 suit. The class stopped still and was stunned with indecision.

“Get him and throw him in the pool!”

“No man! We can’t throw him in the pool ruining his suit and his meeting!”

“He’s wearing white socks… that’s not what a man in a business suit wears!”

As they stood frozen I began to taunt them:

“You men are all chickenshit, and don’t have the balls to keep tradition and throw me in the pool – I’m disappointed and ashamed of you all.”

“Every swinging Richard hit the pool deck and knock out 75 pushups for your cowardice and lack of temerity!” I continued. That ticked off and emboldened the warriors who finally made a consolidated and defiant move.

The men make a move! (Courtesy of author)

Three men stepped up and pinned me with my back to the pool. With one guy making the first move, the gang quickly sent me cartwheeling into the drink! *sniff*

And the ancient tradition is upheld! (Courtesy of author)

Dang, but I was proud of them all for having the gall to uphold a sacred tradition… plus they didn’t want to do 75 pushups. I bobbed alone in the water and yelled at the men to still get down on the ground and do the aforementioned pushups. They all just laughed at me and the whole episode was over.

There was nothing left to do but vault my waterlogged body out of the water and pout. The whole bout went very well and the powers that be were quite pleased. I enjoyed every minute of it and slept well that night.

By Almighty God and With Honor,

geo sends

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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.