First Look: Making a Night Stalker – David Burnett
I’ve spent most of my life running from what seems to be myself, or at least from the memories that have shaped and created who I am today. As I write these words my heart is racing and my hands are sweating with anticipation of what is to come. I’ve never told any of my stories of my time serving with the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
When asked to write this foreword I was truly honored. I was also terrified, because it meant I would now have to face the demons that have haunted me for years. We all have defense mechanisms that our bodies use when faced with traumatic events. As much as I try to hold on to my tough guy act, I am only a man. My storage capacity for pain, sorrow, and regret have reached the fragile limit. This privilege is a gift that couldn’t have come at a better time, as I am finally ready to face my demons and live in a manner that honors the sacrifice and gift my brothers gave me.
The saying, “You never know what you have till it’s gone” couldn’t be any more true, and when I left my brothers I was lost. I’ve always tried to live with the big picture in mind. And while I was a Ranger, the mission was always first. All my choices were based on how I could be a better warrior, and how I could add more value to my unit.
I have one big regret that to this day I would take back. My choice to leave my second deployment early and attend Ranger School is it. On that deployment, America lost two of the best Rangers in the entire Regiment.
I can’t get it out of my head. I can’t escape the idea that if I would have stayed and finished out that deployment, maybe things would be different and they would still be with us. When I was in Ranger School after they were killed, my main mission was to get through the school as quickly as possible so I could get back to my brothers down range. Consequently, I almost failed Ranger School in the first phase, during the land nav course. I had failed day one and had to repeat it. If I failed again, that would be the end of the road for me being a Ranger. Failure just wasn’t an option, neither was losing my sacred scroll and being sent back to the big Army. Failing out of the Special Operations community once you’ve fought and bled with your brothers is a fate worse than death. And I feared that death. I was so scared and I kept asking myself, how could I fail Ranger School and my brothers after what happened?
On the next night I had no choice but to guarantee my success, so I did exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. That thing was to use the roads, and I did it anyway. The trouble was that there were more roads than were marked on the maps, and I quickly got lost. Again. How the fuck was I going to fail!? I thought to myself, at this point in my career I had never failed anything. Yet here I was, staring failure right in the face.
In a desperate attempt I started running on the road. Attempting to make it to any way point, I was frantic. Needing to orient myself and get back on track to pass this evolution, I ran like the devil himself was chasing me. As I ran, I started to hear footsteps behind me. I quickly ran into the wood line to conceal myself. Ranger Cadre were hiding in the woods throughout the course looking for any violations of the rules. As I jumped into the brush and listened, I heard nothing. I waited for awhile since I thought the Cadre were messing with me. But no sounds of movement came at all as the minutes crept past. I decided to take off again. This time, I skirted the road to remain in the brush. Sure enough, as soon as I started again I heard the footsteps closer than before and they were gaining on me.
I once again ducked into the woods to contemplate my next move. I decided to run in a different direction, away from the intended point to throw what was surely the end of my career off my track. It seemed to work, and I heard no sounds of footsteps as I went away from my intended check point.
As soon as I changed direction to go back toward my check point, the footsteps returned and seemed to be even closer than before. I couldn’t figure out how the Cadre were tracking me. I knew they had Night Vision, but even with that advantage, in the thick Georgia brush you couldn’t see very far. This routine continued for a few hours and I was running out of time.
As I ran toward my check point the steps returned, right on my heels. I stopped to spot the Cadre that were tracking me and saw nothing. No one was in sight! At once I was confused, exhausted, and terrified about failure.
I resumed my run and in my ears it sounded like the steps were right next to me. Suddenly it dawned on me. I realized that whenever I was heading in the right direction the steps were there, and when I was going in the wrong direction they would leave me. Not knowing if it was delirium or sleep deprivation, I decided to run with the steps because time was running out.
I made it to my next way point, stamped my card, oriented myself to the next check point, and took off as fast as my fatigued body would carry me. For the rest of the night those steps were with me in the same pattern. When I was heading in the right direction they were there, and when I would start going in the wrong direction they would stop. Those steps guided me for the rest of the night. All my points found, I made it back with about ten minutes to spare.
I was ten minutes from failing Ranger School. Ten minutes from changing the course of my life. Ten minutes from losing my sacred scroll and the brotherhood that came with it. Ten minutes from losing everything that mattered to me most on this earth. If it weren’t for my brothers, I would have surely failed. Even if some people say I’m crazy, I know my brothers guided me through that course.
Perhaps it was their way of saying it’s not my fault. Or maybe they were just saying good-bye one final time.
For that answer I’ll have to wait until I see them again. I do know this; if I would have failed, I would not have been in Afghanistan in the winter of 2006.
As Rangers, we forge our brotherhood in the crucible of pain, blood, and suffering. In this crucible we form a bond with depth and strength not before seen by any of us. Not until we are a part of this brotherhood of the sacred scroll do we know its depth and strength. A bond that is invisible to the human eye. Not time, distance, or death are able to sever this bond. Our brotherhood is known for its perseverance through pain and suffering, and its unbreakable will.
Though some may know of its existence, it remains a mystery. It is simply the nature of the brotherhood. Perhaps it is just a word to many, but in that name lives great power and an ability to transform the plains of reality; and push our existence into the echoes of the great beyond where it will remain for all eternity. I am fortunate to have been forged in that crucible. I have been blessed by the power of being welcomed into that brotherhood.
The price of the brotherhood, however, is high and it is a debt that lasts for all time. It will never be repaid, but it shall never cease to provide strength through honor.
To read the entire “Making a Night Stalker” book, preorder yours by clicking here.