In the days of my youth I was told what it means to be a man…

Living in Charleston, South Carolina can be a little funny at times.  Today was supposed to be “Snowmageddon”, with a light dusting of the fluffy stuff and the commensurate shutting down of any and all services.  My kids left school early, and we all waited.  By nine pm it hadn’t hit and I had to take the dog for a walk.

As I turned the corner of our street, the rain/sleet finally began to fall, and the weather snapped my memory to times that I had once hated, but now cherish.

Nowadays people talk about veterans with combat in mind, and they have every reason to do so, but I’m not sure the average civilian understands how hard a military life actually is.  Yeah, combat is hard and scary, but when I walked my dog tonight I didn’t think about the assault I did on Christmas day in Iraq, even though the temperature was about the same.  I was brought back to a training mission I’d done eighteen years before.

It was in Hunter Liggett, California, and I wasn’t even in charge.  I was an observer/grader for a scout platoon, and we’d run up against a river.  The temperature was about forty degrees, and I was praying the scout element would choose not to cross.  I would hammer them in their evaluation, but I was praying all the same.  They chose to cross, and we built a bunch of poncho rafts.

That sentence doesn’t really convey what happened.  We built a conglomeration of makeshift rafts and swam across a river in forty-degree weather.  For no other reason than the “enemy” was on the other side and the platoon owed it to their higher command to report.

That night was quite possibly the most miserable of my entire life.  I curled up soaking wet in forty-degree weather and sucked it up.  Because that’s what was expected of me.  What was expected of every single one of the so-called grunts of America.

Special Operations are the heroes after 9/11, and deservedly so given what they’ve done, but I think the average grunt is getting short shrift.  There are movies and stories about the vaunted SOF folks, but having accomplished what I have, I wonder if America understands what the average grunt has done.  World War II had The Band of Brothers.  This war is no different.

During my career I have had a multitude of things branded into my soul, and make no mistake, the majority was from my time in Special Operations, but tonight, walking my dog, I didn’t think about Special Forces.  As the rain turned to sleet and I wondered what the hell I was thinking by leaving my house, a second memory hit me.  I was walking up a mountain called Site Alpha as a straight-leg infantryman.  A battalion movement that was designed to crush us, with everyone carrying everything they owned on their back.  Some carried more than others.

I was a Platoon Leader, so I only had my rucksack and weapon.  As we went up, the lines got blurred, and men got mixed up.  It became a slog for survival.

I overtook the mortar platoon and saw a man on his knees.  He had his rucksack just like mine, but strapped to it was a mortar base-plate for a 60MM mortar.

He was done.

I knelt next to him and said, “Give me the plate.”

He said, “No.  It’s mine.  I can make it.”

There was no way that was true.  He weighed about a hundred and five.  I ordered him to give me the plate.  He did so.  I strapped it to my ruck and stood up.  At that moment, I knew I had made a mistake.

There was no way I was going to make it to the top of Site Alpha with this thing on my back.  I was astounded that anyone in leadership expected a human to carry such a thing.  I staggered forward under will alone, now convinced I’d be one of the men carted off by the medevac vehicles.  I trudged upward, grunting and ashamed, now getting passed by the men in my platoon.

I would fail.

Eventually, I bent over, heaving and sweating, wondering what I should do.  Not wanting to show weakness, but knowing that’s what I held.  A man tapped me on the shoulder.  I looked up and saw the Mortar Platoon Sergeant.  He said, “Give me the plate.”

I did so without question, and he began moving up the mountain as if he had nothing on his back.  I say that again – he took the weight and began walking as if it was nothing.  We eventually reached the top and the battalion took a rest break.  I crashed on the ground, knowing I should have been checking on my men.  I took a pull from my canteen and saw a man above me.

It was the platoon sergeant.  He said, “You’re a good man.  I appreciate it.”

He walked away without another word.  I got off my lazy ass and began checking my men.

I’ve done a lot of high-speed, top-secret things, but the truth of the matter is that every soldier I’ve served with has been something special.  More so than the average “vet in trouble” news story will tell you.  I’ve seen the “lowest” that America has, the guy who joined to “stay out of jail” (a myth) or just to get college money, and that guy is pretty damn good.  Maybe the best we have to offer.

I’ve done more in my career than I ever expected, and served with the absolute tip of the spear, but I still have a soft spot for the average grunt.  I see the stories about SEALs and other SOF, but at the end of the day, the truth of the matter is that the Band of Brothers is alive and well, and we’d all do well to remember that.

By |2017-11-17T18:35:45+00:00January 28th, 2014|Blog, Featured|14 Comments

About the Author:


  1. karl January 30, 2014 at 10:59 am - Reply

    great story!!

  2. Matthew Barber January 30, 2014 at 8:44 pm - Reply

    Thanks for staying humble, Mr. Taylor.


  3. Amy Gonzalo February 1, 2014 at 12:57 am - Reply

    A great story, a good and humble leader! The Band of Brothers exists in your books!

  4. Mike Rainwater February 1, 2014 at 11:42 pm - Reply

    Your story reminded me of leadership advice a Sergeant Major gave me as a brand new Second Lieutenant checking into my first Infantry Battalion… He said, “The secret to leading men is to love them with all your heart. If you truly love them, they’ll know it. They’ll know you’ll take care of them and you won’t throw their lives away unnecessarily and they’ll follow you through the Gates of Hell.” You’re doing great work. Love your books. I’m an aspiring writer and it’s great to see another ‘Veteran/ Writer doing so well….Nemo

  5. Todd February 8, 2014 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    The Men,Mission,and Me. Very nice Brad!

  6. Karl February 19, 2014 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Love the learning experience which comes through tough times. Thanks for sharing Brad

  7. Mark Leggatt February 28, 2014 at 4:51 am - Reply

    A fascinating and inspiring article. As one who has friends that have served alongside the US in a number of theatres, I can say that they have a high opinion of the average Grunt. Especially for, and I quote, “Getting bloody stuck in at the sharp end”. Not so for their rations, though, and I’m told Brit Ration packs were an excellent currency for blagging equipment! (something the Brits were woefully short of, as usual)

  8. Butch February 28, 2014 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Brad, thanks for the props to the worker bees. There was a time when I doubted you had it in you.

  9. M March 12, 2014 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you for that post. From someone still in the fight that means a lot, not for me but for my men and women.
    MAJ W

  10. Dale March 23, 2014 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    I am Canadian. I have great grandfathers, grandfathers, Father and cousins that fought in the Boer war ( for England) WWl, WWll and Korea. They were infantry, air force and navy. They are my heroes! I have the greatest respect for our fighting forces and our vets. Without them , if we survived, would all be speaking German

  11. Diane Brown March 23, 2014 at 7:54 pm - Reply

    Beautifully said. Most everyone in the military was born with a Warrior heart! Thank you for recognizing our ‘beloved’ grunts. Thank you for your books, as well. I am reading The Polaris Protocol and it is as good or better than your previous books!

  12. Dawn Reinhardt May 3, 2014 at 7:02 am - Reply

    WoW! Exceptional lesson in humility and as always perfectly written Brad. Thank you for sharing it. Im going to share it with my son in law who is in his 3rd year in the Air Force and my brother who is retired SF Air Force.

  13. Stan R. Mitchell February 23, 2015 at 12:45 am - Reply

    Wow, Brad. Thanks a million for this post about the average grunt.

    I spent four years in the infantry in the Marine Corps — (Alpha Co. 1st Bn, 8th Marines) — and it was physically some of the most brutal (and miserable) times of my life.

    And I so related to your story of carrying that base plate. I’m not sure it’s possible to relate the pain of a brutal hump, but I had a similar experience that completely defeated me.

    I was squad leader and we had a new guy (or what we call a boot) struggling to keep up on a speed hump.

    So, I try to encourage him, and that works for a while, but eventually even that isn’t enough.

    Then I start shaming him, same as NCOs had shamed me when I was a boot, and that helps for a while. But soon, even that’s not working. And then I do what had been done to me and dozens of other Marines. I start telling him to drop his pack. Call him a piece of crap, a disgrace, and a hundred other things, none of which came be typed out.

    Well, unfortunately for me, and probably for the first time in Marine Corps history, this piece of crap says, “Yes, Cpl,” and drops his pack. And THEN, incredibly, he hands his weapon to a fire team leader that had been yelling at him, as well.

    Well, a hundred men had seen this all occur so I was too startled to know what to do. So, I yell at two squad members to grab his pack and throw it on top of mine. They do and the weight crushes me immediately. I know it’s not going to be possible, but I refuse to lose face. And so I tell them to rush forward and get back with the formation. Then, I start on with both packs.

    I couldn’t come close to keeping up and I carry both packs maybe a mile and a half. (And it’s all I can do to even do that.The pain was just so much on my back and even my lungs could barely open and close beneath so much weight.)

    I only make it that far because the company had stopped and I figured I’d give him his pack back, and try to catch my breath and recuperate. Well, I trudge in, drop the pack, try to stop hyperventilating, and then the CO orders everyone up. Like, almost immediately.

    I was immediately destroyed mentally that I wouldn’t get that break, having assumed that I might. But I somehow get to my feet and take my position in the lead as squad leader, but I quickly fall out.

    It was beyond embarrassing, and I’m sure you know that when you’re a leader and you’re falling short of the standards, it’s about the most humiliating thing ever.

    And to make matters worse, when we arrived to our destination, the CO — a Captain I would have taken a bullet for — watches me trudge in with the other “fall outs.” And he shakes his head, disgusted. And I, in classic Marine tradition, refuse to make any excuses. So, I meet his eyes and just say, “No excuse, sir.”

    About an hour later, he came up to me and said, “Cpl Mitchell, how ’bout next time you don’t try to carry two packs?”

    It completely made my day that he’d inquired and found out what happened. I honestly think had he not found out the truth, me letting him down would have bugged me to the end of time.

    One upside to the story is that the Marine who gave up his pack and weapon (his WEAPON!!!) turned out all right, and carrying those two packs helped build up my reputation. But it did mess up my back for a while.

    I’m still not sure what I did to it, but like most injuries, it healed with time.

    Okay, sorry for typing so much. And I promise I won’t comment on any other of your previous blogposts!

    Oh, and I finished “One Rough Man!” GREAT book!!!

    Will jump on the next book soon, and plan to work my way through all of them.

  14. Tom Hicks December 14, 2016 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Brad- You are on point about the “average grunt”….My beloved Light Infantry Unit ( Bad Company ( B.Co.) 3/27 Wolfhounds climbed “Site Alpha ” a few times, as Hunter Liggett was our backyard…..Thx for the memories…~ Tom Hicks

Leave A Comment