Second Chances - The French Commando School

Second Chances - The French Commando School
Other soldiers going through the grueling French Commando School

After serving four years on active duty in the United States Army from 1986 to 1990, I volunteered to serve in the Illinois National Guard as a Staff Sergeant in Company C of the 131st Illinois Infantry.  We were lucky enough to be able to travel to the French Martinique and actively compete in the French Commando School which was two weeks of extremely challenging physical trials in the hopes of receiving the coveted French Commando Badge.

The coveted French Commando Badge

The coveted French Commando Badge

When I was on active duty I prided myself on being able to accomplish whatever I set my mind to this latest challenge would be no different.  There were a number of different phases to the school and I had successfully completed two of them.   This included forced road marches, grueling obstacle courses designed to cause painful sores on your hands and various other unmentionable body parts to test the participants’ endurance and stamina.

I had just finished a water obstacle course in full gear and upon finishing I found myself not able to breath.  It was pretty terrifying since it came on with no warning whatsoever.  I remember trying to get across to our medic that I couldn’t breath and seeing his terrified reaction when he told me he had no way of helping me.  We were on an island with no immediate transportation to the mainland.  I seriously thought I was going to die and then all of a sudden my body temperature went from what felt normal to 105 degrees!  That was a mixed blessing because while my soaring body temperature caused me to go into convulsions it somehow opened up my lungs!

I was immediately placed into a rubber raft with an outboard motor and crossed the ocean to the mainland where I was transported via what looked like an old station wagon.  Most of the trip in the make shift ambulance is a blur because I would pass out from the fever and become conscious again about every 5 minutes.  I finally arrived at what I perceived to be the hospital where a doctor speaking French asked me what I thought was, “Are you allergic to anything?”  I said no and luckily I guessed right because I was given a huge injection of something which I only guessed was some sort of antibiotic.

They wheeled me to a large open bay where I passed out until morning.

When I woke up my pillow was covered with thick yellow mucous which must have come out of my lungs and I found out that I had contracted a very nasty case of bacterial pneumonia which could have killed me if I had not gotten the antibiotics when I did.   I felt 100 percent better and my only thought was rejoining my unit because I had no earthly idea where I was and nobody spoke English.  I was the only soldier in the bay and was only visited by a male orderly once a day whose only purpose was to take my temperature and I soon found out that they seemed to have an aversion to oral thermometers!  After about 5 days of no contact and seeing the same toothless orderly holding that thermometer with a goofy smile on his face I sort of lost it and told him in the most universal language that I could muster that if he came in my room one more time with that thermometer there was going to be an international incident!  I didn’t see him again.

Fort de France where the beginning of the course took place.

Fort de France where the beginning of the course took place.

Luckily I still had some Francs in my possession and decided I needed to make contact with someone.  I hadn’t spoken to any French or U.S. officials and thought I might just have been left there for dead! I managed to leave the hospital and found a small convenient store where I purchased what I hoped was a phone card.  I made my way to a pay phone and by some miracle I managed to get through to my wife who was pretty shocked to get a call from me.  She asked me where I was and I told her a French military hospital and I had no idea where the hospital was.  I remember laughing out loud and she didn’t really think it was all that funny.

Well as luck would have it my lieutenant came to visit me and I rejoined my unit but since I had missed so many days of the course I was not allowed to finish and of course did not receive the badge that I so badly wanted to be awarded.

Of course I am about 25 years older than I was when I was last in Martinique but what the heck I would give it another shot!  Well after I lost about 40 pounds!


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