THE WAR ON TERROR
EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS PART TWO OF A FOUR-PART SERIES THAT WILL RUN IN FRIDAY EDITIONS OF THE BLADE-EMPIRE NEWSPAPER.
WAITING FOR SOMETHING IN THE WORLD TO HAPPEN 1991-96
As a teenager, Concordia native Heath Trost wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life. Since childhood he had loved the outdoors and the outdoorsman's life, especially hunting. When he graduated from high school in 1991 he enlisted in the U.S. Army for four years to try and earn some money for college. Trost excelled in every aspect of his basic training and specialized advanced training. His performance levels caught the attention of the Rangers, a light-infantry airborne assault force that is part of the Special Operations Command. After an additional grueling month of testing and training, Trost was accepted into the elite 75th Ranger Regiment.
"There was no major war, but we trained for war everyday," Trost said. "It was like practicing for a football game that was never played. We were waiting for something in the world to happen."
Rangers train relentlessly, day after day, honing their combat tactics, weapons proficiency, and physical conditioning. The highlight of that training each year is the Ranger Rendezvous. Three Ranger battalions compete against each other in mock war games, physical conditioning tests, triathlons, shooting, football, soccer, softball and volleyball games.
"We called it the 'Reindeer Games'," Trost said with a grin. "But believe me, winning was everything. There was a tremendous amount of pride at stake among the various Ranger units."
Trost received several promotions during these 'non-war' years, and was also selected for advanced sniper training. He cannot say a great deal about the sniper training process, but know for a fact that no one graduates from this specialized course unless they are able to hit a target from 1200 yards away. That's almost three-quarters of a mile.
"There's a lot that goes into being able to make a shot like that," Trost said. "You have to calculate the length of the shot; the type of bullet used; the trajectory the bullet will take; what the air temperature is at the time you take the shot, and other variances like wind speed and wind direction."
By 1996, now an E5 Sergeant, Trost reenlisted in the military for another four years.
"I just wasn't ready to return to Concordia yet; I wasn't ready to farm. My eyes had been opened to what was out there in world."
As a soldier it was Trost's job to defend America, and as an Army Ranger his job included jumping out of airplanes a lot, which was something he loved to do.
"I decided to stay in the military until I reached an instructor level in skydiving. I thought that would give me a pretty good job when I went back into the civilian world."
That was Trost's focus in 1996. Little did he know what was coming just a few years later.
As an E5 Sergeant, Trost was assigned to the Ranger Reconnaissance Detachment and worked directly with OGA, a generic term for 'Other Governmental Agencies' that cannot be talked about in the media. When asked what those other organizations are, Trost politely smiled and said: "We'll just have to call them OGA and leave it at that."
Trost enjoyed his job immensely. But a few years into his second enlistment, he grew restless. Nonstop training had elevated his combat skills to an elite level and put him in peak physical condition. But none of those skills were being put to use.
In 1999 he asked to be assigned to the JFK Special Forces Center at Ft. Bragg, NC.
"At that point I really wanted to just focus on skydiving and military free falls," he said. "I was looking to leave the military and rejoin the civilian world."
His transfer was approved and Trost was sent to Yuma, Arizona, to teach military free fall skydiving at a jump school. With one eye already fixed on a future civilian life after his second enlistment was over, Trost began taking classes at Arizona Western College in Yuma.
"Life was good," he said. "I wasn't doing non-stop combat training anymore. Instead I taught military skydiving and jumped 6 times a day. It was great."
Then came September 11, 2001.
On that morning 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four jetliners and crashed two of them into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan, New York, and one jetliner into the Pentagon in America's capital city, Washington D.C.. The coordinated attacks killed 2,996 people, injured over 6,000 others, and caused at least $10 billion in infrastructure and property damage.
9/11 is the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history.
On that day Trost was driving back to Yuma, Arizona, from Ft. Benning, Georgia. He stopped at a gas station in Arkansas to fill his tank and saw everyone huddled around a small television on the counter in the station. He vividly remembers watching the tv coverage of the attacks.
"I just felt this kind of determination set in," he said. "I knew we were going to respond, and I was ready for it. This is what I had trained 10 years for. I was ready to fight for my country and take that fight to the terrorists."
Trost assumed he would immediately be transferred back to his Ranger combat unit and gear up for war. But the military doesn't work that way.
"I had signed a contract to teach military skydiving in Arizona for three years, and they wouldn't let me out of it." Even now, 18 years later, when Trost says those words there is still some disbelief and frustration in his voice. "I had trained for war for almost 10 years. But when 9/11 happened I had to sit on the sidelines and watch all my buddies deploy for combat. I felt like I had let people down."
Trost repeatedly requested that he be returned to the 75th Rangers. The requests were repeatedly denied. So Trost found another way around the problem: he got his name into the selection process for one of the most elite military units in the world: Delta Force.
1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-DELTA is the Army's counterpart to the Navy's SEAL Team Six. Both units specialize in counter-terrorism, as well as direct action assaults against high-value targets anywhere in the world, at any time of the day and night. They are the foremost, and most lethal, combat units in the American military.
But no one can just choose to join Delta Force. They choose you. And even then, they will try to break you before they ever let you in.
Trost waited for someone to contact him. Finally, in the Fall of 2002, a Delta Force recruiter came to Yuma, Arizona, to interview him. Three weeks later Trost was officially invited to attend the Delta Force selection process.
In October, 2002, Trost arrived at a Delta Force training facility that he will only say was somewhere in the Appalachians.
"The first thing I got hit with was the difference in altitude," he said. "I went from 1500 feet above sea level in Yuma to over 7000 feet in elevation at the testing camp."
Trost arrived tense and on edge. He knew that getting chosen to join Delta Force was his only way to get into America's fight against terrorism. But he also knew that out of all the soldiers invited to the testing camp, only a handful would be picked.
How difficult was the testing process?
"Let's just say that it's not for the weak-hearted," Trost said.
During the arduous testing, an applicant could drop out any time he wanted. Many did. Many others were removed by Delta.
"They could remove you whenever they wanted to," Trost said. "There was no reason given other than you didn't meet their standards. That was it; you were out."
The first week of testing involved a lot of map study and terrain navigation, and of course there were those 18-mile road marches carrying 50-pound packs at three o'clock in the morning.
"That's when a lot of applicants dropped out or were told to leave," Trost recalled.
The second week of the selection process included instructor-led land navigation in the mountains, and more endurance testing.
On the third week, the applicants went into the mountains in small groups without instructors, hunting mock enemy targets and navigating in the dead of night across treacherous terrain to specific coordinates.
In the fourth week the few remaining applicants were sent into the mountains on their own and required to traverse up to 12 kilometers a day to different locations, always carrying 65-pound packs and their weapons.
"By this point in the testing," Trost said, "you pretty much felt that if they couldn't make you quit, they were going to try to kill you."
The conclusion of that final week of testing included a 40-mile road march carrying a 65-pound pack. The march began at 1 a.m.. Trost finished 18 hours and 24 minutes later.
There was no elaborate ceremony at the end. No parade, no party, no beribboned general congratulating the handful of applicants who had survived one month of hell.
"An individual approached me," Trost recalled. "He shook my hand and said I had passed. That was it."
Heath Trost had just been chosen to join the most prestigious military organization in the United States Army: 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-DELTA.
In December, 2002, Trost began an intensive six-month Delta Force training course at Ft. Bragg. In May, 2003, Trost was sent on his first combat deployment as a member of America's Special Forces. His destination: Baghdad, Iraq.
For the next ten years of his life, Heath Trost would serve eight combat tours of duty in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and one in Jordan. In those ten years, Trost spent almost four full years in active war zones hunting enemy insurgents and combatants who were trying to kill him and inflict terror and suffering on America.
NEXT FRIDAY: HUNTING THE DECK OF CARDS