Above photo of Darrin Beheler as a Green Beret provided by Darrin Beheler
BELTON, Texas- While UMHB’s football team was defeating ETBU 34-14 in its second game of the season, a former Crusader football player was walking through New York City. But this was not any normal walk. The “ruck march” that former defensive end Darrin Beheler took part in, called “50 for the Fallen” was done on Sept. 11 in memory of those whose lives were lost in the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago. A former Green Beret who served six tours in Afghanistan, Beheler understands sacrifice. He understands commitment. He is the kind of person that UMHB prides itself on producing, one who helped build the foundation for the Crusader football program, before helping to defend the foundation of America in the years after 9/11.
Just before the time of writing, it was announced that Beheler and five other former UMHB football players would be inducted into the UMHB Football Hall of Honor by the Crusader Football Alumni Association. The presentation is set to take place at halftime of UMHB’s game against Texas Lutheran on Oct. 16.
“Our Mission is to Promote the Code of the Cru”
True To The Cru recently caught up with Beheler to discuss his early experiences at UMHB, the rigorous training required to become a Green Beret, and walking 50 miles for the fallen last month, in this week’s alumni feature.
How different is UMHB now from when you were a part of the program?
DB: “My perspective is a little different from everyone’s else’s. I went to UMHB, graduated in 2001, and was in the military. I was gone [overseas] until basically 2015. When I came back, there was now a stadium, and there were new practice fields. When I went there we had a practice field, it was open to the public, 200 people came out to try out. Just due to guys quitting or other things, over the two-week period we would get down to under 100. Now, you better be a great athlete to even get invited to UMHB. And of course we played at Belton High School on Saturday afternoons. That’s what we did. We as the bricklayers built the foundation of a good program with good athletes and good people.”
What originally brought you to UMHB?
DB: “I was looking for a place to finish my degree. I had done my associate’s while working towards figuring out what I was going to do with my life. I showed up, I hadn’t played football in six years! I was a 24-year old junior and I credit Pete [Fredenburg] and those guys. They didn’t know me, but they brought me into the fold. When I showed up, I expected a small town where everybody knows everybody and if you’re not one of us, you’re against us, but that’s not the way it was. I showed a little bit of leadership, got to know Jeff Shinn, who ended up being my roommate and works with me now, and David Branscom, who I’m still friends with. How things happened to me through UMHB was just incredible. If I wasn’t able to play football, I never would’ve stayed there. It was football that kept me pursuing my criminal justice degree.”
The famed Army head football coach Red Blaik once said that he believed football was the best sport for training future soldiers. Did playing football help you in any way as you began your military career?
DB: “Absolutely. I played on a football team pretty much starting flag in second or third grade all the way through college. I ended up in the Green Berets and they work in 12-man teams. So did football prepare me for army life? No, but I guarantee you it had every ounce of what to do when I became a Green Beret. I was like it was written in the book life for Darrin, like I am preparing you for this world that you don’t even know about through all these years of playing football. Playing football through the years you get to line up with people you like, people you don’t like. There’s people you become best friends with, then there’s people you go out and perform with and then never talk off the field. That’s how being a soldier on ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) is. But when it comes down to doing operations, or playing the football game, you perform perfection together. Each level got more difficult, each level got more precise, there was more to each level as you progressed. The highest level I reached was a 12-man ODA for special operations.
For those unfamiliar with what it takes to become a Green Beret, is there a way to even summarize the training you guys go through?
DB: “We call it the Q course (Qualification Course). They’re basically testing your boundaries mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally and to be put in situations where you are …Most humans are prone to break down, not perform, not be efficient, that’s what this training did, on certain levels. Like selection. Selection is when you go in as a single person by yourself and you don’t know anything. 24 days they put you through an assessment. They tell you to ruck, you don’t know how far you’re rucking, you just better ruck fast. They put you on a road and there’s no finish line, just go. You hear a loud horn after you’ve been walking for 3 or 4 hours and you better hope you reached the point that it was they wanted you to hit. But you don’t know.
Then there’s a week called hell week. They put you in a team of tight function with a bunch of people you don’t know. It’s probably the most brutal week; I don’t even know that it’s a week. It’s only three or four days maybe. They put you in a forest, give you a map, and say, ‘Hey you got some downed pilots. You have to get them from here to here.’ Each different phase of this Q course assesses your capability of being a Green Beret. There were about 600 guys in my class. I want to say around 59 of us, or 60 of us made it.
So then you go onto the next phase, your MOS (Military Occupational Speciality). Depending on how you scored on some of the testing, they chose your job. I was in radios and krypto and all that, and learned every radio and krypto device known to man. That was 119 days.
You go through those phases to then select whether or not you’re right for a 12-man ODA. It’s hard to explain. Each phase was testing you in a different way. [For example], we went to language school for six months. I learned Russian. So in six months, I could speak conversational Russian, and how difficult was that? Somewhat, but that was another mental and physical curve. It was, ‘How good and how fast is this guy going to be at learning Russian?’
Then there’s SERE (Survival, Evade, Resistance, Escape) school. It’s one of the more intense 20 day schools. You learn to live off the land. If you become a POW, you learn how to survive that scenario. They put you in a mock scenario in a mock POW camp and you practice what you’ve learned over the first two and a half weeks. That was very intense learning. It was hands-on, very emotional, very mentally draining and stressful.
And after all that’s done, all you’ve learned is that you’re a Green Beret. You’re not a real Green Beret yet. What you know about being a Green Beret is that you know you can put up with pretty much anything they throw at you. But now you’re assigned to whatever ODA they assign you to. That’s the day you start learning.”
While UMHB was defeating ETBU, you were walking 50 miles in New York City, as part of a “ruck march” in memory of those who were lost in the 9/11 attacks. What was it like to be a part of something so special such as that?
DB: “When a buddy called and said it was going to be for gold star families and those who had died in the towers, it was a gut punch. I look around and think, what have I done to help these families, outside of serving and doing your best to honor their loss through whatever means. But this was almost the ultimate culmination of things that we could honor at once. I had never necessarily done anything for the NYPD or NY Fire Department. So when I was presented with this opportunity to participate, I thought, ‘This is something I need to do, because not only will I be able to honor those that I knew, but also those I didn’t know.’ This gave me an opportunity to raise more awareness and keep honoring them. It’s been 20 years, but there’s no reason why we should stop honoring them until long after I’m gone. That’s how we keep their names alive, we pass it through the generations.”
The UMHB mission statement states that the university “prepares students for leadership, service, and faith-informed discernment in a global society.” Beheler has certainly embodied that mission, representing UMHB and the Cru football program through his service overseas as one of the U.S. Army’s elite special operations soldiers and even recently, with his participation in the “50 for the Fallen” march. He has made an impact both at home and abroad, carrying with him the experiences and lessons he took away from his time at UMHB.
Riley Zayas serves as the managing editor of True To The Cru. He has worked in sports journalism since 2016, having been published by Sports Illustrated Kids, Sports Illustrated, Horns Illustrated, Sports Spectrum, D3football.com and College Baseball Nation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.