February 17, 2014

Making Sense: Hampden-Sydney's Special Force

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

He's been accepted for a tryout with the Army special forces, but Hampden-Sydney senior Bobby Fulton has his immediate sights on helping the Tigers contend in the stacked ODAC. (Red Rocket Photography)

Bobby Fulton knew he wanted to serve his country, but this wasn't the way.

Cramped in an office on Capitol Hill doing a six-week internship this summer for the senator from his home state of Georgia, Fulton needed very little time to figure out he wanted no part of this life.

"I still remember thinking, 'I can't sit at this desk for eight hours and look at this computer screen,'" Fulton said of his dalliance in the political realm. "People said that you either love working on Capitol Hill or you don't like it. It just wasn't for me."

Fulton had always had an affinity for the military. The sense of duty always appealed to him, and forming bonds with others in a common cause struck a nerve. It was one of the reasons he chose to attend Hampden-Sydney coming out of high school, even though the idea of an all-male school repulsed him early on in the process.

"A lot of people don't understand the concept of an all-guys school, and it's not for everybody, but I fell in love with the unique brotherhood that goes along with being a Hampden-Sydney guy," Fulton said.

The martial interest was further piqued when Fulton added Military Leadership and National Security Studies – one of the specialized curricula offered by Hampden-Sydney – as a minor. It features numerous faculty members, including General Jerry Boykin, who was formerly a commander of the U.S. Army's Delta Force. The classes in military history, national security and intelligence topics enthralled Fulton.

So when he packed up his belongings from D.C. and headed back home to Atlanta for the end of the summer, he knew he had to have a conversation with his parents. He let them know that he planned on talking to a recruiter in Lynchburg – Farmville doesn't have an Army recruiter of its own – and enlist in the Army after graduation.

Fulton's declaration wasn't surprising.

"You can ask my family and childhood friends back home: they always saw me doing something like this," Fulton said about joining the Army. "Over the Christmas break, they all said, 'Yeah, we knew you were going to do that.' It was always in the back of my mind."

It was also apparent on the lacrosse field, where Fulton has been a fixture for Hampden-Sydney during the past three seasons. When he first arrived, he ran on the first offensive midfield line with a couple of all-conference upperclassmen, but when his sophomore year rolled around, a talented incoming class displaced Fulton. As a result, he found a home as a defensive midfielder.

It would be tough for a lot of players to accept that decision, but Fulton didn't mind. He's a team guy first and foremost, but defense has been a passion. During his high school career, Fulton made 22 tackles in the Georgia small school championship game and was tabbed the top small school defender in the state from his outside linebacker position.

"It has the same intensity that I found in football of keeping someone from scoring," said Fulton of playing d-middie. "That mentality I can relate to. I still have my offensive skills with me and I try to push the ball as much as I can, but there are guys who can do better on the offensive end than I can."

"He has become a great defensive middie for us," added Hampden-Sydney head coach Ray Rostan. "With the linebacker background that he had, he took a liking to it. I've tried to pull him to the offensive side and get him some work over there, but he's just drawn to the defense and he really loves it. And he's built like a train. He's strong as heck, a powerhouse."

Fulton says one of his goals is to score seven goals in transition this season, but the goal he really wants to achieve is immeasurable. "I never want to be outhustled," he said. "It's a pet peeve."

It's those kind of goals that make him a priceless leader for Rostan.

"He is your ideal captain," Rostan said. "There are just no rough edges. He's liked by everybody certainly, but he gets guys ready to play. That's something pretty special. You don't get that all the time. Every day he comes to practice and says, 'Let's stop with the nonsense and get it going.' He comes to the games the same way. I'm pleased he's the captain this year because it takes a lot off my shoulders talking about those things."

When he finally had the conversation with his recruiter, he was informed of a particular path reserved for a select group of candidates – typically those with a college degree and impeccable physical standards. It's referred to as "18 X-ray" and it basically gains a recruit a tryout with the Army special forces, aka, the Green Berets.

Fulton qualified.

"I was so thankful he told me," Fulton said. "I really pursued that and said, 'Let's get this ball rolling.' This past October I was enlisted and sworn in. I'm pretty excited."

Fulton fully admits that nothing is assured in his quest to join the Army special forces. He graduates from Hampden-Sydney on May 11, and then heads to Fort Benning (Ga.) on June 23 for his nine-week basic training. Following that is Advanced Individual Training, which in Fulton's case would be six weeks at infantry school. If he clears that, it's then three weeks at airborne school. If he satisfies all of those requirements, he'll get a crack at a green beret – a separate process that can take up to two years.

It's a daunting prospect, but Fulton received some words of encouragement at the end of last semester.

He was in a course entitled "Leadership and Ethics" taught by General Boykin – the former Delta Force commander who was involved in the 1980 Iran hostage rescue attempt, the so-called Blackhawk Down incident in Somalia and rumored to be a part of the squad that killed Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Despite having never spoken to Boykin about his enlistment, the general passed along his imprimatur.

"He turned back our final papers on the last day of class and said, 'Bobby, you're going to be in 18 X-ray?' I said 'Yes, sir,'" Fulton recalled. "He said, 'That's awesome, way to go.'"

Before he undertakes his difficult military endeavor, there is the little matter of the 2014 lacrosse season. Hampden-Sydney has plenty of talented players, but the ODAC was the best conference in the country last year and is shaping up to be just as strong. As a captain, Fulton has set up objectives, both big and small, for the Tigers. Whether they meet them is to be determined.

Fulton is looking forward to all of those challenges, and the many lying in the future.

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