In this special episode, we are joined by West Point graduate and army veteran Seth Cuneen. Seth shares with us his experience with the military and how it relates to The Book of Ezekiel and the theme, Exile and Return. During his time in the service, Seth encounters several examples of rules, authority, and unreasonable expectations. He is asked to trust the process. And although he may not see or understand, these expectations are building him and his fellow soldiers toward a deeper sense of unity and purpose.
TD: So the special treat is we’ve got an interview with Seth Cuneen this morning. Come up, Seth.
So, Seth was in the military, and Seth went to West Point. Now, Seth, did West Point make any unreasonable requests of you?
SK: Yeah, it was four years of unreasonable requests.
TD: Can you give us some examples?
SK: Well, some of it didn’t really seem to have a point at the time. Maybe it would be like in the morning, you have to align your windows three inches from the bottom, and that’s all the further you can open them. And, of course, you want to open them all the way up because you don’t have AC, and it’s going to be 95 degrees, and you want your room to be—
TD: Only three inches.
SK: Only three inches. And they had to be perfectly aligned. So, yeah, it was things like that all the time. You know, if you made your bed, the fold had to be 11 inches from the top, and then the sheet fold would have to be the width of one clipboard, so maybe like, I don’t know, eight or nine inches or something.
TD: Did you actually have a ruler?
SK: Well, you’d have a clipboard. And so you would actually measure the fold with your clipboard.
SK: So you’d go the long way from the top to the first fold and then you turn it sideways and fold, you know. And you’re an 18-year-old kid, and the last thing you care about is whether or not your sheet is 11 inches from the top. So a lot of that stuff was pretty—it seemed really petty at the time.
TD: While you’re hearing this, did anyone ever come in and say, “Seth, I just want you to understand how much we care for you”?
SK: No. No, no, no. In fact, the upperclassmen would come in with that clipboard, you know; and if you didn’t have it right, they’d break your clipboard or make you do push ups; or, just waste your time to try and make the point.
TD: Okay, who made you do this?
SK: No one. It was completely voluntary.
TD: You volunteered to do this?
SK: I mean, I wanted to be there, and so I felt—
TD: Somebody was walking around and said, “Hey, we need somebody to come to West Point,” and you said, “Well, I’ll do it.”
SK: Yeah, something like that. No, actually—
TD: You actually applied for it, right? You wanted to do this, didn’t you?
SK: Yeah. I actually went through quite a process just to get there.
TD: So on your own volition you did this. At least in Ezekiel’s case, God asked him to do it.
TD: Well, then you became an Army Ranger. You were a lieutenant when you went through Ranger?
SK: I was actually a captain. I was a little bit older than most people.
TD: But you were actually wise enough to know better.
SK: I was. I was an old man in my squad. I was 27, and the next oldest guy was about 22, fresh out of college. And then we had some younger enlisted guys too.
TD: Now, again, was just something that was imposed on you?
SK: No. This was also voluntary.
TD: Oo on your own you actually said I want to be an Army Ranger. Did they ask you to do anything unreasonable in Army Ranger training?
SK: Yeah, that was probably the most unreasonable experience of my life. It was a little over two months, and I lost about 40 pounds.
And they really get you to such a point of sleep deprivation and—not starvation—you feel like you’re starving, but they know what they’re doing.
And you walk a lot with a lot of weight. Everywhere I went, I carried a rucksack that was about 65 pounds. And you’re literally so tired that when you stop moving, you fall asleep. The only way that you can stay awake is to keep moving.
And when you get to that point, you also start to have a lot of hallucinations. It wasn’t uncommon to see guys, you know, standing in front of a tree thinking that they’re at a payphone calling their wives when they’re just out in the middle of the woods and have no idea what’s going on.
That’s why they pair everybody up, so they hope that at the moment somebody has some lucidity and sense and can go and grab that guy and bring him back in and get him back with his squad so you don’t lose someone out in the woods.
TD: I remember the story about when you are following the dots in the woods.
TD: This was mountain training, as I recall.
SK: Yeah. Actually what happens is a lot of these stories, if you go to Ranger school, everybody wants to swap stories. You might be in a different class, but there’s always great stories to tell. And this was actually a story from a close friend.
In mountains, you’re in northern Georgia, and it’s on the Tennessee Valley divide in the Appalachians, very extreme terrain. And at night, what they would do is they would put everybody in a line, and you would walk all night.
And the schedule was when you got out to do your patrols, and everybody’s being graded, so they’d rotate different positions of leadership around, and that was always your incentive when you weren’t in a position of leadership to help the guy that was because you knew, at some point, you are going to be evaluated. And if you didn’t help him, then he was going to go to sleep on you. So everybody was trying really hard to stay awake and work together and kind of work as a team.
You would start early in the morning and do your mission planning. And that would take, I don’t know, maybe five hours; and everybody’s in a perimeter out in the middle of the woods somewhere. And there’s all kinds of stuff that needs to be done in order to prepare for one of these missions.
So everybody has their own little task; and, at the same time, you have to pull security and make sure that you know what’s going on around you, and you might be sending out some reconnaissance patrols at the same time. And you do that for the first part of the day.
And then you would walk from maybe noon until about dusk, and you would go into either—we did a couple different kinds of missions. You’d specialize in, like, raids and ambushes.
And then you would go into this whatever your mission was for the night. You would do the mission. Then they’d have some after-action reviews.
TD: You’re not sleeping anywhere.
SK: You’re not sleeping, no.
And then, once you’ve finished all that, then you would start walking; and you’d walk into your next patrol base for the next morning. You might cover 10 to 15 miles overnight.
And the hope was always that you would do well enough on your mission that you could get started walking early enough that you would get into the patrol base before the sun came up because then that meant that you could sleep a little bit. Then you might get 45 minutes of sleep.
And the worst feeling ever was when you were walking into the patrol base and the sun was coming up because you knew you weren’t going to sleep that night.
And that’s kind of the context for what happened to my friend, they were walking through the mountains, and it’s really rough terrain. You might be on the edge of a cliff, and it might be a couple hundred feet down. And everyone’s in file and just kind of walking.
And you’re so tired that they make you tie everything to your body. So, you’d tie your rifle. They called him dummy cords. And your rifle would be tied to your belt, and your hat was tied to something, and everything. Your flashlight would be tied off because you’d literally—you know you were just kind of trudging through the woods and if something fell off, you know, you might lose it. And if you lost your night-vision goggles or something like that, that stuff’s really expensive so they just made you tie everything off.
And the patrol caps that we wear have these little these little glowing—it’s like two little glowing rectangles on the back. And they’re just reflective. And they call them cat eyes. And so, you know, if you’re 10 or 15 feet behind someone, you can see those cat eyes at night. And this guy they’re in file, and he’s walking, and his patrol cap fell off.
Well, it was tied to his belt and so he just was dragging it, and he didn’t know it had fallen off. I mean, he was just trying to stay behind the guy in front of him.
Well, my friend sees that this patrol cap gets down. And you just do whatever the guy in front of you is doing. So he thinks, oh man, we’re crawling!
So he gets down, and he starts crawling. And the guy behind him gets down and starts crawling. And pretty soon there’s about 15 or 20 guys that are just crawling. And he’s watching these cat eyes in front of him, and he’s thinking, “Oh, this guy’s going so fast, I can’t keep up!” He’s crawling faster and faster and faster, and the cat eyes just keep disappearing into the woods.
Pretty soon he can’t see the cat eyes anymore, and he knows that—they call it a break in contact. And if you have a break in contact, it’s really bad because then they stop everything, and it takes more time; and you have to round people up and look for lost people.
So he gets up and he drops his rucksack, and he starts running. And he finally catches—he grabs the hat and realizes it’s just the hat; and the guy’s walking in front of it, the patrol captain. And he said he went up and smacked him in the back of the head, and he said, “You jerk! You know we’ve all been crawling behind you!” And so you see stuff like that.
I think probably the one other story that I like—it’s just funny, I guess. One of those things that just seems out of place at the time. We had a mission that was similar to that. We had a really bad night. Everybody fell asleep in our—we did an ambush, and they put you on line on the road; and, of course, you’re just waiting for someone to walk through. And then you initiate the ambush.
Well they call it the opposition force, the guys that we’re supposed to ambush. And they were walking through the line, and nobody does anything because we’re all asleep. And so the ranger instructors grab them and take them back up the road again and say, ” Walk down there again!” So they walk down again. Nothing happened. We were all asleep.
Until finally they put them on us and said, “All right. Here’s where the ambush line is. Just roll everybody up.”
And so they started running down the line shooting us. Well, you wake up, and you hear shooting, and you don’t see anything because they’re coming down the line killing all of us. But we all started shooting because, you know, we’re like, well, somebody’s shooting so we better start shooting!
And they were furious, and they rounded us all up; and, you know, the worst thing they can do is say, you know, “Wally, you’re a casualty now. You can’t do anything.”
Well, that means that I have to carry Wally, and somebody has to carry his 65-pound rucksack. And I have my own 65-pound rucksack. I don’t want to carry yours.
And they’ll do that to two or three guys, and you’ll have a platoon of 20; and, all of the sudden, it just completely ruins everybody’s night.
And it was kind of one of those things where we were carrying everybody all night, making horrible time. The sun’s coming up, and the sun’s up by the time we get into the patrol base. And we’re just exhausted.
And we’re in the swamps, at this point, in Florida. So the first thing you do is you scratch out a little foxhole.
So I’m scratching out my foxhole, my partner, my Ranger buddy, is pulling security; and he scratches his out, and we kind of get in place. And we’re just trying to stay awake.
And, all of a sudden, we start to hear this high-pitched screaming. And, “What is going on?” And, “Somebody better shut him up because we don’t want the Ranger instructor back in here again. We do not want to see him again for a few hours because they would usually go off a couple hundred yards away and then spot-check. And you’d go through all your planning.
Well it’s just this muffled, high-pitched, totally-incoherent screaming. And we’re like, “Ah, this is going to be bad!”
And we’re sitting there, you know. And you’re in a circle, so people kind of whisper to the right, you know, “What is going on? What is going on?”
And someone whispers back, “It’s Pelletier.”
Like, “What’s he doing?”
About thirty seconds later, I look over my shoulder, and Pelletier is naked running through the patrol base screaming. And he has absolutely no clothes on. And so we’re like, “Wow, that—okay. Man, we’re going to get it bad!”
And, thankfully—for us, not for him—but he had collapsed in an ant pile when we laid down in location and was going into shock. And so they literally had to bring an ambulance in and take him out. But the last thing we saw of Pelletier for that patrol was him running out of the patrol base naked, headed for the woods. I don’t even know where he was going. He didn’t know where he was going! He was just naked and running through the woods.
TD: Just away from the ants!
SK: Yeah. In hindsight, it’s really a good experience, and I think—
TD: Sounds great.
SK: But, you know, you have things like that in your life. And it’s fun.
TD: But, no, why? So why did you volunteer for all this misery? Why did you go to West Point?
SK: Well, because—
TD: You knew you were going to be shot at, right?
SK: You know, it’s funny. I didn’t, as a kid in high school, I didn’t really have, I don’t think, a real great perspective on why I wanted to go to West Point. And it’s funny because I had to do a lot to get there, and I really wanted it; and I worked hard for it.
TD: So you could do the clipboard.
SK: Yeah. Yeah, well, and then you get there; and it’s kind of like, alright, well, now what? You know, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I didn’t even know what I wanted to branch, as far as what kind of officer I wanted to be and everything.
And so it was really kind of upon reflection and hindsight to look back and say, you know, that was really good for me for a lot of different reasons. As a young guy, I think, I was probably spared a lot by being put in an environment where I didn’t have any free time and where I was under complete discipline. It was really good for me. I learned a lot that way.
TD: Did you appreciate it at the time?
SK: You know, I always understood how fortunate I was to be there, and so I never took that for granted. I was very grateful for it. But when I graduated I can remember riding away from West Point in the car with Carla, and we pulled over so I could take some pictures of West Point in the rearview mirror of the car, and I was like, “I’m never coming back to this place again!”
And then, it’s funny. You start to get nostalgic within a year.
TD: How about Ranger training? Why did you do that, and what was the purpose of it all? Did they ever get really sympathetic with you in the Rangers?
SK: No. In fact, I did my best just to be the gray man there. You don’t want to be noticed, so you just you just try to stay under the radar. When you’re being evaluated, you do your best, but you try and keep a really low profile. You don’t want to be one of the guys that all the RI’s know. That’s never a good thing.
But, you know, it was partly a test because from the Army’s perspective you want to be a leader. You want to be responsible for people.
TD: It’s partly a test to see if you’re ready to lead. And what’s the main thing that you have to do if you want to be a leader? The main criteria. You said, one, you have to be willing to serve the other guys.
SK: Yeah, I think that was probably the biggest lesson of Ranger school was to learn how to serve others when you’re when you’re extremely tired—
TD: Out of gas.
SK: —and very hungry, and your shoulders hurt. Everything hurts. Your shoulders hurt. Your feet are bruised. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to walk when you have really bad blisters or bruises, but it’s really painful. It hurts.
TD: That’s what it feels like all the time.
SK: Yeah. And still to be asked to, you know, hey, Wally’s being evaluated. I need you to do your best. And you got to help him because he needs to get a go. If he doesn’t get a go, he’s going to start all over on this phase and do it again.
And when you’re in the middle of that, the idea of having to recycle is not good.
TD: Yeah. That’s his problem.
SK: Yeah, but then, you know, you’re getting evaluated next, so you better help Wally because you’re going to need him.
So I think that that kind of—putting people through that, that’s sort of an environment where they really have to depend on each other, and it’s all you have. And you’ll have guys that are—maybe somehow Wally got shorted on food. And, I mean, there’s nothing more priceless than that one meal a day that you get. And Wally didn’t get one so everyone’s got to—
TD: One meal a day. That’s it?
SK: That’s it. And so, alright, Wally, I’ll give you this part of my meal, and this guy’s going to give you this. So everybody can at least eat.
I think you learn how to work together.
But you also get a better perspective on what you’re actually capable of doing, to learn that when you think you’re too tired to do something or you’re too hungry to do something, that really, the human body is capable of doing amazing things. And there’s enough there. You can get through. You can continue.
It gives you perspective for later in life when you can remember back to that one time when you didn’t actually have anybody shooting at you, and you were really, really tired, and really hungry, and you didn’t want to keep going, but you found out that you actually were able to do it. I think they put you through the worst possible scenario in peacetime so that when you do actually face those trials down the road for real, that you’ll be more capable of keeping a proper perspective and, hopefully, dealing with the situation.
TD: Okay. Fantastic. Thank you. All right. Give Seth a hand.
God’s unreasonable demands are in your best interest
You get the point I hope. God makes unreasonable demands. The higher up you are on his food chain, in terms of growing up, probably the more unreasonable the demands are going to be.
And why? Why does he make unreasonable demands? He wants you to grow up. He wants you to be a leader. He wants you to be great in his kingdom.
Remember, in Revelation, if you go through the letter to the seven churches, and he’s got all these rewards. You can eat from the tree of life, if you’re an overcomer, a victor, someone who overcomes as Jesus overcame.
How did Jesus overcome? What did he overcome? Temptation. Just like we did. Temptation to live on his own instead of relying on God.
You think God would put you to a point where you just can’t do it anymore so you have to learn to rely on him? Yeah. Because that helps you grow up. That’s part of becoming great in his kingdom.
God is a God that makes unreasonable demands. Why? He has your best interest at heart. He has my best interest at heart.
The children of Israel looked at what God did to Ezekiel and looked at what God had done to Israel, and their conclusion was you’re not fair.
And God’s statement back to them was, actually, you’re the one that’s not fair. I understand completely what’s just, and I always do what’s just.
And, I think this is kind of the bottom line. Do you really think God has your best interests at heart? Do you really believe that? If we really believe that, then we’ll have the same reaction that the Army Rangers have: I don’t like it. I wouldn’t choose it. But this is in my best interest, whatever your circumstances are.
You know Jeremiah was told don’t take a wife. Don’t participate in the feasts. There was a murder plot put up for him. He was put down in a well to die. He didn’t enjoy his circumstances at all. At one point he said, you know, it was a sad day the day I was born.
But he did it. He found out he could do it.
Let’s just end talking about Hosea. Turn to Hosea real quick. Hosea is during this same time period.
“Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry
And children of harlotry,
For the land has committed great harlotry—
I want you to go marry a prostitute. And I want you to marry a prostitute to show a drama, an illustration, of what Israel’s been like to me as their husband.
Maybe you remember our lesson on Ezekiel 16 when God goes through this really gut-wrenching description of what it’s like to be a husband that has grown up this girl from being a cast-off child to being a beautiful queen and have her just go pilfer it with every guy walking by.
And even more unreasonable, after he has three children with her, and she goes back and starts being a prostitute again—In chapter 3, Then the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel—
This could be somebody else, but I think it’s likely he’s buying his wife back because that’s what God did. It’s the same basic picture that’s in Ezekiel 16. There’s nothing reasonable about what God’s asking Hosea to do here.
But, again, God always has our best interest at heart, and he’s growing us up. And if we can embrace the tough things that God asks us to do—I mean, it’s not easy to raise a kid. That’s a hard thing to do. It’s not easy to live with a spouse. That’s actually a very difficult thing to do. It’s not easy to live with other people. That’s a tough thing. I mean they’re all unreasonable, aren’t they? (Everybody but us.)
There are a lot of difficult things about this life. But God is growing us up so that we can be everything he intends us to be and be completely fulfilled.
The question is, will we embrace that opportunity or not?
What’s the failure rate at Ranger School?
SK: We finish with about one in five.
TD: One in five finished, or one in five dropped out?
SK: One in five finished.
TD: One in five finished.
SK: Some of those people were recycled and may finish later.
TD: So about an 80 percent drop rate? Yeah. That doesn’t surprise me to hear that. I’m pretty sure I would have been one of those 80 percent drops.
Narrow is the way that leads to life. Not many choose it. That’s not a heaven/hell passage. That’s given to the disciples. And it’s just reality that most people don’t embrace difficulty.
Now, the Bible doesn’t ask us to seek out difficulty. What it asks us to do is embrace it when it comes. And those trials are tremendous opportunities for us to grow up.
So God makes unreasonable requests, but he’s got a reason for it, and it’s for our best interest.