The Captain ordered a tactical road march through an artillery firing range. The range was not in use at the time, and the single-lane dirt road that bisected the range was verified clear of unexploded artillery rounds. We were warned, however, not to deviate from the road. Troop B of the 713th Cavalry Regiment was on the move. It was a portent of things to come.
A gaggle of M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, several M60 Tanks, and a Tank Recovery Vehicle lumbered down the path. One other vehicle participated in the unofficial parade. That’s where I was—in the belly of a M577 Command Post Vehicle. Did I mention it was wintertime in Fort Pickett, Virginia?
As Tactical Communications Chief, my job was to act as Track Commander while underway, and to establish perimeter security for the Command Post when in a static position. Both roles were performed concurrent with the ongoing mission of the troop: gathering intelligence, conducting operations, arranging for supply, and managing personnel.
All was according to Hoyle up to about halfway through the road march. At that point, I began to sweat and feel a certain familiar, unpleasant rumble. There was, um, fire in my belly, and it was bad—real bad.
Remember the old joke about how the various body parts wanted to be in control? Head insisted he was the smartest. Arms protested, saying he was the strongest. Heart laughed and pointed out that everything worthwhile began with him. But then the gastrointestinal system (or something like that) went on strike. It didn’t take long for all the rest to unanimously vote the GI tract into the oval office. That’s politics for you.
If you think mind triumphs over matter, and a true heart always prevails—take my advice, never bet against the power of the bowel. As I white-knuckled down the road, a sudden acceptance washed over my trembling self. I realized that I wasn’t in control, my body was going to find relief. It might be inside the vehicle or outside, but it was going to happen… soon.
Memory is somewhat fuzzy—I wasn’t thinking clearly—but I crafted a plan nonetheless. (I do some of my most impressive work that way.) Grabbing my helmet—a guy must have proper headgear—and a roll of toilet paper, I decided there was no way on earth that I was going to halt the entire column while I relieved myself in full view of the wondering troop. That wasn’t going to happen. No. Uh-uh. So, I turned to the Specialist Four that was part of my squad. I think his name was Dave.
“Dave,” I said, “I’m sick. I’m going to get out of this vehicle. You continue to the objective. I’ll flag down the Tank Recovery Vehicle (usually the last in line in case another vehicle had maintenance trouble) and catch a ride with them.” Dave stared, wide-eyed and unsure. I bailed out (minus coat) just as he started to speak, and headed for some scrub.
Now, you may think that traipsing through the impact area of an artillery range is foolish, but you weren’t there. An explosion was imminent, one way or the other. And at that point, I was okay with either one. At least Sheri would get the insurance money if I went boom. I pitied the poor soul who would have to recover my body. Seriously.
There’s an art to squatting and toileting. I think Americans are spoiled with our lounge chair type commodes. We even keep magazines handy. I’m not sure that’s natural. Other cultures keep it simpler. They squat. (It’s something to think about.)
But back to the story. I had quite a personal moment. You know, the kind that comes with intensity you don’t forget—and prayer. The bad part was, as the maintenance track slowly passed by, I wasn’t finished. Not even close. I watched in loneliness as it crested the horizon.
It was really quiet. And cold. At least I had privacy.
I wondered if the range would go hot as soon as the last vehicle cleared. That would make this experience really interesting. But I knew I had a few minutes; the convoy was only about halfway through the impact area. So, I finished up my business and started to walk. Like a good scout, I inventoried available resources. There, in my Battle Dress Uniform pocket, I found my map! I knew exactly were to rendezvous with the troop.
After a while, I crossed the boundary of the range. With relief, I concluded that I wasn’t going to die by ordnance on that day. Then I noticed a jeep speeding down an adjoining road. I waved the driver down, explained that I had become separated from my unit, and asked if he would mind taking me to the appropriate grid coordinates. He was happy to oblige.
When we arrived, I was puzzled because no one was there. Nobody. Nada. My rescuing jeep driver sped away, and I was once again standing in the woods alone with my thoughts. As I ruminated, a M113 Armored Personnel Carrier from my unit rolled up to a lurching stop. The Platoon Leader in charge of the vehicle stared from the hatch with questioning eyes. Not knowing what else to do, I directed the Lieutenant into the area where we were to assemble. The other vehicles in his platoon followed suit. Later, I learned that the entire troop had become disoriented—lost, with the Brigade Commanding General reviewing maneuvers. Suffice it to say, Cav troop made a strong impression. An officer from the 218th Infantry Brigade radioed Headquarters and raised the alarm. “Cav troop is running amok through our positions!” he said. Infantry galore hunkered down in their foxholes.
So, while my team was lost and late, terrorizing their fellow soldiers, I somehow arrived at the scheduled rally point ahead of them. Yep, armed with naught but helmet and map (I left the toilet paper on the range), I beat the troop to the appointed location. The wild-eyed Platoon Leader later communicated his gratitude that I was there to direct traffic. I never explained the circumstances of my early arrival.
You know, my peacetime blunderings reveal more that’s comical rather than proficient, but somehow, deep down, I’m really proud of not getting blown up or demoted and arriving first. So, the point of this bit of military history is that real men don’t give up. They are resilient and tenacious. They continue the mission—no matter what.
Resilience, like Judo to the practitioner, is a way of life for the courageous.
Closely related to resilience is the concept of tenacity. Returning to the baseball metaphor, a single pitch doesn’t make a game, career, or relationship. Players must keep at it. While resilience is the ability to recover after disappointment or failure, tenacity is the ability keep going over the long haul. Tenacious men keep making cold calls. They polish the manuscript. They send out resumes. If resilience is get back up, tenacity is never give up.
Affirmation of the Week: I am resilient when I face setbacks, and tenacious in the pursuit of my goals. I know I’m building a better future for myself and others, and I know that hard work pays off.
Order Man School by Thomas A. Wilson