Topping Survival Training

Recalling the worst night of sleep of my life.

In the summer of 1986, as part of my officer training for the Air Force, I attended Field Training at Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York. For our survival training, we were divided into groups of attackers and defenders. Our group of about 20 cadets, F Flight, was supposed to prepare for an attack from another group, E Flight. I was teamed up with a former Marine enlistedman turned AFROTC cadet. Our job was to dig a foxhole to defend a particular part of the woods. The foxhole was just large enough to fit both of us sitting down, knee to knee, with our heads just below ground level. And it took a long time to dig. We were to take turns sleeping and being on watch, two hours per shift. The problem was that my foxhole companion yelled in his sleep. Stuff like, “Here they come boys!” And “Incoming!” Did I mention he was prior enlisted? I suspect that Marine survival training was a bit more intense than Air Force survival training.

Just to mess with us, E Flight decided not to attack but to just stay in their camp. So while we spent the night digging and then “sleeping” in a foxhole, E Flight took a vacation.

The next night, we decided to get back at E Flight. After lights out and after the Air Force sergeants who were running survival training had left for the night, F Flight regrouped in the woods – in full camo gear. During survival training, each group is given insufficient food. The difference must be acquired from the wilderness. The bunny rabbit filled wilderness. What we were given were MREs – Meals Ready to Eat – just-add-water treats that ranged from very foul to not bad. The MREs had to be rationed carefully. We had skipped our MREs from the previous night to avoid making any sound that might tip off our location to the attackers who never attacked. (Then again, the yelling Marine didn’t help either.)

After E Flight had snuggled into their beds, with visions of screwing F Flight dancing in their heads, F Flight retaliated. We didn’t attack. We simply liberated their MREs. To avoid suspicion, we didn’t eat the MREs right away. We took them to a secret location in the woods and buried them for later consumption. And just for good measure, we broke into the sergeants’ camp and stole their food as well (for their part in allowing E Flight to not do their part).

The next morning, all six camps (Flights A-F) were searched by the sergeants for the stolen – I mean liberated – food, but, of course, it was not found because it was buried safely in the woods. We were never caught. We had a feast of MREs the next night. And we never did have to kill and eat any bunny rabbits. It was Air Force survival training. We survived.

I have always referred to my night in the foxhole with the sleep-yelling Marine as the worst night of sleep of my life. That is, until last night. As I mentioned, I had foot surgery yesterday, and I was actually able to blog within 12 hours of the surgery. I now realize that the effects of the general and local anesthesia had not worn off yet and that, around midnight, when they did wear off, the pain killers I was taking (Percoset) were having a tough time making up the difference. (Friends don’t let friends blog narc-ed.)

This is when my body suddenly realized, “Holy sh*t! I’ve just been cut open with scalpels! And it feels like it!”

Can you imagine being the first guy to have surgery? And to be convinced that surgery was your best option? “OK, Bob, here’s the plan. We cut you open, fix the broken stuff, then sew you closed. We know it’s never been done before, but we’re thinking it’s the best option. You in?” There were probably a bunch of Bobs who volunteered – or got volunteered – for surgery as the early doctors worked out details like anesthesia, antibiotics, sterile fields, and pain killers “Oops, we lost another Bob.”

I slept for one hour last night, in two 30-minute chunks. I described the pain to my wife as “impressive.” Worse than my shoulder surgery. I spent the night counting the minutes until I could take the next dose of pain killers. But I survived.

And this explains why I was telling the story of field training to my kids today. I never thought that I’d have a worse night of sleep than that. Thankfully, the food at this establishment is much better than MREs.

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