Learning early to carry his own load helped our oldest son Randy, as his memories of being in the 82nd Airborne demonstrate.
Constantly working to keep fit for war, Randy’s platoon “worked hard to be the best platoon in the 82nd Airborne. Every Friday we took a 12 mile hike/run with a pack on our back. We challenged others. I usually came in second or third – I could not keep up with the tall, athletic guys.” His platoon passed other platoons on the long hikes.
As the radio communication man, “I carried the heaviest equipment – I think bike riding to deliver papers and running in high school helped me carry heavy loads for long distances,” he said.
Radio specialists came to train with Randy’s platoon on a hike up the Appalachian trail as they practiced communication with the planes circling overhead.
“We had five to seven people in our team in our platoon. One guy kind of hooked up with me. He was pretty chubby and not in very good shape. I was carrying our radio. He was carrying his and he could not keep up with us. I ended up carrying his pack and mine – just for him to keep up and he was still struggling” – to the exasperation of the team leader who could not believe he had to wait for anyone.
At the rendezvous point for the night, the men sat around talking. The chubby radio soldier who had two children said, “I’m thinking about leaving my wife. She has gotten fat.”
Randy exploded, “Are you kidding me? Look at you! You are over weight and out-of-shape and you are talking about leaving your wife with two kids because she is fat.”
“He kind of looked at me because I’d lost it on him. I didn’t have a problem helping him out, but when he said that, I thought ‘you have a lot of nerve!’”
At one point Randy had a “team leader – a fairly small guy – who was pretty cocky. One time the team leader dropped his rifle to the bottom of the pond and made someone else go after it for him.”
Randy assumed “that was just what team leaders were supposed to do.” But, an incident during the team’s preparation to go Grenada changed his perspective. Lining up packs to load, “our team leader’s pack started to blow across the ground – it was so light. He chased after it. The platoon leader went to pick up my pack to help me.”
Hefting it, he turned to Randy and asked, “What in the world?! Do you carry this?”
“Yes, sir, every time we go out, wherever we go,” Randy replied.
The team leader was written up for making Randy carry so much while the leader’s pack was so light it blew away.
“On the trip to England the team leader got demoted because he and a bunch of other guys went out on the town, got wasted, came back, passed out spread eagle in the middle of the hallway and puked all over himself in a public place. They busted him right down to private from staff sergeant. It kind of added up after a while,” Randy recalled.
The rigors of military training for Randy also included training to be a POW, “you know the stuff they talk about in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he explained.
“That is what they did to us for training. They stripped us naked and did water boarding. They blew smoke in our faces until we puked.”
“Before that training my mentality was ‘I will never ….’ After that training, I learned it was my responsibility to my family to come back alive – to not think I will never give up information. Instead count on it, put it off as long as possible and then give believable mis-information. I learned you can put up with a lot more than you think. You know you are in pain, but you shut down. You are watching it happen to yourself. You just disconnect,” he said.
He said some guys felt the torture, but had no memories of screaming. “In their minds they were doing what they had been trained to do to survive, but their instincts were to scream.”
Recalling those years of military training, Randy reflected, “People talk about how badly they are treating the terrorist prisoners – and they did that stuff to me just for training.”
Military life is not easy, just one way a select few choose to protect the country.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)