Ground Week, Part 3: In which survival becomes my main goal
Things you couldn’t do if you wanted to survive Airborne School:
- If you dropped out of two morning run, you were out.
- If you dropped out of the Friday run, you were out
- If you got a heat injury, you were out.
I made a couple of strategic decisions at this point. For the first time in my Army career, I didn’t run with the fast group. Could I have? To this day, I’m not sure. I wanted to, but I wanted Airborne wings more. And running in the swampy Georgia morning was like running through gravy.
The other thing I knew was crucial was staying hydrated. Heat injury = one-way ticket to your next duty station. Each night, I filled plastic quarts with water and powdered Gatorade. The first thing I did back at the BOQ was down one of them. Then I alternated, water, Gatorade, water, Gatorade. I took one jug of it with me for lunch in the hole. If they gave us a water break, I took it.
I had a conversation about this with one of my fellow lieutenants. He was trying to convince me that you could train your body not to need water. I told him I didn’t think that was possible, or at the very least, it was a bad idea. No, no, no, he assured me, tough guy that he was. He could do it.
That Friday, on the company run, he didn’t drop out. He fell out. Literally. In the center of the road, so the company had to part ranks and run around him. He was spread eagle on his back. You know how in books, skin is sometimes described as gray? Well, even in the dim morning light, he looked gray.
I can only assume he was, eventually, okay. That was the last time I ever saw him.
But I made it through the run. And I made it through ground week. Each night, when I climbed the stairs to my room in the BOQ (on the top floor, of course), I paused on the landing between the second and third floor.
My legs were that weak. I’d sit and contemplate the view–of that last remaining flight. The Q itself was quiet. The infantry boys were either still in class or in the field. If I heard someone coming, I’d stagger to my feet and continue the march.
That night, I made a ton of noise opening the door to my room. I dropped my keys. I dropped my Kevlar helmet. The crash brought my Special Forces neighbor to his door and he gave me a grin. “I knew you’d be here,” he said.
I’m glad one of us was.
But he added, “I still think it calls for a celebration.”
And you know what? So did I.
To be continued…