I developed a keen palette for eating MRE’s cold in Ranger school. Whoof down your food while you can because you may not get a chance to eat it later. (“You can taste it later, Ranger.”, was a favorite RI catch phrase.) While I trained in Ranger school under the stressors to mimic combat, (little sleep, malnourishment, extreme physical exertion) the lessons and habits I picked up still stay with me to this day. I eat my food, as my family would say, like a gavone, and I prefer my food cold. There was little time to eat in Ranger school, so heating up the meals always seemed like a waste of time.
I also developed this boy scout preparedness mind set. Map? I go nuts without one (thanks you smart phones). Knife? In all my cars… Right next to the first aid kits and flashlights. All of this preparation is to save the precious seconds when shit hits the fan. Combat only reinforced what I learned in Ranger school.
In Iraq my crew and I kept a tight track. Everything was organized and ready to spring at a moments notice.
Ammo, water, food. Check, check, check. Batteries, Commo fill, fuel. Affirmative.
The days that reinforced the preparation are sometimes the stuff of legend.
Cold Spaghetti, Hot barrel
Spaghetti. Spaghetti with cheese and crackers mashed into one pouch. Cold. Cold spaghetti, cheese and crackers mashed, into one pouch. It was easy, it was fast and it had this horrible constipating effect. In my mind it was the perfect grunt meal.
We were in the TOC listening to Red platoon move into the new Patrol Base. They were in the north west part of our AO and had an Iraq Army attachment assisting with the move in.
“Hey Sir, how do you eat that shit?” My driver asked.
“What?” I replied with a mouth full of crackered cheesy spaghetti goodness.
“That cold spaghetti, how can you possible eat it like that?” he clarified.
I was just about to shovel my last bite. I paused and looked at him and his MRE.
“That’s yours right?” pointing to his bubbling sack of food.
“And I’m done eating right?” showing him my near empty pouch.
“Hot food is a luxury.”
“How do you figure?” he started to say.
BOOoOoOoOm. The walls shook. It could only be Red in trouble. I was getting reinforcement for my warped cold food rationale.
My wife was on station and the radios lit up with the her voice reporting the contact.
I ran in to get my kit. My driver, without hesitation and leaving his warm food behind, left to get his.
Time runs in slow motion when sh-t hits the fan. In seconds we were out the door and on my Bradley. Seconds later we were rolling out the gate heading towards the plume of smoke still rising from Red platoon’s last check-in. Training and adrenaline take over.
The Kiowa’s continued circling as we raced towards Red platoon.
God, if you are up there, I can use a hand down here. I’ll trade something for them. Just don’t let them be hurt.
Bang bang bang!
“Sir, are they shooting at us?”, my gunner asked. “I hear the pop of gunfire.”
“No,” I replied. “I’m shooting at them.“
I emptied one clip of my Berrta as warning shots. I was reloading it and firing my M4 at anyone or any vehicle attempting to intersect our path. The message was clear. It was not a time to mess with this track. I was prepared. My adrenaline was spike.
Outlaw 26 (aka my wife) called in that Red one was on the roof and reporting the contact. A Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Device (car bomb or VBIED) detonated at the gate to the house Red occupied. They were assessing casualties.
Shit. Come on Big Man, help me out here…
We pulled up to the house. The garden walls of everything close by were knocked over. Car? Nothing but an engine block laying near the house. The rest was strewn debris not bigger than the size of a Coke can.
As we pulled up Red One came out and climbed up on my track. He had the wide eyed look of shock. I wouldn’t doubt if he was at that point.
I remember asking him if he was ok. He said he was, but he just needed a minute. We just took it all in for a time.
“The explosion was so loud I though someone was dead.” He said.
It turned out that the Iraqi Army Soldier with Red Platoon saw the car pull up. As the car crept closer the Iraqi raised his weapon, then shot. The car bomber detonated just hoping to take anyone with him. He didn’t. Besides some ringing ears and maybe a concussion, everyone was fine. Even when you prepare, sometimes things just go wrong and sometimes its better to be lucky than good.
We stayed out there for hours helping the local population affected by the blast and refortifying the outpost.
Then, we traded out with a different platoon and headed back to our camp.
My driver, gunner and I entered the TOC. They sat down and opened another MRE. Their food from hours earlier was cold. I wasn’t hungry.
We were lucky. We had to be more vigilant. Could my readiness be better? “Always.”, I though. But at least we were ready to go today.
The Price of Ready
I think part of the price of vigilance and preparedness is the inability to let things go or relax. It takes a great amount of effort, and drugs, to get me to relax. Even with the help of medicine and time, it is exhausting. (As one of my friends says, “It is a multifactorial problem.”)
That day my quirks were reinforced. I feel part of human nature is to look for and hold on to things we agree with and avoid things we don’t. Even unreasonable or illogical acts become habits because I look for the reinforcement and then use that experience as proof I am right. In therapy I explored a number of ways where this type of mindset can be harmful and how to use reason to separate the illogical emotional evidence and set my mind right. High probability v low probability, using “always” and “nevers” to justify my actions plagued my mind.
Then, traumatic events would be glued to guilt or remorse for a lack of preparedness or attention to detail. In the end, it was a lot of hard work in therapy to let go of that which I cannot control, and even some of what I can, to find peace.
I still like cold food and I still have flashlights in my cars. But, I don’t tie it to my survival anymore.