So, I retweeted this earlier from someone else on Twitter… And I’m still laughing about it.
And it occurred to me… (Yeah, this could be dangerous…) Anyway, it occurred to me that this would be a fantastic chance to tell something embarrassing on yourself. Like, what’s one of the dumbest things you ever tried to do?
Of course, I know I must go first. So, deep breath, here goes…
Back when I was in the Corps, we used to always have to do forced marches, with all our gear, i.e. flack, weapon, helmet, and overloaded pack. (For the non-Marines out there, we call it humping, or going on a hump. Not sure why. And definitely not as fun. Oops. Sorry.)
So, I was a really small guy back then. Like, 135 pounds. And I hated humps. My worst fear was falling out, so I’d do pack runs at night and work out like crazy to keep from having this happened. (With small guys, it was harder since we have shorter strides and they put us in the back of the formation — not to mention, a 135 pound guy humping 80 or 90 pounds of equipment is WAY different than a 185 pound guy carrying 90 pounds…)
But through sheer determination, lots of working out on my own, and a fair amount of praying, I got pretty good at it.
Fast forward from a scared guy afraid of finishing a hump to me being a Corporal and a Squad Leader. We had just gotten in a bunch of Boots, (or new Marines), and we were on our first tough hump.
These guys had just finished their School of Infantry training, and they thought they were tough. But, of course, the Fleet (or Fleet Marine Force) is much tougher than just SOI. So, these dudes are dying. And starting to drag back. And it was like a hundred degrees and a super, tough hump, thus even I was getting a little worried I might not finish.
But we long-time vets are yelling at these stupid boots and acting all tough. (Hey, we’re Marines… Fake it till you make it, right?)
And I was Squad Leader, so I’m really yelling at these stupid Boots. And lo and behold one starts falling out of formation because he can’t keep up.
I follow typical Marine protocol. Since it was clear he might not make it, I try to encourage him…
But, that doesn’t work.
Then I start shaming him, and that helps for a while.
But soon, even that’s not working.
And then I do what had been done to me and dozens of other Marines.
I start telling him to drop his pack. That he can’t hack it and he’s a piece of shit. He’s a disgrace to the Corps. He should have joined the Army. You name it, and most of it I can’t print her…
Well, unfortunately for me, and probably for the first time in Marine Corps history, this piece of crap finally says, “Yes, Corporal,” as loud as he can. And he drops his pack. YES! HE DROPPED HIS PACK. HE QUIT.
WORSE. He THEN hands his weapon to a fire team leader that had been yelling at him, as well.
Well, a hundred men had seen this all occur so I was too startled to know what to do. I mean this, this never happens. I had never seen it happen and didn’t know what to do, but I can’t look like I’m not in control…
So, I yell at two squad members to grab his pack and throw it on top of mine. They do and the weight crushes me immediately. I mean, I’m 135 pounds. And I was worried BEFORE I got this second pack as to whether I could finish.
My mind tells me there’s no way. I know it’s not going to be possible, but I refuse to lose face. And so I tell them to rush forward and get back with the formation and I start on with both packs.
I couldn’t come close to keeping up and I carry both packs maybe a mile and a half. (And it’s all I can do to even do that.The pain was just so much on my back and even my lungs could barely open and close beneath so much weight.)
Frankly, I only make it that far — a mile and a half — because the company had stopped and I figured I’d give him his pack back, and could catch my breath before they picked up and moved again. Well, I trudge in, drop the extra pack, try to stop hyperventilating, and drop mine.
I’m dripping sweat and gasping like a fish thrown down on the bank.
Actually, it’s worse. I’m panicking, too, because I’m really worried now with how my back feels as to whether I can finish the hump.
And then our Captain orders everyone on their feet. I was destroyed that I wouldn’t get that break, which normally lasts up to ten minutes on a good day.
I manage to grab my pack and take my position in the lead as Squad Leader, but once they step out and the pace is full-speed, I don’t last long. I quickly fall out.
And it was so embarrassing. The only hump I fell out of in the fleet. (I did, however, fall out of one in SOI.)
And to make matters worse, when we arrived, the CO — a Captain I would have taken a bullet for — watches me trudge in. And he shakes his head, disgusted. And I, in classic Marine tradition, refuse to make any excuses. So, I meet his eyes and just say, “No excuse, sir.”
The next twenty minutes or so was one of the low points of my career. I felt like such a failure and even some of my squad seemed to wonder why I couldn’t keep up, and I wanted to say, “Did you not see the two packs?! A mile and a half?!”
But, I don’t. I just hold it in and take like two 800 mg Advil to try to get my back to stop cramping up and seizing in fits of shock. (At the time, I thought I had hurt my back, and I sort of hoped I had. I desperately needed that Red Badge of Courage.)
But thankfully, mercifully, wonderfully…
About an hour later, my Captain came up to me and said, “Cpl Mitchell, how ’bout next time you don’t try to carry two packs?”
I can only assume he asked my Lieutenant what had happened.
Regardless, it completely made my day and I think had he not found out the truth, me letting him down would have bugged me to the end of time.
One upside to the story is that the piece of shit Marine turned out all right, and carrying those two packs helped build up my reputation. But it did mess up my back for a while. I’m still not sure what I did to it, but like most injuries, it healed with time.
So, I’ve shared my story. Me trying to carry two insanely heavy packs, as if that’s possible. (Or least not for me.)
What’s yours? Think about it a bit. I’d love to hear some good ones…
Keep the faith,
Stan R. Mitchell
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
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