Wake Up and Start Moving
I awoke with a start with the darkness encompassing everything around me. While I initially did not know where I was, the bone-numbing cold served as a chilling reminder. We were on our fourth day of a field training exercise in Norway. I was in the Allied Winter Warfare Course, a NATO course run by the Norwegian military. The class was split into several groups — in my group I had four Brits, two Dutch, one German and one other American with me.
That night was our practical exercise in building a shelter in the snow. After skiing through the mountains we had set up camp, constructed our shelters, then dined on some grouse that had been shot by one of the instructors (followed by a dessert of some Norwegian chocolate which I highly recommend).
Each shelter had two to three soldiers in it. I shared my snow shelter with a U.S. Marine and a German. We had decided on a square shelter covered by a tarp with a fireplace dug out on one side. This way the heat would radiate inside keeping us warm, but in such a way that it allowed the smoke to escape. The plan was to sleep in shifts with two guys sleeping and one feeding the fire so we would stay warm.
When I woke up and looked at my watch, it was 2 AM in the morning. The fire was out. The fatigue of the previous day had won in the fight the stay awake. I ran through my available options — if I got out of my sleeping bag, I would lose all the residual body heat that was stored. I would also wake up my two companions and disrupt their sleep. I decided to suck it up and try to fall back asleep.
Unfortunately, the cold would not allow me to do so. My feet felt like two blocks of ice and my body started to shake in an attempt to warm itself up. I pressed the backs of my knees against my sleeping pad and could feel my boots under me — this was advice from our instructors, use your body heat to keep your boots warm. Otherwise your boots would freeze and be impossible to put on. I continued on in this way for several hours, trying to control my breathing and not think of the cold.
The plan that morning was to rendezvous with the other groups on the top of a mountain about eight kilometers away. I was the group leader that morning and was responsible for ensuring everybody was up, dressed and moving in time to make the 8 AM appointment. At 5 AM I decided that it was time to start moving so I got out of my sleeping bag and attempted to put my boots on. I had my regular boots with laces and a large overboot that covered the regular boot and extended all the way to the knee to keep snow out. I attempted to tie my laces but my hands were not working due to the cold (it was -38 °F that night).
I eventually settled on leaving my regular boots untied and zipping my overboots by pressing the heels of my hands together. I knew I had to get moving to get some blood flow and warm up, so I started running up and down a steep hill nearby. After about ten minutes, I was warm enough to finish tying my laces and getting dressed.
I began waking everybody up, running back and forth between snow shelters. Motivation was low and there was grumbling, but guys began to move and pack up their belongings. There was an issue with one of the Dutch soldiers — he had forgotten to keep his boots under his knees and they had frozen solid in the night air. We quickly built a fire and were eventually able to warm them up to the point where he could get them on his feet.
At 6 AM, the camp was sterilized, the sleds were packed and ruck sacks were on everyone’s backs. We began to ski to the rendezvous point, moving quickly to get our heart rates up and thus warm up. At 7:30 AM, I called a short halt to drink water and see how everyone was doing. We were on pace and could see our destination at the top of the mountain. I took a deep breath of air and felt it resonate within me. I felt a surge of joy as I surveyed the landscape covered in fresh snow with the sun beginning to bathe the valley in its light. Despite the cold, the unforeseen challenges and the steep climb, we made it to our rendezvous point on time.
I think about that experience as I face the next challenge in life: transitioning out of the military. My group saw success because we listened to the experts and worked together as a team. I think it is easy to think of the transition from military to civilian life as an individual event but it does not need to be so. There is also a choice — stress out about finding the perfect job, or be excited at the unknown possibilities. Personally I have chosen the latter option — I cannot wait to see where I land next.
I know that all I have to do is wake up, put my shoes on, and start moving.
I am thankful for the community that has advised me on my current journey, such as Tony Mayne and Yuma Barnett. I look forward to continued learning from resources such as The Honor Foundation and the Gallant Few network. If you are reading this, please send me a message and let’s talk! I look forward to networking and learning with you as I continue seeking an internship beginning August 2021 and full time employment in February 2021 in the tech sales field.
Rangers Lead the Way!