The Unanswered Question

It didn’t take long for the cramps to take hold of me. My stomach, intestines, bladder and colon felt like they were in a “winner takes all” style wrestling match with each other. My colon was definitely loosing. There was no visible timers along the tank trail for me to pace myself nor were there any mile markers. There had already been a few soldiers who fell out of the paced jog we started with. The heat was relentlessly beating on all of us. We had three hours to finish the objective and I had to go number two very very badly.

As I fell out of the run the four medics from my platoon fell out with me. We were trained to never leave anyone behind. I had to scream at them to return to the march. Reluctantly they returned to a joggers pace with an accentuated, “Ay! Don’t be a fuckin pussy ya cunt ya!”, from my buddy C.J.. There was no time to explain nor any alternate solution to explore. I either continued to run and defacate on myself or head to the woodline ten meters off the trail to do so. I chose the woodline.

I stripped my gear, secured my rifle and dropped my drawers as fast as I could. This was just another obstacle in my line of fire. Sgt. Walker had repeatedly told me to always remain calm, do not panic and breath deeply to remain focused. Panicking, he taught me, was symbolic of loosing. Breathing, remaining focused and continuing to march were my only options. I handled my business then found a few moist leaves to wipe with. I threw my gear back on, grabbed my rifle and head back to the tank trail. I didn’t time my detour and didn’t know how much time had passed.

The tank trail was empty. It wasn’t a straightforward 12 miles. There were curves and turns, streams to cross, hills to climb and valleys to descend. However, on my stretch of trail right here there was no one. Breathe. Focus. Put one foot in front of the other. As the thoughts of failure crept into the forefront of my mind, spreading like an out of control wild fire, I started to run.

I could see the group during certain long stretches of flat land but couldn’t gauge the distance between us. I would loose them on turns and couldn’t see the route to take so I followed the footprints and tracked my way. I lost all sense of time and distance. I felt cramps come and go. I focused on my breathing and my sweating. If I continued to sweat I wasn’t going into heat stroke. If I monitored my breathing I wouldn’t panic. So I began to sing my favorite Army cadence “hard work”. Singing as loud as I could, the panic demons were kept under wraps.

I started to pass “fall outs” on the side of the trail. A twisted ankle here, a vomiting soldier there: I just continued to run and sing. I couldn’t stop to help anyone or offer encouragement. I just ran and sang.

I passed a young Medic from my platoon. He had taken off his equipment, laid his rifle in the sand and was crying. As I passed him he started to explain himself to me but I waved him off. He could explain later.

I stopped at “water buffaloes” (mobile tanks holding drinkable water) every time I passed one to refill my canteens, tried to stay in the flat part of the trail to avoid injury and continued to run at my pace for as long as I could. When I couldn’t run any longer I walked briskly. There came a point when my arms burned so badly that I couldn’t feel my hands any longer and the rucksack on my back felt like I was carrying a large stove with the burners turned to broil.

The time came when i noticed I wasn’t sweating any longer and my canteens were dry. I was swallowing the vomit down to prevent loss of more fluids and my thoughts turned to death. Every step hurt and every breath burned. I was at my limit. I had one last turn to make and I would give up. I couldn’t muster any more will to through at this obstacle. It had beaten me. As i neared the turn I thought of Sgt. Walker. He didn’t tell me what to do when my body shuts down. Do I push through the misery until i blackout or do I think of self preservation and live to fight another day? As I made the turn I had my answer.

The men from my platoon met me at the turn. There was only 200 meters left to the finish line. I had no idea if i ran out of time or not, however i could walk 200 meters. No one could take that from me. They couldn’t carry me, relieve me of the load I was carrying or touch me in any physical way. The regulation forbid any assistance during the march. They just walked with me.

I crossed the finish line with one minute and forty three seconds left on the finish line timer. They rushed me to a gurney and put one large bore IV needle in each arm and I passed out.

When I woke up I was informed I would have to attend the ceremony in order to complete the test and be awarded the Badge. I had large infected blisters on the soles of my feet and both my ankles were abnormally swollen. I had vomited all over my uniform and still had an I.V. in me. However, I was going to that damn ceremony.

Of the original 20 medics we left Ft. Benning with only C.J., Pvt. Nichols, Pfc. Smith and myself were awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge on that day. In all, 73 soldiers had finished and passed the test, less than 15% of what we started with two days earlier.

As I crossed the stage to receive the E.F.M.B. from the Division Commander I saw Sgt. Walker, Sgt. G. and Cpl. Joe waiting for me. Subdued metallic awards penetrate the fabric of the uniform with two quarter inch long spears. They are secured to the fabric with two “safety backs” to prevent movement and injury. As the Commander pinned on my E.F.M.B., over my heart, he congratulated me and informed me my squad leader had the safety backs. I was to report to him immediately.

As i approached him, Sgt. Walker extended his hand to shake my hand. As I reached for his hand he grabbed me and spun me away from him. Sgt. G. and Cpl. Joe, each now facing me, punched my award, full strength, and drove those spears into my chest.

This ceremony can only be done by soldiers who have earned the E.F.M.B..

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