Veterans Day: The Life of an Infantryman

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Briggs Army

Having served in the United States Army from 1981 to 1984, I thought it a privilege when I was asked by Active Minds staff to write a blog concerning Veterans Day. Each year November 11th is Veterans Day, an official United States federal holiday.

This day honors those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces and also coincides with other holidays including Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world, and also marks the anniversary of the end of World War I.

So, what’s military life like?  As an infantryman, here’s a story about a training mission I was on.  It was September of 1983 and I was stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington.  My unit was chosen to go to Panama and attend Jungle Warfare School.  We flew by military plane to Panama and arrived at Fort Sherman to begin our training.

Day one was spent acclimating to the heat and humidity (just one day).  Day two we were in the jungle to begin our training.  This jungle is what they call “triple canopy,” meaning extremely abundant in flora life.  When it rained, it would take several minutes after hitting the tops of the trees until the water would finally drip to the ground.  The sunlight was cast out most of the time, hidden by jungle foliage.

Our first night did not go well.  I had no idea how dark a place could actually get.  In many places no amount of light penetrated the jungle. It was decided that we would stop and rest, resuming at daylight.  I had been advised of many of the jungles inhabitants, including vampire bats.  I was told they would land a few feet from you, crawl and find and area to bite you. The instructor advised us that because vampire bats come out at night, their victims are usually asleep at the time of the attack. The bats have a special chemical in their saliva. It numbs the victim’s skin.

That way, they can sink their teeth in without waking the victim. The bats use a second chemical to keep the blood from drying up while they eat.  The bats make an incision with their teeth and then drink the droplets of blood that emerge. 

I sat down with my back against a tree, placed my rifle between my bent knees and used the upward pointing barrel as a tent post to hold my mosquito netting away from my body.  I fell asleep rather quickly.  Sometime during the night I awoke and discovered my left hand was numb.  My first thought was a bat had bitten me!

Even though it was a training exercise, noise and light (flashlights) were to be kept to an extreme minimum.  The only thing I could do was to feel for bite marks/blood with my right hand.  I felt nothing, but my left hand was still asleep.  I kept pondering what diseases I might have gotten from the bite, but eventually fell asleep for a bit longer. When daylight finally came and I was able to see my hand, there was no indication of a mark.  I was not bitten!  What had happened was I had put myself in such a position trying to make sure I would not be bitten that my hand had fallen asleep.  What a night!

Military service can be a great career.  It requires discipline, commitment, courage, and integrity.  Next time you see a service member remember, they are doing what most folks cannot or do not wish to do.  Recognize them and thank them for all they are doing.  They truly keep us safe while allowing us to maintain our quality of life and freedom.