One Step at a Time

Filed under: — lana @ 5:14 pm

We live in a first world country. We have high-speed internet, every house (for the most part) has a flushing toilet, electricity is there all day every day, and life is for the most part easy. Now, some may disagree with me and tell me how hard their poor life is in the ghetto with their project housing and thug life, but most of those people I would like to dump on Haifa Street in Baghdad and remind them that they probably don’t want to get caught as they may lose their head, they are going to have massive quadraceps from squatting to use the bathroom, there is no internet and electricity is four hours a day whenever the lines haven’t been blown up. Good luck.

But this isn’t a dissertation on my irritation with people who complain their life is so hard in LA when they have never been to a country where waste runs down the middle of the road and a dead donkey is a cause to call an explosive disposal team. Instead, its a comment on fear.

Today we did drown-proofing. To those who say “Why do you need to train for water when you deploy to the desert,” I challenge them to get the door seat in a Blackhawk flying over Lake Thar-Thar when they have to make a turn. It’s almost as unnerving as Haifa Street.

Now I can’t get in the water these days, what with my Africa Toe still oozing and frightening small children, so I was the sidelines coach, having taken the class previously. Nothing more entertaining than watching a warrant officer wearing a full uniform plus a rucksack and a combat helmet drag a commissioned officer across a pool, paying little attention to the fact that the commissioned officer can’t seem to convince the warrant officer that his face is supposed to stay above water. I was coaching one of my team members who never learned to swim, and I never realized how hard it is to teach someone to overcome a fear. No matter what technology we have, what resources are available, if you are in the water, none of the flushing toilets in the world can help you, you have to help yourself.

The purpose of the class is to show soldiers that there are ways to survive with your equipment if you find yourself in a situation where you overturn a HMMWV, get dumped from a helicopter, or perhaps wade to the deep end of the waste canal. A rucksack will float. Most types of combat helmet will float. A human being will float, given the proper circumstances and training. And if you are having particular trouble, the pants of a uniform end up making an adequate life vest if you know how to do it properly.

The purpose of my lesson was to show someone that putting her face in the water did not mean that she was going to drown. Forget the rucksack. Forget the helmet. Lay on your back, hold onto my hand over by the wall, and breathe normally. Every time the water touched her chin, her feet would hit the bottom as she proclaimed she was sinking and that she was just not naturally bouyant. The fear was not of drowning, the fear was simply that once her face went under she would not find the surface again. Watching someone with a fear so pronounced she would not put her face into the water even with her feet solidly on the floor was a learning experience for everyone involved. For all the technology, for all the things that we have, there are still basic instincts the world over that will not be aided by a modem connection or the new mixed drink at Outback (which, for a quick note, is very tasty).

Though her confidence grew over the course of the hour and a half we spent at the shallow end of the pool, she never did get her face completely under. She knows how to use her rucksack to float, she used a kickboard for the first time and didn’t drown, and her pants made an excellent life vest. If she fell out of the blackhawk, she would be able to survive as long as she kept her head. I think I might have learned more from the experience than she did, about fear, persistence, and the ability to trust natural laws.

And I learned that I’m much happier sitting typing about it than I am holding onto a rucksack in the middle of an ocean, and that will probably never change.

1 Comment »

  1. Be safe.

    Comment by Mary — 2/20/2006 @ 9:05 pm

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