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Steve Hansen Lessons come from all quarters in military training

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Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 12:00 am

When I was in the Army, I took a course called "Escape and Evasion." It was designed to teach soldiers how to escape and survive — if captured by the enemy.

Fort Benning, Ga., was a hard enough place to exist in the summertime. Its gnats, fireflies and mosquitoes made sure no one was ever alone. Its humidity made hygienic showers a rather meaningless activity.

One evening, as dusk settled on the scene, a veteran war-worn Green Beret was ordered by a major to begin his lecture. His first instructional demonstration was decapitating a rabbit and mumbling something about "living off the land." Most of the troops were shocked and horrified by the needless Easter Bunny sacrifice. We began to wonder about the meaning of the act: Was it to show how heartless one must be to survive under war conditions, or was it simply to demonstrate the callousness of the venerable veteran?

The ghoulish sergeant continued: "If you guys don't remember anything else today, remember this: If captured, the sooner you escape, the better chance you have of being successful."

I took his words to heart. The cadre lined us up, and we began our march toward the wilderness. The sun had set, but there was no change in the hot humid temperature. As we came around a corner, some of us saw an opportunity and bolted for the snake-infested woods. The sergeant was yelling in the distance: "Not now, you @#% idiots! Wait until we get to the release point!"

We ignored his orders and continued on. I also remembered what he said about a beacon: "If you get lost, follow that light. It will lead you to the finish point." Soon, the other students, who had escaped with me, disappeared, and I was alone.

"Piece of cake," was my thought as I continued deeper into the forest. The next thing I knew, flashes of light were coming my way. Troops were yelling, as they advanced their night attack. I had wandered into another military exercise — completely foreign to my own! Fortunately, they were firing blanks.

One stopped and asked, "What are you doing here?" I told him my mission and asked if he knew where the home base was for E and E.

"Beats me," he said and ran off into the darkness.

I couldn't be off course. After all, the beacon was still in view. After 90 minutes, I came to a road. Soon, a car happened by, and I did what any escaped prisoner would do: I stuck out my thumb for a ride. A sergeant rolled down his window. "Can I help you, lieutenant?" he asked. I told him my story. He replied: "Hey, no problem. I'll take you right to those guys."

After a few miles, I got out of the car and charged up the hill to the finish line. There, in his tailored fatigues, was the blood and guts grizzled warrior — ready to greet me. I was the first student to arrive.

"How did you get here so quickly?" he asked. (I put on a fake panting act for effect.) "No sweat, Sergeant," I replied. "Just followed your directions." With a puzzled look, he asked me to sit on the bench.

As the other troops staggered in, one by one, he and his cadre were ready. They began their simulated torture with over-zealous exercises, wrathful waterworks and other unpleasant activities. I simply got to lean back and watch the show. It was my reward for being the first to finish the freakish follies.

As I rested my derrière, I wondered if whacking a little innocent bunny had blindsided the old warrior's intuition? How could a shave-tail lieutenant, such as myself, have pulled the wool over his eyes so easily? I also thought about the advantages of not following orders and using one's own judgment. It certainly worked that day.

Yes, I learned a lot from my military experiences — but it was not always what was printed in the field manuals.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer and satirist.

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