I am a religious man, who fails to live up to his ideals every day. I’m working on it.
This happened in the Kuwaiti desert. It’s a story I’ve told to close friends and family.
Here it is for the rest of you.
After a week long exercise in the desert, the Udairi Range for those in the know, we had just finished the culminating event. The ODAs had performed a hit on a quarry and we were all standing around in the dark.
We were expecting the word when it came down. “You’ve been compromised, your vehicles are disabled. Here are the grids for your extraction point and for the route you’re to take to get there.”
My team leader, Mitchell, tapped in the first grid coordinate as fast as he could and we punched out into the night.
I had volunteered to carry the satellite radio. A little bit smaller than a kitchen drawer, it was very dense and heavy. I had my ruck built up already though, with a pocket for the radio close to my back and strapped in high.
The night was cold, even colder than was typical for a desert in Kuwait, the sky clear. Once we were about a kilometer out into the desert we stopped and performed a SLLS halt. (Stop, Look, Listen, Smell, prounounced ‘sills’) The purpose of such a halt is to get a feel for the area. To try and determine what is normal. To discover if you are alone.
All was well. Once the SLLS was complete, while the other five of us pulled security, Mitchell punched in the rest of the coordinates for our route. I heard him swear softly. We’d been given the longest route of anyone participating in the exercise. 47 kilometers. We had until the next night to get to our extraction point and traveling during the day was verboten.
I was worried. It had only been a klik or so, but I was already feeling the weight. I suspected that I might have over-estimated how many pounds I could carry. But what was I going to do? Ask someone else to do it? Not a chance.
We stood up and went on, curving out into the desert along the prescribed route. I pounded along, keeping up as best I could. Hot spots were developing on my feet.
A few hours later I was even more worried about my situation. I was keeping up alright but I was having trouble keeping my balance through the alternating bands of sand, softball sized rocks, and gravel. I knew that if I started falling it would be the end. I would have disgraced myself and my team.
Desperation was a growing pressure in my chest.
I muttered a prayer, asking God for help of some sort. It came to my mind that I should ask for a walking stick. I grinned to myself. Why not? If I was asking for help from a divine being, why not a walking stick in the middle of the most barren landscape I had ever seen?
It got worse. Clouds rolled in, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped.
Through the dust ahead of me I picked out a fenceline. I grimaced and steeled myself for the ordeal of either climbing over it with my pack on, if it was low, or taking the bloody thing off and putting it back on again on the other side. Neither prospect thrilled me.
I wondered, though, if one of the posts might not be persuaded to come loose and be pressed into service as that walking stick I’d been asking for. I’d seen fences in kuwait, some of the posts were made from lengths of PVC, others metal, others lengths of rattan. I was hoping for rattan.
As we got closer to the fence I realized it wasn’t a fence. There was only the one post. The men ahead of me walked on, past whatever it was sticking out of the sand.
I stopped, sweating there in the dark, and stared. It was the bottom half of a HMMV’s radio antenna. The half with the big brass threaded nut on the end. It stood there in the sand, heavy brass end down. It wasn’t even partially buried, it was balanced upright. I extended a finger and tapped it. It fell over.
I looked up and all around. The other men were dark hunchbacked shadows moving through the night.
I squatted down just far enough to snag the antenna and picked it up. Grasping it by the heavy brass end, tip on the ground, it reached to just above my waist. A perfect walking stick.
I muttered a brief prayer of incredulous thanks and moved on through the desert, aided by my walking stick. The wind and the weather got worse.
In the end we made good time and were the second of seven elements to reach the extraction point. I had blisters that covered the entire heel and ball of my foot. I walked very daintily for days after that exercise.
The “walking stick” is still in my equipment room.