When we’re not sick, we forget the aches, the drowsiness, the struggle to have control over our faculties.
I think I am talking about what it will be like in the next week during in-camp.
No matter how much I prepare myself mentally for the training, it never seems adequate for the gradual shock of being knee deep in mud, baked in the sun under the kevlar helmet that now collects evaporated sweat on its underside, buzzed by a hundred mosquitoes and stung by ants just as stunned to find your limb isn’t a plant. You can talk about it to death. But the shock comes from having to stay that way, assaulted by the heat, the itch and the dampness for hour after debilitating hour.
Then comes night. Your eyes struggle to adjust. Everything is a blur and fumble. They give you night vision devices which only shows everything up as green in colour, and gives you motion sickness. The mosquitoes seem to multiply exponentially. The volume of their buzzing increases several hundred decibels it seems. The ground is damp when you sit on it, and you are still sweating. Worse, your uniform begins to stink as bacteria grows on the fabric. Three more nights to go.
Every single square inch of your body is irritated. You gradually become aware of the immense acreage of your skin. A few reddish welts appear on of all places, your knuckles. The goddamned mosquitoes really know where to sting where it irritates most. Knuckles, between fingers, ears, middle of your back. You’d put more repellent on if not for the fact it keeps getting washed off by your own sweat and the chafing that is already turning your skin red-raw.
You tell yourself you’d love nature if only nature loved you more.
Your nose, if you were fortunate enough not to have a cold or flu, is assaulted by the plethora of different smells. First up, your stinking uniform. That unmistakable sourish smell. Then, repellent. Then, the mud. Then, the sourish smell of the soldier next to you. You try to block everything out, but you can’t, and you can’t sleep because of that. They tell you to sleep, because there’s a mission in two hours, and you’re desperate to sleep, but can’t…
A few loud buzzes by mosquitoes looking for the next best place to sting after scoring all your knuckles, two ears, eyelids and lips, and you’re just putting down your arm from waving ineffectively at them when a whisper goes up “wake up wake up, get ready”. There’s a few muffled grunts in reply, and some soldiers in your section fall back to sleep, but their mates rustle them up again. You stand up and pick up your weapons and gear as quietly as possible, but nevertheless clanging every possible thing against every possible hard surface, prompting another whisper from the dark “shhhh. quiet”.
You listen half asleep to instructions and then excuse yourself to stumble several meters from the group to take a leak. You will your urine to pass quickly, so as to minimize the chances of any insect invading the insides of your pants. You stare at the dark to make sure you have been pissing downhill too. And of course, you excuse yourself just before passing urine, to make sure any slumbering spirit has vacated the area just in front of you.
The next few hours you trudge quickly with your tactical team, hoping the guy leading knows where he’s going. Your back aches to high heaven, your smell has turned a different kind of sour, you are hungry and the welts on your body are swelling as your pores open up again.
You walk for what seems like many hours. You see the dim blue light of dawn. That pause in the weather just before the sun rises. It may rain or it may shine. Either way, there is a strange morning breeze. You feel refreshed. It takes a bit of the sour smell off. The men in front of you suddenly make frantic hand signals. A thumbs down signal followed by a flurry of hand signals. Enemy in front. 100 metres. Entrenched. GPMG. Section two left, section three right, section one stay with me. You are awake now.
There is a fizzing sound and a sudden smell of burning cord. You are more awake now, because in 4 seconds a flash bang grenade (thunderflash) explodes at your feet. You and your mates are pushed instinctively into action. Thumbs flick switch from safety to semi on the rifles and you raise your weapons, point and shoot three round bursts at where you think the enemy is, because you haven’t seen them yet. Someone sees them and yells directions. The battle starts and ends about ten minutes later. You are exhausted, thirsty, but very awake. You smell burnt gunpowder all over, and it’s still coming from your weapon. It is a comforting smell. If it’s raining, you like the warmth of your rifle. If it’s dry, you like the smell.
You get a bit of a rest over the ‘enemies dead bodies’ while the support team comes and patches the injured up, counts the dead and replenishes water. You check yourself and discover you’ve torn a trouser leg and your knee is bleeding and your knuckles are cut up. You pour a bit of water over your wounds and joke about it to the guy next to you who seems to be in worse shape, so you shut up. You are asked to ‘stand down’ after half an hour, and you finally take off your helmet, drink a whole bottle of water and fumble through your backpack looking for something to eat. The supply train comes and distributes more ammunition and food and the next hour is spent reloading bullets into magazines and waiting for further orders. By now, the sun is up and angrily drying up your sweat, matting your hair and hardening your uniform. If it’s raining, the drops pelt your skin through your uniform and you feel as if your underwear has shrunk two sizes.
And you have to do it all over again for the next three days.