On Thanksgiving we gather with family and friends to enjoy food and fellowship. The purpose, however, is to reflect on what we have and to be thankful. After spending time in the military and experiencing the associated hardships, appreciation for the simple things in life takes a more prominent role. This is particularly true for those who spent a lot of time in the field, or deployed to third world countries, or have experienced combat.
Here are 5 things a grunt is thankful for:
1. Climate control
Whether going to the field or going to war, it seems Uncle Sam can only send you to the extremes of heat or cold. Sometimes it is the oppressive, dry, heat of the desert. Other times it’s the steamy, humid, strength-sapping heat of the jungle. There’s the freezing temperatures accentuated by a hard wind, then the slightly chilly which soon becomes hypothermic dangerous because of the wet conditions. These circumstances inevitably occur on day one of a 10 day field op, or at the beginning of a long deployment. Your snivel gear will only get you so far. You develop a mental and emotional toughness to compensate for a failing physical toughness. Once you are home or out of uniform things like a heater, a fan, or an air conditioner are never taken for granted. Looking out the window on a cold, rainy day while cocooned in your home, remembering those times laying outside in the prone; you are simply grateful for today.
2. Food and drink
Military rations have come far since the days of C-Rations, but there are still limitations. After a long, hard day of training you finally come back to your pack. It’s past midnight and your stomach is empty. Before catching four hours of sleep on an isomat (a closed-cell foam sleeping pad) with a flak jacket for a pillow, you reach into your pack for some dinner. An audible sigh can be heard as you begin munching on a piece of MRE Snack Wheat Bread, which tastes exactly like the foam cushion from a thrift store couch. You wash it down with green canteen of hot water before curling up to sleep, cradling your rifle. These memories burn deep. Ah, but back in the world…you have a bowl of ice cream before bed, or make a burger run out in town…because you are hungry, and because you can! You wake up thirsty in the middle of the night and take along swig of cold orange juice before shuffling back to a warm, cozy bed. Living the dream.
3. Indoor plumbing
This cannot be overstated. Hot water on demand, a shower, a sink, and a toilet are absolute luxuries most people take for granted. Days of digging a hole, or sitting in a porta-john on a 100 degree day are not missed. The months of living in an Iraqi desert where the fine dust is always on your hands, never able to truly wash them are miserable. Weeks of no bathing, save the occasional baby wipe rub down and talcum powder dusting, is awful. Feet take on a zombie-flesh appearance. Once you are back to a normal life you can take a shower at the beginning AND the end of your day. When you use the bathroom you are alone, have an exhaust fan, and can properly wash your hands. When you wake up in the middle of the night you no longer have to put on your boots, grab your rifle and walk a hundred yards to use the bathroom. These are everyday functions most people take for granted, but I assure you the grunt does not.
4. No guard, watch or patrol
Once the uniform comes off and you can live the quiet suburban life, few things are better than going to bed at night. You have to get up in the morning to be a responsible adult and productive citizen, but you don’t have to go on patrol in the middle of the night! You don’t have to walk the lines and check post to make sure the sentries are alert. You don’t have to pull a shift on watch listening to radio chatter, scanning screens, looking for enemy activity; ever alert and vigilant. You can now sleep with your head on a pillow, under clean sheets, with a fan on, after having a snack. In the morning you wake on your own terms and shuffle to make a fresh cup of coffee, easing into the day. This is the good life.
It seems no matter where the grunt is sent, in a training area or a combat zone, there’s nowhere to sit. The grunt sits on his pack, sits on his helmet, or sits on the ground. Sometimes he leans his back on another grunt like Forrest Gump and Bubba in the rain. If he wants to put his feet up he lays on the ground and elevates his legs on his pack for a few minutes before hearing “saddle up!” Once all this Spartan living is in the rear view mirror the grunt can stretch out on the couch with a pillow and his poncho liner. He can kick back in a recliner with a cold drink and a remote control. He can sit in a chair at a kitchen table and eat a meal off a plate like a human being. Again, these are small things, simple things, but absolute luxuries that are never taken for granted.
This Thanksgiving, while we appreciate freedom, family, friends, health, opportunity, and a measure of prosperity, may the grunt serve as a reminder: Appreciate the simple things, don’t take them for granted, and try to complain less in life. The 5 things the grunt is thankful for are things for which we should all be grateful.