It’s an inevitability for every veteran once they’re out and making friends in the civilian world. Eventually, you’ll hear about one of your of new friend’s grandiose plan to go out into nature for the weekend to go camping with family and friends.
In my personal opinion, one of the weirdest questions civilians ask with the best of intentions is, “when you were in the Army, did you guys ever go camping?” This question is met with laughter — sorry, can’t help it.
Of course we went out into the middle of f*ckin’ nowhere and set up a camp, but it’s hard to describe the amount of suck that comes with being in the field without sounding like you’re conjuring up some kind of story to scare the civilians.
But, despite all the obvious drawbacks of being in the field, civilian camping just doesn’t hold a candle up against our experiences. They might have comfortable sleeping bags and marshmallows and heated blankets, but here’s where they can’t compete:
On the other hand, if they believe that it’s not going to rain in the field… they’re an idiot.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)
1. You only take what you need
It’s kind of hard to feel like you’re going out to test your survival skills when most civilian campers pack enough gear to qualify their tent as a three-star resort.
When you’re getting ready to go to the field, your platoon will give you a specific packing list… which will immediately get tossed aside in favor of bringing the essentials. You know someone’s got experience when they decide to scrap the four different versions of wet weather gear in favor of a single rain poncho to save a bit more room for more changes of uniform.
It may seem like busy work, but it’s actually very valuable for the next reason…
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jacob Skovo)
2. You’re doing something at all hours of the day
Shy of hunting or fishing trips, which are usually just called hunting or fishing trips, you’re not really doing much when you go camping. Yeah, you might go hiking during the day and sit by a bonfire, roasting marshmallows at night, but that’s about it.
In the field, you’re actually trying to accomplish something. Even if it’s something lame, like protecting an area from the fictional Atropian militia, at least you have an agenda that your platoon is sticking to.
You learn valuable things in the field, like creating an impromptu shelter, immediate casualty care, and how to clear a room using live ammunition. Only two of those skills are taught by the Boy Scouts.
(U.S. Army photo by Capt. Scott Walters, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division)
3. You actually learn things
While there are countless books and instructional videos on how to go out into the wilderness and become “one with nature.” Most people, however, opt to forego scavenging up some edible flora in favor of the vacuum-sealed trail mix in their pocket.
Troops, on the other hand, have their platoon sergeant, who is usually a wellspring of information on the subject of survival. They’re out to teach troops how to do things. You come back having learned something.
…the operative word here being “special.”
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Leynard Kyle Plazo)
4. You’re with your platoon
Civilians pick their camping buddies based almost entirely around who will be the most fun to have around for an entire weekend — which makes a whole lot of sense when the goal is to have a good time.
The platoon, however, is structured in a way that ensures everyone has a specific purpose for being there — whether it’s the platoon sergeant who leads the unit, the medic who takes care of any medical issues, or the privates who do most of the manual labor. Everyone’s useful in their own special way!
I’d still take this any day over roasting marshmallows outside of a cabin.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ammon W. Carter, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Combat Camera)
5. You’re objectively more of a badass
When civilians pack up their campsite and return to work the following Monday, their coworkers will usually respond to camping stories with an, “oh man, that sounds like fun! I should go next time!” They’ll regale friends with funny stories and re-tell some choice jokes.
Tell them about your time spent in the field and you’ll get a different response. How does getting stuck in the rain for an entire week, eating nothing but MREs and stale mermite eggs, getting lost in the middle of f*ckin’ nowhere for a few hours because our Lt. thought he saw the land nav marker, having to sleep in a half-shelter that was poorly made at 0400 out of a poncho, and getting bit and stung by god knows how many bugs sound to you? It might not have been the best of times, but your story will certainly turn some heads.