Things our military doesn’t have in the field that normal citizens take for granted
I had been married to my service member for 10 years before I realized that when they train in the field, they literally sleep on the ground. My husband sent me a picture of his sleeping area during a standard military training mission. It was his military sleeping sac and his bag of gear, surrounded by tall dry grass. There was no tent, no cot, no pillow. Just a sleeping bag on the ground, with cammie netting for shade. I asked him about it afterwards. “I thought the unit had tents for you all to sleep in?” He just stared at me and laughed. “The tents are for the COC (Combat Operations Center). Only the Army uses tents for the troops.”
How was I supposed to know?
I’m not sure what I imagined they were doing when they went to the field for military training. Obviously, I never joined him on a field training exercise. Driving around base, you sometimes see troops practicing in a training area. There are camouflage tents set up, lots of vehicles driving around, and large guns. I never gave much thought to the details. Until one day, when the Marine spouses and family members were given the opportunity to go out to the field and train like their husbands do. They call it Jane Wayne Day. It’s a Marine Corps tradition in infantry units. Before deployment, the wives get a chance to ‘switch places’ with their Marine. Some units allow them to wear the Marine’s gear, go to a rifle range, fire weapons, practice patrolling and clearing buildings, or eat an MRE. It’s an eye-opening chance to see, hear, smell, and taste the challenges of being an active duty military member.
I have written before about Jane Wayne Day, describing some of the fun tools the military uses. After our recent Jane Wayne Day, I had a different takeaway–it gives the spouses an insight into all the daily sacrifices their service member makes. I think some of these are worth sharing.
Here are all the comforts service members don’t have during military training:
Comfortable Clothes: You should have seen the women trying to figure out what to wear to the field for our Jane Wayne Day. It was in July, in Southern California. The organizers asked us to wear long pants, long sleeve shirts, plus the Marine flak jackets and kevlar helmets. These were mostly safety items. However, it was hot, and we were all convinced we might die. Yet we also realized that our men were required to wear all this gear, plus much more, with sleeves down, while training in the desert, with temperatures well over 100 degrees. It certainly gave us some perspective.
Bathrooms: When training on base, some ranges have Port-a-Johns set up that are (occasionally) maintained. However, some training areas have nothing. And during deployment, troops on the move or at forward bases don’t have the luxury of established bathhouses. They either dig a hole and bury their waste, or poop into a WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) bag that turns human waste into powder that can be safely carried around until properly disposed. Thankfully, no one made us use these during Jane Wayne Day!
Running Water: It may sound silly, but I didn’t realize how essential water was until we had been out in the field for a few hours. The unit provided large plastic containers full of water, but you needed your own canteen or water bottle to drink it. If you wanted to wash off your hands, you could use your drinking water… or just wipe them on your pants. Everything was already covered in dust anyway. An important part of any military mission is planning logistics so that troops never run out of water. Also, here’s a fun fact: when troops train in the field, they often don’t shower for a week or more. They use baby wipes for a quick ‘bath.’
Ice: At home, we don’t have air conditioning, so I often drink ice water to stay cool. In the field, there is no such thing. All the water is lukewarm, especially if it sits out in the sun. And you drink it anyway, because you’re thirsty. Hydration is an important part of Marine training. Even our kids know and use the phrase, “Hydrate or die.”
Fresh Meals: When training or deployed, troops receive Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) which are canned or dried foods with a shelf life of several years. The snacks can be eaten out of the package, but the main meal is heated using a little bit of water and the packaging provided. Typically, two or three MRE’s are issued per day of training. However, in wartime situations when the troops get ahead of their supply trains, an MRE can be made to last for a full day, or even longer.
Tents: As I learned, troops don’t get tents. They have a ‘sleeping system’ which is basically a sleeping bag with a little hood to protect the head and face. If it rains, they have a waterproof poncho liner to lay over them. If it’s cold, they wear an extra sweatshirt. They sleep fully clothed (typically) in their work cammies. It’s not like any camping I have ever done, which is probably why my Marine husband is so comfortable on our family vacation camping trips. After so many years in the field, he is basically a camping expert.
But you know what they always do have in the field? Coffee. And razors, so they can shave. Because heaven forbid a Marine not be clean-shaven! (Actually, they have to do it for their gas masks). So there you have it. Our military trains in some challenging traditions, because they are prepared to fight in challenging climates. Spending just a few hours in their training areas gave all the spouses huge doses of respect and appreciation.