Another Man’s Misery…
By Kelly Crigger
When I walked into the Camp Rudder barracks, I only had two things on my mind…my last MRE and a bunk. Out of nowhere a toothy douche with birth control glasses and Ranger panties named LeDonne stood to shake my hand way more aggressively than any heterosexual man should. I dropped my duffel on the bunk next to his, tired but hopeful that in only two short weeks I would achieve my ultimate goal…the vaunted Ranger tab. The last thing I needed was a friend.
But LeDonne was a good dude, which is a golden recommendation in the Army. All someone has to say is “that guy is a good dude” and you know right away he’s got your back without question. If you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, a guy like LeDonne will save your ass before you roll to your rifle and blow out your brains.
But this was just Ranger school. It was Florida and our lives weren’t on the line. All we wanted was our miserable fucking tab to advance our careers and I digress from the lesson. The swamps are murky, dark and deep, and there were miles to go before we could sleep. We trudged on the way the walking dead does. One foot in front of the other. Dammit stumps – young cypress trees just below the surface of the waterline – were hell at first, but became nothing more than nuisances after the thighs ceased to register pain.
But worse than the stumps was the scent of peanut butter. It lingered like the failure of bad sex. Smells and sounds carry in a swamp and someone tearing open a peanut butter packet, even hundreds of yards away at the rear of a 30-man patrol, is like an EMP blast. We all took a moment to cock our heads back and admire it. If you’ve never been there, you’ll never be there, and won’t get it. When you’re starving, even the faint smell of peanut butter is more heartbreaking than losing the World Series in game 7.
Suddenly a moan. “Aaargh,” echoed across the Spanish moss, aching muscles, and stagnant water. Then another. “Uuughh.” came right behind it.
Someone’s being a bitch I thought. Can’t take it.
The stink of weakness grew and with each whine, my resolve hardened. I sloshed through the North Florida swamps, water up to my waist and leaches slowly finding their way to my scrotum while some fuck in the back of the patrol not only failed to embrace the suck, but did what no Ranger ever did…complained about it.
“God dammit!” this sheep cried out. “Mother fucker!”
Finally, I turned and saw LeDonne, his giant toothy smile and BCGs unmistakable in the moonlight just feet behind me. He stepped through two large stumps and smiled like I’ve never seen anyone smile. “It’s Tiny,” he said. “He’s fucking crying!”
I looked behind LeDonne and saw a Ranger named Tiny trying to make his way between two trees, crying openly as no man ever should. “Fuck this bullshit! I quit!” he declared, stopping and tossing his ruck into the depths of the swamp, cussing out life itself and threatening his own further existence in the world.
To be fair, Tiny was carrying the .50 caliber machine gun T&E unit on top of his ruck, which kept catching on cypress vines, a severe burden for sure. But nothing…and I mean nothing…should ever make a man cry the bitch tears that spewed from Tiny’s eyes. Especially in the final phase of the US Army Ranger school!
Tiny’s misery that night taught me something…another man’s misery is my strength. We’d been in the swamps sucking up the shit for a gazillion hours at that point and everyone was smoked. Quitting crosses every man’s mind at some point, but the strong shoo it away like a pesky fly. It was bad, but it wasn’t so bad that I would quit or cry like Tiny did. The second I saw him freaking out and LeDonne’s smiling face, I knew two things…I’m way stronger than that shitbag and LeDonne would be a friend for life.
To do this day, both are true.