From MRAPs to Minivans: An Infantryman’s Guide to Family Road Trips
By Paul J. O’Leary
If you’ve been in the military anytime during the Global War on Terror, then you’ve experienced the magic that is convoy operations. Long hours on hot, desolate roads praying you don’t encounter an IED and kind of hoping some insurgent takes a shot at you with his shitty AK-47 so you can send him virgin shopping. Chugging Rip-its until you can’t see straight.
Recently, I crossed America twice – from Florida to California and back. Not just any road trip, but two eight-day road trips with my wife, my teenaged son, a middle schooler, a two-year-old, and a French Bulldog. I’ve been on eight-day convoys in Iraq and eight-day road trips with my family. I am not sure which are more difficult.
That’s not true. The family road trips are WAY more difficult. But I found a way to adapt and overcome.
Early on, I realized there were many skills I learned as an Infantryman conducting convoy operations that translated very well to this family mega-adventure. Sort of like the Great Santini way, but with more flair and style.
My purpose here is to share with you, the loyal readers, some of the lessons I learned along the way.
Preventative Maintenance: The dreaded PMCS. Simply put, I treated the driveway of my house and the parking lot of the hotel as a motor pool and made the maintenance magic happen. My 17-year-old was responsible for checking oil, radiator fluid, and fan belts while his younger brother took care of tire pressure and clearing out trash. I supervised.
Guess what? Did we break down or run out of gas? Hell no.
Sensitive Items Checks: Gone are the days when kids traveled with a couple of Barbies or G.I. Joes, a football, and a stack of comic books or Tiger Beat magazines. Today, every kid has a tablet of some sort, a laptop, a smartphone, an MP3 player, and/or whatever the hell else these crazy kids are into. And that stuff is all expensive.
We lost one charging cable on the second day of the road trip, but once I made all the kids begin dummy cording their sensitive items with 550 cord, we didn’t have any more issues (I’m not an animal…I let them choose their favorite colors of 550 cord).
Safety: Some articles discussing safety will tell you a series of mundane things like don’t text and drive and avoid alcohol and firearms together. Blah, blah, blah. Read the title of the article: The INFANTRYMAN’S GUIDE.
You guessed it. My wife and kids strapped on their reflective belts when it was dark. No exceptions! Hell, a Benchmade knife and a little 100-mile an hour tape and my two-year-old had a custom fitted reflective belt!
They weren’t too happy with the two-hour PowerPoint brief and route briefs I conducted in the mornings, but an ounce of preparation and all that. Safety is no accident, am I right?
Counseling: Family members are like subordinates; they’re only as good as the counselings you’ve provided them. Initial counseling, developmental counselings, and the occasional event-based counseling. The system works, people, so use it at home, too.
Kids today would be a whole lot less entitled if they had a stack of counseling statements to guide them.
Rehearsals: “A good rehearsal is better than a great plan.”
What is the secret to a successful military operation? A solid rehearsal. The same principle applies to family road trips. We rehearsed several things prior to embarking on this odyssey, but nothing was more important than nightly stops. On a family road trip, checking into the hotel and getting to bed is basically the equivalent to actions on the objective.
My wife and I drilled the kids on getting out of the car, securing their bags, and moving to the hotel room in an orderly manner. After a few dozen iterations of loading and unloading the car in the driveway of our home, the same process in roadside hotels went as smoothly as they could.
PT: For years now, America has been suffering an epidemic of obesity and a dire lack of physical fitness. This is particularly problematic with young people who increasingly spend more time playing video games than running around outside. Not in this family.
Just because we’re on a road trip doesn’t mean we let go of standards. How do you start the day in a hotel off I-10 in Mississippi? Simple. Change into your PTs, form up in the parking lot, and do a little PT. A few push-ups, squats, and crunches before going on a short run? That’s money!
My 12-year-old can belt out some cadence, too!
In conclusion, there are a number of skills we have learned during this last decade and a half of warfare. Many of these skills and practices can applied to family activities like road trips and vacations. In future articles, I will discuss writing family OP Orders, implementing homework SOPs, and SHARP briefings for teenagers.