Left, right, left, right; a cadence I can’t escape, but that has also become somewhat comfortable. At least I know what to expect.
We are in the final days of my military training, the final march of the final exercise as a matter of fact. The past week meant 5 hours of sleep, marching more kilometers than I thought existed and, as far as I can tell, climbing every hill in The Netherlands.
I had always thought my home country was flat as a pancake. Boy was I wrong. But after this climb, excuse the pun, it’ll all be downhill from there…
It was this exercise and the previous ten weeks at the Royal Military Academy in Breda that have taught me to love the outdoors. But before we get into that, let’s start from the beginning. Because I’m not a regular soldier, and joining the army wasn’t an obvious choice for me.
The following years I learned about writing, video and audio production and the art of asking critical questions (even when there was nothing to be critical about). But when one day I interviewed an Army Lieutenant Colonel about an exercise in my home town, I got reacquainted with an old obsession: the military.
You see, my grandfather was a fiercely proud enlisted Marine. And following in his footsteps was always in the back of my mind. Though there was something mentally stopping me. Perhaps the eternal budget cuts on Defense, the prospect of a dangerous deployment or having to stop playing videogames, get outside and be active. If only there was a way to combine journalism and the military.
One Monday morning in my third year of journalism school it all clicked. My class was introduced to the ‘Defensiekrant’ a newspaper written by military editors, for soldiers, about the military. My dream job. And sure enough, I managed to do my fourth year internship with the Dutch Defense Media Centre.
I sailed the Atlantic Ocean on a frigate while testing state of the art radar equipment and intercepting Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, I flew with an Air-To-Air refueling mission for F-16 fighter jets and joined 11 Marines that protected a merchant vessel from pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia. After all these adventures I was awarded an A- and a job.
Green Suits Me
So after three days of getting used to dressing in green, marching sort of straight and saluting all the time; this couch potato who had never slept outside would go into the woods for five days straight. I would have to eat off rations, sleep in a tent, march, run and exercise. At this stage I was downright scared.
I think now is a good time to explain what military sleeping accommodation in the field looks like.
The top layer consists of two poncho’s stuck together and pitched up to knee hight. Inside this ‘tent’ you have what’s called a BiFi-bag, named after the sausages vacuum-packed in a plastic wrapper. Inside that is your sleeping bag. Feels like home already. Oh, and that’s not all goes into the tent. No, its you, your buddy and both your 25 kg rucksacks.But it were the lessons on using a compass or discovering how to measure the distance you had traveled by counting your steps that stuck with me most. For the first time, I payed proper attention to the world around me. I heard birds singing, the ruffle of an animal in the bushes, a Sergeant Major shouting at me for not moving quick enough; we are still in training after all.
As one fellow Cadet hits the deck, another winds up in the guardrail in a position that can only be described as a capsized tortoise. I meanwhile notice the sun rising and shining an amazing morning glow over a grain field next to us. It is at this moment that A. I conclude my new love is the outdoors and B. I start questioning my sanity for not feeling any pain or fatigue any more. As I turn my head and see the crest of the hill, I also see the distinct rear end of a 4 ton truck, ready to load us up and drive us back home. It’s done.
Exactly four weeks after this final march, still proud as a peacock for being promoted to Lieutenant, I strap on another rucksack. This time not green camouflage, but black with orange straps. Less tactical, more comfortable. I had found a buddy crazy enough to drive up to Norway with me for three weeks of road tripping and hiking. Likely the first of many similar adventures.
And then all of a sudden I found myself doing it all again in Norway, this time just for fun.