Test of CourageOn the night of September 30th 1999, I was about to begin what would seem to be the longest night of my life. Weeks of physical, mental, and emotional training would climax and end after this final test. A test of endurance, teamwork, mental focus, and most of all courage was about to begin.
Thoughts raced through my head as I anxiously prepared myself. Will I remember everything I have been trained? Will my shipmates let me down’some had dreaded this night for weeks; others awaited its arrival like children on Christmas morning. I had a mixture of feelings, as I was about to begin what the Navy calls Battle Stations. Battle Stations is a fourteen-hour test of everything that had been taught in the previous thirteen weeks of boot camp. The most difficult part of Battle Stations is dealing with the sleep depravation accumulated over the previous weeks.
We were allowed two hours of sleep before the challenge that would “make or break” us. I can remember the dark barracks, lit only by red lights representing emergency procedures in a ship setting. The room seemed to have a very still, quiet feel like a storm was creeping near. My bunkmate Johnson and I polished our boots as we agreed that neither of us would sleep for the two hours we are given. Johnson and I had developed a close friendship over time and we motivated each other in every obstacle we faced. He was slightly taller than I, had a stalky frame and spoke with a thick East Coast accent that I often humorously imitated.
I laid in my bunk focusing on my body, and what will be expected from it tonight. By that time, I had been awake for several hours and lack of food caused fatigue to set in. Piercing alarm sirens and bright flashing lights interrupted my concentration; our excitingly eventful night had just begun. Within seven minutes my entire division was in full gear with tight seals on our gas masks and standing at attention in front of our bunks. Then something unexpected happened. A team of Ex-Navy Seal’s rushed into the barracks like a stampede of wild horses.
Their presence motivated us all as we began chanting Navy songs. Before I knew it we were barreling down the stairs of the barracks, or “Ship” as it is called in the Navy. We were greeted outside by one of the highest-ranking officers in the Navy. He was a short man, with a raspy voice and faultless military bearing. After his short speech of encouragement, we were off. I can remember that three-mile run to the obstacle course like it was yesterday.
October nights in Chicago can get very cold and that night was no exception. The run was dark, lit only by a few streetlights that had little effect due to the dense fog that hung in the air. The discouraging conditions wouldn’t hold us back. We were determined to finish. As we approached the obstacle course, one half of the division stopped as the others ran to the opposite end of the course.
After brief instructions from our trainer, we were ready to tackle the course. My shipmates and I felt unstoppable as we attacked the course with relentless determination. After repelling massive walls and crawling through wet sand and gravel, the skin on my hands and feet were rubbed raw and bleeding. I was tired and beaten but just as I thought it couldn’t get much worse, we came upon a cliff overlooking a small lake with a rescue raft in the middle. “This is where they separate the Sailors from the civilians!” our trainer shouted with a slight grin on his face.
The lake was approximately the length of a football field and our goal was to reach the other side together inside the raft. When I entered the icy cold water, air was sucked from my lungs. I struggled to keep my head above the surface as my gear filled with water, causing it to double in weight. I swam quickly, hoping to keep warm and prevent muscle cramping.
I finally reached the boat and almost collapsed once I was inside. I helped my shipmates into the inflated raft and we paddled to shore. After reaching dry land, the air caused my skin to undergo a burning sensation making me wish I were back in the freezing water. Once we had reached the end of the obstacle course and met the rest of the division, we were ready for the final mission. Our last event was a four-mile trek to the Graduation Hall where we would be handsomely rewarded.
Initially, a four-mile journey in wet clothes and cold air seemed impossible, even painful to think about. I hardly had any energy left, but was determined to keep going. We began our run singing “Anchors away,” the Navy’s most respected “fight” song. About a mile into the run I think we were all felling better. I can still recall the glorifying feeling of marching together into the sunrise, our wet boots stomping the pavement.
We marched into the Graduation Hall half asleep, but with our heads held high. I proudly accepted my “white’s” and “dress blue’s” from a Navy Officer who congratulated me and shook my hand. I can remember looking in his eye’s and saw acceptance, I had succeeded in the completion Battle Stations.