I woke up, my teeth chattering, and my body ice cold. I lay there shivering, and all I could think of was those poor bastards at the Battle of Bulge.
But I was in the lap of luxary compared to them. I had a tent, a cot, and a sleeping bag.
But my misery was kind of self inflicted. I knew about sleeping in the cold, and I’d ignored most of the rules concerning it.
We were on REFORGER 89, and we were out in the field. It had snowed, and the snow was heavy. Temperatures went from comfortable to well below freezing in a day.
But the first two days of the exercise had been easy for us.
Sgt. Greg Bradley’s team and mine had ran Traffic Control Posts. In the evening we drove back to Ansbach and spent the night in our nice toasty beds. We’d join up with the rest of the platoon on the evening of the third day. Since we’d be arriving late, they assured us they’d set up our tents for us.
We pulled in and the sun had already set, and the stars were starting to fill the sky.
Everyone else had their tents set up, and their stoves going. But nothing had been set up for us. We had to set up our own tents. Between the six of us, we scrapped out snow, and in the dark and as the temperatures dropped below freezing, we got the tents set up.
Then we went to set up the stoves. We’d loaded up seven stoves into the trailers. Now there were six.
Someone had stolen one of our stoves.
So, nice guys that Greg and I were (translation, NCOs who put the welfare of the troops above our own. Sounds better than suckers!) told the privates to take the stove.
That left Greg, Ed Fiegel, our senior specialist, and I in a tent with no stove. Not a problem. We had sleeping bags that were supposed to keep us toasty warm at forty below.
So I put up my cot, rolled the sleeping bag over it, and got ready to settle down.
Now I knew from long experience that what you want in a sleeping bag is a bed sheet to wrap around yourself. But I didn’t do that. This wasn’t my first rodeo in this kind of weather. I knew about sleeping in ice cold weather. I’d done it.
Now, I ignored years of experience in the cold, and instead, I got into the sleeping bag, zipped up, and went to sleep almost instantly.
I woke up and haven’t a clue how long I’d been asleep. All I knew was that I was cold as a snake on New Years Day in the Arctic. Now, I’d brought a bed sheet with me, and I put it where I could reach out and grab it.
But I didn’t want to open the bag and loose what little warmth I had. If it was cold in here, what must it be like outside?
I lay there for several seconds, my teeth chattering and ice going up and down my legs and arms. I tried adjusting myself to keep more heat. That didn’t work.
And these bags were supposed to keep you warm at 40 below?
Sure I thought. Maybe when it was new. Jesus, my toes are like ice.
And I just knew if I didn’t do something, I was going to freeze to death.
After minutes that seemed like hours spent arguing with myself, I unzipped the sleeping bag, and reached out for the sheet. Quickly I pulled it in, zipped back up, and after numerous contractions, rolls, and assorted acrobatics, got the sheet around myself.
Now, I slept. Not comfortably, but I slept.
The next morning was humorous. We rolled out.
Greg rolls out of his bag, lights a cigarette and says, “That wasn’t so bad.”
It wasn’t bad if you’re three days dead. I didn’t say anything, letting Fiegal, the only non-NCO to complain and question what Greg’s definition of “bad” was.
After Fiegel left to go shave, Greg looks at me, and says, “Man, we got to get a stove. I froze my <insert your choice of body part here> off last night.”
So after getting up and ready, we made it our mission in life to try to find a stove. It was a quest worthy of Indiana Jones, but when the sun went down, we had no stove.
This night was going to be different though.
Instead of being lazy, I spent several minutes getting ready for the night. First, I took my duffle bag and ruck and pushed them under the cot. Then I took my tent half, and draped it over the cot. Folding it up like a mat, I then put the wool blanket on top of that. I then spent several minutes fastening my poncho to the outside of my sleeping bag.
Finally, I put the uniform I was going to wear the next day into the sleeping bag, and tossed by t-shirt and socks down at the bottom of the bag to help keep my feet warm. Last but not least, in went the sheet.
I got in, zipped up, and slept toasty warm that night.
The next day, we found a stove. Then our only worry was someone stealing our can of fuel for it during the night. That was easily fixed by locking a long chain to it, and then tying the other end of the chain to Ed’s bed. If they wanted to steal our means of keeping ourselves warm, they were going to take Ed with it.
Of course a warm wind came in, melted all the snow, and made things tolerable at this point.
The Bible has this to say about not doing work that will help you out. “The soul of the lazy man desires and has nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (Proverb 13:4 KJV).
I suppose if it were written after that first night in REFORGER, it would have said something like “Taking a few extra minutes to make your bed properly will keep you warm all night long.”
Of course when I told my wife the story, she looks at me with those beautiful brown eyes and said, “Baby, wouldn’t it have been easier to have spent those nights in the tent with the privates?”
And all I could say was, “Why didn’t I think of that!”