Cold water. That’s what many oceans have. Cold water.
It was either my first or second Annual Training with Uncle Sam and my brother Marines. We were on the West Coast of the United States and everything we were doing was aquatic related. This may even have been the same two-week training where my unit marched through a Marine Corps base humming Star Wars (honestly, I am not 100% certain). Regardless, there was what seemed like a ton of oceanic survival training. One of these exercises involved floating.
In other military-related posts, I have mentioned that Marines are green amphibious monsters. In this training, we really put that to the test. And, for one of these events we needed to waterproof our gear. Like, seriously waterproof. Like, water-tight. As in floatation devices. Each one of us was required to procure, for ourselves, a plastic bag. Why this was up to each one of us and the not bags simply issued out, I do not know. Still, I had to get some plastic.
Why I did what I did—when I look back on it—just makes me laugh. There I am, on a Marine base, trying to figure out where I can get one plastic bag. Do I just go to the PX (Post Exchange. they’re like a store on military bases) and buy a box of garbage bags? Do I find a storage closet and liberate a bag, or two? What could I do? While I do not recall which base I was on, I do know that it was my first time there. I barely knew any of the layout. However, I did know that there was a McDonald’s near our barracks.
Upon reflection, the guy behind the counter must have had a good laugh at the whole exchange between us. I had taken a short walk to the burger joint, got in line, waited for my turn, and upon advancing toward the counter I answered the standard question posed by that young man, “Welcome to McDonald’s. How can I help you?” My response, “Yes, do you have a garbage bag I can purchase?”
This clearly confused the man, as was evidenced on his face. You could see the gears spinning inside his head. “Pardon me?”
“Yeah, um, I need a garbage bag. Preferably an unused, clean one, that I can either buy or just have.”
“Uh… One second.” And, with that, he walked off. I few moments later he returned with a small bit of folded-up plastic in his right hand. “Here you go. Anything else?”
“Nope. That should do it. Thank you.” As I walked away I marveled at the quality of the plastic. It was an industrial-strength plastic garbage bag. It was going to be sturdy. Perfect. I was going to have the best setup of the unit.
Monday rolled around. It was time to transform our Alice packs into floatation devices. There are all manner of military waterproofing devices. I have a few of those devices for my personal gear. The major downsides to this are that the outer rubber coating can decay and thus the bags will just let water in and become a weight that sinks. The other is that quite often the Corps does not always get the best gear. Ensuring that there would be enough actually water-tight waterproofing bags for my whole unit would be more than difficult. Especially if it was only for training. Thus, the liberated garbage bags.
When packed correctly, one can easily seal their pack into a water-tight seal. This allows the Alice pack to float. And, when dropped off the body correctly—when you’re in the drink—you can flip it around to your front and make it an personal island for one’s self. Then, you can place your rifle on the top of said island and maneuver your way through a waterway. Now you have a ‘shield’ and a rifle rest.
“What happens when your pack gets shot? Won’t those bullets just make holes in the plastic and then fill with water and then sink?” was the question only one of us asked out loud.
The instructor just looked at that Marine with that, “You’re an idiot” look we’ve all received—and given—on more than one occasion. And, if you’re wondering, the answer is, yes. Yes, the plastic bags will not stop a 5.56 caliber full metal jacket. The bag will then fill with water and sink. However, there is also a good chance the Marine will also have been shot and will also sink. I know what I wrote.
Regardless, we still needed to practice this valuable skill.
Our Company was out on some docks in the Pacific Ocean. It was a full day. Now, it was either first thing in the morning, or later in the day. What I do recall is the sunlight was not midday bright, and I do not recall from which direction it was coming. Sure, some of you might be thinking, “Hello. West Coast.” Yeah, yeah. But, not all landmasses face the same. That inlet we were at may have been a set at something different than straight East and West. So, again, what I do recall is that there was a slight chill in the air and the shadows felt long.
With the whole of the company in need of the swimming exercise, it was taking a while, as we were operating in pairs. Two at a time we were to drop into the ocean, release our packs, swing them around, make them our island, get our rife on top, and swim all tactical-like to the other dock. The two piers weren’t that far apart, but the maneuver wasn’t about speed. It was about skill and movement. Practical tactical. After each team hit the drink, our instructors would wait until the previous pair was about halfway between the start and finish before sending the next duo. This was taking for. ev. er. Seriously. Although it didn’t take long before there were jokes about making ‘warm spots’ in the ocean.
Plenty of us were in need of releasing our personal hydration back into the wild. However, there we no facilities anywhere to be seen. Thank you, Uncle Sam. With each passing pair, there were more and more comments about passing water. It was even beginning to get to me. I had been wondering myself about if I were to add to the ocean’s sea level, would the temperature change be noticeable by the time the next Marine hit that same spot? I was studying the water’s movements and trying to figure out if between the water waves, time, and the kicking of the feet of the Marines swimming, if I absolutely had to, would the Marine behind me hit my personal warm spot. (I know what I wrote)
I don’t care how gross you think it may be, either you have personally, or you know someone personally, who has turned an ool into a pool, by adding ‘P’.
As it neared my time, my Fire Team leader Cpl. Lewis was paired off with Peck (mentioned in an earlier tale). I think I had Davis as my partner. What I know for certain is that Lewis was on the right of Peck, and Peck was to the left of Lewis. I was to the right of my swimming buddy, and my swimming buddy was to the left of me. In other words, I was going to swim in-line with Lewis, while my pal was in-line with Peck.
Lewis and Peck hit the water. When the time was right. I and my teammate jumped into the Pacific. While I had not yet decided as to if I would add my personal stash of fluidic volume to the cold ocean, I made a discovery: The kicking of my legs, and my focus on the end goal caused me to rethink my ‘need’ to warm the local waters. Hmm… It seemed as though the sea would not be heated by me. Then it hit me. Or, more correctly, I hit it.
“Yeah? What is it?”
“Is your water warm?”
“Are you asking if I’m peeing right now?”
“Ew. No,” I laughed, “I’m asking if the water is warm where you are.”
“No. Why? Is yours?”
“It must have been Lewis,” Davis snickered.
“Or Peck,” I reasoned. Remember that the ocean’s waters move. That pocket of warm water could have shifted lanes. Possibly. I was only attempting to ascertain just how large this ripple effect really was.
Once on the other pier, I had to ask, “Who made the warm spot?”
Lewis laughed at the question and Peck laughed while asking if the other had indeed peed. Lewis jovially confirmed that he most definitely had provided me with a warm welcome to the unit. Although, admittedly, he had expected it to dissipate before anyone else discovered the oceanic temperature change.