“Walk heel to toe. That’s right… no, slow down. Keep your head still and your eyes moving. Carry your weapon like this. Look down, goddammit, watch where you put your feet. Easy now, don’t step on that stick, it’ll break with a snap. I said watch where you step, you’re fucking up.”
I was getting exasperated. “How can I look all around and down without moving my head?”
“Watch me. Do it like this” and he demonstrated how it’s done. “Your ears are every bit as important as your eyes. Use all your senses, especially the sixth sense. Look, listen, and feel. Go slow, take your time and you’ll live. Get in a hurry and you’ll fucking die.”
I slapped a mosquito. “That just got your ass killed. Let him live, he won’t drink much.”
I was 7 years old and Pops had just come back from his time with the Cav in Vietnam and he was teaching me how to patrol on point. I had been looking forward to that camping trip but now I was beginning to wonder. Sure, I got to carry my little Stevens 22LR, but damn, man….. I’m fucking 7.
He had me doing that shit all weekend long. Sure, we did some fishing there at Sawmill Lake up on Engineer Bluff, but after that I was doing my lessons and then he had me patrolling just outside ‘the perimeter’ (I had to ask what a fucking perimeter was) while he sat around drinking beer. If he pointed at me while I was patrolling that meant he heard me and I was a dead motherfucker.
By the time the long weekend was over I could walk all the way around the campsite without being pointed at and enter behind Pops without him knowing which earned me a big grin and a hit off his beer.
I swear, I was the only kid in my class that knew you don’t walk trails but if Charlie still blows an ambush on you charge it instead of hitting the ground. Fire low and catch that little bastard in his spider hole. My teacher was seriously concerned for some reason.
I’m on the near side of 60, never saw combat and I still feel like I’m fucking up if I’m walking a trail.