Bloody Boots

No shit, there we were. Well, actually, this doesn’t deserve that opening – there’s no real punchline. But it opens.

We were on a long road march; we being my ranger platoon. Now for those of you who haven’t been there, a road march for airborne and light infantry is a hike. Load up with gear, set up in two columns, one on each side of the road, and start going. There are several extra bits here that aren’t relevant for this tale; just suffice it to say shutting off your brain is not good.

The battalion standard at the time was cover four miles in 48-50 minutes, then stop to close the hour (10-12 minutes), and repeat for however long it takes. Yes, that’s more-or-less five miles per hour. Yes, for a short hike (say 12 miles) there’s really no need for the stops. On the other hand if it’s a long march or it’s the third (or fifth) day of repeated road marches this makes a big difference.

So we’re on a long march, about hour six or so, and one of my fellow rangers calls the platoon sergeant over (actually, gives a hand and arm signal). Since he’s not too far away from me (one ahead, other side of a gravel road) I hear, “Is that what I think it is?” He’s pointing to the ground but still marching. I find out later he’s pointing to bloody footprints.

Turns out one of our fine fellow’s feet had developed a small problem and the boots didn’t fit right. That in turn raised blisters. They broke, and kept being rubbed, and as a result the boots were filling with blood which then dribbled out the lace holes. The column stopped early, the ranger was pulled out, given hasty treatment, and made to wait for the medevac, and we went on for another couple of hours.

Now here’s the thing I wondered then and still find myself wondering about. Did I want this guy in my platoon? Did I want him in my squad?

On the one hand this guy proved he was dependable. Blisters hurt – been there, KNOW this. I marched with some myself. The ranger creed is taken seriously – intestinal fortitude, never fail your comrades, all the rest. There was and is absolutely NO doubt in my mind that he’d keep going till he was forced to stop.

On the other hand, he knew he was crippling himself which would then hamper the platoon, and didn’t act to fix it. He didn’t call over a medic or squad leader in any of the stops. If he had, they’d have slapped on some moleskin or some medical tape, maybe slipped a cushion in where the boot was rubbing. They would have done what was necessary so that he did not HAVE to go the extra mile. Because he didn’t, we were short a body at the end of march shoot-and-move exercise. Short term adherence to the creed made for longer term failure of the creed.

Still, he might have learned from the lesson. Further, he was still willing to continue – and I’m convinced to this day that had it been a night march so the blood wasn’t seen he’d have been in his spot after the march. Just… performing at less than par.

I’ve seen a lot of situations over the years where just a little more effort would have made for success, but the effort wasn’t given. I’ve also seen a lot of situations where the immediate success took so much that long-term failure was guaranteed. And of course I’ve seen short-term losses that were overcome for long-term victory because the sacrifice left resources available for the end.

And still I wonder – if I’d had the choice to decide whether to keep or bounce Bloody Boots, which would have been right?

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