My unit was conducting an exercise that included an airborne insertion into a friendly host nation airfield that was followed by a relatively short dismounted movement to our objective.  Once we got to the objective, we’d be there for a certain amount of time before our relief showed up to augment our force and further build up security at our location.  For the purposes of this exercise we weren’t at war, but there were some insurgent and narcotics trafficking activity in the region.  Should be a fun time.

For unknown reasons, the jump was scheduled pretty late in the day and it was starting to get cold.  Normally, cold weather isn’t an issue, as I grew up in the North and spent a lot of time building snow forts and exploring the woods during the winter as a young kid.  However, the military had ruined this tolerance for cold weather by placing me in the South for far too long, which decimated my desire for any extremely frigid environments.  As luck would have it, the temperatures over the next few days we would be out in the field were expected to plummet and reach below freezing.  It was clear to all of us waiting already staged on the ground that mother nature had already turned down the thermostat, especially as the sun went down and the last light disappeared.

Because we were fully kitted up, I chose not to wear too many layers due to the heavy kit and large ruck I was wearing at the time.  Between all the gear and constant movement once the last jumper got on the ground, we didn’t want to risk overheating and slipping into a brutal cycle of cold sweats, shivering, and overheating again during the movement or actions on objective.

Courtesy of USAF

So there we were.

The last jumper had got on the ground while the remainder of the group established and maintained security.  As comms were brought online and weapons and gear squared away, I expected that we’d soon be moving out of our long halt and get on the road.  After all, we had a timeline to follow, it was getting dark fast, and the temperature was still dropping.  But as Murphy’s Law would have it, nothing is ever that easy.  For exercise purposes, the group had just jumped into a friendly host nation airfield and was prepping for a relatively uneventful (it wasn’t) infil to our objective.  For real-world purposes, the group had just jumped onto the base runway (which was still active) and was lying in a 360 next to the flightline.

Expecting the ground to be hard, we were lying in the prone position covering our sectors of fire and waiting for the call to move off the drop zone so we could start our movement.  Only the ground wasn’t hard, and we weren’t moving just yet.  Somehow, despite the quickly dropping temperatures, the ground was pleasantly soft.  It could almost be equated to a clay-like mud.  And that it most definitely was.

As the waiting continued, word eventually filtered down that one of the jumpers had a hard landing and needed to get transported to the regional hospital to get checked out for real-world injuries.  Well, that explained the waiting.  But it still didn’t get us out of our long halt; we still had an exercise to conduct.  So the waiting continued.  By this time, the sun had almost set and it was definitely almost getting to an uncomfortable temperature.  Now I’m not one to bitch, but stick me in a cold place for long enough without telling me why and I’ll start thinking my own thoughts. Add mud and the prone position and I would consider writing a strongly worded letter to whoever was in charge of getting us moving.

To complicate the situation, I was properly hydrated for our movement and my body was screaming to notify me that it was time to answer nature’s call as soon as possible.  I knew there were a few other guys that really had to take care of business as well, but with the sun shining (when some of the group had initially staged on the DZ), surrounded by DVs, and sitting in the middle of the flightline earlier, we couldn’t exactly just whip it out and relieve ourselves.  We knew that we’d likely make a short halt somewhere along our movement, so a lot of the guys were banking on finding a nice tree or cluster of bushes to use.  However, as we relished the opportunity to soak in the night air and even prep our PVS-14s for our movement, the waiting only continued.