Each year, as the winter begins to give way to spring, our bodies start to thaw out and we’re drawn to the outdoors.  The sun is shining, the sky’s grey gives way to blue, and folks that have been trapped indoors for months start emerging from their caves full of hot chocolate and Netflix subscriptions, intent on spending a little quality time with mother nature.  It’s camping season again, which means another year of answering the same questions about how your military experience must make you uniquely suited for the wild frontier that is your local state park’s fifteen dollar campsites.

See, decades of military movies about Rambo-looking guys strutting off into the deep jungle carrying nothing but a Kabar fighting knife and bandana to fend for themselves have left most people assuming that being the service is basically just one long wilderness survival exercise.  Every Soldier or Marine worth a damn must be well versed in animal trapping, building a fire, making shelter, and producing good, clean drinking water, right?

Wrong.  Camping has absolutely nothing to do with being in the field for most service members.

Okay, that’s not entirely true: both things take place outdoors, you’re usually sleeping on the ground, and at least one person in your party will almost certainly snore like a grizzly bear with a chainsaw in its mouth – but beyond that, there are very few similarities between a normal field exercise and a friendly camping trip.  In an effort to better explain this to my buddies that I’ll certainly be tenting up next to, I’ve compiled a short list of reasons why camping is not anything like my military experiences in the field.  Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t lots of survival experts born in the service, it’s just not a part of the training for most folks in uniform.

Camping is about relaxing in nature. I realize that part seems obvious, but it’s a serious distinction between a trip to your local campsite and literally every field operation I’ve taken part in. You go camping to spend time with your friends, maybe do a little fishing, and almost certainly, to relax in the great outdoors.  You go to the field to do your job under more difficult circumstances.

Because your job is so relaxing to begin with.

Think of whatever you do for a living right now… go ahead, I’ll wait.  Now imagine having to load all the stuff you need to do that job into a pack that also has to house everything you’ll eat and wear for the next few days, hoist it onto your back and head off into the woods.  Your work day may be around eight hours under normal circumstances, but in the field, you’ll find that you have more work to do than ever and a million inconveniences slowing your progress – meaning you’ll be working from the moment you wake up until you’re done – whether that’s fourteen or twenty-four hours from now.

Survival seems like a fun game. When you and your buddies unload the cooler full of Bud Light and start deploying your tent hammocks while blasting your favorite Spotify playlist to help pass the time, it’s fun to consider how things would be if you were really out there to survive. We all dress up our outing like it’s a dangerous endeavor – and its cathartic to separate ourselves from the reality of the day-to-day grind by pretending that building a living room in the forest is somehow treacherous.

“Roughing it.”

In the field, you are constantly reminded of why you’re there: which is to accomplish a mission without getting yourself killed.  In some circumstances, that means exercising a fair amount of light and sound discipline – meaning Bluetooth speakers and campfires are out of the question.  You go everywhere wearing your flak jacket and Kevlar, carrying a weapon you might need to defend yourself and your fellow “campers” if you are subject to an attack.  In the field, you’re either in actual danger, or you’re preparing for when you will be – which doesn’t have nearly as cathartic or relaxing an effect on the human psyche.