February 8, 2011

Packing Day

LTC Bateman: Packing Day - Editor’s note: LTC Bob Bateman is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
So it is here, packing day.

This is a day that every soldier knows, most dread, and all must complete. We do not really discuss this day. This is the day when you pack up your ruck, and your dufflebag, with all that you will have, for a year. It is the mundane, the necessary, and the sad, all at once. The things that you put into these two containers will sustain you, clothe you, keep you warm and protect you. And after you put all of those items in there, there remains but a sliver of space in which to place the things that define you.

Soldiers, and I should note, Marines as well, experience this day in different ways depending upon where they are in their careers.

When you are young what you will pack is mostly prescribed for you. The Lieutenant Colonel probably has some ideas, because he does not want to be blamed if you do not have something, and these go on the packing list for the whole battalion. The Captain, well, he too thinks about the things that you might potentially need, in every possible contingency, and so he adds things. The Lieutenant, not to be outdone, adds items just for the platoon. By the end of this process there is more material on the list than could ever fit within what a soldier can carry. But that is the list, as laid down by the officers, and so the soldier crams it all in. And there is no more room.

If he is lucky he has a good First Sergeant, or even better, a good Platoon Sergeant. That sergeant will hold what we call a “lay out inspection,” where every man will, in formation, dump all the contents on the ground, nominally so that the sergeant can insure that all of the items are packed. But a good sergeant, who has been to war and who knows what matters, will inspect each man’s assembled pile of goods...

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