Air Force Special Forces

Or should that be ‘Special Needs’ Forces as I am about to reveal a story to you that has only been revealed to my wife prior to today. Now just to make it clear after you read this you will realise I was most definitely was NOT Air Force Special Forces on this day.

Yesterday we had a mini power-cut for about a hour due to some work on the local power grid, unfortunately it was dark and this meant it was more inconvenient than it should have been. What it did do though was demonstrated some shortfalls we had in our home should it happen again. So this got me thinking, just how reliant are we on being able to do things with light present? Well it turns out the more I thought about examples from my past, the more I realised its pretty damn difficult to do! I will now give you an example and hopefully these will give you some food for thought.

Belize – Jungle Survival Instructor Course.

Before I went on this course I had spend more than enough time in the wilderness to know what it was like to function in the dark… Or so I thought! The jungle started to get dull around 1800 hrs and was pitch black by 1820 hrs. And when I say it was dark, I mean it was DARK! I could not even see my hand in front of my face.

This is a minor inconvenience compared to the abundance of things trying to kill, eat or hurt you with frustrating regularity. Indeed the only thing that i found that wasn’t trying to kill, eat or hurt me were the tortoises… In fact forget that, I did trip over one.

sun bursting through jungle canopyThis wasn’t too much of an issue as we were in our hammocks enjoying the night time jungle ‘music’ from the insect orchestra. Now one thing about the jungle, its hot at around 85º F (30º C) and 80 – 95% humidity. That means you have to drink a lot of water just to stay hydrated and stop you from overheating. During the day that’s fine as you can just stop and pee; night time, not so much!

 

Failing to plan…

So getting back to my hammock. It was around midnight and my bladder was the size of a space hopper and I had another 6 hours before dawn. I tried to ignore it for a good hour; despite valiant efforts I NEEDED to pee, desperately! Now for those who have used a hammock before it’s not easy to lean over onto one side without falling out, never mind pee whilst leaning over, which was plan A.

Coupled with the fact the jungle is a mosquito infested place, the less exposed to the jungle inhabitants the better. I was hoping that the size of ‘little Dave’ would mean he would go unnoticed long enough to relieve myself and have him back into safety ASAP, hopefully unscathed…

As I said, a hammock is a nightmare and after nearly falling out half a dozen times and peeing a little INSIDE my hammock, I made the worst decision of the course, in fact scratch that, my whole life up until that point! I got out of my hammock to find a tree away from our camp.

The easy option isn’t always the best option

To let you understand, the military sets up a camp during peacetime in what seems like a silly way after you hear my story. You have the central admin area and you nominate an area for your urinal that is around 10 metres away, basically far enough to stop the insects. This area is designated by a chemlight… Or it should be! We didn’t do it and took the easy option because nobody would be so stupid as to use the toilet at night, would they?!

As I said the jungle is pretty humid so your day clothes get absolutely soaking and remain that way until you return to civilisation. To get around you being constantly wet you take them off at night and hang them on a tree so that insects, scorpions, snakes, spiders, etc don’t get them and make them home. So I made another life changing decision, I chose not to put on any dry clothes and expose my lovely, tender, succulent white skin to the jungle nasties; they were most grateful!

Air Force Special Forces… Perhaps not today!

So there I am out of my hammock and surprised by the lack of insects and the lack of light! The good news is that the fire has a few embers on the far side of it just glowing slightly; result! I can now use this as a marker to get back to my hammock as I was only about 8 feet from the fire. It’s all going great so far.

So I gingerly start to walk towards the toilet tree and after 3 steps trip up and fall pretty unceremoniously on the jungle floor. I know straight away that I have cut my knee as I landed on something sharp. Sure enough I feel the blood slowly running down my leg, brilliant, nice one Dave!

I manage to get just beyond the fire and can now just make out the toilet tree and then promptly walk into the ‘toilet tree’. This was in fact a ‘Bastard Tree’ 8 feet closer than the toilet tree; this was very close to being the most surprising thing that has ever happened to me in my life, I still panic about that moment. I genuinely get goosbumps thinking about that moment and how vulnerable I felt.

The mother of of all evil meets Dave, and wins.

bastard tree Belize

‘Bastard Tree’

Now, those uninitiated may think I am a bit lame having a panic about hitting a tree. Well a ‘Bastard Tree’ it different to a normal tree (other names include the F*cker Tree, Hang Around a While Tree, Devil Tree, Penance Tree) It is a cruel torture device invented by the god of all things evil. They are a cross between a porcupine and a tree and covered in hypodermic needles 3 – 4 inches long; these are generally so brittle that they snap easily once inside your skin! The name comes about from the words you shout when you hit one accidentally.

So there I was in my boxer shorts, blind as a bat because of the darkness screaming like a girl and now I soon realised, lost! I turned around to find the fire so that I could get my bearings and it wasn’t there. Now, I like to think of myself as someone who is calm under pressure, reliable and I would even go as far as to say someone who can take control in a crisis. I could feel the fear starting to take hold, thankfully my training kicked in and I stopped for a second between sobs (those ‘Bastard Trees’ hurt… A lot) to come up with a plan.

Now remember I said the insects didn’t bother me? Well I must have woken them with my girlie sobbing and screaming or it was the smell of fresh blood, like teeny tiny Great White Sharks they descended on me. The fear was just about to turn into panic as the noises from some of the insects made it sound like the Millennium Falcon was flying past my ears! I was just keeping it together enough to come up with a plan, all I had to do was shout to the other guys and get them to lead me into camp with their voices.

So I try to muster the manliest voice I could (I still sounded like a little girl) “guys, where are you?”

Silence. “Guys waken up!”

Again, absolute silence. “GUYS WILL YOU F*CKING WAKEN UP!!!”

And then came the noise, that had I been making it, I would have found it hilarious…

“He he”

To say I was having a sense of humour failure was a bit of an understatement

“THIS IS NOT FUNNY, STOP BEING A BUNCH OF W*NKERS AND HELP ME, I AM OUT OF MY HAMMOCK IN MY BOXERS AND I CANT FIND THE WAY BACK!!!”

“He he he”

Now, for those unfamiliar with military humour, describing it as dark is selling it short by quite a margin; so long as someone isn’t going to die then anything is fair game. Despite the internal panic I was having because of the Millennium Falcon circling my head and death by a thousand bites from the mini Great White Sharks, I probably was not going to die. Well at least not straight away.

It was just a few cuts…

I completely lost the plot and threatened all of my ‘colleagues’ with numerous nasty things to which the now predictable reply was, “he he”!

jungle camp bedThankfully they found everything so funny that I did eventually find my way back to my hammock by homing in on their howls of delight at my misfortune. I opted instead to pee right by my hammock before climbing back in with my tail firmly between my legs!

The next day I took stock of my injuries. I was covered, and I mean covered in bites of various descriptions, ironically the only place that was intact was ‘Little Dave’. My right knee had a small laceration about a centimetre long.

The worst affected part was my left side from my knee to my shoulder (thankfully not my face); it was covered in puncture marks from the ‘Bastard Tree’. I also had numerous snapped inside my leg and shoulder as these areas took the majority of the force.

Always think about the ‘what if?’

Now that doesn’t sound too bad and maybe a minor inconvenience at worst. The reality is that if I was in a survival situation I would likely have had a serious infection and could possibly (probably) have died after a week or 2 if untreated. The biggest killer in the jungle is infection, due to the humidity and temperature it is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, where even the tiniest of cuts can turn septic within hours.

The next day I spent over an hour with the medic who had to clean all of my wounds and removed ‘Bastard Tree’ spines from my body. Three times a day for the next few days in the jungle I had to visit the medic to let him clean the wounds which still ended up getting infected, albeit relatively mildly.

So why am I telling you this?

When you look at your survival kit and skills, do you always assume you will be able to do things as you would during the day? How would you cope if you were in the middle of nowhere and had no light source? The key to surviving in these situations is to plan ahead and not make rushed decisions and to act, not react. Remember my post about getting your head in the right mindset.

Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor PerformanceSo what planning can you do beforehand? It’s really quite simple get yourself somewhere dark and practice doing key skills,hell you can even just shut your eyes.

So what kind of things should you practice?

Any skill that is essential to your survival that cannot wait till daybreak, such as –

  • Changing the batteries on your light source
  • Getting dressed – is your kit to hand and easily identifiable should you need to move quickly?
  • Building/dismantling shelter – What if the wind blows it down?
  • Light a fire
  • Navigation
  • First Aid
  • Tying knots
  • Reload a weapon magazine
  • Unpacking and repacking kit

The list above is not exhaustive and gives you an idea of the things that may be critical to survival and may have to be done in the dark. The key is practice, practice and more practice.

Plan the dive, dive the plan!

Dive the planPanic kills and in my situation I could have caused myself permanent damage had I panicked and ran around crashing into other ‘Bastard Trees’ or wildlife such as snakes or scorpions. During my Scuba Diving training I was taught 2 things that would keep you alive. Before you even think of getting in the water plan the dive and dive the plan. When you are eventually in the water and something goes wrong to immediately Stop, Breath, Think and Act.

This is true in the previous situation. I failed to plan for a night time toilet visit which resulted in a lot of pain and a shattered ego (and much teasing from my ‘mates’.) Thankfully I did have the presence of mind to Stop, take a deep breath, have a think about how to fix the problem and then acted. There are very few problems that require an immediate response that can’t wait until you think it through for a few seconds.

It never rains, but it pours

Oh and the final insult of my jungle saga, when I jumped from my hammock in the morning, I had peed all over my survival vest, I was winning at life that day!

I hope you enjoyed this, and hopefully I have highlighted the importance of being able to do the simplest things in the dark as it can be a lot more challenging than you think.

If you did like this post then please share via social media (have you added me yet?) and leave some comments below or have a look at my other posts. Until next time…

Dave

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10 comments

  • Very entertaining story Dave! At first, I was a bit confused as to what your post was about, but then I became engrossed in the details of the story! Point well made. I’m sure most of us do not practice doing anything in the dark, except maybe search the house for a flashlight…using the light from a cell phone. Definitely makes you think!

    • It appears that this post has amused quite a few people with my misfortune, lol. I am glad you like it and stuck with it to find out what my point was. After that incident I had a long think about how I would do things in the dark and modified a LOT of my working practices.

      It’s good that it has made you think because disaster can strike when you least expect it. Do you have a flashlight in your car for changing a tyre if you were stranded?

  • PJ

    Dave, this is really something to think about.. whoever would have considered, in your situation, that peeing would turn out to be life-threatening.. Bastard Trees, really! The jungle sounds like an evil, magical place. Magical but dark, bad, black magic, that is! Who in the US even thinks about doing anything but walking down the hall to the bathroom with nighlights lighting the path?

    • It is the most emotional and terrifying pee I have ever had, lol. But its only a mistake if you do something a 2nd time, this was a very important learning experience.

      Despite my experience my favourite environment is definitely the jungle, I love it as its so peaceful but noisy in equal measure. It truly seperates the men from the boys!

  • Kyle

    Dang. That would be very scary stuck out there like that. Are there any big carnivorous animals that live in that area or anything?

    • The jungle is a weird place as the smaller the animal the greater the threat! There are Jaguars in the Belizian jungle but they were very easily spooked and very actively avoid humans. The greatest threat to long term survival is infection, so microscopic bacteria are what will kill you, either through septic wounds or swallowing them. The jungle is not a nice place to fall ill!!!

      If you can avoid getting these bacteria inside your body then the jungle is a relatively easy place to survive. You have a huge source of protection from the elements either in the form of shelters of fire wood, every day it rains, big old fat rain as well that is torrential, that you can collect and drink. Food is also abundant if you know what to look for.

  • Is the bastard tree the same thing as the “give and take” tree? If so, the inner bark actually can be used to remove the pain and problems.

    Funny story though!

    I like the “plan the dive; dive the plan” advice too. When you’re out like that it’s especially important to be deliberate. Although, even having no special forces training, I too have forgotten to do that. I was luckier than you!

    Thanks for sharing, Sir! It was a good laugh!

    • My pleasure, I have to admit it tested me when I least expected it; sometimes there just isn’t a plan 🙂

      Oh and the Bastard Tree and the Give and Take tree are the same or at least similar; everything in the jungle is out to kill/hurt you in some way 🙂

  • Hi Dave, what year did you do that course. I remember we used to go to Gallon Jug for the SERE Jungle training, and those bastard trees were everywhere.

    Complete pain in the arse, or anywhere else they got you???

    • Ha ha, there were a lot of people that suffered because of those bloody trees and the huge Orb Spider webs!

      I did my course 2005 and your memory is better than mine as we just got on a 25 Flt aircraft and were dumped in the middle of the jungle! It was the same year that the 2 Belizian Defence Force lads didn’t want to be in the jungle at night. It was also the same course that JH managed to put on his ‘wet routine’ shirt with a scorpion in the sleeve, oh the irony 🙂

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