It’s tough for people who have never experienced “foxhole sharing” to fully understand the idea of true comradeship. By foxhole sharing I am referring to both the true idea (physically sharing a foxhole or bomb crater with a buddy or buddies in true combat) or the metaphorical idea (sharing by proximity, job to do, goal to achieve, etc.). Some of us do experience a small idea of the concept in society.. working buddies, bowling buddies… office buddies… etc. But by and large, it can be tough to comprehend the feeling of true comradeship; depending on the guy next to you for your survival, and him depending on you for his survival.
Traditionally the idea of true comradeship has been a guy thing simply because females have been kept out of combat. But with our recent endeavors in the Middle East females have begun to experience the same elements of battlefield survival and relying on the person next to you. Being a student of the human condition and behaviors this kind of relationship has always been an interest to me. Given the recent issues of post traumatic stress and the recent events of random acts of violence by soldiers there’s an interest in the relationship between buddies under fire.
As a student of history (yeah.. I’m a student of a lot of things in life), I have always tried to understand the depth of relationships that are formed under stressful situations, particularly in war zones. The war in my lifetime, Vietnam, made that hit home a little more given the coverage on the evening news each night. In fact, I truely wanted to do a tour in Vietnam in order to get some greater insight into the humanity (or lack thereof) of it all. Going there was not something that a normal young person my age wanted to generally do given the risk of combat over there and the continuing antagonism of the public toward all things military Stateside. To this day I feel somewhat “left out” not having had gone there. Of course, had I gone there I might not be here typing this. It goes both ways. But……. because of my job in the military I have had some level of experiencing a facet of comradeship.
My job in the Air Force was being in the Security Police (most of you might call it “Air Police“.. Air Force version of MP’s). Back in the 70’s there were two kind of cops… Security (SP) and Law Enforcement (LE). The LE guys were the ones who dressed in the fancier uniforms and rode in patrol cars (like the Adam-12 TV show), dealt with base personnel (got to meet girls) in and around the living areas, and generally acted like regular cops you would see in any city. Us Security guys were dressed in the regular olive drab fatigue uniform and guarded physical assets like airplanes, classified buildings, nuclear areas, and aircraft and missles on alert ready to launch against the Soviet Union. Generally we had no contact with the public (or girls) or personnel on the main part of the base. So we had no diversion in the course of our daily activity like the LE guys; we just walked around an aircraft or stared at an empty runway or fence parameter. This forced us to nurture relationships with our buddies on duty. This also meant we were out in the weather extremes doing our jobs. Many times with the snow flying, howling winds, below zero temps, or a driving rainstorm. Hence it was important to be in the least congenial and friendly to your buddies in order for them to want to drive by in the roving patrol vehicle to allow you to warm up… maybe play a game of cards or just talk about life. This also meant that white and black guys had to get along for the same reasons. I did well. I had a fair share of buddies across the board and I had developed some great working relationships. When I got my third stripe and made sergeant I had to serve as an area supervisor from time to time and I made sure I gave each guy on post the same attention.
Back in those days the Air Force had done a study on the severity of stress that a job placed on the military personnel performing it. They used a rating of low, medium, and high stress to gauge each career field. I believe at the time the top three jobs were pilots, air traffic controllers, and Security Policemen. The first two made a level of sense, but SP’s? Well, as it turns out the SP job required a fair amount of “alone time” in the job; a loneliness factor. Diversion to take your mind off of home and family problems was non-existant; it was easy to get moody and gloomy. There was also a boredom factor (this was before the days of smart phones and iPods). Many guys would tamper with their weapons (practicing quick draws, dry firing, etc.), sometimes setting them off by accident, sometimes suicide. Some guys would get a little mischevious and tamper with other equipment nearby (vehicles, forklifts, etc.) or clown around on the radio… all making one less vigilant on the job. So there was a natural attraction to each other to build relationships; we were all in the same boat, we had common routines, and while some of us differed in rank slightly we all had “been there” and there was a comradeship in trying to get through the next duty shift until relieved. In other words, we relied on each other. The irony is that these work relationships, as needed as they were to do the job, faded when we got off work. Not a lot of guys carried forward their on-duty relationships to after duty hours. Everyone had their own lives to lead outside of work. But when you were at work you could be the best of buddies. When it came time for my discharge from the Air Force I missed those relationships… and if you ask anyone who served in the military, in combat or not, they will confess that they miss the buddy relationships they had most of all.
So in my own small way I can understand the value of buddie relationships under fire. In many ways it’s addictive (which is why wounded soldiers always express the desire to get back with their buddies).. it’s “pure” (meaning there are no facades and posturing to impress)… and it can be an unconditional relationship (we need each other and whoever reaches the grenade to jump on it first saves the other). This is the kinda thing one will likely never experience in a marital relationship… and few women will ever understand it.
As the years have progressed I look back on my military stint with fondness and I understand what the guys are going through in our two current conflicts. Fast forward nearly 40 years and I find myself again in a security job, albeit civilian in nature this time. We stand at a post for 7 hours each day… doing nothing but observe life moving by us… buried in our own thoughts to pass the time. We each have a walkie talkie but seldom is “official” information being exchanged over it.. rather, the sharing of each other; talking across racial divides, age, even gender… sometimes not talking and just listening. We need each other to make getting through the shift more palatable. In one way it’s nice to be there again… amongst your comrades, and getting the job done.