In honor of Veteran's Day, I thought I'd share an amusing story from my first days in the Army. One of the infamous Murphy's Laws of Combat states, "When you have secured an area, don't forget to tell the enemy." While the following anecdote isn't exactly what is meant by that statement, my situation always reminds me of that saying.
From April through June of 1986, I attended Basic Training in Fort Leonard Wood (FLW), Missouri. (Or, as we trainees liked to call it, "Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery.") At the time, Basic Training was eight weeks long, during which trainees were taught all of the basic essentials for becoming a soldier; combat skills, physical fitness, navigation, communications, first aid, and - of course - basic marksmanship.
The standard-issue rifle at the time was the M-16A1, and soldiers were taught to fire from several positions: prone, sitting, and standing supported in a foxhole. However, foxholes on the FLW ranges were not actual foxholes; they were culvert pipes buried vertically in the ground, with wood pallets in the bottom on which shorter soldiers could stand to gain a little more height, and each foxhole was fitted with a wood cover to keep the rain out at night. (At least in theory; I still spent a lot of time in the mud at the bottom of a foxhole...)
All of that being said, on one particular occasion, our company had an unexpected lesson in checking out your environment before settling in. One of the ranges had 40 foxholes arranged in a single firing line, and I was assigned to lane #1. We were the first trainees on the range, so the first order of action was for everyone to uncover their foxhole for that day's marksmanship training.
When the Range Safety NCO in the tower gave the appropriate command over the range loudspeaker, everyone pulled the cover off their foxhole, and then everyone but me jumped in. However, I actually looked down before jumping in; that was a very good thing for me to do, because I saw the tail end of a black snake slither under the wood pallet at the bottom of my foxhole. I spent part of my childhood living near the Florida swamps, so I knew of several black snakes with which no one should be taking any chances, so I simply stood up and raised my hand for assistance.
The Range Safety NCO saw me from his lofty perch in the tower, and he bellowed over the loudspeaker, "Lane 1: what is your problem???"
As loudly as I could, I shouted back, "Snake, Drill Sergeant!"
And then I watched as the soldiers in firing lanes 2 through 40 looked beneath them in panicked unison to see if they had snakes in their foxholes; it was suddenly and abundantly obvious that I had been the only trainee who had bothered to check his foxhole before jumping in. (Note: No one else had an uninvited visitor; I was the only 'lucky' one.)
One of the drill sergeants quickly made his way down the firing line to my foxhole, whereupon he grabbed my M-16, jumped into the foxhole, and proceeded to beat the snake to death with the butt of my rifle. Once the snake - which turned out to be a lethally-venomous Water Moccasin - was good and dead, the drill sergeant climbed out of the foxhole, returned my M-16 to me, and headed back down the firing line to check on the other trainees.
With my area secured and my miniscule misadventure at an end, I finally climbed down into my foxhole, and I proceeded to blast lots of little holes in the downrange targets.