This is a story of the best beer I’ve ever had. Like most of my stories, it involves me thinking I was invincible and can withstand anything life throws at me. As is the usual case, I was reminded exactly where the limits of my mortality actually exist.
This particular story takes place on the Pedlar River nestled within George Washington National Forest. GW National Forest is itself settled in amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western Virginia, about an hour or so from Lexington. Every Spring, the Corps of Cadets runs an exercise designed to test the 4th Classmen on their fieldcraft, namely skills such as land navigation, shelter building, and wilderness survival. The exercise covers a roughly twenty mile course of arduous terrain in some of the most beautiful country Virginia has to offer.
I participated in the aptly-named 4th Class FTX (Field Training Exercise) each year of my cadetship. It was a wonderful way to break up the monotony of the Institute Experience and also recharge my batteries by getting away from the hustling weariness of modern life. Unfortunately, George Washington National Forest tried to kill me every single year.
The first year, as a 4th Classman, my right knee swelled up on the second day and I had to be driven out in the morning. I later had surgery to repair a football injury, which is a story in and of itself. My second year I participated as a chaperon for one of the groups of 4th Classman, charged with ensuring that they didn’t get themselves killed. Luckily for them it was I that spent the first night teetering on the edge of hypothermia due to an unexpected downpour of cold rain. Luckily, I was able to erect camp the second night, and slumbered blissfully in a tent. My third year, I was lucky enough to skate away relatively unscathed.
But the forest saved it’s best for last, nearly turning me into an actual statistic during my 1st Class (read: Senior) year. That year I was in charge of the planning, preparing, and executing of the FTX and, abusing my authority, I hatched the perfect boondoggle. Myself, along with a carefully selected staff from the Military Training Cadre consisting of my friends, would use the semiannual Corps FTX a few weeks prior to the survival exercise to take care of the planning and staging the various campgrounds and rally points within the forest.
But like all good boondoggles, this would only be our cover. In all actuality we would make quick work of the tasks of writing operations orders, scenario briefings, designating radio call signs, sorting necessary equipment to be issued to our staff, and other boring administrative things. This would leave us free to concentrate the majority of our energy and time on the task of reconnoitering the forest. And by “reconnoitering” I mean drinking beer and smoking cigars whilst traipsing about the woods, a skill all Keydets excel at.
As far as my buddies Jon, Al, Dave, Nick, Ed, and I were concerned, the plan was foolproof. After devising the plan, I feverishly set about drafting the necessary permits and requests needed to get it approved. And somehow, much to my surprise, they were all approved. To this day, I adamantly believe that the Institute Sergeant Major, the man in charge of the Military Training Program, saw right through my ruse but approved it anyway. It left me scratching my head, but you learn quickly at the Mother I to graciously accept all approvals for somewhat questionable activities without asking any troublesome questions. And that I did, in rare form.
So that weekend with permission in hand, my highly-trained, elite staff and I set out to procure the crucial provisions needed for our forthcoming incursions into the wilds of George Washington National Forest. With plenty of that golden elixir of the gods we drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway overlooking the Shenandoah Valley and toasted our brilliance as we watched the sun creep down below the horizon. Despite the hardships of our duty, we took small comfort in the fact that while we were drinking beer the Marine and Army ROTC folks were sleeping in the mud. But such was the difficult nature of our work. We looked forward to the next day when we could tackle it more fully.
To Be Continued. . .