The conditions are just right: the pillows are soft and plentiful and you rest your head after a hard day’s work. You hug a large, soft pillow on your mattress that threatens to swallow you whole it’s so soft. The blankets on top of you are a blissful, heavy weight that embodies the essence of coziness.
And yet you still can’t sleep.
Before I joined the Army, even if the conditions were just right, it would often be difficult to drift off to sleep. Of course, as a teenager once I finally did fall asleep, I would be virtually unconscious until 11 a.m.
However, when you’re in the field, sleep is a resource that needs to be utilized in order to be effective. If you don’t recharge your batteries, they’re liable to die.
What the human body is capable of doing when the situation demands it has never ceased to amaze me. In this instance, when I needed it to, my body simply learned a new valuable skill: the ability to fall asleep anywhere.
In Ranger School, I remember we were cut to 50% security, meaning one guy would be on the line watching for enemy movement, and the other guy would get some sleep. This was in contrast to the usual two guys on the line and one guy sleeping, so I was excited to get some extra down time.
I pulled security first, probably nodding off here and there as it was Florida Phase and I felt like I had been on my last leg for the last ten legs. After 20 minutes, I was relieved. There was a defilade providing shelter from any enemy line of sight, but no real cover. So, I dropped my ruck and passed out on a patch of open, hard earth.
Eventually I was woken up, and I remember realizing how ridiculous I must have looked, sprawled on the hard earth in the hot sun like a lizard in the middle of the street. I had instantly passed out, and after 20 minutes of heavenly sleep I felt great — it would be one of the longest stretches of sleep I would get in the final phase of Ranger School.
In a helicopter on the way to a mission, cramped in with tons of other Rangers headed to a combat raid — my Mk46 was my pillow. In a torrential downpour in the middle of SERE, struggling to evade capture from the cadre — I laid my body to rest in the rising puddles around me. Then my sleep switch was promptly switched off, and I went along my business wide awake.
And now, as many “skills” have, this has stuck with me into civilian life. In the center seat with two rather large people on either side, with my elbow awkwardly resting on my forward tray table as I rest my head on my palm — my eyes flutter open when the pilot announces our descent three hours later.
(I am still a notorious drooler.)
The conditions are just right: the pillows are soft and plentiful and I rest my head after a hard day’s work. I hug a large, soft pillow on my mattress that threatens to swallow me whole its so soft. The blankets on top of me are a blissful, heavy weight that embodies the essence of coziness.
And yet, despite the fact that I can fall asleep just about anywhere, this one place still eludes me.
Featured image courtesy of Max Pixel.