COLUMN: Survival training a defining moment in life
After receiving my Navy Wings of Gold, I thought my training days were over and it would be lots of actual flying to become an experienced pilot. That wasn’t exactly true.
When I arrived at my new squadron, I was assigned to spend 10 days on survival training. ComNavAirPac — Commander Naval Air Pacific — said that if you were involved in any type of aviation crew status, you must complete survival training.
The 10 days to come were some of the most miserable moments ever spent by this fledgling Navy pilot.
We reported for duty with a toothbrush and toothpaste and that was it.
We spent the first day being briefed on just what the next nine days would be like. That night we spent on the beach near San Diego with nothing to eat. The next morning, we were dumped into San Diego Bay and it was cold. It was November and even, though we were in mild climates, the water had to be around 50 degrees or lower.
The first thing that happens is you are dumped off a boat doing about 30 mph and your breath just leaves you. The next thing you know, there is a helicopter hovering over you making a wind that won’t let you catch your breath. So, you crawl into the collar and are hoisted up and into the helicopter.
We ended up in the mountains above San Diego, affectionately called the Warner Springs Youth Camp.
That first night we tried to avoid capture running through “enemy territory,” but, of course, after about an hour I was captured and held in a stockade.
The next day we were issued a parachute and a snake bite kit. Each officer was put in charge of five other men. We had a compass to navigate by and were told that there was free lunch and drink on the other side of that mountain. So we set off and it began to rain. Cold, tired and nothing to eat for days. The day was as miserable as can be.
My men were just great, each carrying their load. So we continued our long hike to safety. We finally reached our destination around dark. Someone caught a squirrel but it was diseased, so we were issued one can of hamburger for 39 of us. We got water and a fire to cook up the hamburger. Never tasted so good. The rain continued and we spent the night wrapped up in our parachutes.
At sunrise, everything was taken from us and we were told we had to avoid capture and run through this gauntlet of guards. I was caught within an hour and subjected to the worst, most humiliating treatment ever. We had to strip naked and crawl around this compound on our hands and knees. We were all confined to a stockade and constantly harassed. We were subjected to interrogation and put into a very small box with a lid latched over the top. It was in this box that I learned a lot about my endurance and handling deprivation. It was a defining moment in my life.
Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes Mondays.