[January 11, 2021] It was late Autumn of 1989 when my Infantry company was involved in one of the most extensive U.S. Army training exercises of the year. After two weeks in the field, we were cold, wet, tired, and beat mentally. Yet, our spirits were high as the exercise ended, and our unit was first to hit the barracks. There we in for a treat; showers for all. As the water ran cold, we did not care one darn bit.
When a soldier is on the front line, they understand hardships will come and go. They know that their leaders – if those leaders are good at what they do – will stand beside them and experience what they experience. In this military exercise, my company was directed to establish a “strong point.” Essentially a strong point is a powerful defensive positive. It takes a lot of manpower and resources to build it properly.
It is hard work and risky to build a strong point. Nothing is taken for granted. Combat Engineers were tasked to assist in building our new defensive position, and we worked around the clock to get it done quickly. Fortunately, the weather favored us, and we were lucky all major tasks were completed on time. What it took, however, was a well-motivated unit, engaged leaders, and the right resources.
Sometimes we say the happiest time to be in the Infantry is returning to “civilization.” We mean that it’s time to take off the combat gear, clean our weapons, and complete all the chores necessary before relaxing. This particular exercise was good for us. We learned new tactics and fulfilled our orders without any serious injury or loss of equipment.
Getting back to the barracks, we knew it was time to joke around and have a little fun. First was the showers. For those unfamiliar with the military, taking a shower has far more meaning than civilians can imagine. A shower means a moment to pause and smell the roses. It means we are about to “hit the town” and look for some great places to drink beer, eat tasty food, and search for ladies. A cold shower is a pivot point from work to relaxation.
For unit leaders, it means more work. I too was happy to get a cold shower. Being the commander, I was last to the showers. My First Sergeant, a huge man with broad shoulders and the biggest neck I’d ever seen on a man, was ahead of me my a few seconds. Our advantage was that the water was ice cold. It woke us up and sharpened our minds.
Leaders must get used to cold showers. I don’t mean that literally. Getting used to cold showers means that we must get used to change. And change is one constant that never goes away. Preparing our soldiers (those who we lead) means we get them used to change as well. In combat, this helps them to prepare mentally for the unexpected. And that is why we must get used to cold showers.