Man Overboard! – It’s not as arduous when you’re not alone

Standing at attention, the two boot camp companies watched as one of our shipmates, and my best friend, got hauled to the ambulance after collapsing during an endurance obstacle course. Our company commander and the one next door had made a wager as to which group could finish the course with the fewest sailors succumbing to exhaustion. After the third from our group, my friend “Bear,” went down, everyone realized we’d pushed ourselves too hard and the commanders called it a draw. But that didn’t stop the berating and taunting the other commander brought down on my company as the ambulance drove off.

After a 15-minute saliva-strewn tirade, the sailor next to me muttered something about someone needing a Tic-Tac and chuckles ensued, bringing on another 15 minutes of front-row halitosis. As a flag bearer, I usually had some advantages, like being the closest to the head of the chow line. But today, at the front of the company, we flag-bearers were simply the closest to getting spit on for most of an hour – not the shower I was hoping for.

Then came the question shouted a centimeter from the end of my nose by the hoarse but still slathering company commander: “You sissies probably gave up on purpose, what do you think?” After a dramatic pause I yelled “I think you’re an ass.”

Having been to college for almost two years before joining the military, and not being as young or as scared as the younger recruits, I knew most of the grinding and boot camp intimidation was for show – collegiate hazing, but in uniform. And the commander had asked a legitimate question, so why not give a truthful answer? But that logic didn’t keep the other three company commanders from jumping in and starting an unprecedented ass-chewing focused on me alone. I had pulled the pin on the proverbial hand grenade and would have to fall on it by myself.

Now, after the grueling obstacle course, the company commanders made me drop and do push-ups, yelling out the count of “1…2…3…” so all could hear. They were going to mash me until I was ready to join my friend in the hospital, while 100 or so of my shipmates stood at attention, forced to watch. So what, I was taking the brunt of saying what everyone had been thinking. I knew that eventually either I would get sick or pass out, or they would get more tired than I was and move on. And then it happened. After perhaps ten minutes, something behind me in the group caught the attention of the Sultan of Spit, who yelled “What’s the matter? Are there more of you who agree with this maggot?” After what seemed forever, but was probably only a few seconds, a booming voice from the back of the formation shouted “MAN OVERBOARD!” and the most amazing, unforgettable thing happened. All 100 of my already-exhausted shipmates dropped and began doing push-ups in sync with mine, shouting the count loudly enough to drown out all four company commanders. The louder we yelled out the count, the more energy and strength we gained. When any of the commanders tried to speak or shout the group got louder, even deafening. Smiles grew on our faces as the count continued, not slowing, not tiring, not submitting. Two of the commanders eventually left in frustration and the other two stood back looking dumbfounded. And the count continued. Finally our company commander yelled “Attention on Deck” and everyone stood up into formation. We marched back to our barracks with no sound but our exhausted breathing. No one spoke, we all just knew – THIS is what it means to be all for one, one for all. THIS was why we joined the military. I always knew the military was close-knit but I had no idea until that day.

That camaraderie, combined with a higher, unselfish purpose, is what gives us confidence not just in our group but also in ourselves. It’s the same camaraderie that we foster and grow here every day at High Order Solutions and in everything that we do.

– Thomas Lamson