Battle Buddy Series: A Prayer for the Unpracticed
Battle Buddy Series: A Prayer for the Unpracticed
by Darian McIntosh
Recently, I had a conversation with the son of a very good friend of mine. This dedicated young man decided at an early age to follow in his brothers’ footsteps and join the Army to serve the country that he loves. In preparation for his departure for boot camp next month, he has talked to a few battle-hardened individuals to get their expert advice. When his mother told him I did a stint in the Marine Corps, he eagerly sought out to hear some of my “war” stories.
Ever the polite young man that he is, he hid well any disappointment he may have had when he learned that, despite my serving in the United States Marine Corps, the branch of the military that prides itself on being the most hard-core, I am the farthest thing from being battle-hardened. I was fortunate enough to serve my 4-year contract out during peacetime in the mid-’90s. My husband loves to joke with me that my time in the Marine Corps was more like an extended vacation at Club Med (yes, I was stationed in Hawaii the majority of the time, so sue me). I look back at my military years with fondness and I would never compare my experiences with that of the thousands of others who have very real signs of PTSD from traumatic experiences while in the military.
I am the person that no one believed when I told them I joined the Marines and I am still the one that no one believes when I tell them I was once a Marine. I am not known for my reputation of being exceptionally hard-core at anything I do, really. My sport of choice (and one I am very good at) is couch surfing. Netflix and chill is my modern-day mantra (without the make-out sessions). Though it was called something different in the ’90s, it was my mantra before I joined the Marines. Yet, something inside of me wanted to do the unexpected and challenge myself, if only for a short period of time.
As my friend’s son and I delved deeper into conversation, he told me of some recent experiences he had in the Future Soldiers program he is a part of at his high school. “Never leave a battle-buddy behind” is something anyone who has served in the military has heard on more than one occasion and this young man proved how seriously he takes this particular motto when he has refused to leave the soldiers behind that fall out of formation runs. This includes soldiers joining other branches that were left behind by their own platoon leaders. Sometimes, his decision to never leave a battle buddy behind has been met with derision, as if he were doing it to gain attention. I know this young man well enough to know it is at the core of who he is as a person, and is never used as a way to impress anyone.
That got me thinking about the time I decided to run the Honolulu Marathon. Even though I was already in the middle of my enlistment, I was still doing the bare minimum to skate by, as much as the Marine Corps allows one to do so.
My best friend at the time, Kay, was the wife of a Marine. She was in better shape than I and she was a civilian. No one was making her do anything to stay in shape. She actually did it out of enjoyment! Imagine that…I sure couldn’t. Every day, she went on nature walks for miles on end with her two dogs. It wasn’t often that I went with her but even I had to admit, the few times I went with her, it was rather enjoyable. There was something about the one-on-one companionship that differed from the ceaseless running that I was forced to do 3 times a week in formation as a Marine. Going hiking with her and her dogs was so much more relaxing because she was my friend.
Her husband and my then boyfriend ran the Honolulu Marathon in December of 1994. That got the hamster wheel turning for us girls. I suppose I do have somewhat of a competitive spirit because when the guys were acting cocky at their amazingness, the “HELL, NO” in me came out in full force. It didn’t take long before Kay was voicing what I was thinking.
“We should sign up for next year and start our training now.”
Let’s not forget that I naturally hated running and was already being forced to do something I found no joy in, 3 times a week. But, to prove a point, I made a commitment with her. Her natural athleticism and enthusiasm for activity carried me on many occasions over the next year and I will be honest in telling you, had it not been for her, I would have slacked off on the majority of extra training. I more than likely would have shown up to the marathon never having run anywhere close to 26.2 miles in one session and I am not even sure I would have made it. The most I had ever run with my battalion was 4 miles. With Kay, we were running half marathons toward the end of our training 1-2 times a week.
For the athletically-inclined who may be reading this, that may sound like child’s play but I must stress again my absolute disdain for the art of running and my natural ability to want to quit at about mile 2. This was huge for me! And what’s more, the natural ease and cohesiveness at which Kay and I kept stride with one another brought me joy while running. The more we did it, the easier it became. I will never sit here and tell you that it was ever ACTUALLY easy but it became worth all that effort. The earned adrenaline rush through hard work and perseverance helped me to understand exactly why athletes do this kind of thing on the regular. Something the Marine Corps had a harder time convincing me of. Sure, the Esprit De Corps of being considered one of the few and the proud brought about some memorable moments but the camaraderie Kay and I shared in our common goal was something in a different category altogether.
Now here is where the Battle Buddy concept comes full circle. December, 1995. Race day. Kay and I excitedly gathered with the throngs of runners both new and experienced. The first 14 miles came relatively easy as we ran side by side, matching each other’s pace nearly wordlessly. It was somewhere around mile 15 that Kay groaned that her knees were giving out and she had to do some walking.
Now Kay’s definition of walking and mine drastically differed. A bit shorter than I in stature, she had long legs in contrast to her shorter torso. Her years of long hikes while keeping pace with two hyper dogs made her the absolute definition of a power-walker. I COULD NOT keep her pace while walking. It hurt me to even try. But my comfortable jogging pace was too fast for her power-walk. After the entire year of us effortlessly matching pace with one another, we had lost that mojo at the most pivotal juncture of our journey together. Her painful knees ensured she could no longer run, but only walk those last 11 miles. And my lack of ability to find a comfortable pace to match her new one made it rather difficult for me in those last 11 miles.
She saw my struggle and hurt and assured me it would be ok for me to go forward with my running pace. She would meet me later at the finish line.
Despite my military training, I could not have voiced why I felt so compelled to stay with her. All I knew was that we traversed this journey together from day one. She could have left me at any time in the beginning of our training when I wanted so badly to skip out and give up but her abundant optimism was the perfect complement to my natural pessimism. She didn’t let me give up on myself and I could not see crossing the finish line without her by my side. We crossed that finish line as a team.
The sense of pride I felt at our astounding accomplishment was one for the history books in the story of my life. Accomplishing something that your mind tells you is worthless to do from the second you try makes it that much more joyous when you finally get to see what an overcomer looks like.
As you may have guessed, my story, while I hope entertaining for everyone, is not geared toward the hardcore. It is more of a love letter for the difficult to motivate; a prayer, if you will. It is for those that are more inclined to opt-out on the difficult things in life out of mere convenience to not have to try so hard. You CAN do this. And you WILL be stronger for it.
If I were to break this down into steps for the unpracticed or even the practiced, then Step One would look like this:
#1: Find your Battle Buddy