Lessons from the Sandpit


When I arrived at boot camp, I was five foot-seven and about 160 pounds. The majority of others were a good four to six inches taller, 20 to 30 pound heavier and younger.

Needless to say I felt intimidated.

And while I only had to complete an indoctrination course, my biggest fear was failing and not receiving my EGA pin. I was also worried that I’d run into some so much stronger than me, that I’d be humiliated in some way

One early afternoon, the DI’s ran us out and into the “sandpit,” and handed us pugilist sticks. A stick as it is called is about three-and-a half-feet long with heavily padded ends. They weighed about 10 pounds, but by the time I finished, they would feel more like 100 pound.

We were outfitted in an old football helmet to protect our brains, or what little we had and a set of football-style shoulder pads. I was so small they could not be tightened up properly, while the others guys had to have their pads loosened a bit.

The exercise as it is known was to be man-to-man and hard charging. The outcome was decided by the “best of three” rounds. I knew I was in trouble when the guy I was facing off against was well over six-feet tall and out weighed me by at least 40 pounds.

His biceps were bigger than my head was round. Unfortunately, these massive arms were all I could focus on at first.

At the first whistle, I hardly saw what happened to me. All I know I felt like a rag-doll on a string. This came from repeated blows to chin, then top of head, right side of the head chin, top of head, left side of the head, until I hit the deck.

As quickly as I found myself lying in the sand, I scrambled to my feet. I could hear the DI’s screaming at me to “kill” as I waited for the next whistle.

When it sounded, I charged my opponent, only to find myself in the same situation. I was being beaten without mercy. What seemed worse, was I couldn’t defend myself, from his blows which rained down on me rapidly.

Once again, I found myself in the sand, this time face down. Only it was more difficult to get to my feet as fast as I had the first time.

My head was swimming and I was out of breath. But slowly, I did manage to get to my feet. This was time I used to access my situation.

It didn’t look good. This the exact situation I had been afraid of from day one.

When the whistle blew for the third time, I charged out. Instead of facing my opponent head on, I threw my stick at him like a spear. My opponent ducked to his right and I grabbed his stick with both hands.

True to human nature he pushed me backwards. I purposely flopped on my back. I placed a boot into his gut and flipped him over my head. He landed hard into the sandpit.

His momentum, as well as mine, carried me up and overtop of him. I had his stick in my hands and was in the process of using one end of it as a club.

The whistle must have blown and I didn’t hear it. I was still slamming the padded end of the stick into his helmet when a couple of DI’s bodily lifted me off my opponent.

In short order I had three or maybe four DI’s, surrounding me, screaming for not following instruction. They wanted to know, “What do you think you were doing?”

Amid the confusion I heard myself say, “I wasn’t thinking, I was adapting and overcoming, Sergeant!”

Suddenly it grew quiet and I figured I was in for the worst of it. Instead, I was told to fall in formation. There was no further mention of the incident by the DI’s.

And while I would never win a “best of three” stick-match, that day I learned fear is good, but it shouldn’t rule one’s attitude.

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