Birth of a Survivalist

December 9, 2014

I can feel every drip of water as it soaks my pant leg. No matter how I move I can’t escape it. I am cramped in a tiny space virtually stacked on top of my teammates as all seven of us try to fit in an inadequately sized lean to shelter to escape the rainstorm. The other guys seem to be sleeping well. They all seemed to be made for this out door stuff. Me I was growing to love it but up to this point I had not done any long-term survival training to this extent. I was still out of my element. A Jersey boy who other than the beginning levels of my Ninja Outdoor training I received from my teacher Steven K. Hayes and basic training in the Army I had never really spent much time out doors. However, I was not unlike many others from my African American Culture. It seemed that the great outdoors was not the common escape for African American’s at least were I came from. The outdoors I came from had cars instead of elephants, dogs instead of wolves, multi story buildings instead of trees. Other than a park here or there, and a zoo there was no real outdoors. Even on occasion I would go visit family that lived in what we called the “Country,” there still was no real sense of outdoor living. No one knew how to start a fire, find water, build shelter, and live off the land. Therefore everyone would avoid it. The concrete jungle is what we called our living habitat. To know how to navigate it was considered survival. However, lying drenched in this natural shelter; this was a different animal. It was evident on so many levels that it was a uniquely different level of survival. One aspect that could not be avoided is the fact that out of 100 participants in this program all separated into about 15 teams, there was myself and one other African American who no doubt was feeling the same way I was at that time; extremely unprepared as we lay surround by young Caucasian guys who where comfortable enough to sleep in these shelters. I did not know where he was but I was sure he was feeling the same way. Now don’t get the wrong idea this is not about color it was about the realization of cultural difference from my perspective at this moment in my life.

I was in the Army’s S.E.R.E (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program. This program would teach me much about wilderness survival and in this small moment Mother Nature was showing me her butt. I was now hungry, sleepy, wet, cold and cramped with nowhere to go. I was in charge of setting up the hide site/lean to, and I grossly underestimated the size. It was not long enough, nor wide enough. I was sure the other guys were not comfortable but they seemed to be sleeping fine. I looked at my watch and it was 3 in the morning. It had been raining since the following day and we would be on the move again in 2 hours. I began to feel frustrated. The discomfort was one aspect but my lack of proper preparation was another. Lack of life preparation and survival preparation were my weaknesses. It made me think more about why African American’s did not get outdoors for more wilderness experience. It seemed as though Mother Nature had intimidated many of us into hiding from her. Or maybe it was modern comforts that kept us from experiencing her. With a linage stemming back to Africa it would seem that outdoor living would be in our blood. I stewed for a few more minutes and began to get extremely frustrated. I loved rainy days as long as I was in the comforts of a warm dry bed. Something I could have had if I took the proper precautions when building this shelter. In a fit of rage I decided I was going to fight back. I would show Mother Nature that even in my lack of experience, I would beat her as I did my whole life by ignoring her and hiding from her. I knew I had a dry pair of cloths in my bag. So in a ludicrous moment I slide out of the shelter. Stood up in the pouring rain reached into my bag and began to put on dry cloths. Which of course became wet immediately. What a ridiculous thing but when you are deprived of comfort you will be amazed how you react. I was mindless doing something with no purpose. Once dressed I sat on the ground up against my rucksack. I had nowhere to go and nothing but time. I was still, wet cold and hungry. The only thing I managed to do was get another pair of cloths drenched. So many thoughts raced through my head. It was to dark and wet to make another shelter. I could not use light on the account that we where evading. I also could not move a lot as to avoid creating a lot of noise. Thus I just sat there helpless and miserable. I hated this feeling; I hated everything about this moment. In my self-pity I dropped my head back and stared up at the sky as the rapidly falling water hit my face it was a half moon and it caught my attention immediately. It was breath taking in these dark woods outside of Ft. Bragg and it screamed to me a reminder about how insignificant I was in comparison to nature. I exhaled as I realized I had been fighting a fight I could not win. My cultural upbringing had not prepared me for this I had never learned to respect nature. I was never truly aware of her power. My ignorance made me angry. However as I stared at the moon I realized that I did not have to fight. I did not have to be angry with my lack of experience or my cultural inheritance. I could change, I could adapt, I could embrace this moment and ride this dragon, not fight it. I could smile at the fact that Mother Nature was winning and in that winning I was learning how to truly survive. Not by fighting her but by accepting her, learning how to exist within her womb and becoming a master of her secrets. I smiled at the moon and had forgotten all about my disposition. I had transcend the “suck!,” for a moment, when suddenly I heard my team leader whisper “Who the F@$k is that sitting in the dark? Is that you Isler?” “Yes,” I replied. He smirked and said, “you’re as crazy as they come.” He had no idea of the enlightening moment I had and I never mentioned it but from that morning on mother nature and I had an understanding. I would plan not to fight her, instead I would plan to work with her and she has taken care of me ever since. I was reborn on that day. It was then I became a survivalist.