The annual Army-Navy college football game takes place today. Since 1890, Army and Navy have done battle 112 times, with Navy holding a slight edge all-time at 56-49-7. Navy has also been victorious in the past ten meetings, a streak Army is looking to break at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Football is all about toughness, and with just seven wins in 112 years separating the two branches, we started thinking about an intriguing question: Who's tougher? We spoke with a pair of cousins, one an Army veteran, the other a current member of the Navy, about some of the toughest situations they've found themselves in.
Army basic training, according to Mates, is all about discipline. It's about knowing your role and not stepping out of line. And if you do, well, you pay a price. Mates said, "In basic training, they call it 'getting smoked.' Push-Ups until you puke. I was always getting smoked. I mean always. In the first two weeks of basic training, I gained 9 pounds of muscle."
On one particular day at Fort Benning, Ga., where Mates was stationed, his drill sergeant caught him without his weapon, a "cardinal sin" in basic training. Mates had been cleaning his gun, a process that requires disassembling the weapon, when one of his fellow soldiers called him over. Mates obliged, leaving his weapon behind, and was caught. Push-Ups followed immediately. But when Mates was caught for the second time that day without his weapon, things got serious. The same drill seargent made Mates put on three extra pounds of equipment, or what Mates calls the "full battle rattle," and then took him out to a muddy field.
"He damn near drags my ass through the mud for an hour and a half. Screaming at me, making me crawl through the mud, do Push-Ups in the mud. This is what happens when you leave your weapon unattended. I’m pretty sure I started crying at one point," Mates said.
Prepping to jump out of a plane is one thing. Actually jumping out of a plane is a whole other animal. After graduating from basic training, Mates enrolled in Airborne School for a 3-week course culminating with an actual plane jump. Nothing in the classroom prepared Mates for the actual act of jumping out of a moving plane.
"I was fine the whole three weeks," he said. "Physically at that point, nothing was demanding. I was having a blast. But I swear, when I put both my arms at the side of the door and I’m looking at that door and I’m looking down—like whoa! It was like being sucked into a vaccum. As soon as the first piece of your body crosses that threshold, you’re gone."
But jumping out of the plane wasn't even the most terrifying part. It was attempting to land without getting hurt. That was the worst part. Mates: "My last jump, as soon as I make sure I’m deployed fine, I immediately look down to see what I’m over. No matter what I did, I could not get away from this pickup truck. This big white F150 sitting right in the drop zone. Once I realized I wasn’t going to hit, I was like 20 feet above the ground. Had to pull my combat pack and get in the landing position really quick, and it did not go well. I didn’t break anything, but I hit the ground and immediately was dragged across the ground. Between rolling end-over-end and being dragged by my chute, it was very, very scary."
Reed works on an Amphibious Assault Ship, a large ship that carries helicopters and aircraft capable of a short take-offs and landings. When helicopters armed with weaponry are preparing to land, they are directed to settle in at a 45-degree angle and aim their weapons at the sea, not the flight deck. Once the bird lands, one of the aircraft handlers alerts the ordinance men to disarm the aircraft, allowing the aircraft handlers to move in and secure the helicopter to the ship. Via e-mail, Reed tells the story of how a miscommunication almost led to disaster.
"One day we had a [helicopter] come in, land on an angle, which, again, signals it is loaded, and the Landing Signalman Enlisted [LSE] gave the signal for the ordinance men to do their job. However, the pilot or someone else communicating with the LSE told her that this [helicopter] was not armed, so myself and another handler were waved in, thinking nothing of it. When I got around the [helicopter] to the tie-down point, which is right next to the helicopter's rocket launcher, I hear a Marine Corps ordinance man screaming 'Get out, it's still armed!' I had basically positioned myself in front of a rocket launcher that could have gone off at any second as a result of me rubbing against it the wrong way or maybe one of my 14 foot chains clanging against it. Who knows? All I knew at the time was 'I'm out of here.'
"What I did next was just as dangerous. We're taught a certain way to run in under every [helicopter] we work with. Most of them have their rotor blades tilted forward so we run in and out from the side to avoid getting our [heads chopped off] on the flight deck. Well in that moment, I blanked out and just ran out straight to the LSE. I don't know how close the blades were to my head, but I never would have if they were low enough."
Mates was forced to crawl and do Push-Ups in the mud while wearing heavy equipment, then had to avoid slamming into a truck after jumping out of a plane. Reed's job is inherently dangerous, and any form of miscommunication could lead to a gruesome catastrophe. It's safe to say you've got to be pretty tough to join the military.
Photos: navytimes.com, marsoc.marines.mil, simplepimple.com, commons.wikimedia.org