Thursday, April 26, 2012

Planning Ahead - Shelter and the Shovel - A Story of Real Life Survival

A close family member used to tell a story that has a valuable lesson for everyone. While serving in the Navy, he did a tour of duty in a place called Adak, Alaska. It was pretty cold, windy and snowed a lot.

He was a storekeeper and was in charge of a large warehouse with all kinds of supplies for the military base. The most popular items requested were always blankets, boots and booze. There were also lots of other items in the warehouse. The most important of which was snow shovels.

His story was really quite short. It left you with the sort of feeling that if you failed to plan ahead, you may not survive very long. It’s the simple things you fail to prepare for that will quite literally ruin your chances for survival. Here is that story.

“He looked up and saw a new recruit entering the warehouse. He knew immediately that he was going to have to drag out some blankets and boots. He doubted the rookie, who had just entered the building, knew what he was in for now that he had arrived at base. He knew the extreme weather conditions could be a real “SOB”. He also knew most raw recruits doing their first tour of duty had no idea of what they were going to be in for now that they had arrived.

The rookie walked up to his desk and reported that he was here to pick up his gear and presented the standard requisition form. He took the form and proceeded to tear it up. The rookie spoke up quickly saying, “Sir, why are you doing that?” He then stated, “Forget all this stuff son. You won’t be needing most of it anyway. Besides, I’ve already got your gear ready and waiting for you in that pile right over there.”

The rookie looked at the pile of gear and the first thing he noticed was a shovel. He hadn’t requested a shovel and had already seen lots of shovels stacked inside the doorways of most of the buildings already.
He then remarked, “But sir, I shouldn’t need a shovel because I’ve already seen plenty of shovels inside most of the buildings already. Besides that, I’ve seen the heavy equipment outside and it’s a lot more efficient in moving snow than a man with a shovel.”

The grizzled old veteran looked at the rookie and could only shake his head. The rookie had given very little thought to his present situation. It was time to tell him about the way things really are and what the rookie was about to experience. He then instructed the rookie to take a seat while he explained how things worked in the real world.

The grizzled old veteran took a few moments to get his thoughts together and then went on to explain a few things to the rookie.
“You see son, life requires you to plan ahead if you want to survive. You’ve already noticed all the shovels everywhere and you should have realized that they must be important. You can look at your pile of gear and there’s another shovel for you there also.” The rookie responded, “I didn’t even include a shovel on my original requisition form you tore up.”

The old man responded, “Of course not, the newbies never do. But that’s because you don’t know what you’re up against and it’s my job to make sure you have the equipment you need to survive. This place can be one of the coldest and most God-forsaken places on earth and if you’re not prepared, the weather will kill you faster than the enemy. When we get a bad blizzard, it gets bad enough to make a polar bear cry and they’re a lot better equipped to handle the weather than you are. You need to remember that we need shelter to protect us from those really bad blizzards and snow storms.” The new recruit then asked, “But how’s a shovel going to help me survive?”

Once again the old veteran spoke to the rookie. “It’s like this son. When we get a blizzard, you’re going to need that shovel because it’s going to be needed to dig your way out of here.” The rookie briefly interrupted saying “There are already plenty of shovels and therefore I shouldn’t need one.” The old veteran just shook his head and then continued with his explanation.

“Hopefully, there will be two things that you will learn while you’re stationed here. The first thing you need to learn is that everyone is expected to do their share. That’s why everyone, including you, gets a shovel. The second thing you need to learn is that when there’s only one way in, you need to have a plan for getting out. Otherwise, a box with only way in is only going to become a coffin.” 

The rookie rose slowly from his seat and walked over to the pile of gear and picked up his shovel. On his way out of the warehouse the old veteran heard him say just one word, “Thanks.”

Staying above the water line!



Anonymous said...

That is a great story. What I took out of it - if you are snowbound, you are dead. If not from the hypothermia, than its being stuck with no resources.

Navy91 said...


The feeling you got from the story is correct. Adak is definitely a place where not planning ahead and taking precautions can get you killed in a hurry. The weather there is absolutely unforgiving. They call it the "birthplace of the winds".

I spent 18 months there as a kid when my dad was stationed there. I also spent 6 months there as an adult deployed with Patrol Squadron 48 in 1989. Adak is a place you will never forget if you ever spend any time there.


riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 7:37

One of the main points he always tried to get across was that everyone has to do their part if you want to survive. Too often we seem to forget that aspect.

Thanks anon.


riverwalker said...

To: Navy91

I've never been there but have heard many a "horror" story from that "grizzled old veteran" who just happened to be my Dad.

Sounds like you may have a few stories of your own after having actually lived there for a while.

Thanks Mark.


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