Originally appeared on Brushbeater. -NCS
I was sorting through some old stuff cleaning out a building- an odd collection of crap, mostly junk, from a stack of toughboxes holding my old gear from sometime in between deployments to the middle east. Its crazy just how much junk one bubba can collect, how you instantly are reminded of certain thoughts and feelings when you last used whatever it was, but most important, you come back to old gear with a different perspective.
Digging up a tattered old copy of Aukai Collins’ book My Jihad I had that feeling. Its been a couple of years since I last read it and that copy sits on my bookshelf. But this copy is different. Its a hard cover and was given to me by a pubic affairs guy I was drinking buddies with way back when, who knew Aukai through Robert Young Pelton’s Dangerous Places forum and had stuck up a friendship after living in southern Arizona near him. Back then I was fascinated by the story of a guy who, probably as a product of a rough upbringing and a renegade attitude against the world, converted to Islam in a California youth prison and took up arms in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and then Chechnya. Despite the religious aspect, he didn’t go fight for anything other than himself. He just didn’t know it at the time. And maybe that was the part that intrigued me the most. The story sounded familiar then and far more so now.
Even still, Aukai’s story is a telling one. despite his bungling across eastern Europe and Central Asia culminating in the Caucasus, its full of valuable lessons for a anyone reading it. It is a brutal yet entertaining tale of lessons learned in an asymmetric conflict. A big one is footwear. A man can go without a lot of things but proper footwear is the one thing that will either keep you going in miserable conditions or make you miserable in decent ones. And as anyone who’s trained with me knows, what’s on my feet is what I’ll always recommend.
Aukai died four years ago, but he left an interesting blog behind from about twelve years ago that I skimmed through after dusting off that old copy of My Jihad. And funny enough, he wrote about boots in one of the first posts.
For those of you browsing my website or blog who hail from the San Diego County area I have an interesting side note for you. In my book I mentioned that during one of my original adventures overseas I had to hike up a steep, muddy ravine that would allow us to by pass one of the bad guy’s firebases. This turned into an all night ordeal, hiking/crawling up steep ravines in the dark and mud. Upon exiting the ravine this was followed by another hike through a thick muddy field until we crossed the border and realitive safety.
Our guide took us to the first of a series of safe houses. Keeping with the local custom we took our boots off before entering the “home” (it was actually a man and his wife and four children living in a Conex shipping container because their house had been blown into a pile of rubble). My associates that had made the trek with me took of their wet boots caked in mud and then their socks had to come off also because these too were soaked. Although there were far greater problems to come during the war, like for example out of the four associates who had made the muddy trek with me that night, I am the only one left alive, at that moment soaking wet cold feet with blisters seemed to be quite a catastrophe.
I on the other hand was in relative luxury. My feet were bone dry and didn’t have a blister on them. I actually said a silent little thank you to the man that had sold me my beautiful Danners. My feet would continue that way on through the rest of the war until the day shrapnel from a POM-50 directional mine would tear through the boots like swiss cheese making holes in my legs that would eventually lead to the amputation of the right one.
Sounds awful familiar. Experience may be a cruel mistress but she is a good teacher. Danner is good to go and a pair of Elk Hunters are what’s on my feet as I type this. But then again I also have former Marine Raiders who brings a deer he killed in the back of his truck to my Alumni weekend and am trying to find time to get in the woods to kill my own this year…so it shouldn’t come as a shock.
Spend the coin and get a good pair of boots- its the lone deficiency that you can’t make up for in other ways in the field.