Posted on: November 21, 2019 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Will Karopulos

Outside Contributor

As Mike Smith coiled himself up in a 4×4 ft blanket with one of his buddies, many thoughts rushed through his head. Smith asked himself, “Will I make it out alive? Why am I doing this?” He was holding a loaded rifle and keeping watch in one of Germany’s tallest mountains. The blanket didn’t even wrap around their brawny builds fully. The barrel of his gun was becoming an icicle. Smith and his Army brother were preserved by body heat in the 0° Fahrenheit temperature. Snow flurries would whirl around their soon to be lifeless bodies. They still had 10 hours left of guard watch. This was part of his most intense training of being a Private rank. It would require physical and mental strength. This suffering would prove it all!

“This was part of the best and worst feeling of my life,” Smith says. “It was brotherly love in a way I couldn’t explain. That exercise tested us fully.”

Smith recently left the Army and is currently a Freshman at Moraine. He enlisted into the Army on August 12, 2014. His highest rank was a Private First Class (PFC). He was stationed in Germany where his main garrison was located. 

“The main reason for me joining the military is to serve my country and my deep devotion for it,” Smith says. “I specifically went for the Army because it felt more like a brotherhood to me. My ancestors played a big role in it as well. Even the movie Band of Brothers helped sway my decision.”

Some of his uncles and even grandfathers have been in the Army, Navy, or Air Force. They served in various aspects: as a WW2 pilot, communications for Japan, or another in the 24th infantry division. His family was the sole reason for his service for the military. Band of Brothers is focused around a specific company, and now Smith can relate to these soldiers.

Being away from family for a long period of time and not having normal food or entertainment were only some of the sacrifices he had to make. The holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, made it especially hard for soldiers to conduct their duties, because of being away from loved ones on a special day. The food they would normally receive was MRE (Meals Ready-to-Eat), which normally was tuna or pasta. It was basically cafeteria food in a pack. The entertainment was not normal streaming of 

videos, but instead DVDs for movies or a small Wi-Fi puck for texting.

“Not seeing family for months, or calling every other week was hard, but you do get used to it after a while,” Smith says. “The worst is when something bad happens to a soldier, and their family doesn’t know until a short while after.”

Smith’s uncle received a gash during a battle in the Army. His family didn’t get a notice until a month later. Fortunately, it was nothing too serious, although he did need rest and recovery.

As a Private, one of the goals is to be accustomed to weaponry and certain tactics in the “military book”. Smith has experience with handling a saw gunner, light machine gun, Javelin gunner, and Rocker Propelled Grenade (RPG). This connects to the tiers of training as well. Smith accomplished basic level training like navigation and rifle qualification. Other tiers are Ranger Training and Special Forces, which only the best get into. 

“One example of a training action is called a 12-mile ruck,” Smith says. “We go on a 12-mile journey with a 45-pound backpack on our backs to meet the time limit. I had to get this done because after 9 months in the Middle East, we were going to be sent home for three weeks on leave.”

When soldiers visit other countries, their experiences may differ. They can also have a lack of support or supplies. Smith’s team’s goal was to teach other countries on how to defend themselves correctly, if another nation attacks. 

“While I was in Eastern Europe, our team was testing some weapons,” Smith says. “We needed to figure out which equipment worked, and the correct qualifications. Once we started firing in our isolated location, a shepherd came with some of his sheep near the blast radius area. We had to tell him to leave, but my CO [commanding officer] told me to ask him how much two sheep were. We had a low supply of food, and we needed these sheep. Two sheep were 400 ley or about 100 dollars. In total this fed about 400 men from the US and even Canada.”

As Americans we tend to waste food or even just take for granted how well-off we are as a nation. In Smith’s case, they had to rely on being lucky off the sheep and even eat some “mystery” meat. Some countries don’t even have usual items like peanut butter or chocolate. 

“The Army has taught me about giving everything with 100% effort, giving more than taking, courage to face things head-on, and most importantly, being a better overall person,” Smith says.

Before the Army, Smith did not have any of these traits. For example, he adopted the habit of setting his bed after waking up every day which he never did before. The Army’s routine and consequences made him into a mature man to accomplish all these tasks.

Today, Smith wants to pursue a degree in Engineering. He will use his standpoint on what the Army and other experiences have taught him in life for the future. 

“As my legacy I would have hoped to leave behind in the Army, is my positivity throughout the whole process, and I hope to pass on caring for each other since it is a big brotherhood,” Smith says.

Will Karopulos is a COM 101 student of Professor Lisa Couch.  This article was written as class assignment on empathy.  Will can be contacted at karopulosw@student.morainevalley.edu.