If you look up the definition of gung-ho in the dictionary, you will see a picture of me when I first went into basic training. I was ready for everything they threw at me, and felt as though I was G.I. Joe and ready to save the world. I did not have a clue. Little did I know that I was about to get a huge slice of humble pie.
One of the things that you have to do in the military before you graduate basic training is to be placed in a locked gas chamber with your squad. You are given your gas mask and they fill the gas chamber with biological gas. This is to help prepare you in the event that you are attacked with biological weapons. Putting on a gas mask is not as simple as sliding it on top of your head. There are steps that you must go through to ensure that the gas mask is sealed properly.
When it came time for me to lead my squad into the gas chamber I was at the pinnacle of my leadership skills. I knew all the steps and had ensured that all of my fellow squad members knew them as well. As far as preparation, there was little else I could have done to prepare for the gas chamber.
As I walked up to the entrance of the gas chamber, I felt the first batch of nerves hit me in the gut. Some of this was due to the fact that my father had told me what to expect. Some of it was due to the soldiers that were coming out at the exit with snot rolling out of their nostrils like a river. Whatever the case, I was ready to go.
Walking into the gas chamber the first thing I noticed was that it was pitch dark. This was unexpected and a surprise I had not counted on. We had been through many drills over the previous weeks, and certainly should be able to put the gas mask on and seal it in the dark. No problem, right?
When the gas began to trickle in it felt as though every nerve ending was on fire. The feeling and smell that you get inside your nostrils when exposed to this biological agent is without a doubt the most nauseating thing on earth. Your eyes begin to pour tears, and your sinuses completely drain as well. You can imagine the mess that it makes upon your face. Your breathing becomes labored as you hyperventilate and ingest more and more of the gas.
Finally, they gave the signal to put on our gas masks. At this point, I was handling the situation well. I put the gas mask over my head and began to go through the steps of sealing it. Once I had the gas mask sealed, I went to breathe. As it turns out, I did not properly seal my mask. Instead of breathing filtered air, I received another huge dose of gas.
At this point, I began to panic. All of my macho bravadoes was gone as I desperately fought against the gas that was filling my lungs. I managed to partially seal the gas mask so I was getting a little air, but I was also getting just enough gas to send me over the edge with fear.
After what seemed like an eternity, they finally opened the door to the gas chamber. It was like a light shining from heaven when I saw the door open and the daylight on the other side. In a panic I shot straight for the door. With my mask still over my head, I flew out into the daylight. What I did not know was that a huge oak tree was directly outside the door. The last thing I remember was seeing the light at the door and running through it. I never saw the oak tree coming.
I hit the oak tree at top speed face first. When I finally came to, my squad was standing over G.I. Joe and laughing. My nose was readjusted by the tree, and I’ve never felt cleaner sinuses in my lifetime. Ironically it was not the gas chamber that did me in. It was an innocent little oak tree.
After that day, I was a bit more humble about the military. I became a better leader for my squad, a better soldier for my military, and a better navigator of oak trees when I’m dressed like G.I. Joe and playing in a gas chamber.