I can be serious. I just don’t see the point in it often. I mean life is more fun with some out-of-script moments. And many times, serious and near-painful experiences have been made pleasant, and even fun, with a little wackiness.
Like on my deployments let’s say. There are times to be stern, tough, and professional. Those are our ‘game face’ moments. Times where you are engaging the local citizens, American public or Nato allies. You certainly don’t want your first impression to be of you acting a fool. No, that does not instill confidence in people. Then, there are moments of all out business. You have to get things right because in some situations, there is no room for error. Like when handling weapons or searching an unknown person entering the base, there is zero tolerance for playing.
On the flip side though, there are plenty of times where the mood can be lightened, needs to be lightened. As Soldiers, we wait a lot. I mean a lot. We have to stage our gear for movement. We have to then wait to move. Then, there is almost always some other delay. At times, it really seems like we are herding cats. As I have progressed in rank of the years, I understand it more now, but while you are living in the ‘waiting zone’ there is certainly ample opportunity for shenanigans. And in my opinion, these are the moments where people bond and release the stress. This is where units build morale.
There are also times where we joke, that some people may find odd, very odd. Like when mortars are going off. After doing the immediate proper things, such as putting on your gear (if it is not already on) or taking shelter in a bunker, there is nothing else to do (unless you are on special teams that deal with these situations). So you can sit there listening and feeling the explosions and feel terror. You can scream the sky is falling (and it kind of is). You can worry and wonder yourself into a frenzy, cursing each whistle and explosion. Or, you can laugh. I chose to laugh frankly. It is hope I cope. It is how many of us cope.
I remember one day in Afghanistan (2011) where our base was under attack. There was all kinds of gun fire and mortars. Our special teams were running here and there. Armored vehicles were hauling ass to strategic spots. Helicopters were buzzing over head. It was pretty intense, particularly when you don’t know what exactly is happening. So in the midst of this, the rest of us did what we were supposed to do: we stayed out of the way and waited in bunkers until we were needed. We followed orders, our standard procedure for this situation. Meanwhile, those of us in my bunker did what we could do to cope. We joked, we laughed, and we drank coffee. (One of the Soldiers happened to be making a pot of coffee when the alarms went off and his hut was right next to the bunker, and he just happened to bring it with him in the hurry to get there, lol.) So, ‘no shit, there we were’ finding a way to deal with the craziness. What’s hard for most Soldiers, is not doing anything. It drives us crazy. We want to help. We want to contribute. However, in moments like this where we know we have to sit tight while others do the brunt of work, we get anxious. Combine that with the natural anxiety of wondering if the next mortar will land on your head…and there is a need to be silly.