Facing Down What Scares Us Most

W as there ever something that unnerved or frightened you so much as a child that it stuck with you into adulthood? I’m sure this phenomenon is common for a lot of us, but, in my experience, those fears are almost never worth the anxiety we allot them. One fear that stuck with me from my early childhood into my early adulthood was the idea of crawling underneath machine gun fire in basic training for the army. Let me explain. I was the youngest of five boys growing up, and, when I was around 6 years old, my oldest brothers, who were twins, went to basic training after they were drafted for the Korean War. When they came back home to visit, they told us stories of their grueling time at basic, and among those stories was one about crawling under machine gun fire. It was exactly what it sounds like; new trainees would have to crawl on their bellies through the dirt, all while a machine gun blared over their heads, simulating the turmoil of the battleground. Now, my older brothers might have made the experience sound more harrowing that it actually was, if only to scare me. Exaggerating events to younger siblings to frighten them is a hallmark pastime of older brothers everywhere. However, fact or fiction, the idea of bullets flying overhead before they even got to the battleground stuck with me. About 18 years later, I joined the Army National Guard, and I had to go through Army basic training. My brothers’ story came back to haunt me as I was on my way to Fort Campbell in Kentucky. I realized I would probably have to do the very thing that scared me so much. Part of basic training for me and the other new trainees was bivouacking at the fort in December. Even in Kentucky, camping out in the middle of December is freezing, and talk of crawling under machine gun fire permeated the camp. The stories were reminiscent of some of the things my brothers had said. A few trainees claimed they heard the machine gun fell off its mount while the last group was completing the exercise, but I don’t know how true that was. It certainly didn’t help me feel less anxious about the whole ordeal, though.

The day finally arrived, but it did not go as I thought it would. As I stood in line at the mess tent, my drill sergeant called on me and five others to get on a personnel truck once we were finished eating. They were taking us back to our quarters to do KP duty for the night, and then for breakfast the next day. That meant we were on a truck right when we were supposed to crawl. Long story short, we watched a lot of trainees crawl under machine gun fire — but I never had to do it myself. Now, I don’t mean to apply my experience to say you’ll never have to face the thing you’re afraid of because you might have to do just that. But I think there’s a lesson here about not worrying about things you can’t control because you simply don’t know if what you’re afraid will really ever happen. We’ll all come face to face with the things we’re afraid of, but, if we can accept that some aspects of facing our fears are out of our control, I think we’ll ultimately come out alright. -Doug Barnes


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