I chose the infantry because I love being outdoors. For years, I shivered in icy arctic winds, roasted under a blistering desert sun, melted under a thick jungle canopy or suffered from hypoxia on some remote mountain top.
I miss those good old days. Being in the infantry was like one long, campout.
I first went camping with my daddy and older brother, when I was not yet 10 years old. We were up hours before dawn. We ate thick-sliced, smoked bacon on burnt biscuits and drank boiling hot Luzianne coffee without cream or sugar. Then we hiked 6 or 8 miles into the hills of Georgia’s Chattahoochee Valley in the dark to find our deer stands. There, we waited patiently for that big buck or wild hog that never showed itself.
We didn’t do lunch. After sunset, we linked up and then hiked back to our campsite, where Daddy would add something new to the pot of camper’s stew we’d been working on all week. Sometimes, he’d fry some catfish we caught in the river nearby or grill pork chops or venison brought from home.
Our meals were mostly meat, coffee and “light” bread. Man food. Some mornings, Daddy would cook up a camper’s omelet — chopped bacon; six or seven eggs; a large, chopped onion; chopped green pepper and a can of mushroom pieces (drained first, of course). Seasoning included salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce and a generous-though-unintentional sprinkling of Georgia red clay.
After perfecting my camping skills while camping with high-school buddies, I adapted Daddy’s camper’s omelet by using a C-ration that was supposed to be a scrambled-egg cake with tiny chunks of ham in it. I only did this if I happened to find some wild onions during the previous day’s infantry training. I’d chop up the canned eggs (without the can) and onions in my mess-kit frying pan, and then add another C-ration called “pork slices cooked with juices.”
To this, I added cheese spread from the accessory package, plenty of salt, pepper, Tabasco sauce and Fort Bragg sand. It wasn’t Denny’s, but it was OK.
The bad thing — if there is a bad thing — about camp cooking is the risk of a little dirt in your food. And bugs — lots of bugs, actually. Mosquitoes, mostly. Deer flies (also called swamp or yellow flies) could be a nuisance too, but you get used to them after a few days.
And “days” is the key to camp cooking that most folks don’t think about. It’s not the same as cooking on your back-porch grill, where you can run inside if it gets too hot or too cold, or when you’ve had about all the bug bites you can stand. And you can’t go back in the house to get something you need to continue cooking.
If you forget to bring the extended “wiener” forks for your Ballpark Angus beef hotdogs, you can improvise with a long, sturdy, green stick. Always use green because if it’s dry, your hotdog and stick will both be in the fire before you know it.
If you are camping and forgot to bring food, it takes a little more time to improvise a replacement. Every outdoorsman knows fish will bite when you’re half-dreading the thought of taking them home to clean and put in the freezer. If you need to catch, clean, cook and eat them right now, they won’t bite.
That’s why it’s a good idea to always bring extra chow like Ramen noodles, trail mix or beef jerky.
My all-time favorite training exercise really was a week-long camping trip spent on a huge lake near Valdez, Alaska. We set up camp on a small peninsula. When we were not actually training, I was making use of the portable Shakespeare rod and reel I kept in my ruck. I admit the grayling trout I caught by the dozens were not keeper-size (legal), but my platoon buddies were glad to help eat the evidence.
Our platoon sergeant brought a Dutch oven, so I suggested we start a camper’s stew. Everyone contributed a can of something, but it needed more meat. Another guy carried a Ruger survival rifle in his ruck. This .22-caliber rifle came in three pieces and was perfect for squirrel hunting. I borrowed it and left camp, returning half an hour later with a half-dozen parka squirrels.
I could have gotten more, but I also came across some fresh bear scat. From the humongous bear tracks found nearby, it was clear this bear was too big for the stew pot. Besides, it’s wise to leave bears alone. Bears can be a bigger nuisance than deer flies and can ruin an otherwise fine campout.
Murray’s column appears weekly in the Courier. Email him at email@example.com.