Phase 3 – Group Survival (continued)
Relocation and Warmth
We had been in the field on our USMC Mountain Survival Course for four days in Phase 1 and five days for Phase 2. Phase 3 was just beginning. We had taken in roughly 1500 calories over nine days. After everyone had arrived from our isolation locations, the group went for a hump. We moved about five klicks up and down a couple of mountains and posed at the top in some snow for a couple group pictures. Then we humped back down into a large, mostly barren valley, which had a grassed stream running through the center about 4-5 feet across.
We arrived around afternoon and dropped our packs and gear in formation, except our personal survival kits and knives that were strapped to our bodies. After the hump and with the rising sun, we warmed up. Most had stripped down to skivvy tees or taken off their grid fleece and dropped them on their packs. I had put my grid fleece in my pack but still wore my blouse.
Group Division and Fishing Lesson
The instructors split us into three groups– two groups of nine and one group of eight. I was in the group of eight. We spent a couple of hours learning from the instructor how to catch fish with our hands. One person would muddy the water upstream. As the sediment floated down and obscured the fish’s sight, another would slowly move their hands through the murky water along the creek bank feeling for fish. No one caught any except the instructor. We did have some close calls. The fish were still small but slightly larger than before. The largest fish we saw was probably six inches.
After several hours of enjoying the sun and hand fishing. Our instructor sent me and one other to fetch our individual packs for a “demonstration”. Being the untrusting sort, I grabbed my pack and stuffed several nearby fleece and blouses into it. (I had heard rumors that in the old course they did a group survival with limited equipment.) After returning to the group, we were told that the third phase had started. The only equipment we had for eight people was on our bodies and in the two Assault Packs. We were able to get everyone a blouse or fleece to wear, luckily, as this phase had the coldest temperatures we would encounter. It was getting late so we started throwing together a shelter and making a fire.
Our Plan for Heat
Because of the sniper’s shelter catching fire and collapsing, the overseers of our course told the instructors no more fires were permitted. After they pointed out the forecasted temperature and risk of hypothermia, they relented but only on the condition that we set our shelters up in the open away from anything flammable. This meant we set up in a dusty area with very little shelter from the wind, which made it even harder to get a fire started. We began by dragging large logs and rocks together to build three walls in a “U” shape to give us shelter from the wind on three sides. In the center, we built the fire around a small rock wall parallel to the long sides of the U to reflect the heat in all directions. We had no overhead cover, and planned on cuddling under the two tarps if it rained.
Experience With Heat Rotations
That night the temps went into the low teens. We had stuffed our blouses and trousers with leaves to help insulate. We cut holes in the trash bags from our survival kits and put our heads and arms through it to help reflect heat. Others pulled the gauze wrap from their AFAIK and wrapped it around their faces like a scarf. We partnered up to cuddle and stand fire watch. One pair would keep the fire stoked while the rest would try to sleep, changing out every hour. Our sleeping method was laying parallel. One person would face the fire and warm their front while their partner pressed up against them from behind with arms wrapped around holding tight. After roughly 30 minutes, we would switch. (It was all we could take.)
We were close enough to the fire that most of us burned our boots, and we all had singed faces from blowing embers. Our fronts would feel like they were cooking. I wore my shemagh over my face to keep from being burned. Our backs would be reasonably warm with our partner pressed against you. But the person in the back, would shiver uncontrollably, with the only slight warmth coming from your partner in front of you. Those 30 minute spans in the back were ungodly miserable. No one really slept. We just laid there in a baking and shivering revolving daze waiting for dawn.
By morning we had all given up trying to sleep and were huddled around the fire. This is where the space blankets came in handy. Wrapping that behind your body, like a cape with the front gapped open would do a great job of reflecting heat onto your body and help block the wind from taking your body warmth. The space blanket was limited in use. It was great for signaling and reflecting heat. But wrapping your body in it and lying on the ground did not make any of us feel warmer. Your body is giving off some heat. But since you are inactive, the amount of heat reflected is minimal. I would still recommend one. With another heat source to reflect, it worked very well. The material tears like tissue paper though, so be gentle with it.
Splitting Up and Finding Food
Once the sun came out to warm us, we split up. Some guys checked the snares and tried fishing. Others gathered edible plants. The rest worked on improving our wind breaks and gathering a lot of fire wood. With our limited time the night before, the latter fire watches had to search for wood constantly during the night to keep us from freezing. Most of the day, we lounged in the sun and slept. By evening, we had caught two prairie dogs and a small fish about five inches long. We cleaned and skinned the dogs and roasted them on a spit over the fire.
Being fearful of bubonic plague, we roasted them until they were burned to a crisp. Then we passed the small withered critters around on a stick and each took a small bite. The fish was gutted, then cut into pieces and passed around to be eaten raw. I don’t do sushi, so I passed. After seeing the guy who got the tail throw up after he swallowed it, I was glad I did.
The MRE Deal
That evening the instructors came and offered us a deal. They offered two MRE’s for our fire. After the previous night, no one in my group wanted to make the trade. That night was more brutal than the one before. The wind had picked up and made it more hellish and miserable. Dawn brought out the base commander with a Navy corpsman to check us each out for hypothermia or frostbite. That was when we found out one of the other groups made a poor decision and took food over fire. They spent the night shivering together in a pile under their tarps, but no one died.
Energized By A MRE
That morning, each group was given one MRE to be split amongst the group. We made the food division as fair as possible. We broke the cracker into eight pieces and split the cheese on it, with each person getting a piece. For the entrée, we passed around the pouch and shared a spoon taking one evenly leveled bite each. Concerned about cooties? We didn’t care. The M&Ms were counted out from the desert pouch and handed out. We were energized by this sudden windfall in food, which provided roughly 150 calories each. We tore down our shelters, gathered up our packs, and went for another five klick or so hump through the wilderness. Mentally, this was easier after having that small amount of food. Physically, we were still all in pretty poor shape. Energy was extremely low.
The trail we took was cross country. At times, we had to crawl on hands and knees up mountain sides. We humped to an LZ and were told this would be our final night.
Our Final Night
That night the class made one large fire. Then we broke into our previous smaller groups to make shelters. We made a large lean-to against a massive uprooted tree using our tarps attached to the top of the fallen tree trunk with 550 cord and anchored it at the bottom with rocks. The only way in was to move on hands and knees and crawl on our bellies. We all got to experience trying to sleep without fire that night.
Even with all of our gear returned to us, that night was extremely cold as well. I slept for about two hours and woke to an almost empty shelter with no feeling in my feet. After trying to wiggle the feeling back, and fearful of frostbite, I crawled out and found the majority of the class pressed in against the fire trying to stay warm. It was another exhausting sleepless night.
SurvivalBlog Writing Contest
This has been part three of a five part entry for Round 71 of the SurvivalBlog non-fiction writing contest. The nearly $11,000 worth of prizes for this round include:
- A $3000 gift certificate towards a Sol-Ark Solar Generator from Veteran owned Portable Solar LLC. The only EMP Hardened Solar Generator System available to the public.
- A Gunsite Academy Three Day Course Certificate. This can be used for any one, two, or three day course (a $1,195 value),
- A course certificate from onPoint Tactical for the prize winner’s choice of three-day civilian courses, excluding those restricted for military or government teams. Three day onPoint courses normally cost $795,
- DRD Tactical is providing a 5.56 NATO QD Billet upper. These have hammer forged, chrome-lined barrels and a hard case, to go with your own AR lower. It will allow any standard AR-type rifle to have a quick change barrel. This can be assembled in less than one minute without the use of any tools. It also provides a compact carry capability in a hard case or in 3-day pack (an $1,100 value),
- An infrared sensor/imaging camouflage shelter from Snakebite Tactical in Eureka, Montana (A $350+ value),
- Two cases of Mountain House freeze-dried assorted entrees in #10 cans, courtesy of Ready Made Resources (a $350 value),
- A $250 gift certificate good for any product from Sunflower Ammo,
- Two cases of Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs), courtesy of CampingSurvival.com (a $180 value).
- A Model 175 Series Solar Generator provided by Quantum Harvest LLC (a $439 value),
- A Glock form factor SIRT laser training pistol and a SIRT AR-15/M4 Laser Training Bolt, courtesy of Next Level Training, which have a combined retail value of $589,
- A gift certificate for any two or three-day class from Max Velocity Tactical (a $600 value),
- A transferable certificate for a two-day Ultimate Bug Out Course from Florida Firearms Training (a $400 value),
- A Trekker IV™ Four-Person Emergency Kit from Emergency Essentials (a $250 value),
- A $200 gift certificate good towards any books published by PrepperPress.com,
- A pre-selected assortment of military surplus gear from CJL Enterprize (a $300 value),
- RepackBox is providing a $300 gift certificate to their site, and
- American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) is providing a $300 certificate good towards any of their DVD training courses.
- A Royal Berkey water filter, courtesy of Directive 21 (a $275 value),
- A custom made Sage Grouse model utility/field knife from custom knife-maker Jon Kelly Designs, of Eureka, Montana,
- A large handmade clothes drying rack, a washboard, and a Homesteading for Beginners DVD, all courtesy of The Homestead Store, with a combined value of $206,
- Expanded sets of both washable feminine pads and liners, donated by Naturally Cozy (a $185 retail value),
- Two Super Survival Pack seed collections, a $150 value, courtesy of Seed for Security, LLC,
- Mayflower Trading is donating a $200 gift certificate for homesteading appliances,
- Montie Gear is donating a Y-Shot Slingshot and a $125 Montie gear Gift certificate.,
- Two 1,000-foot spools of full mil-spec U.S.-made 750 paracord (in-stock colors only) from www.TOUGHGRID.com (a $240 value), and
Round 71 ends on July 31st, so get busy writing and e-mail us your entry. Remember that there is a 1,500-word minimum, and that articles on practical “how to” skills for survival have an advantage in the judging.