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Sleepless in the Service: 6 Tired Tales for National Napping Day

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (March 13, 2017) – Today, apparently, is National Napping Day. A Google search will tell you this holiday is observed annually the day following the return of daylight saving time. It’s ironic considering you lose an hour of sleep. The real lesson here is we need more astronauts and days of historical importance to name holidays after to make up for these half-baked holiday ideas.

Anyway, to commemorate National Napping Day (hooray), I want to explore how some of our nation’s veterans – both who work for and are served by Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) – have benefited from naps. And by benefited, I mean the most ridiculous napping stories from their military services. Who wants to hear a tale about the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had? No one, that’s who. Bad stories are funnier – so let’s start with this one from Coast Guard veteran Casey O’Donnell.

“On my first patrol in the Coast Guard, I had to shadow a few different people to learn what roles and responsibilities I would need to cover,” Casey said. “This meant I had to cover multiple watches. I realized I had been awake for well over 30 hours. I was growing increasingly tired by the minute, and no amount of caffeine was helping at this point. We were underway on patrol off the coast of the Mexico-California border on a nice clear night. The ship was gently rocking back and forth, and my lack of sea legs made me walk around like a newborn calf. I was banging into things left and right and fighting to stay awake.

“I didn’t want to appear weak, and I knew I would be made fun of if they found me sleeping, so I decided to take a quick power nap in the back of the engine room. It was warm and toasty in there, and I figured all I needed was 10 minutes to feel fresh and new again. With my head gently resting on a valve in the engine room, I figured I was out of the way of anyone just walking around. Sadly, I was sorely mistaken. The engine room is not a place to sleep. Apparently, it is a fire hazard and ‘unsafe.’ To say I was reprimanded would be an understatement. The worst part was the crew waking me up by yelling at me.”

Awesome story – compelling and rich. And the details really give you the sense that sleeping in a compartment filled with moving parts and engine fuel probably isn’t a good idea.

When I reached out to warriors about their most interesting napping experiences, many of their responses were actually quite insightful, like that one. Other responses were less insightful, like this one:

“I was too busy defending your freedom to nap,” joked Marine Corps veteran Tim Ross via email. “Although, I did fall asleep on a C-17 once before a parachute jump. That was nice. During my first deployment to Iraq, you kind of had to sleep at an angle because the sweat would pool up in your eye socket and wake you up.”

To better reflect a diversity of napping opinions – and to hit a self-imposed and utterly meaningless quota of the range of branches of services for this article – I asked Air Force veteran Adam Faine about his napping expertise.

“It was in early 2002, and I was part of the 66th Rescue Squadron deployed to Afghanistan. We were an Air Force Combat Rescue/Special Operations unit out of Las Vegas,” Adam said. “We had just set up camp in Kandahar. I say camp because this was early in the war when nothing was established. We built tents, ate MREs [meals, ready to eat], didn’t shower, and went to the bathroom in steel drums filled with JP-8 [jet fuel] so we could burn our waste.

“Anyway, we were tasked to head north toward Bagram to take part in Operation Anaconda. The now mega-base was nothing more than some blown up buildings and a handful of tents in 2002. When we arrived early in the morning, our leadership told us via Satcom [satellite communication] to get some rest for an expected mission that night. They were a few thousand miles away, and we had no real idea what our options were for sleep. The accommodations were few, but we did have a choice.

“Option one: sleep in our helicopter. OK, not great, but sure. We had all done it before but knew we wouldn’t get much rest. Option two was given to us by the senior medical officer. He said he had a dark tent we could use until he needed it for others. We were confused about who would be important enough to kick us out of our dark tent. Then he said, ‘if there are any casualties, I’ll have to take back my morgue.’ Confused looks turned to disbelief. He was offering his morgue to us so we could get some rest for the mission. Beggars can’t be choosers, so we took him up on his offer. I don’t know how many of us actually slept, but it was dark and quiet. That night Operation Anaconda started, and I was wide awake…”

Well, that took a morbid turn. And it was really more of a sleeping story, than about naps. Hey, you get what you get – just like those Air Force guys sleeping in the morgue tent. There’s a life lesson there I’m sure.

Moving right along, it’s time for a response from the next branch of service:

“One of the final requirements before graduating from basic training is successfully navigating a three-day field training exercise [FTX], which is a functional application of all the knowledge and skills you’ve learned,” said Army veteran Elle Loughan. “As with most activities in basic training, I was assigned a battle buddy, and let’s just say she could explain the physics required in the firing mechanism of an M16 but couldn’t tell you how to clear the rifle. As we were setting up our quarters for the first night, she assured me that she knew the best way to organize our shelter halves for maximum coverage from the elements and privacy. So after finding the perfect location, we went with her plan.

“Murphy’s Law always seemed to strike during training exercises, so of course, it began to downpour about two hours into sleeping. No big deal right? We had assembled our shelter halves with such expertise that it would protect us from the storm. Wrong! Not only were the shelter halves blowing all around but our ‘perfect spot’ was quickly becoming a puddle. One of the drill sergeants must’ve heard all the commotion and came over to see what was going on. After taking in the whole situation, he looked at us and said ‘if it ain’t raining, then we ain’t training.’ Before walking away, he expressed his confidence that we would figure it out. Needless to say, it was a long, wet night, and my battle buddy would no longer take charge in setting up our nightly quarters.”

If you were paying attention to the last one, you might’ve noticed it wasn’t a Navy story. But water and rain were mentioned, so it’s close enough. I don’t have Navy tales, but they get bunks on boats; it might as well be the Ritz-Carlton. But it’s my article, so here’s another Marine Corps anecdote.

“In our forward operating base near the Syrian border, we used to use old abandoned buildings for shelter,” said Marine Corps veteran John Williams. “We set up some cots in an old jail cell. I guess that means you could say I spent almost a quarter of my time in an Iraqi jail on the Syrian border. That sounds pretty cool, right?”

That does sound like something out of a spy thriller: “I did time in an Iraqi jail.” The storytelling street cred (if you exclude why you were in the jail cell) is off the charts. Good stuff.

“The best place to nap is probably on the hood of a truck on a cold night in Iraq,” said Army veteran Andrew Coughlan. “The warmth from the engine running makes it a little more comfortable. This would often happen either before night missions or if we were traveling and not at our ‘home FOB [forward operating base].’ The worst naps I had were during the first few days in Iraq. All I had was a very thin, military-issued sleeping pad that really didn't do anything to add comfort. The temperature was well over 100 degrees, and the flies were horrible. I'm pretty sure I also ate a few of them.”

See, wasn’t that nice? He bothered to give an insightful answer and he got a free meal. I can’t think of a higher note to end on.

Folks, remember that sleep is important. Medical experts say you should always get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. That way you can be your most positive, productive self. But if you skip out on sleeping at night, you can always sleep during the day. So whether you’re in your car, at lunch, or in the elevator, you can always find time for a good nap. And thank goodness, because how else could we celebrate the critically important National Napping Day, right?


Contact: Mattison Brooks – Public Relations Specialist


Phone: 904.646.6897

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