Trying to walk through our muddy base camp has become like walking on fudge, layered with mousse and covered with chocolate milk. The slurping sound that accompanies each trudging step lengthens our day, shortens our accomplishments and weights each foot with an extra two pounds.
Trucks skid through the muddy camp as if they were driverless cartoon characters in the movie “Cars.” A pickup in a granddaddy pothole is winched out by a Humvee; 20 feet away, a fully loaded porta-potty slides into the ditch.
“This mud sucks, chaplain!” complains a passing airman.
“Embrace the suck,” I say, repeating a raw military witticism.
According to a book by the same name, the expression means: “The situation is bad, but deal with it.”
The oft-quoted Prussian Gen. Carl von Clausewitz showed understanding of the “suck” when he wrote: “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”
As he predicted, the simplest things — like getting water into camp, fueling our generators and siphoning our porta-pottys — are very difficult.
With all the “simple difficulties,” our folks still move out each morning to four work sites about 20 minutes from the camp. They go because they are the 820th Expeditionary RED HORSE Squadron (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers. See tinyurl.com/mudwheels.)
At our site in Sanson, a bulldozer driven by the guys we call “dirt boys” pushes through the mud to make room for a playground. Electricians climb ladders to hang lights on a pavilion where children will play, sheltered from the blistering sun.
Simultaneously at a clinic in Rio Iglesia, a construction crew lays concrete block for a storage room as they inhale the contents of 16-ounce water bottles like they were oxygen. Carrying heavy bags into the area, their sweat absorbs lime, and some deal with painful burns.
Across the street at a school, plumbers put in needed bathrooms as engineers contemplate what to do with the remnants of an old outhouse, a toxic-looking liquid dump topped with floating syringes.
At our third site in Santa Librada, the Army works to build four classrooms. They seem to be in a friendly race with their Air Force counterparts and work an extra half-day to gain the edge. When the teachers call recess, the children emerge from under the thatched roofs they call classrooms to kick a soccer ball around with the soldiers.
All the while, ancillary crews go off in every direction. My assistant and I remove our mud-caked rubber boots to enter the local church looking for an English-speaking priest to do confessions. Our medical doctor drops off specimens to a Panamanian lab.
The commander visits our sites to keep the jobs on schedule. Fuel trucks bring the fuel for the heavy equipment on site. Supply trucks make the three-hour trip to Panama City for needed supplies and additional troops.
Watching these guys truck through the “suck” has taught me a lot about what to do when I get stuck in life.
First, keep moving. If you stop, the mud dries and you’re stuck.
Second, call a friend to help pull you out. Don’t be embarrassed. We all get stuck sometimes.
Finally, sometimes we have to simply wait for help from above. In the words of Isaiah, “Those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired, they walk and don’t lag behind.”
Remember those three things, and I think you’ll have to admit, “Being stuck in the muck doesn’t have to suck.”