How Botched Undertakings Lead to Success

4 minutes to read

Guten tag. You may not have heard. But a couple of weeks ago the Navy deployed me to the Warrior Transition Program in Sembach, Germany. My last active duty time was two years ago. A funny thing happened on the way to reintegrating to military life…

Do You Improve Resilience with Every Task-

My Bungled Cross-Country Run

Reservists and individual augmentees who have been in AFRICOM and CENTCOM come to WTP on their way home. The Navy calls our program a Third Location Decompression point. Sailors can catch up on sleep, learn about the transition process, and make plans for the future.

Among other duties, I go with the participants on trips off base. One trip takes place on Saturday, for me the Sabbath. So I can’t ride the bus there. I also can't ride a bike or horse. In other words, I have to walk.

Kaiserslautern is 13 kilometers from the base. Now I often run 8 miles. So last Tuesday I decided to make a test run there. I printed out a map and hit the road. The weather was great – cool with the sun shining. After three miles I had run through the villages of Sembach and Melighen. The trouble began.

German roads aren't marked. So I had no idea that when I hit the outskirts of Melighen I was already off course. A short time later, the road turned into a wide dirt path. Crops and paddocks of horses lined both sides. Rain the night before meant concentrating on avoiding huge mud puddles.

At the six-mile mark, I came to a crossroads. Realizing I was off my mapped course, I decided to ask for directions. Then I realized my German was limited to what I learned watching Hogan’s Heroes.

I came up with a plan. I’d interrupt a hiker with bitte (please). Then I’d name my destination and point in a direction. If the person responded yah, that’s the direction I’d go. If he said nein, I’d point toward the other one and repeat, “Kaiserslautern?” Soon a lady came walking toward me.

Me: “Bitte, Kaiserslautern?” pointing the way she had come. A quizzical look came over her face.
Her: “Yah, Kaiserslautern,” pointing behind her. Bingo, I was on the right track.
Me: “Danke!” (Thank you!) Off I ran confidently.

Two more crossroads necessitated further exercises of my limited German. The third was with a man walking four big dogs that eyed me hungrily and barked so loud we could hardly hear each other. He appeared perplexed as he tried to figure out how to direct me. Finally, he pointed me down the road at what I realized was a town.

Since my Fitbit showed eight miles, I thought this had to be Kaiserslautern. But I wondered at his confusion. Once there, I realized it was too small to be Kaiserslautern. Half a mile down the road, back on a main highway, I came to a sign that read, “Kaiserslautern 11 km.” It pointed to a leaf-covered dirt path blocked by a heavy chain. Discretion got the better of valor. I headed back to the town I had just passed.

Soon, I realized where I was. I had made a huge circular run through the countryside and was back in Melighen. Essentially, I was back to where I’d started.

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It hit me then. I was living the transition nightmare.

4 Takeaways to Apply to Your Transition

My two and a quarter hour run showed me:

1. Get the most precise map available. I’m still not sure where I got off course. The map I downloaded didn't give me enough detail to know. When you travel through new territory you can make a wrong turn without realizing it. You have to get pretty far down the road before you realize your mistake. With lots of waypoints marked on your map, you’ll have a better chance of catching an error sooner.

2. Make sure you can communicate with the people you ask for help. None of the people I asked for directions misled me. After all, I found the road to Kaiserslautern. But I couldn't ask them how far it was or if a pedestrian could traverse the road. A couple of phrases like “How far to Kaiserslautern?” and “Is there a footpath to Kaiserslautern?” would have helped me. Make sure you learn some “civilian” or find a veteran who can translate for you.

3. Learn from not reaching your goal. Though I didn't reach Kaiserslautern, the run was useful. I realized that by car the trip was 13 km. But by foot, it was much longer, even without getting lost. And, I would have to travel on a road with no sidewalk. I won’t meet my goal of walking to Kaiserslautern on the Sabbath. But that’s okay.

4. Be open to new possibilities. My commanding officer got a big laugh at my adventure. She gave me a good-natured “I told you so.” But she respected that I put the program first and made the effort. In the end, since some people don't go on the trip, I’ll spend time with those who stay behind. I’m living one of my most cherished aphorisms.

No doubt they’ll be more amusing lessons coming from the next ten months in Germany. You can be sure I’ll pass them on for your benefit. I’ll also write a few posts about the places I visit. In the meantime, if you're struggling with any of the issues above, or a different one, get in touch. I may not know my way around Germany. But I can help you navigate the transition from military to civilian life.

Where are you stuck or think you’ll get stuck in your transition?
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© , Kevin S. Bemel, All Rights Reserved

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