By Caleb Causey, Lone Star Medics
There is really no easy way of explaining what the Muster is all about with mere words. I’ve had the privilege and honor of being part of all three Muster events and every year I am at a loss for words when trying to explain to my friends and family what I’ve been doing all weekend. So if you wish to learn more about what goes on at this unique and skill set driven assembly, may I suggest you read Mr. Black’s (Bryan Black, owner and editor in chief of ITS Tactical) AAR (http://www.itstactical.com/centcom/its-information/its-muster-iii-after-action-report/), the actual Muster description as it is posted on the ITS Tactical’s website. My goal for this article is to simply share with readers what I witnessed as a member of the cadre, as the event’s medic, and as a quasi-participant.
Let’s start with the fun stuff… gear that worked and gear that did not. Granted we weren’t HALO jumping out of airplanes nor did we come across too many “walkers” following the latest Ebola crisis. Attendees and cadre alike however were walking through the mean, scary dark woods at night and setting up OP’s (observation points) and conducting both day and night land navigation training in thorn bush and prickly pear cactus infested fields and forests. Attendees found themselves out in those fields and in those woods more often than not throughout Muster; sometimes for several hours or even throughout the night. Unlike previous Muster events, what the event lacked in overall distance and road marching. It was made up in terrain and environmental elements.
Over the years, alumni attendees have learned that no matter how “tacticool” a piece of equipment or clothing looks; if it doesn’t keep thorns, dirt, gravel, bugs, skin-irritating plants, or small mammals out… it ain’t all that cool. The mentioning of thorns keeps coming up because after three Muster events, I’ve probably plucked hundreds of thorns out of attendees and cadre’s feet, hands, arms, legs, and one dude’s butt cheek. Thorns ranged from itty bitty little bastards that burned like fire to the giant ¼” – 4” spikes that the top of your foot found as you dragged your foot across a prickly pear in the night and didn’t see it there. I’ll go into what I used to remove said thorns later.
So let’s look at specifics…
- Shirts. Those that wore long sleeved shirts didn’t seem to get that many small cuts and scrapes as those that strutted their favorite screen print T-shirt. You take your pick; moisture wicking or thorn picking. Don’t forget that in the field a simple minor cut can become infected and cause more severe problems a few days later. Think about that if you get cut your first day on a three day weekend trip. If you had to prone out or low crawl for any amount of time/distance, would your muscle-mapping t-shirt protect your arms and elbows?
- Pants. Thank goodness no one wore denim this year. Denim stays wet when it gets wet and trust me you don’t want a wet crotch during a road march or simple day hike. You’ll have some crotch-pot-cooking going on down there in no time at all. There were a few folks that decided to wear cargo shorts out in the field. Again, if you had to low crawl or prone out… just sayin’. The most common name brand I saw out in the field and what seemed to work pretty well were Vertx pants (http://wearvertx.com/). Crye Precision and a few “dead bird” pairs of pants were present too. Again, those that wore pants saw less cuts and scrapes. However, I will say that no matter what type of material or brand anyone was wearing; those itty bitty thorns still found their way into people’s legs sometimes. But some folk’s pants dried out a lot quicker than other’s did after submerging neck deep in the lake.
- Footwear… one of my favorite discussions to have with folks. Not to be a hater, but those cool-kid, overpriced, “off-road” running shoes are worthless out in the woods. Just speaking as the medic, I saw more twisted ankles (minor, but still…) and picked more thorns out of folk’s feet because they had those damn things on. They may be great for running off-road, off-trail or out on the shooting range. But they are not meant to be worn with a 25lb pack and protect you from the elements. Sand, sweat, socks, feet, and heat don’t all go to well together. You may only roll your ankle just enough to let it talk to you a bit, but that sucks if you just left the trail head five minutes ago. Now your day hike or bug-out plans have to change.
Each year at Muster there is at least one or two classes on foot care or foot wear. The Muster alumni have learned very quickly what works and what does not. When you have to march six miles to and from chow every other meal, you learn real quick. (Granted that was from past Musters.) I’m pretty sure everyone had on wool socks and changed their socks at least twice a day. After all, a typical Muster day is about 15-18 hours and on your feet for most of that time as well.
I recommend that for tromping through the woods with all sorts of things out to attack your feet; wear either a pair of Danner Acadia’s (one of my all time favorites) or AKU NS564’s for light rucking (<25lb rucks) or if you’re carrying more weight go with the Pilgrim DS or GTX. (Check out https://squareup.com/market/procurement-specialists-llc for purchasing, tell them Lone Star Medics sent ya.)
The idea is to have enough protection from the terrain as you do from weight of your ruck. It is a balancing act, but I sure as heck didn’t pull thorns out of anyone’s feet that wore boots made with sturdy material. I could go on and on about foot care and wear, but this ain’t what we’re talking about here.
- Gloves. A lot of people had these thin lightweight “shooter” gloves on and I spent plenty of time digging in their hands looking for tiny stickers and thorns. Leather! Get yourself a pair of old school Army issue leather work gloves. I’ve had the same pair from basic training for over 15 years. They still protect my hands and fingers to this day. Granted you lose dexterity with them. So if you are roaming through the woods looking for bad guys with a rifle slung across your chest; you’ll need to find a happy medium. I’ve gone through several pairs of the Nomex flight gloves that military pilots wear over the years. They have a thin layer of leather on the palms and offer dexterity over abrasion protection than the bulkier full leather work gloves.
- Compass. Let’s face it, you’re already lost because your GPS unit ran out of batteries, it is getting dark, and you figured you’d save a few bucks and purchase a cheap compass. Folks, do you and your family a favor… spend more than $7.85 on your compass. Get one from either Silva or Suunto over at REI. And while you’re at it, get one for each member of the team or family. No, that compass smartphone app that came free with the phone does not always work. One thing I found out is that my bad ass Suunto Vector watch’s compass was constantly off by at least 15-25 degrees. Which is horrible if that is your only means of direction or navigation. The rest of the functions did pretty well. But I’ll keep to my Suunto regular compass for navigating through the jungles of DFW and beyond.
As far as being the primary medic, I saw the typical injuries and illnesses you’d most likely see when you have a group of about 50-60 people of various ages and physical capabilities roaming around the woods. Nothing serious, but without simple medical attention things could have gotten worse.
This year there were a lot less foot care issues and more environmental related issues. Meaning I tended to less friction blisters and more prickly pear thorns. The alumni really have been instrumental at telling the newbies what to expect at Muster and what their lessons learned have been over the past few years. Simple cuts and scrapes are expected while in the field and thankfully the facilities we were at had running potable water. The ability to use running water and soap made things easier for me and the patients. We went through a handful of band-aids and antibiotic ointment. Even the experienced woodsman rubs up against unknown plants on occasion. These unidentified plants caused localized pain or irritation and sometimes swelling of the affected area. Washing the affected area with soap and water, changing out contaminated articles of clothing and sometimes a small dosage of Benadryl seemed to curb the signs and symptoms. Bug bites ranged from mosquitos to small spider bites to who-knows-what. Dehydration was an issue after the overnight OP mission. The temperature changed a bit over 48 hours and with sleep deprivation naturally comes a little dehydration. But for the most part, the alumni kept everyone in check. I guess they have enjoyed my hydration lecture(s) over the years. One thing I did notice with the slight sleep deprivation of both the attendees and cadre; there was a temporary loss of appetite. Not a huge deal, but as the primary medic it was something to keep track of. This was no longer an issue following an hour or two of sleep, a can of Kill Cliff, and some pogey bait (Army for snack food.)
Most of these injuries and illnesses could have been prevented. Not saying they could have been prevented 100%. Just that if some simple precautions like using bug spray, wearing the correct type of footwear and clothing; could have helped out. That being said, I don’t think there is anything that could prevent Brandon P.’s hands from finding every single thorn or sticker in Texas.
In conclusion, wear appropriate clothing that protects your skin, wear sturdy well broken-in boots with wool socks, and as always… DRINK WATER!