Opinion: Sleeping away winter

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Commentary by Ward Degler

I was probably born to live in the tropics. You know, where the temperature never gets below 70 degrees.

I’m always cold, even on balmy days. I did, however, learn how to deal with extreme cold many years ago.

I was in the Army and we were on maneuvers out in the German boonies in January. As a lowly private, I got the privilege of standing road guard in the middle of the night, directing trucks through a small sleeping village. It was 10 degrees and spitting snow.

This was nothing unusual. Army privates get lots of yucky assignments. What was tough was we were a lowly medical unit and somehow didn’t qualify for winter clothing. A light jacket and a sweater were all I had to keep from freezing solid for five unbearable hours.

My feet turned numb, and I spent the last two hours stomping on the frozen ground to keep from falling over. When the last truck of the convoy stopped to pick me up, they had to help me into the truck.

The guys in the truck were infantry soldiers dressed in the latest cold-weather gear and buried in Arctic sleeping bags. The kind that would keep your tootsies toasty when it was 20 below.

“Where’s your cold weather gear?” they asked.

“Don’t have any,” I muttered through chattering teeth.

They looked at my Red Cross arm band and understood. Medics work in warm hospitals. They don’t need winter duds.

Somewhere in that truck was an extra sleeping bag. They told me to crawl in and zip up. I had never felt anything so warm and comforting. In five minutes I was sound asleep. I didn’t wake up until we arrived at our bivouac location several hours later. They had to hold me down to get that sleeping bag away from me.

Somehow, I survived that winter, and when I returned to civilian life, I spent a lot of money on long johns, insulated boots, down-filled comforters and, at the top of the list, a cold-weather sleeping bag. Later, when I lived in Minnesota, I never let that sleeping bag out of my sight. I think I even took it in the car with me.

And here we are, back to 10-degree weather again. I no longer have that sleeping bag, but our bed is deep with ultra-warm covers. And until the temperature gets back to sane levels, that’s where you’ll find me.

If you happen to stop by, be quiet so you don’t wake me up.

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