Close your eyes and imagine the perfect bed. It’s soft and cozy, like a little cloud where you dream beautiful dreams that always come true, right? Now, imagine the opposite — say, a shallow hole dug into the side of a mountain in Afghanistan, or the 12-inch gap beneath a mine-resistant vehicle, or a slab of wood. Technically, those aren’t “beds.” But in the military, what qualifies as a bed is open for interpretation. Service members can sleep anywhere.
Sleeping in really uncomfortable places, and in really uncomfortable positions, and next to people who smell like they’ve just crawled out of a toilet bowl, is a special skill acquired early on in a service member’s training and honed over the course of their career. That’s why sergeant majors are usually the last ones to wake up during a mortar attack. After countless field problems, deployments, and PowerPoint presentations, they’ve mastered the tactical snooze.
Of course, service members at every rank appreciate a good, warm, filth-free bed. Every night, when they close their eyes beneath the starry sky of whatever godforsaken place they’re deployed to, that’s what they dream of: Being at home. In bed (a real one). Not getting eaten alive by mosquitos, and definitely not getting woken up in the wee hours of the morning to pull a four-hour guard shift in the freezing cold. But no matter how bad it gets, they suck it up and make do.
As evidence, we present these seven photos of service members in varying states of slumber. In each, we see the tactical snooze being executed flawlessly — eyes closed, body relaxed, the surrounding environment shut out and temporarily forgotten. But that’s where the similarities end. Because different situations call for different techniques. You don’t sleep in a foxhole the same way you sleep through an OPSEC brief. That’s just basic science.
Take a look:
Body armor is designed to stop bullets and shrapnel, but when it’s time to rack out, it serves another key function, as well: providing essential warmth and support for the sleeping soldier. The Turtle technique is especially useful in situations where you’re not supposed to be sleeping — like on radio guard.
The Side Slump
People typically sleep horizontally. But when you’re sitting in an auditorium listening to an O-3 blab on about who knows what, that’s really not an option. However, slumping over to the side like a dead person is. (Pro tip: Wear shades with eyes painted on them to trick others into thinking you’re awake!)
The Snuggle Fest
Sometimes all the woobies in the world simply won’t cut it. When that’s the case, as it often is in the field during the winter, only the warmth that a living body can provide will suffice. And that’s where your battle buddies come in. Throw a flea-infested dog into the mix and it’s off to dreamland you go!
The Chock Block
Passing out under a vehicle is extremely dangerous, but sometimes the risk is worth the reward of a great night’s sleep. As an added benefit, employing this technique makes it difficult for people to find you, which means you might get lucky and not get tapped for whatever detail is out there waiting to make your life hell.
The Benadryl Bonanza
Long flights to or from war zones are a total drag. The solution: a nice, coma-like sleep that begins the moment you take off and lasts until you’ve arrived at your destination. And for that, there’s Doc and his bag of magical pink sleepy beans to the rescue!
The Hard Charger
It’s hard to be one of those leaders who’s always going on about how “sleep is for the weak” if you sleep yourself. What to do? Sit on a bench and wait for the sleep to overtake you, dragging you down into an extremely uncomfortable backward slump. This will make it easy to wake up instantly if you get caught, at which point, you can act like it was a total fluke.
The Senior Specialist
If you ever find yourself pulling watch or guard duty with someone who is slightly subordinate to you, this is your move. It’s really easy. Tell your battle buddy that you’re going to “rest your eyes for just a minute,” but don’t mention a specific time to wake you up. Then kick back, relax, and sleep until you can’t sleep anymore!