Old Glory and ‘Merica and all that good stuff and hang one in your house and put one on your ruck and good on you. Too often we Americans forget just how easily united we are by everything except politics. I digress.
Travel the world and the stars and stripes always bring a smile to my face. But there’s a time to wear it on your sleeve and there’s a time to wear it on your heart and there’s a time to not wear it at all.
In 1998, I took my first of many trips to Germany. I’ve studied there, traveled there, and served there. I’ve looked the part of a tourist and a local, and I was glad to be back to lead a Challenge in Stuttgart this Spring. Not my most subtle moment, of course, and we raised more eyebrows than not, just like we do everywhere around the world.
The point, though, is that certain actions have different consequences based on your environment. Situational awareness and operational environment and all those kinds of things. During the Challenge, strength in numbers and daytime and Stuttgart is a safe town and no big deal. The Challenge is not your typical travel situation and I don’t recommend recreating its attention all by yourself. Or much attention at all, really.
Germany is a friendly place for Americans, no more or less safe – depending on where you are – than in the neighborhoods of our country. And I recommend not advertising you’re a tourist. Kinda like that tainted car from Pulp Fiction. It had to appear normal at first glance to get back on the road. So Jules and Vincent soaked up the pools of blood and washed the windows and covered the seats with blankets and then the Wolf hosed them down and put the body in the trunk and got them some new clothes and all was well.
Meet my buddy Wolf and there probably isn’t a German in Germany who loves America as much as he does. How many Germans do you know that have a huge American flag in their bedroom and a friend like me that they invite to stay with them for months or years, your pick? And yet his approach to my ways was similar to The Wolf from Pulp Fiction. I was the tainted car because I was different and I didn’t speak the language and I didn’t look the part and he didn’t want to ride with me until I was cool not giving that loud high five to every American I passed on the street. I lived with him in 1998 and how many times do you think he laughed at my white tennis shoes and my ball cap and my Smashing Pumpkins t-shirts. If all you want to talk about is America, why are you in Germany? Everyone thinks you Americans have so much money you’ll be lucky if they don’t mug you on the train. It was not a subtle point he was making about, ironically, being subtle.
The lesson was a good one that would benefit me later in life when I was serving in Special Forces, where you’re expected to blend in and make friends aka build rapport wherever you are. If you can’t blend in because maybe you’re in a guntruck or something, at least know what that means. If you’re abroad, make the bullseye as small as possible.
And welcome to the tourist’s postcard of Heidelberg, the proving grounds of my education some 15 years ago.
So let’s call this the band got back together to play its greatest hits tour. And that single we all waited for was called ‘barely having any money’ so the plan was simple because we had to drink our beers before we got there. Wherever there was. Wolf grabbed a few liters from Vetters and the ‘Old Bridge’ became our bar. Again. All these years apart, all these years later, we’re back here again same as ever. Like when you revisit the town where you grew up and you wonder what would have happened, how your life would be different, had you never left.
And enter GR1, One Ruck to Rule Them All. And it is, and you can take it everywhere. So why would we change it, why would we take away the Velcro and the MOLLE webbing and call it GR1 Slick?
Wait for it…
A few reasons, all of which are based on requests we got from the ubiquitous you. The first is servicemen abroad. Some are still operating covertly. That means the less military affiliation, the better. Same logic holds if you work in a place where Velcro and MOLLE aren’t the norm. Corporate America, Wall Street, etc. And there is a time and a place for both GR1 on the left and GR1 Slick on the right. It just depends.
Back to the important stuff, the scene of the crimes and when Wolf asked me too long ago why I wanted to be in Germany looking all American I felt like saying because I’m 19 and so are you and I can stand on a bridge and drink German beer without a care in the world about anything except whether I have enough of your funny money for more. But he grew up with all of that so I just took it in stride and thanks for the tough love. Pictured above is the spot on the bridge we stood for hours and hours and probably days and days a long time ago. An experience I would wish upon everyone, especially if you have a Wolf to show you the ropes. And it’s all worth a lot of smiles now and smiles are the greatest currency of our lives.
Prost to that and a smile because you’ll blend in better if you say it that way.
So it’s an oft asked question and who really is The Wolf? He’s one of my best friends and I have this thing about friends so I’ll qualify that. Who would I call in the middle of the night from the middle of of nowhere at the corner of the world’s greatest shithole to tell them to show up at a certain time at a certain place with certain things just before the phone goes dead – and know for a fact they would be there. Yes, I’m a closet worst case scenario type. Wolf is both a friend I would call and a friend who would show up – not always the same btw – and he always will be. No matter his skinny green jeans, no matter the hair gel he made fun of me for not using, no matter the distance.
And these days he’s up to a kids shoe brand called Skribbies, based in Britain with his wife to be some day no doubt, Jenny.
Cheers to that, and hey Wolf – send me a note from time to time. I’d love to be more involved.
And thanks for the beers and you can keep the GR1 Slick aka SK26 and I’ll stick to my GR1, USA flag front and center. Wink wink do I blend in now?