Never Dig A One-Person Foxhole

When I was going through Marine officer training, one of the things we had to do was learn how to dig foxholes. For those of you not familiar with military traditions, a foxhole is a pit that combat troops dig to give them shelter from enemy attacks. My training course occurred in northern Virginia, during the summer, when it was not only hot, but humid. So digging anything was not fun. Being young and lazy at the time, I proceeded to dig a foxhole that was barely big enough to hide me from the enemy. I was standing there admiring my handiwork, my homage to minimalism, when old, grizzled Gunnery Sergeant Ford approached. He looked at my foxhole, which was really more like a scratch in the ground, and then he looked at me. I prepared myself for one of his famous verbal reprimands. But he surprised me when instead of a reprimand, he crossed his arms across his chest, got this far away look in his eyes like he was remembering something important and then simply said, “Lieutenant, you never dig a one man foxhole. When the battle comes and the bullets start flying, I don’t care how tough you are, you’re going to want somebody there next to you. So the bigger your hole, the more support it can hold.” And then he walked away.

That lesson stuck with me. It turned out that he was right. When I was in combat in Desert Storm and the battle came and the bullets started flying, I wanted as many of my fellow Marines around me as I could find. So we dug huge foxholes and like the lyrics from Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon: “we held on to each other like brother to brother.” And together, we made it through that ordeal.

As I was thinking this week about the tough time that a lot of us have been going through over these past couple of years, for some reason I was reminded of the lesson that Gunny Ford taught me more than 20 years ago. Sadly, there is something in our American DNA that brings out the individualist in all of us. We try to do everything on our own—we love to build one-person foxholes.

So I thought it would be fitting to share with you what wise Gunny Ford shared with me in the forests of Quantico, Virginia: “Never dig a one-person foxhole.” When the oil rig blows up and your means of making a living starts disappearing, when you get laid off and you start falling behind in your bills, when your customers stop spending and your business starts to go under, when your parents get ill and your brother gets cancer, when all these difficult circumstances come your way, you’re going to need somebody there next to you. So the bigger your foxhole, the more people you can have in it.

Now is the time for us to come together to support one another. I invite you to open your eyes and your lives to the people around you. If you need help, ask for it. If you can give help, offer it. There are too many of us for any one of us to struggle alone. Let’s all start digging gigantic foxholes and make room for other people in our lives.

Please allow me to close with the quote that appears at the bottom of all of my emails. It is a line from another song, this one called What Susan Said by the late Rich Mullins: “And if your home is just another place where you’re a stranger, and far away is just somewhere you’ve never been. I hope that you’ll remember, I am your friend.”

Warmest Regards,

Coach Paul