Marines get taste of jungle survival
Stars and Stripes May 23, 2003
There were chicken heads, crunchy insects and a mess of half-eaten fruits spread around. And the 55 U.S. Marines were in awe.
One of their own was facing down a cobra.
With a practiced cobra catcher by his side, the U.S Marine hovered over the jungle’s most poisonous inhabitant and slowly dropped a hand over its back. With his success, others followed.
The key, the Royal Thai Marine instructors said, is looking them in the eye.
“I just did what he told me to do,” said Sgt. Robert Boyce, from the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion based at Camp Schwab, Okinawa, after catching his cobra.
Boyce added that if he found one in the jungle, he’d probably avoid it instead.
The cobra demonstration was part of a jungle survival class Sunday for Cobra Gold, the annual Thai-U.S. training exercise in Thailand.
Cobra Gold allows Thai servicemembers to learn skills, techniques and technology from U.S. servicemembers, while giving their U.S. counterparts a chance to explore life in Thailand.
The U.S. Marines didn’t come to the class simply to snare a serpent. This is jungle survival — and that means food.
Drinking cobra blood is a legendary tradition for Marines who attend a Cobra Gold jungle survival class.
The blood is mixed with homemade whiskey.
“It tastes like tequila,” said Cpl. Nate Lindelow, a reservist with the 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, Company E, based at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
Drinking cobra blood is something these Marines always will remember, they say.
“I want to do something most people haven’t done,” said Cpl. William Sanders, with 3rd Recon.
The snakes formed a finale to the training — there was plenty to learn and do before that.
Several Marines learned to kill a live chicken by hand.
Bugs, lizards and ants also were available to toy with — or eat. The Marines sampled the jungle’s finest culinary hors d’oeuvres: grasshoppers, maggots and other creepy crawlies.
The fauna garnered the most attention, but most of the jungle survival class centered on fruits, vegetables and herbs.
Some can kill you and others can save you; the hard part is remembering which is which.
On the upside, most of the plants in Thailand are edible, so Marines need to learn only the exceptions, said instructor Pranom Yodrug, a Royal Thai Marines reconnaissance officer.
Food in Thailand, he told the group, is just an arm’s length away.
Yodrug sat before two long tables filled with bright flowers, succulent fruits and leafy plants and held each up to the group, discussing its attributes before passing it around for the Marines to taste.
“Most of it’s pretty bitter,” said Cpl. Joseph Miller, from 3rd Recon.
Miller wasn’t sure he’d remember everything learned in the several-hour class.
“The stuff he’s showing us and saying not to eat, I’ll remember that.”
The class taught many other skills, too. They may never catch, kill and eat a cobra, but the Marines could use a few other tricks: oiling a sheet of paper to use for a frying pan over a flame for cooking eggs; filling a tube with charcoal, cotton, rocks and sand to filter drinking water; or cooking rice in a bag hung on a pole above a fire.
There were plenty of jungle-specific tips, especially where bamboo is available.
“I never knew bamboo was so versatile,” said Sgt. Matthew Carberry, a reservist with 4th Recon.
You can cook rice in a large tube of sealed bamboo shoved into a fire, or fill it with water for a canteen slung over your shoulder.
“You have CamelBak, I have bamboo back,” Yodrug said, demonstrating the improvised water vessel carried with a piece of wire.
The lesson was fun for many of the U.S. Marines, but these are the first skills a Thai Marine learns, said Jaturon Mapato, a Thai recon officer. He added that everyone in his battalion has tasted cobra blood. It’s believed to cure backaches, he said.
The training also focused on medicinal plants that improve a cold or keep jellyfish away while swimming.
But most of the Marines undoubtedly will remember chasing cobras and drinking their blood, Boyce said: “You can’t come here and not do that.”