Starting out in the infantry, as with any profession or vocation, you learn basic skills. Every infantryman learns the same standardized plays—called “battle drills”—which are trained and retrained relentlessly. There are nine such drills in the infantry handbook, but battle drill number three always confused me: breaking contact. Essentially breaking contact is when you quit. You run away because the enemy fire is unrelenting and there is no hope to survive. The only way out is to retreat, or leave the terrain as quickly as possible—breaking contact. As it is with all infantry tactics, you can’t just run away when being shot at. Infantrymen shoot their way out of most situations, good or bad.
I must have rehearsed the break contact drill thousands of times during my six years in the infantry. Sometimes we practiced the standard base-of-fire leapfrog and sometimes I taught the famous Australian Peel. These are just fancy ways of getting off the battlefield as quickly as possible with the least amount of causalities. We would constantly go over the fundamentals of retreating from battle, almost as much as we trained for knocking out a bunker or the other rudiments of close quarter’s battle.
Those long days in the field practicing retreat were probably the only wasted training I received in my beloved Army. There must have been at least 10 times in battle during my time in Iraq when, according to doctrine, we should have broken contact; but we all knew the deal. We used every other battle drill during our time at war almost on a weekly basis. Taking out bunkers, clearing enemy held buildings and even navigating a couple mine fields, but never breaking contact. From the lowest ranking private to the commander of the battalion we understood the unspoken oath:
Infantry soldiers, Marines … Americans don’t break contact.
This just doesn’t happen. We fight to win. And hold our ground. No matter the odds or consequences. Those are the lessons taught to us by our brave predecessors of Vietnam, Korea and World Wars I and II.
For as long as I have been associated with the military and veteran organizations I have always been proud of the company I’ve kept. As easy as it is to say “never quit” you learn to appreciate those near you who actually live their lives by this warrior ethos. And you are deliberately and forever changed by those near you who die by that same warrior ethos.
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