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How To Survive a Nuclear Blast in a Tent

We marched single file into the darkened movie theatre. As part of our nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare training program the entire unit was about to be to be shown a film on proper procedure for surviving a nuclear holocaust. I hear shuffling behind me as members of our unit exchange seats in order to get the best view. Oh, not the best view of the screen, but the best view of me. The lights go dark and the screen lights up.


It was just a few weeks into the basic training program for the Canadian Naval Reserves and it was proving to be the hardest thing I had ever done up to this point in my life. The regimented order. Strenuous physical demands. Mind games. Intimidation. Full days of training starting at 5:00AM ending somewhere near 11PM. Ironing my own clothes?! Shining boots. My first time away from home. I was exhausted both physically and mentally.

I had signed up as a reservist on a bit of a whim. The Forces hosted a booth session at my high school one day during my senior year and I started the application process. I needed a summer job and this seemed to be about the best way to get one. It would also be good for me. This program would get me into shape physically, give me some structure and discipline, and I would make some money doing it all.

Win, win, win.

I do remember heading home that day after school proudly proclaiming to mother that “I joined the Navy today!”. What a shock that must have been. Anyhow, the folks were supportive and now I had made it this far. As I sat before the film screen, eagerly awaiting the feature presentation, I anticipated learning how to survive the mushroom cloud of an atomic blast. Too bad for my sucker friends working at McDonalds this summer. Win again.

I remember the film (starting) vividly. Picture two infantry in full combat fatigues huddled together in a Canadian Tire clearance tent. A sparse landscape dotted with a few boulders and very little vegetation. It is a dull grey day, dusk maybe, not dark enough to be night and not light enough to be day. The ominous countdown begins. 10, 9. Our main characters zip up the tent securely. 8, 7, 6, 5. They take one last sip of water from their canister. 4, 3. They put on gas masks. 2, 1. Fetal position. 0.

A mushroom cloud erupts in the background. Light flashes so brightly it is difficult to watch the screen. An incredible wind whips across the valley tearing at the tent fabric as our heroes brave the onslaught from inside. All goes dark.

Good Thing They Had a Tent

The lights return and the Master Corporal begins the process of filing us out of the studio. I rub my eyes and squint. What is going on? What happened in the film? Why was it so short? My mind races. I start to sweat. Oh no! I begin to realize I had fallen asleep and missed the entire film. This is absolutely the worst. This is why they jostled for great viewing seats behind me. I came to find out later that a fun game the unit would play was betting on how long I could last without falling asleep each time the lights dimmed. Nuclear warfare. Chemical warfare. Essential naval skills. Sleep. Sleep. Doze.

Great. The rest of my colleagues are now entirely prepared for surviving a nuclear blast in a flimsy tent and I have absolutely no chance. At this point I have no idea how likely the chances of this occurring are but it seems fairly likely. I mean why would they show us the film if it were not absolutely necessary. They wouldn’t waste our time like that. I hear muted snickers and muffled laughter from behind.

Surviving a nuclear blast falls into a long line of skills that I have missed picking up for one reason or another though it may in fact be the most important. I have absolutely no idea how to get grape juice (or red wine) from a beige carpet. When my back hurts I don’t know if I should lay in a tub of warm water, ice water, or if I should stretch it out. When do I use effect and when is it affect? I also commonly forget how many miles there are in a kilometre. (kidding of course, there are 1.60934 kilometres in a mile – we all know that, right?).

When I think about the massive number of things I have no clue about, those basic skills I have not mastered even a little, I cannot help but wonder how I have made it as far as I have. It leads me down a road where I contemplate how things went wrong. How did I become so inept? What is wrong with me?

And this brings me to my point.

This is what most of us do. We focus on the things we are not good at, the things that give us trouble, and the things we don’t understand. This is the wrong focus. It is imortant be self-aware and self-critial as these are key elements for self-improvement, however, many of us spend a disproportionate amount of time with negative thoughts about these things. As Marianne Williamson states, “We can always choose to perceive things differently. You can focus on what’s wrong in your life, or you can focus on what’s right.” This is my daily effort instead. I try to not let these things I cannot do get in the way if the things I can do while also continuously trying to improve in those insufficient areas. It is a long road and it is a process. Continual improvement.

So, if you were really reading this post to find out how you might survive a nuclear blast it turns out I was sleeping and I don’t know the answer to that. However, from my limited training, my best advice is to start looking on the Canadian Tire clearance rack.

Wayne Hansen

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