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War Stories: A Soldier's Account Of Rangers Flying While On Ambien

Isaiah Burkhart's story of what it's like to take a military flight will most definitely not send you to sleep.



As many soldiers have experienced, a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan can seem quite exhausting. In Ranger Battalion, we at least had the benefit of flying in a C-17, and could sleep on the floor once we hit cruising altitude. I felt sorry for the rest of the military that had to fly in commercial jets – confined to that tiny little seat with little to no leg room. There is a 7 and 8.5 hour difference in time between Eastern Standard Time and the local times of Baghdad and Kabul. When our platoon arrived in country we generally would be out conducting missions within 24 hours of wheels on the ground. During many deployments we were also on a reverse schedule of sleeping throughout the day and conducting missions at night. We needed something to help us switch time zones without a hiccup.


One method that was used to get us comfortable with the time difference and make sure we were well rested was the administration of Zolpidem, more commonly known as Ambien. Once we boarded the aircraft, the medics would hand out two pills, one for the leg to Germany and the other for the leg to whichever hunting ground we were to reside. This is what Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, have to say about their product:


AMBIEN, is a sedative-hypnotic (sleep) medicine, AMBIEN is used for adults for the short-term treatment of a sleep problem called insomnia. Symptoms of insomnia include:

  • Trouble falling asleep


For those who have never taken Ambien, it’s quite the experience, and even more of an experience watching others that have taken the drug. I have an uncanny ability to instantly fall asleep whenever I am the passenger of a aircraft and therefore rarely needed or took the sleep aid. I have heard Ambien is great for people who actually suffer from insomnia, but does have some side-effects that are listed below – once again, according to Sanofi:


After taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night - or in a C-17 at 36,000 ft - Reported activities include:

  • driving a car (“sleep-driving”)
  • making and eating food
  • talking on the phone
  • having sex
  • sleep-walking


As I stated before, I could fall asleep as soon as I became the passenger of an aircraft, but it’s really hard to sleep the entirety of both legs. That is when you see things, things that you are pretty sure weren’t in the scope of your buddies’ “normal” behavior. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone fall asleep sitting up, unbuckle their seatbelt, and take a header into the cold metal floor of the aircraft without ever waking up, or having any recollection of the events. Watching someone try to eat an orange while sleeping is one of the most entertaining things one can observe while in flight. The warnings of ‘making and eating food’ don’t go into detail about the Neanderthal characteristics the drug induces. They are coordinated enough to hold the orange, look at and smell the orange, but not quite sure how to peel the orange. It’s kind of like watching one those videos of a chimpanzee inspecting something that he/she has never seen or touched before. Sniff, sniff…turn, wait five minutes…sniff, sniff…turn, wait five minutes…oh what the hell…take a giant bite out of the un-peeled orange…just hold it in my mouth and go back to sleep.


Read the rest of this article here, courtesy of our buddies over at SOFREP!

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