Major Dick Winters describes his time in the ‘mudroom’ at the ‘crossroads’

By Lt. Dan Marcou (ret.)  |   Nov 12, 2021

The “mudroom” is that unpleasant place military and law enforcement officers can find themselves thrust into as they engage an opponent in a fierce struggle.

— Reprinted with permission from PoliceOne.com

I spoke of the “mudroom” in “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Force Encounters” as a surreal place you are transported to at times when your very life is at stake and your brain knows it. The term “mudroom” came to me because it is a bit like that transitional room in your house between the inside and the outside. In the context of law enforcement and the military, the “mudroom” is the place of a struggle, from which one or more of the combatants involved potentially may exit to enjoy the rest of their lives, while others may discover what the afterlife holds in store.

In the “mudroom,” time, space, sounds and smells may be distorted. Combatants may even be temporarily exempted from pain and fear. If you are prepared to be in the “mudroom,” you may suddenly acquire the gift of super speed, super strength or act seemingly automatically. In contrast, if you are ill-prepared for the “mudroom,” you may freeze, seemingly incapable of movement.

As a police trainer, it is always difficult to describe what officers might experience when they arrive at their time in the “mudroom,” but it is important that officers are aware of the change in capabilities and perspectives they may experience.

Recently, I happened upon an interview with Major Richard “Dick” Winters, the real-life hero behind “Band of Brothers,” who died on January 2, 2011. Prior to his death, he gave a series of interviews sharing the history he lived that inspired HBO’s mini-series. In this interview segment, without putting a name to the phenomenon, Winters describes the changes in his perceptions of reality he experienced during his time in the “mudroom.”

Major Dick Winters at “The Crossroads”

“Band of Brothers” introduced us all to Dick Winters and his brothers of Easy Company, part of the 101st Airborne Division, who jumped into Normandy shortly after midnight on June 6, 1944. They fought not only heroically, but also brilliantly across Europe. Dick Winters was the leader of Easy Company, who started the war as a lieutenant and ended the war as a major.

In this interview, Winters was asked to describe what it was like during a remarkable engagement he was in called “The Crossroads,” where he found himself standing alone on top of a dike facing 150 German soldiers. With nowhere to go and having the advantage of surprise on his side, Winters opened fire with his M1 Garand and rapidly, as well as accurately, rained down death on the Germans, firing magazine after magazine after magazine, killing many and sending many more fleeing for their lives.

Winters felt it was important to explain how different his perceptions during this fight were. Winters said the man (Winters) sitting in front of the interviewer was not the same man who was on that dike that day. Everything changed for him. He notes, “I was in a mental state. I don’t know how to explain it, but I have never been there before, and I have never been in that condition since.”

What is interesting is that Winters up until this point had been in many battles, but this was the only time he had the transformation of perception. He concluded the difference was that all the other combat situations were orchestrated by him, so he was in a tactically superior position, or behind cover with a man to his left and right to assist him. In contrast, at “The Crossroads,” he found himself out in the open, alone and vastly outnumbered.

Listen to Major Winters describe how his perception of reality changed in the fight at “The Crossroads.”

Preparing to survive your “mudroom” or “crossroads”

Here are some insights to prepare you to overcome when you find yourself in the “mudroom.” Prepare yourself by:

1. Deciding to train, train, train. Everyone I have ever talked to who has survived the “mudroom” has said this very thing: “And then my training kicked in!” Train in all the physical disciplines you imagine you may need to prevail in a life-or-death struggle.

2. Maintaining a high level of physical fitness. The circumstance will take you to the edge physically. You will need a heart and body that can take it, which comes only from regular, vigorous physical training.

3. Placing yourself in a tactically superior position prior to contact whenever possible.

4. Being mentally prepared for resistance. You will be in a much better place to react to the expected rather than to the unexpected.

5. Getting back-up when possible to lower the odds that you will find yourself alone in the “mudroom.”

By maintaining a high level of physical fitness and being mentally prepared for resistance, you will optimize your success in the “mudroom.” (Photo/Lt. Dan Marcou)

Conclusion

If you wish to see an excellent depiction of Winters’ fight, watch the “Band of Brothers” episode called “Crossroads.” The story of the fight is nearly perfectly told.

In closing, I would like to share with you the words of a fellow officer who found himself badly wounded and fighting for his life many years ago. He wished to help other officers, who might find themselves in as desperate a situation as his. He said that “When you are in a fight for your life, it’s this simple. Never give up. Never give up! NEVER WHILE YOU’RE OUT THERE GIVE UP!”

Now, with that said, prepare.