On this Veteran’s Day weekend I started to think how being a veteran, and specifically a Green Beret, has helped me in business and in life. But first I feel I should tell you about what led me to become a Green Beret.
I joined the Army over 18 years ago on Jan 2000, geez that really makes me feel old. Back then I really had no idea what I wanted to do in life, I just knew I didn’t want to continue the path I was on so I joined the Army as an Infantryman. I barely even knew what an Infantryman did (shoot, move, communicate) but figured it was where I wanted to be, with the frontline. However, shortly after arriving to basic training I was recruited to be a part of The Old Guard, the Army’s official ceremonial unit. At that time, we weren’t at war so I figured I wasn’t missing much by being in a ceremonial unit, plus living in Northern Virginia seemed like fun. But then Sep 11, 2001 arrived and my whole perspective on life, military and duty changed.
I still remember exactly where I was when hearing about the first plane that hit the World Trade Center. I especially remember the plane crashing into the Pentagon. As the official ceremonial unit of the Army we were stationed on Ft. Myer, VA which is connected to Arlington National Cemetery. Anyone familiar with D.C. and the surrounding area knows that Arlington National Cemetery is across the street from the Pentagon. When that plane crashed we felt the ground shake where we were and the thunderous boom let everyone immediately know that this “thing” which was happening in NYC was now at our front door. Life immediately went from conducting ceremonies to full lockdown, assisting with the Pentagon search & recovery and security detail. This lasted for a few weeks until the FBI handed control of the Pentagon back to the military. It was during these weeks, which seemed more like days, that I decided that I had to get into the fight and off the sidelines, so I volunteered for Green Beret Selection in November of 2001.
It wasn’t until almost two years later, in October 2003, that I made it to my first Special Forces unit, 1st SFG (A). I served there till 2006 and then transitioned to 19th SFG (A). I have spent 16 of my 18 military years in Special Forces with 15 years on a SFODA. In that time, I have deployed to Iraq, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, South Korea, Morocco, Thailand, and Cambodia and these are the key lessons I have taken away from that experience.
When people found out that I was trying out for Special Forces they would say something along the lines of “good luck” or “that’s awesome”. Then almost always they would say how hard it is or how they knew someone that failed along the way. Some would even say how they wanted to try out for Special Forces but that they couldn’t because a myriad of reasons; too much deployments, not physically ready or other reasons. What these people all had in common was that they feared what they did not know. They were more comfortable in their current situation.
Any success I have had in my career and life has been by trying things I wasn’t sure I could do. From Special Forces to Combat Diver to a Master’s Degree. At the beginning of each of these I was never certain I would succeed or even finish but the thought of being average or not trying was more of a motivator to take action.
Even in my civilian career, when I made a decision to switch from a comfortable, safe, government job to a tech corporate job people were surprised. I was moving my family to a different city, taking a job that was out of my comfort zone and had no immediate family nearby to support us. On top of this my wife and I were fostering twins at the time (now adopted). However, what I saw was an opportunity to challenge myself and to improve my family’s situation. Which I did.
In the military, leaders know that complacency kills because soldiers get lax on executing their duties. In the civilian world people find comfort in secure jobs and predictable routines…it kills them. Be daring.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
This is the ability to achieve big goals by taking small measurable action to achieve those goals. When I was going through selection I was never certain that I would complete a certain event to standard or at all. Additionally, you are never told how you are performing or where you stand among your peers which increases your stress. To overcome this I would say to myself “complete this one task and see how you feel” or “just make it to the next point”. So rather than being overcome by the larger event, I broke it down to small achievable tasks.
This was especially helpfully when I started the final event for selection. This event was a long distance land navigation event with 55lbs of gear. About 3 miles into the 50-mile course I badly twisted my left ankle by stepping into a rotted-out tree hole, I hadn’t even reached my first point. The pain was so bad that I had resigned myself that this was it, no Special Forces for me. It was late at night and thought to myself, I’ll sleep here till daybreak and then head to the road to get medical attention. Daybreak came and my ankle was the size of a melon. However, the thought of having made it through almost all of selection and having to go home unsuccessful ate at me. I decided to try and move a small distance and see how I felt. When I made it there I made my next goal slightly longer and on and on it went to I finally completed the event 40 hours later.
Even in my civilian life I still apply the same mindset. My wife and I decided to start our own business about three and a half years ago. At first it was overwhelming to think of everything we had to do but we focused on achieving small goals and we are still operating and turning a small profit. We figure if we can make it to the five-year milestone our chances of making this a long term business goes up significantly. One small step at a time.
You have probably heard it before, “Nothing good in life comes easy”, it’s true. Earlier I discussed what it meant to be daring but it’s not enough, you also need grit to see truly hard things through. It was in Special Forces that my grit was tested numerous times; deployments and arduous treks are some examples. More specifically, take for example my experience earning my Combat Diver Badge.
Combat Diver School (aka Dive School) is considered one of the physically hardest schools in the Army. It does require a certain amount of physical readiness but it also takes a great amount of mental focus and determination. So much so that even prior to going to Dive School you have to go thru an assessment course called Pre-Scuba (at least that was what it was called in my day). I still remember the anxiety I felt going through that course, the thought of having to swim 50 meters underwater (on one breath), performing underwater task all day, getting “smoked” all day, it was stressful. But the hardest part for me was not Pre-Scuba it was when I failed out of Dive School the first time. It was the first time I had failed out of a military school and I was crushed. On top of that the thought of having to do another train up and go back to Dive School was demoralizing. But after some time to regroup, that is exactly what I did and successfully graduated the second time. I went back through all that training again because it meant that much to me.
As hard as that was it paled in comparison to what it took to adopt my twin girls. In 2014, my wife I decided to adopt children. It started with months of training to get licensed as foster parents which led to our twin girls being placed with us on July 15, 2014. Our girls were only four weeks old and we were very much unprepared to care for twins but we knew they belonged with us so we adapted and learned by firehose method. However, about five weeks later the court system decided that they had to go back with their biological parents, it was absolute gut wrenching. My wife and I were destroyed. We were not sure if we could continue and foster new kids. All we could do was pray and see if our girls would come back into our lives. In December 2014, that is just what happened. For the next 18 months we would live in a constant state of paranoia that our girls would be taken away again. We did everything in our power to ensure the court system did not fail our girls to include hiring our own lawyer. Finally, on May 27, 2016, we legally adopted them. It was the most stressful and emotional journey my wife and I have been on and if we had to do it all over again we would.
This is the grit it takes to go after what really matters to you, it is what was fortified in me as a Green Beret, and what every military member has in them to serve this great nation. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to serve my country along such great people. I salute all my fellow service men and women.
HAPPY VETERANS DAY!