I am an infantry instructor in the National Guard. Now before any of you Active Duty types get carried away with your traps, lets ruck-up first and see who’s first to the top. I’ve run people half my age into the dirt. I’m prior service Marine Corps, I used to look down on anyone that wasn’t active duty Marine (even reservist Marines). You think its’ tough being active duty? Why do you think they’re called ‘lifers’? Try maintaining a standard in training and readiness AND doing a civilian job and college. I hope you brought your A-Game.
Now to my story…
It was a miserable Winter evening in Oregon. The rain was a constant drizzle, everyone was soaked, the temperature was cold enough to make you hate being outside. I loved it. Whenever there is a chance for training, I call the Rain Gods every name in the book, daring them to rain us out. So it was that myself and a couple other instructors had volunteered to give some of the Officer Candidates some night LANDNAV training. They were all green as Hel, miserable, tired, unsure about anything, and in a general state of dismay. They were all standing off to the side, awaiting instructions for the night’s training. The sun was setting behind the Coastal Range, darkness reached from the hills, and the rain stayed.
I walked over to them and looked in their faces. Morale was low. Things sucked. Different people join the military for a variety of different reasons. But those reasons seemed a distant thought behind the “why am I out here?” To top it off, this was also a weekend that many people in Oregon were all coming together for some reason or another. It might have been college football or something. I don’t know, remember, or care.
So I walk over to the young people wanting to become officers in my beloved Oregon Guard, and I say:
- “This rain just keeps coming. I think my boots are soaked through.”
- “I haven’t eaten all day. I am starving. What I wouldn’t give for a hot pizza, or some beef soup, or some scrambled eggs with bacon and cheese right now. Or a hot cup of coffee. There was a coffee shack on the highway not three miles from here.”
- “It’s sure to be really dark tonight. Plus the terrain has lots of holes and hidden spots filled with briars. Last time we got here, someone fell into one. We spent two hours looking for him.”
- “Isn’t there a game on tv? I bet there are parties all over the state! Everyone drinking beer, eating BBQ, having a great time!”
- “Few people pass this the first couple of times. Its a doozy of a course.”
- “I can’t feel my fingers, I’m so cold. I’m glad that I get to leave soon and warm up in a hot shower. You guys have this, plus field training, plus inspection before you can go inside… sometime tomorrow! Man, I’m glad I’m not you.”
I said these things and more, poking at all the things I could think of that were the voices of their misery. I drew out their suffering and put it on full display. Why? Is it because I’m an evil bastard? Contrary to what some may say, no. There is a reason we do this… to develop grit.
As I talked, I watched their faces to see their morale sink lower. Then I looked up into the rain and took it in, relishing it. Then I looked back at the young officers-to-be…
Think about this world we live in. We try our best to prepare, to be ready, but sometimes you can’t avoid it… trouble. There are jack wagons that want to blow up people, use dirty bombs, or attack villages of helpless people. There are others who want to drive vans and planes of explosives into buildings. There are asshats that want to posture with their guns and proclaim they are the law and will shoot at anyone they don’t like. There are sudden floods that destroy communities, fires that ravage countrysides, earthquakes, volcanoes… yes… Oregon has some as you know, and who knows what else! Zombie apocalypse, Justin Bieber concerts, aliens from space, Kardashians in Portland… any number of god-awful events could happen. And when it does, and it will, my President or my Governor, will call upon me and my fellow Soldiers to stand ready, to do what is needed. I’m not gonna lie to you, I am a certified bad-ass. I can run down a cheetah, wrestle a bear, piss napalm and eat concertina wire, and when I show up at a site, write home to your mommas that things are well in hand. But let me ask you a question… what officer am I going to follow? Just anyone, wet behind the ears that relied on textbooks to get a bar? Whether it is war or famine, flood or fire, and chaos and blood and confusion swirl around like demons on Samhain, I want to look over to my PL and know that he’s got his shit together, that he’s the center of the storm, that he will lead. For that PL I will render mountains into dust, walk across fire, go against the armies of Hel. But do you think this PL was born this way? That he came out kicking and screaming OPORDS? If you do, you’re dense. He worked at it. He pushed himself. He challenged himself. He welcomed failure because it is a yardstick, and he developed into that leader that I respect, that this Nation and State deserve. Right now, civilians are huddled inside warm shelters. They are eating fattening food, they are getting soft. They’ve not pushed themselves, they don’t know how to operate under duress, stress, sleep deprivation. They have no muscle memory for organization, for movement, for communication. They are gelatinous panic bombs waiting to go off. And next time something big happens, watch them… they’ll scream and yell and wet themselves as they fly in every direction. You are these people. You are these undisciplined, soft, panicky, bundles of fear waiting to fall apart. But you did something that none of them did… you decided to join up and begin training. You are here, now, in this glorious night, looking uncertainty in the eye. Guess what happens if you fail tonight? Retrain. We’ll go over what you missed, you’ll get better, and you’ll learn. If you start to freak out, you stop and regain composure, then move on. This night, right now, is your opportunity to work on the muscles of your character. Your virtue is a 98 pound weakling and tonight you are doing bench presses. Tonight you gain five pounds of virtue muscle. Keep it up, tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month, and eventually you’ll be that 250 pound badass of virtue. We’ll be on some highway, chaos, burning trees, flooding rivers, jumbled trains, and I will look to you for direction, for leadership, and you’ll deliver. You get there from here. Embrace the suck. Oohrah!
After that little speech, I could see their demeanor change, there was a fire in their eyes, and they performed excellent that night. Leaders are not born… they are made. It is my job to train them.