September 11th – Our Day of Infamy

At this point, you’re social media feeds have been packed with #NeverForget, #NeverAgain, #AlwaysRemember, and American flags all day long. Good! Events like September 11, 2001 should not be forgotten for fear of history repeating itself. Anyone who thinks the evil of this world is suddenly going to throw their hands up and quit preying on the innocent is a bit naive.

I am writing this post while flying from Portland to Los Angeles then to Albuquerque on an American Airline’s plane. I’ve seen a number of threads on social media asking “Where were you when…” or “What were you doing when…” and it felt appropriate to share in a post written while flying.

At the time of the attacks, I lived in Midland Texas and was a stereotypical rebellious “goth” teenager. I made a point to play devil’s advocate whenever possible and bucked against the establishment simply to test boundaries. I balked at the military and shared my far-left anti-establishment politics with anyone around me (whether they wanted to listen or not). I was a senior in high school and felt more than ready to take on the world.

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I found myself in bowling class (yes, bowling class, the alternative to traditional P.E. – because, goth). We had just arrived at the bowling alley when the second plane hit the South Tower. The class took notice and paused all conversation, trying to figure out what movie the alley was playing. It only took a few seconds to realize it was all too real.

No one rolled a ball that day; no cheers for a strike; no smiles could be found on the two dozen kids in that class nor the three adults who worked at the lanes. Any talking was hushed whispers as all eyes were glued to the television screens which normally showed repeats of past bowling tournaments and advertisements for bad nachos and over-sweet sodas. Life felt like it had stopped.

It was fairly obvious to me that the world changed that morning. America wouldn’t be the same, the world wouldn’t be the same, , my generation wouldn’t be the same, I wouldn’t be the same. Having grown up in relative peace (all American conflicts had been low-grade combat operations that hadn’t lasted all that long – the Gulf War being the exception), I knew it wasn’t impossible for a full-scale war to occur in my lifetime, but it did seem unlikely until that morning.

At the appointed time (after all civilian air traffic was grounded, the Pentagon had been hit, and Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania), we all loaded the bus and returned to school. I remember going to my parked truck instead of my next class and another student walking by and asking “Why you pissed off?” I couldn’t believe it, I wanted to ask him “Why aren’t you pissed off?” I couldn’t really reply other than to tell him to watch the news.

I left school shortly thereafter.

The attacks of September 11th weren’t a primary influence in my decision to join the Army nor did I suddenly hate all Muslims or form a negative opinion of an entire region because of the actions of a few, but, I can say it helped push me to be an Infantryman. Male pride and ego played into this decision as well, but knowing that we were attacked as a nation that day sure didn’t hurt my motivations.

I can only hope that we, as a country, never have to experience an event like this again; however, history is bound to repeat itself when we forget the lessons we have learned in the past.

Where were you? What were you doing? How did you respond to these attacks?

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Expect the worst and hope…you planned enough!

Just about anyone who has met me, worked with me, or is a friend of mine would likely describe me as “negative” or “always pointing out the worst”. To be honest, I won’t deny such claims. I do focus quite a bit on those things that can go wrong and less on the things I hope go right. It’s also accurate to say that I am not quiet about voicing my concerns.

Am I just a pessimist who can’t be happy with any given situation? Do I have this need to shit on other people’s ideas or potential opportunities?

In short, the answer is a resounding “NO” to both those questions. So what’s up with the bad attitude?

I learned a long time ago, before the startup world, before contracting, before the Army, before I moved out of my parent’s house to expect the worst possible outcome and plan to counter any hurdles that can be identified at the start of an idea, change, or action.

The classic saying goes something like this: Hope for the best but expect the worst. Here’s the thing, if you are hoping for the best then you are likely not putting as much effort or thought into the worst. This sets you up for failure before you even start. In the end, you could probably look back and identify multiple issues that arose which could have been headed off from the beginning with better planning.

Tunnel Rat - WEAPONS COMP - oi (4)
Clearing a drainage tunnel with a 9 MM pistol and flashlight – do you think I had a sunny disposition going in?

In the Army, my thought process was reinforced with life and death situations. When you are a leader taking X number of soldiers on a patrol, ambush, or overwatch, you don’t approach the task with a sunny disposition. The default position is along the lines of: “We are going here to do these things and this, that, and everything else is likely to go wrong…this is how we mitigate risk and reduce the threat preemptively”. Sounds pretty grim, right? Well, it is! Real world combat operations aren’t the party Hollywood makes them out to be.

With a few modifications, this mindset is easily translated to the business world. “If we don’t get Update X out by this date then a high probability of losing 50% of our customer base and having to lay off 75% of the workforce exists.” What do you do? Quit? Hang up your hat, have a fancy cold brew, and let it be? HELL NO! You work with the team to make sure the engineers have what they need to produce Update X; you get the team to volunteer additional time in an effort to extend the deadline; you prep your customer base by setting proper expectations; you get to work.

A lot of people accept the concept of quitting. Life was unfair, I quit. My boss was a dick, I quit. The client wasn’t nice, I quit. It’s too hard, I quit. Here’s the problem, you can’t quit life! Life doesn’t care that you are at rock bottom; life isn’t going to stop while you wipe your tears off your face; life isn’t going to apologize for hurting your delicate sensibilities. Life is going to continue kicking your ass until you realize it’s up to you to change it!

Expecting the worst will help set you up for success. Think about it this way: I’m ready for everything up to and including the worst situation possible, anything short of that is easy.

One last thing, try to tackle the worst possibilities with a smile – it always seems to help the people you’ll end up working with throughout your life.

 

How do you handle planning? Do you start with the best possible situation and work your way to the worst? How do you achieve the end goal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and share on your favorite social media platform. Thanks for reading!

Happy Birthday Army!

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Korea c. 2003 – I’m in front of the back row a few people in from the left. This was one of my first field problems as a Team Leader.

Today, the US Army turns 243 years old; Happy Birthday Army!

To learn more about the formation and broad history of the Army, you can check out the history site of the US Army for more information. I would like to add that I was a part of the oldest branch of the Army (the Infantry). Just another bragging right the Infantry has over the rest of the Army 😉

However, this post isn’t just to say Happy Birthday to the Army or play the “my branch was better than yours” game; I am using this post to say “Thank you” to the US Army and highlight other means of doing your civic duty.

When I joined this aging organization I was a cocky, annoying, know-it-all teenager with no real direction in life. The Army set me on a path to success in life through hard work, discipline, self-sacrifice, and old-school grit. I truly believe if I hadn’t served the sometimes grueling, often times exhilarating, and always proud years in the Army, I wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I am today.

I do not believe military service is for everyone; some people simply aren’t built for the lifestyle (physically, emotionally, or mentally). That being said, it wouldn’t hurt for everyone to spend time in government service more suited to their interests and strengths. If you love nature, go work for a couple of years in the Forest Service; more about helping people in need find housing, HUD is for you; want to give back to veterans who sacrificed so much for so many, check out the Department of Veterans Affairs. Live and learn within these organizations so change can be affected by the masses instead of being afterthoughts in the minds of politicians during campaign season.

What do you get in return? A few things:

  • A better understanding how these organizations are actually run on a day-to-day basis. We as a citizenry assume we know what is going on, but, in reality, so much of our government runs on policy and process unknown by the general public.
  • A sense of civic pride and national identity. People will feel a sense of ownership in their government again because they gave a piece of themselves to keep it going and improve it.
  • Maybe, just maybe, a program could be organized that after a minimal amount of service is completed, participants will receive funds for further education (you know, college or a trade school of the participants choice). Much like the GI Bill for the military, these funds are not likely to cover 100% of the cost of the education, but it would go a long way. And, no, you couldn’t withdraw the money to spend it on whatever you want.

Not sure if this “Civic Pride” idea will catch any fire, but it doesn’t hurt to share.

Happy birthday Army! Thank you for all you have done for me and I wish you many more years of proud service!

What are your thoughts on civic duty? Share your thoughts in the comments and don’t forget to like and share http://www.averageluke.com!

3 Reasons People Become Addicted to War

Company Mission - LUTAFIYAH - Hell (2)
Me during my third tour in Iraq (Iskandariyah ’07-’08) waiting on a company mission to kickoff.

Let’s be honest, any rational person reading the title of this blog post thinks it’s crazy for anyone to be addicted to such a horrible course of events classified as a war. However, these same rational people, when thrust into the dangerous profession of being a front line soldier are at risk of becoming addicted. It can happen gradually over an extended period of time or all at once. What cannot be disputed is that everyone is at risk.

So, why does this happen? What reasons would a person use to justify an addiction to war? How can a person be willing to do anything to get their next fix of something all civilized societies in the history of the world have classified as the worst part of human nature? Why are these addicts encouraged to pursue their addiction? What can be done to save these people before the inevitable results of constant exposure to high-stress, life-threatening events exacts the ultimate cost?

For answers to the questions above, you’ll have to keep checking in to this blog. This post will only attempt to shed light on the one of them: What reasons would a person use to justify an addiction to war?

Let’s get into it…

One: Belief in a cause…

This is the most obvious and the most prominent. When a person has such strong convictions in the reason for the war occurring in the first place it is easy for them to want to do everything possible to support it. This includes returning to the most dangerous places on Earth time and again to fight for that cause. Many service members want to be in combat because they feel like they are fulfilling their duty to protect their country from <insert enemy title> (think terrorists, communists, fascists, and other bad “ists”). A cause is a powerful thing and governments throughout history have created causes to lure their citizenry into voluntarily putting themselves in danger for the fulfillment of the cause.

Two: Adrenaline…

There is no feeling in the world like the pure adrenaline pumped into your body when another human being is actively attempting to end your life AND you have the capacity to stop them from accomplishing their mission. It’s the ultimate win. Athletes get a taste of this when they win a high-stakes competition; business leaders sample this feeling after closing a big financial deal; everyone savors it right after narrowly escaping a car wreck. No one but the front line combat troops (and law enforcement officers) truly understand this type of adrenaline pump. Addiction to adrenaline is in and of itself an addiction, but adrenaline from an engagement with the enemy is unique in my opinion.

Three: The simple life…

This one is likely to confuse some people, but I will attempt to clarify. For a young, single, no children at home combat troop, combat is the simplest existence on the planet. No utility bills to pay, housing (shelter is a more apt description) is provided, food is available…all the basic necessities of life are provided. Money isn’t worth much because there isn’t anything to spend it on (except cigarettes, dip, candy, gear, and hygiene products). The almighty dollar won’t save you in a firefight. Life is simpler with three objectives:

  1. Accomplish the mission
  2. Bring everyone else home
  3. Bring yourself home

Married combat troops – not sure how much this one applies to you, but I’m sure some of you would agree with this description.

This is just my take on the “problem” of addiction to war – feel free to shout me down in the comments!

Wait, why do you run towards the bullets?

It doesn’t make much sense to the average person why anybody would willingly run towards the source of a fired bullet. To be honest, from the outside, it doesn’t make any sense. However, this is exactly what every infantryman is trained to do and it is expected that they will not hesitate when the situation presents itself.

Getting shot at is a unique experience. Different people react differently to the situation. Some hide behind something that will stop a bullet (cover) and hope the person shooting at them gets bored and goes away. Others hardly register that they are getting shot at and move slowly to a safer place. While some charge in the direction of where the bullets are coming from in an attempt to get to the source before the shooters realize a crazy person just charged their position.

The senses can go a bit crazy when getting shot at – time can feel like it is slowing down or speeding up, sounds become very distinct or everything goes silent, the eyes can lock on specific things such as flying debris or blur everything at once, muscles can seize up or go completely slack. There is no guarantee that a person is going to know how their body and mind will react every time another person is purposefully trying to kill them. Training helps, but it is not an adequate stand-in for the real thing.

Stupid Smile Day
On patrol in Iraq – Likely in Iskandariyah sometime in 2007 or 2008.

Okay, let’s break all of this down a little bit because it is more complicated than the surface makes it appear.

DISCLAIMER: This is a hypothetical situation partially based on real experience but mainly fabricated in my mind to illustrate the title of this post – so keep calm and don’t Monday morning quarterback it too much.

First, let’s outline the situation many infantryman find themselves in during a deployment to a combat theater. A platoon (about 25-30 soldiers) is tasked with a “knock and search” mission within a designated area. Given the confines of the area’s layout, the HMMWVS and MRAPS aren’t able to provide close support and are left with a small detail of soldiers a few hundred meters away from the squads on the ground. To reduce the enemy’s ability to skip out of the back of a house during the search, each of the three line squads (likely 7 soldiers after leaving two with their vehicles) are on three parallel streets, searching houses in line with each other (i.e. each squad is clearing three houses next to each other so no squad ends up in front of or behind the others).

Suddenly, without warning, the distinctive cracking sound of an AK-47 splits the air as dozens of 7.62 MM bullets impact around the soldiers of the squad on the far left of the clearing area. Shouts from the soldiers now fill the air as they reflexively start firing in the direction they think the rounds came from – which isn’t very likely to be accurate. The other two squads pause, consolidate, and begin their game plan to close with the enemy and destroy them.

Unfortunately, the middle squad is now under direct fire from a second enemy position. The sound of an RPK on full cyclic is deafening as it lays down suppressing fire on the middle squad. An RPG impacts a wall close to the squad leader, knocking him down and causing momentary confusion amongst his soldiers. The middle squad is pinned down and cannot effectively move. It’s an old west box canyon made up of mud brick houses and walls – a death trap.

Welcome to an ambush. It is not your friend.

In the situation I have outlined above, you’re effectively fucked if your in the middle squad and not in a great place if you’re in the squad on the far left. The only elements that can maneuver effectively are the squad on the far right and the vehicles. Now, everyone will have a different way of handling this, but, inevitably soldiers are going to have to maneuver under fire (i.e. while getting shot at).

Iskandariya, Iraq
A typical street in Iskandariya Iraq – really, any town in Iraq.

Ideally, the vehicles would be able to flank around to the left of the far left squad and lay down covering fire thus allowing the squad on the ground to maneuver while the enemy is ducking. Meanwhile, the squad on the far right would be able to flank the enemy in the middle zone while the middle squad distracted the enemy with a heavy base of fire. Two flanking elements on opposite sides of an objective requires coordination and great training to accomplish with minimal risk, but it can be done.

Too bad the real world isn’t as clean as a basic tactics manual makes it seem.

The vehicles can’t flank around the left because of an irrigation canal. They can only try to maneuver down the streets the squads are on, but this will simply put them in the line of some very direct fire and result in becoming combat ineffective. Instead, they stage (positions themselves for a particular purpose) as the casualty collection point (CCP) and prepare for a hasty departure. Not ideal.

The squad on the right tries to flank the enemy position in the middle but run into barriers such as walls, ditches, and houses which slow their progress. The middle squad has two wounded at this point and their base fire is dwindling. “Talking guns” kicks in as the team leaders coordinate their team’s firing so there are always bullets going “down range” (i.e. towards the enemy). This helps keep the enemy behind cover (something that will stop a bullet) and not shooting at friendly forces. It is only partially effective on the best of days.

This has left the squad on the left with two options:

  1. Sit tight, return fire, and pray one of the other squads can flank the enemy.
  2. Coordinate their fire, maneuver to the enemy position, and kill them.

In my world, due to training, conditioning, and my own irritation with getting shot at, I always opted for Option 2.

With one team laying down suppressing fire the other team would sprint in short intervals up the street towards the enemy position. After each burst, the team that moved would lay down fire while the other team moved either on line with the team firing or to a position ahead of them. Rinse and repeat until you are at the enemy position. Once in the same place as the enemy an entirely different drill is used to get in the house, clear it, and secure the site – but that is for many other posts.

In the end, soldiers have made the conscious decision to move a distance (with or without cover) while an enemy is trying really, really hard to kill them.

So, just to put a bow on this post:

  1. You run towards the bullets because running away is very rarely an option (the enemy wins and that causes much bigger problems).
  2. Sitting still and waiting for help isn’t always an option because help might not be able to get to the enemy.
  3. From personal experience, the enemy does not respond well when insane soldiers run straight towards them instead of cowering in fear – this is an advantage over the enemy.

Not all infantryman who make it through training end up being able to do this in the real world. Are they cowards? Maybe. Should they be kept in their position within an infantry unit? No, but they will because barring gross negligence that is provable it’s a game of “he said, she said”. It’s unfortunate that there is not a better way of handling these situations. Again, this is for a future post.

Have you ever been shot at? How did you respond to the situation? Tell us all about it in the comments section and remember to like, follow, and SHARE this pot with all of your friends who wonder about getting shot at!

Why I joined the Army and what happened after…

My final reenlistment in 2008 - I would be out of the Army less than a year later.
My final reenlistment in 2008 – I would be out of the Army less than a year later.

A question I used to get asked a lot was “why did you join the army?” Over the years my answer has evolved into a succinct one liner: I didn’t have a lot of options and the army seemed like the best thing to do at the time. However, this is only a small part of the truth. The real answer is a bit more complex than my default response.

In February 2002, I decided to move out of my parent’s house in the middle of the night after a verbal altercation with my step-dad. I was 18 years old and thought I knew everything I needed to know about the real world. Within the course of the following month I bounced around from one friend’s couch to another, quit my job, and dropped out of high school. That final point was a sticking point for me since I had a perfect GPA and, by all accounts, was on a fast track to a four year degree. My life was falling apart before I really got it started.

Some time in March I found myself in my best friend’s house with her then husband and his family. The days were short and the nights were long as I tried to figure out what I was going to do next. How was I going to support myself? What could be done about my destroyed education? Why had I taken such a menial dispute with my step-dad so seriously? Had I ruined my life?

While drinking Smirnoff Ice (yeah, there’s a blast from the past for all of you) one night, I listed out my potential options:

  • Work a dead end job while working to get my GED and hope to make it through community college within the next 5 years.
  • Get my GED and apply to the local police academy with fingers crossed.
  • Get my GED, join the army, serve the minimum number of required years, walkaway with the GI Bill, and forget it ever happened.

That same night I talked it over with a small group of friends. This resulted in the immediate dismissal of the police academy since I would have to arrest all of them for a variety of charges. The appeal of working a dead end job never sat well with me so I crossed that off the list. This left the Army. This left an organization I had protested against throughout my rebellious teenage years for a number of reasons.

Me...in high school - Don't judge too much.
Me…in high school – Don’t judge too much.

The next day, I went to the local recruiting station in Midland, Texas. The attacks of 9/11 were very fresh in everyone’s minds and the war in Afghanistan was still being fought primarily by irregular forces supplied by Special Forces and the CIA. Recruiters were hard pressed to meet their quotas but the graduating class of 2002 hadn’t finished high school yet so the recruiters were under pressure. I walked into the office dressed in all black, wallet chain, and spiked hair – likely the picture of a problem child. Three pairs of eyes quickly settled on me and almost immediately rolled into the back of their owner’s heads.

“How can I help you?” one of them asked without standing up.

“Yeah, where do I sign?” was my slightly enthusiastic response.

Three grown men nearly climbed over their desks to be the first to reach me, apparently Midland wasn’t supplying them with enough interested bodies to meet their quotas.

“Come here son,” said a gruff voice from the back of the office. The Sergeant First Class in charge of the recruiting office was standing in front of the only closed room in the space.

I grinned (as I often did back then) and headed back to the mid-30 something man holding his office’s door open. The room was cramped, but I took a seat without it being offered. Arrogance masked as confidence. I knew I needed the Army as much as it needed me at that moment, but it didn’t deflate my ego one bit.

“What’s wrong with you?” the SFC asked.

Taken aback by the direct question, I hesitated, before sheepishly responding, “I don’t have a diploma…but I’m getting my GED as soon as possible.”

He simply nodded, picked up the phone, and scheduled an appointment for me with a local charter school. At no cost to me, the charter school evaluated my school records and determined what would be needed for them to issue me a diploma. Within a week I had graduated from high school.

Throughout the recruiting process I maintained that I would only go in as infantry. At the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), the officer in charge of my first contract offered me an Intelligence Analyst Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) with a signing bonus, secret clearance, duty station of choice, and 4 year contract, but I stuck to my guns. If I was going to serve in the Army, I was going to fight. I was going to do the most difficult job in the entire organization to prove to myself and others that I could do it. Pride stood in the way of what would have been a more beneficial job once I gout out of the Army.

In the end, I got what I wanted: a 3-year contract as an 11X (unassigned infantry MOS – assignment occurs during One Station Unit Training OSUT) with no duty station of choice, clearance, or signing bonus. I couldn’t be happier at the time. I was proud that I stuck to my guns for the job I thought I wanted. I stuck it to the man!

However, my mindset had yet to change towards the Army as an organization. I was convinced I would serve my 3 years, get out, and forget it ever happened. Remember, this was a year before Operation Iraqi Freedom began so the chances of seeing combat were minimal at best.


Fast forward one year and I am soon to be promoted to PFC (E-3, Private First Class) while stationed in Korea. I would soon earn my Expert Infantryman’s Badge (EIB) and was the model of a young soldier. It was likely that people thought I was born in the uniform since I never seemed to take it off.

Sometime in Basic Training I decided I liked the Army. It was structured, disciplined, rigid yet flexible, and rewarded results instead of effort. The core functions of the infantry job made sense to me (close with the enemy and destroy them) and I found I was fairly good at all of them. I was hooked and happy for it.

During my leave after Basic Training I had decided I wanted to accomplish three things in the three years I was planning on being in the Army (yeah, still hadn’t adjusted that target):

  1. Become a Non-Commissioned Officer
  2. Attend and graduate Sniper School
  3. Experience combat

I ended up accomplishing two of the three goals in my first three years in the Army and letting go of the dream for Sniper School over the next few years. Once I experienced combat it was all I felt I needed in my life – but that’s a series of posts for later.

I reveled in the physical pain of the training. I longed for the mental and emotional roller coaster of training and, later, combat. I was able to push myself without boundaries. I was pushed to the edge by my leadership and fellow soldiers. Everyday was a challenge. Everyday proved I could do more than the day before.

I am on the right - smiling - taken immediately after a non-enemy accident
I am on the right – smiling – taken immediately after a non-enemy accident

Over the years in the wet woods of Korea, dry desert of Iraq, and army-friendly Clarksville, my opinions of the Army changed. I loved the Army. I loved the infantry. I loved the experience I gained at such a young age. I loved the soldiers I was responsible for training and leading into combat. There was nothing more important than the soldiers I led – nothing.

I learned and experienced the brotherhood of the Army infantry. I lived for it.

Six years was shorter than I intended to stay in the service, but it was long enough to know I will likely never find anything else that is as fulfilling as the Army was for me.

Did you serve in the military? Why did you join? Why did you stay in or get out? Leave it all in the comments and don’t forget to like, share, and follow this blog!

Army Infantry Reboot

Post 8 - PTSD
Me in Iraq, circa 2008

I was scrolling through my LinkedIn account yesterday and ran across an interesting article detailing changes coming to the training regiment for new infantry soldiers. Though I have been out of the Army for 10 years, I still feel a personal sense of responsibility to remain aware of current trends in the army. In the past decade, a focus on drone capabilities, developing and introducing new technology to all facets of the force, and what the next war will entail typically hold headlines. However, a vital flaw in our army’s readiness and capacity to fight wars began to form while I was still in uniform: poor training and preparedness of new enlisted infantry soldiers.

In the article, Brigadier General Christopher T. Donahue (Infantry School Commandant) mentions the need to ensure ” that the right people are being selected for the Infantry Branch”. They need to be intelligent and capable of handling austere conditions at their worst and for long periods of time. Many assume that only those who failed to get a high score on their entrance exam (ASVAB) join the infantry, but this has always been a misconception. “The right people” should not simply refer to intelligence, but also the ability to assimilate into the army structure without losing their ability to critically think.

Donahue mentions that infantry soldiers need to be able to continue the fight even when everything goes sideways with or without guidance from superiors. Just because the radio was shot or pierced by shrapnel does not mean you pack it up and go home – you have to complete the mission objective. To do this, you must have good on-the-ground leadership as well as soldiers capable of (and willing to) think critically.

Due to the need for boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan too many waivers were issued for individuals who had no right being in the army, let alone the infantry, in the early to mid-2000s. Felons, no diploma/GED, assault charges, and other waivers permitted young men to enter the army without any real dedication or commitment to the organization or its mission. This permeated the army with undisciplined, rebellious, dangerous individuals – some would go on to great careers that changed their lives while others refused to grow up. These individuals took away from those who joined to serve, fight, and close with the enemy with honor.

As a leader for a majority of my service, I regularly received new soldiers who were straight out of Basic Training. As the years in Iraq and Afghanistan ticked by, I noticed a significant decrease in these soldier’s professionalism, basic soldier skill sets, and general discipline. These new soldiers could barely fire a weapon or execute basic fire drills (infantry maneuvers) safely – it was mind blowing to me.

Donahue is experimenting with a significant increase in the amount of time new infantry soldiers remain at One Station Unit Training (OSUT – the combination of Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training). More time in a strictly training environment will do these new soldiers some good and take some of the burden off of regular units upon receipt of these soldiers. The most difficult thing to do is get a new soldier, straight out of Basic Training, ready for a deployment – I hope these changes help.

Another major improvement will be to marksmanship qualification and training. Moving from the out-dated model of foxhole and prone firing positions to a more realistic prone supported, prone unsupported, kneeling, standing approach is long over due. In the real world (i.e. war), you don’t get to choose the best position to fire from every time and practicing different positions does help.

The next thing that needs to happen is the line units (regular infantry, not Rangers or SF) need more advanced and regular marksmanship training. This should include situational awareness training (shoot/don’t shoot scenarios) as well as advanced tactics and firing positions. It’s a misconception by the general public that regular infantry soldiers simply sit on a firing range and plink away for hours on end with an endless supply of ammunition. I can count on one hand how many times I had more than 40 live-rounds of ammunition for live-fire exercises (not qualification ranges) in the 6+ years I was in the army.

A final point that should be addressed (though it is not included in the article) is soldiers of the 21st century still need to learn how to do things without technology. A GPS is great until the batteries die or the screen is shattered and unreadable. Personal computers and future exoskeletons are wonderful until sand and grit break the CPU or lock up a joint. Soldiers will always need to know how to navigate with a paper map and a compass. They should know how to shoot their weapons accurately with iron sights. They need to know basic first aid when they don’t have an expanding bandage or Quikclot at their disposal. Knowing how to accomplish the mission when you don’t have modern conveniences is a very important skill set to maintain.

I applaud the army for its efforts to improve soldier readiness through training and a better selection process. I hope those who are currently serving in war zones around the world see a positive impact from these changes.

Did you serve in the infantry? What did you observe as some of the greatest weaknesses or things of greatest importance to be improved? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and don’t forget to like, share, and follow this blog!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 4

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Eating green tea ice cream circa 2014 in Taiwan – I had already packed on 40 pounds of excess weight at this point.

Like so many veterans, I left the Army and immediately stopped doing any form of physical training (PT). I began ingesting far more calories than my newly lethargic lifestyle could ever process and, as happens, started to pack on the pounds. Over the years, my weight and fitness level have yo-yo’d from fat and cardiac-event risk to slim and fit. During the valleys of fast food and little activity, I constantly sell myself on the idea that I am as good as I was in my mid-20’s running mile after mile everyday, packing rucks with 50+ pounds and walking until my feet bled, and being “tactically cool” as I cleared houses in Iraq wearing 90 pounds worth of gear and ammo. Unfortunately, despite my success selling myself on these ideas, the truth is much more grounding:

I am overweight, out of shape, and not as good as I once was.

The truth hurts and putting it out to the world in this way is very embarrassing for me. I have always prided myself on being disciplined and ready for whatever the world throws at me. However, with my inability to complete the full course of the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 comes the realization that I have bought into my own lie, hook, line, and sinker.

Fortunately, it is not too late to turn this all around. It is possible that I will never be as good as I was as a young sergeant in Iraq, but I can be a whole lot better than I am today. My 2018 goals are geared towards my own improvement including physical fitness – not just weight loss, but physical ability to accomplish tasks that I currently struggle with or outright fail at. In line with this physical improvement is preparation for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March taking place on March 17, 2019.

Selfie - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
A horrible selfie sometime around Mile 10 or 11

As I have written about my experiences at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of “The Day After” series, my physical preparations were insufficient to complete the full route this year. I have two more physical challenges in 2018 as a part of my 2018 goals which do not include any “from the hip” entries I may have in other events that pop-up in the next 9 months. These events will help drive me to improve my physical capabilities and increase my chances of completing the 2019 Bataan memorial Death March 26.2 mile route.

My rough training plan for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March:

  1. Albuquerque “Run for the Zoo” 10k – May 6, 2018
    • I have 5 weeks to train for this event and will be detailing that adventure in future blog posts.
  2. The “Duke City Marathon” – October 21, 2018
    • I plan on finding a 3 to 4 month training plan to up my distance from 10k range to a full marathon and will be detailing this journey in future blog posts.
  3. 20-week Bataan Memorial Death March provided training plan
    • After an appropriate rest period following the Duke City Marathon, The Husband and I will follow the 20-week training plan provided by event organizers. I will be recording our experiences on this blog.
  4. Weekly Ruck Marches
    • I plan on utilizing the wonderful terrain in and around Albuquerque to ruck short to long distances with light to heavy weight at least one day a week throughout the year until I start the official Bataan training plan.
  5. Strength Training
    • Incorporated into all of my training plans for the above events will be regular strength training. This is something I have never been fond of (pick up heavy things and then put them back where I found them), but I am weaker today than I have ever been in my entire life. This is not something I am okay with and I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary to correct this problem.

Since the above points are my rough plan, I am sure I will provide more refined and tested training plans for each event in the future. Keep in mind, I am not a nutritionist, certified trainer, or other certified sports exercise professional so don’t follow my plans without first checking with a healthcare professional. I am willing to use trial and error to improve myself until I am in a position to consult with professionals.

I know this is going to be a very difficult road over the next year, but I am committed to fixing the problems I have created. I am glad I chose to share my own embarrassment with everyone who happens upon this blog because it provides me a higher sense of accountability (much like I had in the Army). It’s time to prove through hard work that none of us are stuck with our present situation!

Are you a veteran or do you know a veteran who let themselves go after leaving the service? Have you (or they) come back from that bad place? How did you (or they) do it? Any advice for me or the readers of this blog? Share in the comments below! Also, remember to follow this blog and like us on social media!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 3

Sunrise Over the Start Line - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018

Here is Part 3 of my “Bataan…The Day After” series. In Part 1 I recounted my experiences during the actual Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 while Part 2 shared some lessons learned from the event. In this installment, I am going to air some grievances about the event and its organization.

WARNING: This post should not be taken out of context. I greatly enjoyed my experience at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 and will be registering for the 2019 event as soon as registration opens up in October. This was my experience and my observations and in no way should be taken as an end all, be all of the event.

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: I am writing this post to vent, yes, but also to help set expectations for first time marchers in years to come. It is my hope that this post will help people better prepare for the event thus improving their experience and helping them through a very difficult event to feel the exhilaration of finishing.

I have covered a lot in Part 1 and Part 2 as to what annoyed and irritated me during the event, but I wanted to vent a bit in this post for my own sanity. Going into the march I understood there were going to be a lot of people, difficult terrain, and general discomfort/pain. However, I was hoping against hope for a bit more courtesy from my fellow marchers and timeliness of execution for the event itself.

VENTING AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

  1. SCHEDULE AND TIMELINESS – I spent time in Part 2 explaining the start times for civilian categories do not start at 7:00 AM as the literature implies (but does not specify) which results in a lot of standing around through a chilly desert morning. Here, I want to talk about the late start to the Opening Ceremony (only a few minutes, but that adds up quickly) and the long delay between each corral being released. Why the long delay? This is to allow each marcher the opportunity to shake the hand and say “hi” to all of the attending survivors (of the actual Bataan Death March). Obviously, it takes some time to get 8,400 marchers through the choke point where the survivors are posted up. All-in-all, it takes about 90 minutes to get the marchers through this process. When the first corral (runners) aren’t released until 7:15 AM, that’s a lot of standing around in the chilly air for the last corral (Civilian Heavy).
    • Possible Solution – Start earlier. Instead of a 6:35 AM start to the opening ceremony, go for 6:00 AM. I understand the later start time is likely for the F-15 flyover to be visible, but burning daylight for the Civilian Heavy division is quite unfair (Military Heavy ends up with about 12.5 hours to finish the full course while Civilian Heavy have about 11.5 hours).
    • Possible Solution – Break up the starting line into two lanes: Lane 1 meets the survivors and Lane 2 goes straight to the Starting Line and onto the course. Personally, I took the time to meet and greet the survivors at the Finish Line when I felt like I could truly understand some of their sacrifice and the pain they went through (some, not nearly all).
  2. MARCHER COURTESY – Just like on the highway, if you’re going slower than the people around you, move to the right and let people pass you on the left. The Husband and I got stuck behind several small groups in the first few miles that were more interested in talking about home renovations, workplace drama, and kids than taking in the experience they were actively participating in or being aware of their surroundings. In the narrower portions of the trail it takes a lot of self-control to not rudely bump people out of the way so we could continue at the pace comfortable for the both of us. I understand that everyone has their own motivation, purpose, and reasons for being on the course, but courtesy is universal and should not be dependent on whether it is a competitive event or not.
    • Possible Solution – Pretty simple and almost impossible to enforce, but slower marchers stay to the right while faster marchers can pass on the left. It’s common courtesy.
    • Possible Solution – Also impossible to enforce as an organizer, but maybe people should remove the earbuds/headphones, quiet down about their day-to-day life and pay attention to their surroundings. When someone is obviously moving faster than you are and attempting to get by you, move out of the way.
    • Disclaimer – Wounded Veterans, the disabled (their were blind marchers on the course), and the elderly — DO WHAT YOU WANT! In these cases, it is the responsibility of the masses to find other ways around these marchers. Double standard? You are damn right, get over it!
  3. MARCHER COURTESY (PART 2) – Okay, lot’s of courtesy going on here, but lack of it was the most irritating part of my experience. Water and Check Points. These are not “stop in the middle of the trail and have a conversation, throw my arms out, and take a break in the middle of the trail” points. The Husband and I stopped at several of these points but we did so only after getting off the main thoroughfare to allow those who weren’t stopping to continue on without us getting in their way. It gets back to paying attention to your surroundings. The mile markers were another area in which this bottlenecking occurred because marchers wanted to take pictures with the placard. I completely understand the novelty and recording the experience with a picture, but that doesn’t mean you should impede other marchers while doing so.
    • Possible Solution – Marchers should pay attention to their surroundings and, unless physically unable to do so, move off the trail before stopping.
    • Possible Solution – Marchers taking pictures with the mile markers should do so by getting off the trail or, if using a second person as a photographer, the person taking the picture should hug the edge of the trail to stay out of other people’s way.
  4. INFORMATION FROM THE ORGANIZER – I am a veteran of the Army Infantry and I can’t recall a single time when I found myself participating in a ceremony or at an event that I didn’t know the exact sequence of events to take place. In the case of this event, I knew how the opening ceremony would unfold (and it did, to the letter), but no information was shared as to how or when the march would actually kick-off. We were cordoned off into corrals, check. The opening ceremony occurred, check. Then…well, I don’t know what happened for about 60 minutes other than motivational music from the 80’s and 90’s blasted over the loud speaker. This resulted in a handful of false starts on my part based on observing the events around me (i.e. “I think their moving, let me ruck up…oh wait, false alarm”).
    • Possible Solution – Use the loud speaker to help release the corrals as well as inform the other corrals as to what’s going on. Simple: “Military Heavy, step-off; Military Light prepare to move in 15 minutes”.
    • Possible Solution – Set proper expectations in the literature that it will take approximately 15-20 minutes for each corral to move through the survivor meet and greet area, prepare accordingly.

In the end, despite some annoyances and irritation, I greatly enjoyed the event and will be participating in next year’s march (the 30th to take place). I hope that people returning next year will have more courtesy than they did this year and that first-time marchers will keep some of these points in mind when on the course. We are all out there and we are all suffering to some degree or another, don’t make it more difficult by purposefully getting in the way in order to facilitate your own experience at the expense of others.

Also, understand that for 99% of marchers this is not a competitive event; it is to honor those who were forced to march 65 miles in the Philippines with quarter rations, almost no water, and substandard equipment. Though the start is slowed by meeting and greeting the attending survivors I gladly accept this delay as a point of pride to shake the hand of men who survived events I will never have to live through. I salute each and every one of them though I chose to do so at the finish line.

Overall, this was a very well executed and supported event that I will always cherish as a great memory. Nothing is perfect and there are always things that could be improved. I have also sent my feedback to the organizers so don’t think I’m not trying to contribute to improving this event and am only looking to bitch to the world.

Did you participate as a runner, marcher, or volunteer? What improvements do you see for this event in the future? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Also follow this blog and on social media!

 

The Day Before Bataan 2018

In preparation for tomorrow’s 2018 Bataan Memorial Death March, the husband and I are in serious preparation mode. We like to call it: relaxing. We are as prepared as we are going to be, our plans are finalized, and any changes now will be pointless if not damaging towards our successful completion of the Bataan Memorial Death March. Thus, we decided that today would be the day to relax, hydrate, and get some sleep.

We dropped by White Sands Missile Range so I could double check my pack’s weight which turned out to be a good idea since I was half a pound under the 35 pound minimum for the Heavy Division. Turns out I had some power/endurance gels in two small pockets on the outside of the pack which put me over the minimum weight requirement yesterday but would have disqualified me tomorrow since they could have been picked up somewhere on the course. A quick trip to the on-post commissary and a pound of rice later, my pack was back above the 35 pound mark. Unfortunately, that means with water and power gels, I will be at 40 pounds of marching weight.

Checking on the weather we will be walking in high 70’s to low 80’s heat with little cloud cover after 10:00 AM. It doesn’t sound hot and most people will assume this is actually a comfortable temperature; unfortunately, for me, this is already in the higher end of the heat spectrum. I have suffered from heat stroke and heat exhaustion several times over the past decade and a half which makes me more susceptible to falling prey to it again. With the wind blowing 15-20 MPH throughout the day, the human body’s natural evaporative cooler will be put to the test as my sweat dries too quickly to effectively cool.

With the weight of my pack and non-confidence inducing weather report, the best plan of action for the day was relaxation, hydration, and purposefully calming myself ahead of the walk tomorrow. The husband agreed with me very quickly. So, what does a person do at White Sands Missile Range and/or Alamogordo to pass the time on a Saturday? To be honest, there isn’t much to be done.

WSMR Museum
WSMR Museum Outdoor Displays

On post, a number of events and activities were taking place (meals, some entertainment, seminars, etc.), but none of them were overly appealing to either one of us. The most interesting thing to me was a historical presentation being put on by the NMSU ROTC at the base theater. However, we didn’t feel the desire to “hang around” post until this took place so we headed over to the White Sands Missile Range Museum to gawk at the impressive devices of testing and destruction. If you nerd out over military history, rocketry, and everything that goes into developing implements of destruction, you should find time to stop in at this museum. I’m the first to admit that it is probably a very boring experience for a majority of people, but the full-size inert munitions they have on the grounds should impress just about anyone.

NMMSH - Outdoor Displays
New Mexico Museum of Space History – Outdoor Displays

After an hour of touring the museum and its paraphernalia, we headed into Alamogordo to check out the New Mexico Museum of Space History. Again, this is a place to nerd out over rocketry (seeing a theme for the area yet?) and the amount of knowledge, work, and discovery that has gone into putting man in space. I visited this museum a handful of times as a kid (during two summers of Space Camp, yeah, I was that nerd) so this was just as much a walk down memory lane as it was a new experience. The husband enjoyed it about as much as possible when you’re looking at slightly dated (but still cool!) displays and large chunks of old-school technology. I still highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area. There is also a small, but fully equipped planetarium down the hill from the museum which is worth watching.

To wrap up the out-of-hotel relaxation tour, we stopped in at the Toy Train Depot to learn a little about the history of the railroad in this part of New Mexico and see some pretty extravagant toy train setups. There is a lot to see in this small building, the attendant was very friendly and chatty, and the running model train was very impressive. Also, you can take a small train ride around the park attached to the building.

Toy Train Depot - Alamogordo NM
Train Car outside of the Toy Train Depot in Alamogordo NM

Now, I fully understand that we are likely missing out on some sense of camaraderie associated with participating in the Bataan Memorial Death March by touring Alamogordo instead of hanging out at White Sands Missile Range. However, this is our first year doing the event and our first vacation in quite some time so the time together is as important as the event itself. Next year, I hope my best friend will be able to join me (or us) for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March. Maybe then we will take part in more of the community and bonding events.

What do you do the day before a big endurance event? Share your experiences in the comments and look for my post march post tomorrow (or the day after)!