What are the disadvantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

I am going to speak as a Marine and currently a hiring manager. Here are some negative attributes that come with military service that more hiring managers need to understand.

Military people don’t get you and you don’t get them.

There are a great deal of miscommunications and misconceptions dealing with people in the military. What it is like to grow in the civilian world and what it is like to grow in the military world are two completely different things. You may have gone to a great university and interned at a very prestigious company where you met some very important people and this put you in a position of power. These qualities are not that highly respected by people from the military. If they respect you it is because of your character or in the least, your rank. Most of the time if you are CEO or VP or even just Manager that is enough for them to respect on a basis of rank, but don’t expect your story of going to an Ivy League university to mean very much to them at all. This isn’t an attack on you, but most of the time they will just attribute this to luck or born into the right family. You shouldn’t get angry about this, it is just the way they think. I had a personal experience with this in that when I started with a new branch of the company I am with there was a man who served in the military who didn’t really respect me because I was just another yuppie with a piece of paper. I had a “chat” with him where he found out that I was actually a Marine Sergeant and had done quite a bit before getting my piece of paper. Now I have his full respect. I understand where he is coming from though, most military people can be very smart, but grew up in small towns where they don’t get noticed by colleges, they are from poor families and opportunities are not that abundant. They see the military as a place where you can work hard and get noticed, so they really don’t like seeing young hot shots arrive in charge because things like college or connections. That is just a reality that many military have different values than people who became adults as civilians. You have to accept it. They will be able to appreciate and respect what you do though. Good, strong leadership is always respectable.

You have no idea what it is like to be in the military and what their mentality is like.

The fact is that you have never served in the military. You don’t know what it is like to be sent from your family, to live overseas, to live and work with the exact same people for months on end, you have never experienced the degree of isolation they do, you have never been in real danger and been expected to perform under it and you have never been a part of that culture. Your experience is in the movies, the news, some blog about how great military leadership is or that you had an uncle who served in such and such. What makes you think you could possibly understand how they think or how they solve problems. If you think that you do if that is the only reason you are hiring them than you need to investigate your own ignorance and take a look at all the experience they actually have in their resume.

I recently had a boss who was frustrated with me because he gave me very unclear goals with little guidance. He kept saying that his company needed a “Marine mindset”. I asked him what specifically did you want? He always would spit out a bunch of non-sense about how they needed my ideas and my knowledge and experience and “a bit more Marine Corps here”. I took this to mean that he wanted a strong logistics network, clear lines of communication both laterally and up the chain along with good training and discipline for the employees, which I provided. I also have a business degree specializing in entrepreneurship and have started my own company which I run on the side. I really thought that he meant he needed my business understanding and ideas for this company that he in no way actually knew how to run. After I would have ideas for problems I did see I would implement them and they never got any traction and most get shot down leaving the problem now just as bad. Finally I knew it was time to leave when he said “Because military people follow instructions.” I was incensed. Do you think military people are robots you push a button and they magically get things done. Do you expect me to hop to and go get it done with absolutely no clue what you are asking me to do? Would you like a salute with that?…SIR? The fact is that that was an incredibly insensitive and ignorant thing to say. It is an easy way to make a military person feel like they are stupid, have no individual value and can actually contribute nothing to an organization. Of course we also get very angry. Given our proclivity for violence, saying such things could be considered a major mistake, but suffice it to say, that is when I felt it was time to leave.

Military people will tell you when something is wrong, even when you don’t like it, often.

In the case above this is when I told him, with tact (honestly), that I had followed every instruction that he had given, which were almost none. You don’t go and point someone in some direction and say go when you lead them to believe that their job is completely different from the one that you intended them to do. I told him this and he wasn’t happy. Sorry, the fact is that when we serve in the military we hold a great deal of responsibility, not only of property, but of lives. We need to know what is going on and question when something isn’t right. It is a matter of practice that this has to happen something is wrong. If you are one of those people who believe you are always correct, don’t hire someone in the military.

Military people are extremely capable, when given adequate support.

If we are going to work under you, you need to know that you absolutely need to provide us with a framework, training and direction until we are capable. Sometimes this may take a long time, but it is necessary. The fact is that military people are used to a very heavy bureaucracy that provides a great deal of annoyance, but structure. You need to provide that on some level for them to succeed. Here is a point, in the Marines we spent 3 months in boot camp. That is the famous boot camp that everyone talks about. This was just to be called Marine. It was just a giant exercise in on-boarding. We spend another month in weapons and tactics training, as much as six months to a year in job training and then spend months training with our units before we go to actually do our jobs. I spent about 14 months preparing for a 7 month tour. That is why we succeed so well at war. However without that kind of training and support the Marines would suck, just like your company. If you aren’t prepared to give them a great deal of training for their job, they won’t know what to do go off trying to do something that doesn’t fit your strategy. This is in contraindication with my next point, but you will see that they are tied very well together.

Military people are also extremely independent and will go off in random directions when lacking adequate guidance.

As I mentioned in the last point military people need good direction. That is because if any one group could be stereotyped as “alpha males” it might just be young men in the military. They are rash, forceful, arrogant, stubborn and filled with pride. They also have a great deal of initiative and want to fix problems where they see them. The problem is that you didn’t obey rule number three. You hired them because they were “real go-getters” and didn’t explain their role or what a problem in your company actually is. What could have been a massive driving force for you is now more of a bull in a China closet. You will have numerous arguments with this individual and he will not get what your point is. Remember they don’t get you and you don’t get them, but train them well in their job, point them in the right direction and you will have a force and not just an employee.

Military people are not always fun to work with.

There really are two types of military people to work with. The stoic solemn ones who are extremely rigid, professional and have no time for your nonsense or the wild and unruly bombs who can be unreliable, drunks, dissidents, aggressive and might even bring massive drama into your workplace. Both of these types are likely to be extremely proud and can border on arrogance and can be very aggressive in general. They can both be extremely difficult for other personality types to mesh with and can cause conflict just with their presence. As bosses they can be extremely strict and demanding and can bring down the morale of a workplace because “incentive” to them is usually just a lack of punishment. You have a job, you do it. That is how many think. Their punishments can be incredibly severe by civilian terms because most civilians have never dug a seven foot deep fighting hole and filled 600 sand bags because they didn’t clean their room once. Simply put, aggression is not always a good thing, but these guys have it.

A lot of veterans have very real problems you don’t understand.

Post traumatic stress is a real thing. Lower back problems for wearing a 70 pound flack jacket for 8 hours a day for 7 straight months is a real thing. Hearing loss from working on rifle ranges, or near rotary-wing aircraft and artillery is a very real thing. The fact is that most military people get out with some degree of disability. They are proud so most never mention this, but it is something you will need to understand when trying to understand them. The fact is that a 22 year old veteran has the body of 35 year old because of the stresses they endure overseas. You will need to know about that and a good leader will find out how to help the vet cope and work productively. A bad manager will say that “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD.” and not hire the person. This isn’t a made up opinion. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or tragedy) it is assumed that most have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease. The fact is we all had something jarring happen, if it was only the incredibly long periods of isolation from our country and loved ones. This doesn’t mean that there is any likelihood that you will experience violence in the workplace from us. They might be a bit off by your standards, but still deserve a chance.

Military people have what some might call controlled Tourette’s Syndrome.

I added this one after some comments came up about the way that military act toward civilians and I thought that it deserved special recognition. It relates to #6 on my list, but this element deserved it’s place. In the military the way we talk to each other is often not pleasant. In the Marines bootcamp instructors are actually trained on how to manipulate their voices so that they can yell for extremely long periods of time without damaging their vocal cords. This is known as the “Frog Voice” and it is a real as the weapons we use. The fact is that once you enter the military people literally screaming at you all the time and you adapt. Eventually you will be a leader and screaming will be part of your job too. This video actually shows a great deal of things that are important. It is a video of a charity golf tournament where some Marines were invited to give a show for some of the competitors. Listen at the very beginning and you can hear a Marine using a strange voice to speak to the victim/participant. This is Frog Voice. You will also see what is known as the “Omnidirectional Ass Chewing” in which multiple D.I. will be screaming at you in unison as you attempt to make sense of the universe around you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr4C8PtfMq0

This video is in jest, but it is identical to the way that Marine recruits are trained at boot camp, except that goes on for 3 months. “Why do all these things you ask?” Because it is the easiest way to get a human being who is unaccustomed to performance under stress to take action while being placed under an extreme and sudden stress environment (combat). It trains them to block out the noise and the fear and the stress and just do what they need to do. We can’t actually shoot at the kids you know. (Oh God, that actually does make sense.) So the Omnidirectional Ass Chewing is one of the most important parts of onboarding that most military go through, and the yelling really never stops after that. What is extremely important to know is that just as quickly as these men started yelling they can turn it off just as quickly. It is mostly an act meant to instill aggression and help military people cope with combat stress without actually experiencing combat. This is why as John Albert put it “Not that my ex-military friends aren’t cool to just hang with when the pressures of work are off, but once you get them into a “business” situation it’s sometimes like flipping the “asshole” switch.” This asshole switch is a very real thing that has taken years to perfect. Yes, I acknowledge it as a conscious decision and part of our leadership and cultural mentality, but now they are in the civilian sector and this can is extreme. If you hire a military you need to know about this. If given a leadership role there might be some moments where the employees stop talking to Jon and start being talked to by Sgt Davis. As with other things, this can be an asset, but if it isn’t what you want in your culture you need to consider that. as well.

You

If I could really say the hardest thing that I have dealt with since leaving the military it is civilian managers who want to leverage my military experience, but have no understanding of it. I’ve had bosses who hired me thinking that I would be able to kick down doors, then when I made someone cry guess who got in trouble. One guy tried to lecture me on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War because now he understood warfare. Basically the worst thing that I have truly experienced is that so many think that all these traits I have listed are an all encompassing list of personality traits. Only these things are what naive managers think they want. After they realize that this may not be what they want, or that what they want doesn’t rationally belong in a civilian environment, who do they blame? Yeah. They expect some level of unattainable perfection while not allowing you the freedom to move in the way they hired you for. In the meantime, they hold the vet to a different standard than the other peers only because the vet didn’t live up to the managers impossible stereotypes.

In summary, hiring military people can be much less productive than you think if you don’t try and understand them. They can be asset or a liability. What is important for you as the hiring manager or owner is to accept that these are extremely capable and strong willed individuals that will need much guidance in the beginning, but be a major boon to your operations after that. They likely won’t fit your stereotypes and if you expect them to you will only get a great deal of resentment and difficulty. Still, there are few that know how to work harder can be more loyal, providers of effective diversity, are as reliable and can be counted on like a good US Veteran.

In all fairness you should also see my answer in What are the advantages of hiring someone who has been in the US military?

Movie Tropes and Military PTSD – Hollywood Needs to Start Getting This Right

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for veterans of war isn’t a real disease. It’s a profitable movie trope.

Vets

This is going to be a very serious post. To be clear, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disease that affects many veterans who have taken part in combat and even non-combat operations in warfare, as well as many civilians who have experienced fatal car accidents, work in emergency medicine, and many other people who have experiences which put them in stressful situations beyond the expectations of what a normal person should expect in their lifetime. The disease can affect the way people live their lives, resulting in follow-on social dysfunctional disorders, depression, and for some, result in suicide.

That said, to not dilute the level of frustration other veterans and myself feel, Hollywood is not treating this disease as a problem which deserves understanding and respect. They’ve turned it into a plot device to add drama and communicate a story they wish to tell, depicting their own biases towards the military, the wars they fight, or the politicians that sent them to this unfortunate fate, with the “innocent veteran victim” now serving as the medium for their message. Masked in a story about “the real heroes and the struggles they face” these narrative mechanics boil down to little more than money making engines and good publicity for film creators by exploiting people who want to identify with veterans and their needs, but can’t. We aren’t part of that world. So their best opportunity years after they decided not to serve, and now maybe don’t feel so good about that, is a two hour war movie which is billed as coming from their point of view.

Movies like the Hurt Locker and Brothers are the worst of these. They tell the story of how warfare will always leave people broken, charred remnants of what used to be happy and productive human beings. Please understand that most of us are just normal people. We went to war. Then we came home and did other things. We enjoy going to our jobs where we add valuable experience and promote cultures of work ethic. We enjoy running on the track with our dogs, and we enjoy spending evenings with our families watching How to Train Your Dragon 2 and playing Mario Kart or Skyrim. However, when I see people who have done the things I have done in movies, and see the way they are depicted as I live today, it really breaks my heart. I’ve experienced prejudice, fear, and even been denied opportunities because I was a veteran of Iraq. What’s more, millions more like me have suffered far worse. Many have faced social ostracism, been denied jobs, and accosted publically for their role in an unpopular war. I just want people to understand, if that sort of treatment happens to you, it would mess you up in the head. People need to feel appreciated, loved, or at least not hated for doing something which they did for all the right reasons. Forget that the war even happened to these people. If you were to be treated as many returning vets were and are still today, you would not come out of it psychologically for the better.

This isn’t just something that sucks. It has been shown to affect how often veterans are hired in civilian positions after leaving the military. Did you know that veterans are discriminated against in hiring decisions because of the assumption that veterans have PTSD and may bring violence to the workplace? It has actually been measured that because of the negative bias created by these types of media, military veterans suffer unfair stereotyping and bias in hiring practices. This phenomena began making headlines when USA Today put out an article calling attention to it. Often, managers will look at a resume and say that, “He went to Iraq? He probably has PTSD. He might one day snap and shoot up the office.” The veteran is not hired because of an unfair stereotype no more accurate or just than not hiring an African American or Latino man because he was probably at one time part of a gang. Recent studies have shown that while only 5-20% of combat vets have justified PTSD (about the same as civilians who have experienced car accidents or personal tragedy) it is assumed by many people that most veterans have the ailment. It is called PTSD bias and is most damaging among middle managers who don’t understand the disease.

Researchers from the Center for New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, interviewed executives of 69 leading corporations, including Bank of America, Target, Wal-Mart, Procter and Gamble, and Raytheon. All said hiring veterans can be good for business, but more than half acknowledged harboring a negative image of veterans because of how popular media — from news coverage to films — portray PTSD. [1]

About one in three employers consider post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. [2]
This in spite of the fact that military veterans are less prone to violence than all the other population groups when matched with their own age cohorts [3] and that the presence of non-active duty veterans alone has prevented dozens of criminal acts including bank robberies, muggings, and even acts of terrorism [4]. Still though, veterans are considered potential risk factors by employers when work places say they won’t hire “our kind [5]” and continue to experience higher unemployment rates in spite of more training and more experience than other potential candidates [6].

Hopefully, this example will show that there is a link between the incorrect assumptions formed by media and actual real world civilian perceptions which are affecting veterans’ lives. Perhaps it isn’t that, though. Maybe all vets really do just suck. Well, maybe, but all anyone really has to do is watch the climactic ending to Brothers to understand that Hollywood is pushing an image of veterans that frightens people. Even if you’ve seen the movie, please watch this scene again to really get a feel for how frighteningly people like me are portrayed.

Look, movies have power. The words they say have power. The words said in movies echo over and over and over in the minds of people who see it. The specifics of a guy put into an impossible situation, (literally the premise of Brothers was beyond plausible) are lost as the audience over time forgets the details. Eventually they start to generalize, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy. As I said, it isn’t just “some guy who came back from the war.”  The “do you know what I did to come back to you?” reference in the clip was of a Marine Corps Captain captured and forced to murder another Marine by his terrorist captors  to buy himself more time in detention before he could be rescued. Anyone would be psychologically damaged from that, however it is a work of complete fiction. There are no stories like that of any actual people who came back from Iraq or Afghanistan. It is complete fiction for the point of adding drama, but that fact is lost. A few months later, people who watched the film only remember, “it’s a movie about a guy who comes back from the war and is now crazy.” When they see a vet a month after that, and find out he was in the war, what framework are they working under? Do you think they are aware that the only reference they had was a movie that wasn’t even possible, which also sort of aligns with vague news reports they weren’t really listening to about veterans and mental illness, and that they already have an incredibly loaded bias behind this person they are now talking to? As I said, it isn’t just, “some guy who came back from the war.” Brothers is a work of fiction, and no one should have to prove themselves against it, but now we do.

Even movies which got a lot right made this unnecessary tangent into depicting veterans as war ravaged husks. Consider the “unfortunate dog scene” from American Sniper.

That was unfortunate because, according to the book, nothing like that was ever mentioned. There was a situation where Kyle killed a dog, but not like the movie. In fact, not even in the United States. In the book American Sniper, on a night before one of Kyle’s overwatch missions, one where he considered his role to be providing security and ensuring the lives of Marines and fellow SEALs under him, there was a dog barking outside his tent. He warned the owner to shut up the dog. The dog kept barking. Deprived of sleep and needing to rest for his responsibilities the next day, he warned the owner again. The dog kept barking. Kyle shot the dog. Given that context, is that anything like what was depicted in the movie? Given the true context of being literally in the middle of a war, doesn’t that kind of sound like something a responsible person might do? Asking another question, what possible reason existed for adding the numerous hints that Chris Kyle had developed PTSD over his numerous tours in Iraq, all the while in spite of no real world evidence existing that the actual person depicted in the film ever had come under the hold of the disease? Was his life not good enough without the extra drama?

In a couple of  interviews [7][8], Clint Eastwood said that the film was meant to be “anti-war”.

“I just wonder . . . does this ever stop? And no, it doesn’t. So each time we get in these conflicts, it deserves a lot of thought before we go wading in or wading out. Going in or coming out. It needs a better thought process, I think.”

While the point is valid, the medium he used was to display a falsified narrative about Kyle, and by extension, all others like him who deployed to the war.

“the biggest antiwar statement any film” can make is to show “the fact of what [war] does to the family and the people who have to go back into civilian life like Chris Kyle did.”
While I agree in practice, I have a problem with Eastwood’s decision to use mental destabilization and broken families as the “facts” that “family and the people who have to go back into civilian life” go through. That sort of experience isn’t universal and it isn’t even common, despite what they say in the movies.

I’m sure from a perspective of cinematography these movies probably pushed the industry forward somehow, but as far as communicating one of the most important social issues of our time, not to mention an ongoing conflict at the time, they have failed miserably. Many have set veterans’ issues back ten years. If we look at how much actually is known about PTSD, much of it discovered through studying and counseling done for combatants of the Vietnam war, and the mysterious black hole of mystery surrounding it now, one might question if the narrative of “a disease we still know so little about,” has set us back even further.

I want people to look at it this way. We have seen LGBT rights and issues get a lot of press and people are now trying very hard to see things from their perspective. It’s not acceptable anymore to portray them as the wildly stereotypical, flamboyant clowns circa the era of Robin Williams’ The Birdcage. No matter your beliefs, (I actually think The Birdcage was meant to help them, somehow…) we all agree that they’re people who deserve respect and to be portrayed in a realistic manner. However, the veteran population is allowed to be portrayed in any manner in which the world pleases to fulfill their narrative, and ironically, is considered a violation of 1st Amendment privileges to argue the practice, where a modern release of The Birdcage might be considered something between criminally insensitive or even a hate crime. These veteran depictions vary from bloodthirsty murderers (Battle for Haditha), psychologically scarred societal dangers (Brothers), impossible killing machines, but incapable husbands while in (American Sniper) unstable love interests, addicted to pills (Parenthood), and everything about the Hurt Locker. In fact, the Hurt Locker was so hurtful to the soldier it was beyond a reasonable doubt depicting, that he sued the filmmakers for his portrayal. Even consider the movie Max, about a dog who goes to Iraq and develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even a freaking dog who goes to war will come back mentally damaged. Where does it end? What is the overriding theme that Hollywood movies and television are trying to present? Basically, once a person goes to war, he is from then on, on the cusp of losing control and murdering everyone around him if the door slams too loudly. That’s what people seem to think is happening. Now, why is it that I brought the LGBT stance into this? Because, frankly, veterans outnumber the estimated homosexual population in the United States by at least 2:1. Why is it that one group of so many people is allowed to be so egregiously stereotyped, when the others aren’t? Furthermore, being gay isn’t a choice, but serving is. Whether you agree with their mentality, or what they did or didn’t do, they chose to serve their nation, which includes many reading this, in the best way they knew how. They deserve more respect than to become plot devices to the profit of people who neither cared about them, nor bothered getting to know and understand them.

I’ll leave you with this, Hollywood has power. It has the substantial power to mold the way that the average person identifies with experiences they have never had. Unfortunately, we live in an age where fewer and fewer people serve in the military. This is true as a percentage of the population and in real terms. We have fewer members of the military today than we did prior to World War II, and when the United States itself is twice as large. For that reason, for many, the movies are the only place they will experience the military, its veterans, or the struggles they face. When movies collectively paint only on the lines of a particular damaging movie narrative, it has a drastic impact on the lives of those it is thoughtlessly depicting. And it isn’t just the Hurt Lockers and the Brothers responsible for this. It echoes in the “artwork” of people who know even less, but who use these same devices in a downward spiral of our depiction. Below is an excerpt from an “incredibly powerful” short film by a college student for Project Greenlight entitled The Present Trauma.

This hurts me to see, not for the message it is trying to tell, but for the abuse on the character of those same individuals. It’s images like this which make a friend of mine tell me that when her husband finally came from Iraq, her friends asked her, “Do you feel safe?” It’s a childish attempt to do some good, more for creators than for the subjects, through the obvious manipulation, veterans as victims clickbait, but actually slapping the face of the plain old vet sitting at home, wondering why no one will hire him. Of course, the echo shows up in darker forms, where we are nothing more than, to use the words of Muse, “Fucking Psychos”.
I can’t help but agree with the rage of one anonymous writer in his visceral reaction to the propaganda layden depiction of veterans in Muse’s Psycho. It’s disgusting, and against no other minority would this sort of ignorance, callousness, and blind hatred be acceptable. But to the military, it is. It hurts us. We feel the sting of words, and this hurts us. Of course, I doubt this filth would have ever seen the light of day if not for a particular idea being so prevalent in our culture … that veterans are fucking psychos, something Hollywood is, in my opinion, doing the most harm in causing and the least good fixing.

Wow… all of a sudden I understand why 22 veterans kill themselves every day. It had nothing to do with Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s coming home to a place that treats them like this.


Thanks for reading. Everything I write is independent research, meaning that I am supported completely by fan and follower assistance. If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more like it, follow JDT.  Please also show your support by visiting my support page here: Support Jon Davis creating A Military Sci-Fi Novel, Articles, and Essays.

Summary – The EGA and What it Takes to Make a Warrior

Earning the Title

As a regular person, you might not know why the Marine pictured above is crying. You’d probably guess he is going to a funeral or about to leave home for the first time to go off to war. You’d be wrong. The young recruits pictured above are about to take part in a culminating event of recruit training, the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor Ceremony.

The EGA, the Eagle Globe and Anchor, is a small trinket of metal coated in a thin strip of black paint. It fits in the palm of the hand and can be bought for around $2 from any military apparel provider. Realistically speaking, that is all it is… it is a trinket. To the Marines, however, it is a symbol. The EGA is the emblem of the United States Marine Corps and only Marines are entitled to wear it. For the last three months, this recruit has endured all the trials of Marine Corps Boot Camp, but he was not a Marine. He, like all the other recruits with him, weren’t considered Marines until after they completed training. They were called “recruit” and suffered the hardships, tests, suffering, and indignities which come with the moniker. Once they finished Boot Camp, more properly, once they receive their EGA, only then will they have “earned the title” of United States Marine.

It’s a somewhat religious moment for our odd little cult of warriors. For many, receiving the EGA, and by extension the honor of being Marine, is the proudest moment of their lives. It is the moment, for so many of them, which truly gave their lives meaning. As melodramatic as that may sound, many of my friends who joined the Marines had no direction, no purpose, and no dreams for the future. They didn’t have a sense of agency, the belief that their decisions mattered. They were just riding the waves of life, drifting wherever the currents delivered them. They were far more likely to end up in prison as they were to be looked upon with honor and respect by their community. The Marine Corps, for many of my friends, gave them that sense of being part of something that mattered. If I were to attempt a guess, I’d say that the young man pictured above is crying because, for the first time, he is part of a community of people who matter, one which is honorable, and respected because of what they mean to the world and the citizens which they are drawn from.

Thank you for following this series of articles on the logic behind the need for a truly intense and transformative boot camp experience in today’s military. The logic is there. It is terrifyingly present in every subtle action of the Drill Instructors. As I said before, everything they do is for a reason. Boot camp, and particularly that of the Marines, is made to psychologically change a child into someone capable of performing under combat conditions. In most cases, it is intended to take from them the aspects of their civilian lives that will make life harder for them in the military, those that sometimes would have killed them and others, and makes those weakness no longer part of the calculation. The yelling, the sleep deprivation and being cut off from friends and family are part of the process of becoming a warrior. It is also part of becoming a cult.

And that is what they are. The Marines have formed a culture with the singular obsession of destroying those who endanger the United States’, her allies, and her interests. While they’re humanitarian efforts across the world, though rarely remembered, can never be denied, it is their ferocity in combat that makes them respected around the world. It is their ability to overcome and overwhelm enemies that reminds the world there are no better friends, and no worse enemies. This process of personal transformation takes place throughout a lifetime, but the seeds of it are sewn in boot camp. The foundation of a culture are laid in the welcoming of every generation’s newest members. This is why boot camp does things which aren’t normal through the eyes or our broader culture in which the Marines serve. To normal people, this is crazy.

This is why normal people can’t do the things warriors are asked to do. They can’t imagine combat or the terror of an enemy upon them and they shouldn’t be forced to. The goal of a good government and a strong military, is to create a world where their normal people never have to imagine pain, suffering, hate, or danger. But for these people to exist and prosper, there are those who do, and those who are willing to endure, and those who can fight. They don’t exist to serve and die for their country, but to fight smartly, leverage their risks with their skills, and make the other guy die for his. When others among them fall, they must see that their nation appreciates how special these people are for what they have elected to do. They have given up their innocence as civilians, free to pursue pleasure and prosperity for a time for something more, something each of them defines for themselves, but something which nonetheless, benefits all of us who prosper in the shadow of their actions. For these people, there must be a transition from “civilian” to “warrior”. Boot camp is the means of that evolution and every part of it is necessary. For those who complete the training, their lives will never be the same, they will never be the same; they will be Marines. That title can’t be passed down to you, you can’t buy it, and it is not given – it is earned when you become one of “The Few and The Proud” for life.

tumblr_mongx01r1F1soussso1_1280

Read the Full SeriesMake sure to share and follow JDT. Also please consider following the link below to visit my support page.


patreon-donation-link

 

The Arts of War

There is a science of warfare, but there are also the arts of the war. The science of warfare centers on matters of logistics. They focus on issues of the economic scarcity of warriors, the psychology of denizens occupied territories, and the grand movements of the strongest forces to the weakest pressure points of an enemy’s regime. These are the concentration of Generals and world leaders. The arts of warfare, however, are the acts of combat which must be learned, practiced, and mastered by the individual warriors themselves. They are the subtle placement and gentle flexing of the Brachio-radial muscles over the carotid artery, severing blood flow to the brain and knocking out an enemy in seconds. It is the resistance to jerk the trigger and break the sight alignment, gently squeezing it slowly until the rifle fires, seemingly on its own. It is the practice of coordinating attacks between individuals and small units, leveraging fewer warriors to exponentially greater effect through the use of fire and maneuver. It is knowledge to save a wounded friends life when there is literally no one else there to do it better.

Recruits in boot camp are introduced to the basic military arts. Marine recruits go through several different training cycles and will learn skills in Martial Arts, Small Unit Tactics, Hand-to-Hand Combat, Emergency First-Aid, and classes varying from rank structure, to Marine Corps history. They will also receive nutritional training, maintenance of gear, and physical education. After their first month, they will progress to learn rifle marksmanship, survival, and the beauty of the forced march.

https%3A%2F%2Ffbcdn-sphotos-g-a.akamaihd.net%2Fhphotos-ak-xfa1%2Ft31.0-8%2F10608523_906176079409974_9090414026232284823_o

Hand-to-Hand Combat

Among the first lessons recruits receive will be in hand-to-hand combat. Many branches don’t emphasize personal combat, feeling that long after the age automatic machineguns, autonomous drones and atomic weapons, exchanges of the fist and feet are outdated. Some nations and militaries don’t even practice them at all. The Marines, however, see it as a necessity because of the way they fight. They took this belief so far, that they created their own martial-arts fighting style. This is MCMAP, the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. This specialized form of combat martial arts is built on philosophies other than self-defense, but actual offense and the ability to deliver lethal strikes with not just the fist, but knives, and an empty rifle, or even, as the moto One Mind Any Weapon states, any common object which happens to be lying around. It should also be mentioned that the style has incorporated many non-lethal restraints for crowd control and policing scenarios, useful over the past decade and a half of insurgency warfare. Recruits will spend several days training in pits of pulverized rubber tires, perfect for hard landings, practicing the basics of this fighting style. By the end of boot camp they will receive the first belt in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP).

Rifle Marksmanship

If the Army is a camping trip, and the Air Force is a club, than the Marines are a cult, one whose most important rituals and religious rites center around their rifles. This tradition began as far back as Marine sharpshooters fighting in the Revolutionary War dangling high in ships’ riggings and nets, picking off enemy officers and troops engaged in naval battles. It continued on when during the World War I Battle at Belleau Wood, Marine sharpshooters sniped enemy German forces from well beyond the German’s ability to reach them, recording numerous kills from well beyond 700 yards. Today, during the second phase of their training, recruits spend more than two full weeks dedicated to the art of delivering deadly fire down range. It is so important that the drill instructors actually lighten-up to allow the recruits to focus.

PT – Physical Training

Physical training takes many forms, but the physical exercises aren’t usually the most difficult part of recruit training. They generally center on building instant obedience to orders over the actual physical stress involved in the exercises. Few obstacles are so difficult that most recruits can’t complete them. Often, they just need to be pushed. Usually, listening and doing what you are told will get recruits through the exercise and get out of the situation before you are yelled at. Some of the obstacles are more mental than physical: a high rope, a pool, a mountain. It’s rare that you will see a training exercise that breaks a recruit. That’s mostly because, for most, physically finishing the exercises isn’t the most difficult part.

As important as these, but without the room to elaborate on them each are the many other skills warriors must master to win and come home safely. I remember visceral reactions to the first aid lessons; graphic, gory and unsettling, but responsible for thousands of lives saved throughout the years. Military law, customs and courtesies, and military history are also necessary. They are crucial to the continuation of a culture literally built to ensure vital mission accomplishment in a competition between nations at war. Sadly, though, I can’t speak to all these skills here. It pulls too far from the point of the series, answering why boot camp needs to be so intense. Why these skills work to answer that question can summed in a single word – “efficacy”. When a person gains knowledge, they gain confidence. To make an eighteen year old run to the sound of terrible things, they must have faith in their skills to survive and win, as well as faith in the skills of those around them. The United States invests more into the training of their military than any other force in the world. This makes them confident and capable when put into harm’s way and helps to ensure that military warfighters suffer less loss of life than any other military so actively engaged across the world in history.

In spite of this, it’s important to note that boot camp is not really about the skills. Mostly, recruits are fed the very basics of the warrior arts there. The real skills come later on dozens of ranges, dojos, and training courses over a period of years. Boot camp is about the process of helping recruits adjust mentally to a life of challenge and one where uncommon stress is a common element to daily life. To state the obvious though, it is the skills they begin to learn in boot camp, and which will be mastered in follow-on training during their military careers, that will help them survive and win battles. Therefore, beyond the psychological aspects of recruit training, the skills of combat are an obvious necessity in the training evolution and survival of any would be warrior.

Continue on to The Yelling – How Being Yelled at by Mad Men Makes You a Better Warrior

Read the Full SeriesMake sure to share and follow JDT. Also please consider following the link below to visit my support page.


patreon-donation-link

Who Does It Really Hurt When People Fake Military Service? – Veterans – What to Do About It

Veterans – What to Do About It

Every month or so, I’ll see in my feeds a new person “Getting put on blast” for getting caught faking military service. That’s what we call it when a faker is caught red handed and a photo or video gets posted to social media. It’s sort of the holy grail for many vets and active duty service members to find some guy pretending to be a SEAL at the bar, or a soldier in cammies at the airport, or a Marine in dress blues. They all want to be that guy who catches them on camera and for it go viral as they are humiliated for thousands… millions to see. We want to deliver that divine sense of justice to teach those nasty liars a lesson.

To all the veterans out there, I really want you to take a look at this person. Please take a good, hard look at him. Not his uniform, but the man standing there.

Is this not a pathetic looking human being? When you look into his eyes, I mean really look at them, does your sense of anger not subside when you realize just how miserable he had to be to do this? Does it not appear obvious that he, himself, is aware of how pathetic he is to attempt this stunt? What hole must exist in his life that he would try so desperately, so failingly, to fill it like this? How angry can you really be at a person like this?

Angry enough to ruin the rest of his life? Do you think this picture is going anywhere? Do you think his name won’t forever be attached to it? Should one incredibly stupid, incredibly insensitive act of jackassery, one mistake, define a person’s entire life from then on? Think back on your time in service. I’ve drug many a drunken Lance Corporal through the parking lots of Camp Pendleton, CA, some covered in vomit, some in their own urine. These people are now all proud veterans, but each have made incredibly stupid mistakes, all of which have been forgiven. But do we forgive others? No, we don’t. Finding them out and making a public spectacle of them is sort of our thing now that the wars are over.

It’s gotten so bad that Terminal Lance, the online comic strip put out by Marine Corps veteran Max Uriante, famed for its abrasive, sometimes caustic satire on military and veteran life, even did a strip on how vehement we can be in this regard. It demonstrates “that guy”, one we all know, making a royal jackass of himself that I would like all veterans to really think about.

I’ll be honest, when all of us turn into that guy, we are making a bigger show of what the military isn’t than anything most of these guys have achieved. We come off as petty and self-righteous which is against our proud and humble heritage. Most of the guys who would do this are just losers who aren’t worthy of our blood pressure (which, face facts, is a problem for most of us.) Putting someone on blast for being stupid isn’t the answer, and in the end, only ends up doubling the number jerks in the room. To be honest, that moment of self-satisfaction isn’t worth it when you come to find out you lost that poor loser his job, or maybe that, in his shame, he ate a bullet. At the very least, no mistake should last forever, which is exactly what happens when you immortalize someone’s mistake online.

Seriously though, it’s getting to be a problem, such a problem that many of us are nervous about speaking out online for the threat of being called out for Stolen Valor incorrectly. It happened to one Army Captain, Lindsay Lowery, who was humiliated after being called out for pretending that she took part in more action than she really did. She faced numerous insults, both as a person faking their service and, simply, for being a woman in the military. As the truth turned out, everything she said was the absolute truth and even her commissioning officer vouched to make that point known. Sadly, once the truth came out, the rebuttal didn’t go nearly as viral as did the initial onslaught of hate directed her way unjustly. People like me, people who write extensively online about military experiences we’ve had, have taken the lesson to heart, “Perception is Reality.” I keep a blacked-out DD-214, the form pretty much validating anything I need to prove, available upon request for whenever someone finally makes that jump of doubting anything I have to say to the point that I need to prove myself, before the lie goes viral. It’s a sad truth, but this is what our culture, the veteran culture, is turning into.

Instead, I wish more people would make fun of it. Seriously, make people aware of the phenomena in a way that educates people while not looking like a self-important jerk about it. These guys at Ranger Up, a YouTube channel put out by some Army veterans, did a great job of it. Very funny.

Where it happens online, somewhere it is way too easy to fake military knowledge and experience, I think we have a case study on how to handle it.Tymon Kapelski, one of the newest contributors to The Defense Quorum, Quora’s military interests blog, recently posted a piece showcasing a military faker here on Quora. This person fabricated a special operations story that showcased the beauty of the human condition to come together in a time of common human suffering. The problem? It could never have possibly happened. The time tables made no sense and there has never be a conflict where these combatants would have been that close to one another for this story to have taken place. It was complete fiction. The bigger problem? It had already been upvoted more than 1,400 times and seen by many thousands of people.

What Tymon, among others, did was to confront the individual separately and politely, in the comments section. They said that there were some problems with the answer that they wanted to know about the event and more about the individual in question. Receiving push-back from the author, and eventually seeing challenging comments get deleted. Some went on the investigation and dug up evidence that this individual not only couldn’t have been in the battle he said happened, but had he been, he would have been 14 at the time. Seeing that the individual wasn’t budging, he made his concern public to the veteran community at  The Defense Quorum. From there, the concern was posted to the Top Writer’s board on Facebook and the admins took care of making sure that the answer disappears forever, as has the author who fabricated it. Nice job Tymon and the DQ. This is the second such Quora Stolen Valor case I’ve been a part of, the other with the help of Sam Morningstar which went pretty much the same way. Both of these cases, I would urge others to take up as examples of civil confrontations between potentially stolen valor cases and the rest of the community.

As for what to do if you see someone out in town doing something stupid? For all the rest of us, when and if we see one, I wish that instead of grabbing a buddy with a camera, we would instead pull the dude over (perhaps assertively so) and just say to the guy.

“Look, we know what you’re doing and you need to stop. It is against the law to claim some of things you’ve done and you need to stop. Go away now or we will make it clear to everyone here that you are lying about your military service.”

If they fight you or resist your warning… whatever. Do what you gotta do.


To read the full story click here.

patreon-donation-link

What lessons can people learn from being in a war? Part VII

The Scope of What Humanity Was Capable Of

The last thing I would want to talk about is how war makes you fully aware of just what people are capable of. It will shed any naivety you had about the nature of this human condition. You will come face to face with the reality that there are people out there who are willing to kill their own people just to further their political goals. Writing that sounds like the plot to a movie or something, but it is real. War forces you to learn about massacres like Al-Anfal Campaign and the destruction of the Marsh Arabs way of life. As a child, I could never have imagined such hate, or simply, such practicality absent the value of human life and suffering. As one of the graphs I shared earlier showed, the vast majority of those killed in Iraq were done so by other Iraqi. Worse, was how many people would do so for religious agenda. The depths of depravity of some of the ideas rolling around over there is mind boggling, not to say that the ideas pervade only in Iraq.

What’s really painful though is seeing that your own people aren’t immune to being horrible people either. It always gives me pause to see so many people who are simply aware of so much extremely important information because it is hidden from them, or worse, because they refuse to acknowledge the blinders they have about it. Atrocities go by and people turn a blind eye because it doesn’t fit into the narrative they believed to be true. I’ll be frank, in being there, I believe Iraq was important and we should have been there. I’ve been very open that there were many things we should have done differently and are to blame for many failures in it (With the benefit of hindsight, should America have invaded Iraq in 2003? and Who is responsible for the mess in Iraq today?) but simply saying it was a mistake because you don’t know a better way to do it is a failure in itself. I am not going to try and convert anyone on this matter. I’ve made my arguments many times, but I do think it would improve everyone’s perspective to see it through the eyes of another, an Iraqi Kurd who view the war beginning in 2003 as the first time his people ever had the chance to have freedom and equality in Iraq. Yad Faeq’s answer to In the end, did the U.S. bring freedom, democracy, prosperity, or security to Iraq?

Leaving my soapbox, war gets very personal when you experience month after month working with, living with, eating with, suffering with, and enduring with the same people day, after day, after day. It makes you aware of what people, individual people can really be like. I’ve had Sergeants who doctored their Marine’s performance reports to make their troops appear as failures, so that they could be seen as disciplinarians when there was nothing to punish and miraculous improvements months later. I’ve seen Marines sabotage each other for a pointless position within a fire team. I’ve seen Marines so piss drunk that they had be thrown into a car with their kids watching on a platoon family function. I’ve seen people get pregnant on purpose so that they could avoid a deployment, many times. I’ve seen incompetence, cover-ups, affairs, and mountains of bureaucratic nonsense a mile high, preventing anything from being done.

Perhaps the worst of it was when I was pulled from a counseling with a therapist about what I had gone through in Iraq. My father-in-law past away in a violent accident three days before I was supposed to come home. I was sent home early, three days early, to handle the affairs. The deployment was rough and losing your father at the end of it like that was miserably traumatic. You are robbed of any happiness in seeing your family at all. It was literally the worst period of my life. While speaking to the therapist I received a call that I was in trouble for not being a formation for the platoon that I was longer a part of. That’s not true. I hadn’t spoken to the therapist. I was one step in the door when I found out I was supposed to be in some dumb formation because the Staff Sergeant in charge didn’t realize that I was no longer part of his unit. He forgot to file the paperwork and simply hadn’t noticed I hadn’t been there for over a month. I never went back to speak to the therapist. The sad thing,that wasn’t even the worst part of that story.

What also surprised me was how bad people could be to people they loved. You’d be shocked at how little people in the military seem to care about things like marital fidelity. Knowing who was sleeping with whom was like some deranged version the kids game Guess Who. I remember one guy, a pretty high ranking member of my platoon, come home to a huge sign welcoming him home by his wife and daughters. A few days later, that sign wasn’t taken down. It was ceremonially torn in half. I also thought “Dear John” letters were a myth before being deployed. What surprises me, though, is a phenomenon where some observers have stated that Dear John letters seem to happen more frequently when the war is generally not understood or approved of at home. It would seem they are another subtle way that our inability to understand a conflict affects the lives of those who must endure them. That doesn’t excuse the women who make the lives of their men harder during one of the hardest times they will ever experience because they aren’t getting enough attention, or because their friends don’t feel it is the moral thing to be with them anymore. Yes, it’s true. It happened far more often than I would like to believe. By the way, having the real name of Jon doesn’t help in war. It leaves one irrationally paranoid of such things.

But it wasn’t all bad. Just as I saw the ugliness of the people around me, and the horrors true villains would visit upon each other outside the gates, I saw goodness in people as well. I was signed up for civilian care groups by my family. What followed after that was a flood of mail from dozens, maybe a hundred or so, people I had never met. They sent me food, socks, writing material, playing cards, candy, storage bins, Santa hats… just about anything you could imagine. One old Vietnam Marine somehow smuggled me a full flask. I just so happen to be one of the only non-drinking Marines alive, but I honored his wishes nonetheless. It was all sent to some random Corporal none of them knew. I was pretty overwhelmed. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many people in support of what we were doing, especially by 2007 when the war was old news. Eventually, the letters became too much. I couldn’t keep up with them and failed to be able to correspond to them all. I became very guilty about all the attention and my failures to correspond, so I tried to share in the blessing. I wrote some of them back and told them how taken care of I was, but told them of members of my platoon who weren’t getting mail from anyone. It was nice to see some of the younger ones feel that sense of importance they had been lacking. Eventually I built a wall in our eating area of the entry control point, from a piece of plywood. On it I would just staple up all the letters. I felt that the attention wasn’t really being directed at me, but just anyone these these kind altruistic samaritans could get a hold of. I made the wall of letters. I kept most the candy, though. No one ever told me thank you for the wall, but from time to time I would see them staring at it while they didn’t know I was looking. I’d like to think that in hard moments of that deployment, there were many, that they had that reminder that regardless of what the news and media were saying, there were still many, many people who loved us for what we were doing.

I didn’t really need them. I had my own personal fan club. My wife had special abilities to make a person feel at home in the middle of a warzone. First off, she bakes. Her chocolate chip cookies have always been the pride of our household and famed within any community we have been a part of. She would make me a fresh batch every week for the lunches that she prepared for me every day. She is really old fashioned and I am thankful, undeserving, but thankful. That sort of thing doesn’t happen when you go to Iraq, though. It wasn’t that the food there wasn’t palatable. I’ve mentioned that. It just wasn’t made with love. 6,000 miles didn’t stop my Jennie, however. She searched online the whole time I was gone to discover ways to help make our lives better. Imagine my surprise when one day I opened a flat rate box and saw a bag filled with chocolate chip cookies that must have been shipped weeks ago. About a third were reduced to crumbs, but those that remained were still fresh. That wasn’t possible. Jennie had read that you can ship cookies and keep them from getting stale by placing torn pieces of white bread in the packaging. The cookies will pull moisture from the bread and arrive weeks later as if they were baked yesterday. Yeah, it really works. When I was at my lowest, around the first Christmas when I was really away in 2005, she was still taking care of me. One of our Sergeants found out his wife had had an affair or left him or something. He was a jerk, but that still sucks. It left a lot of us married guys a bit shaken up. I received a flat rate about that time with “Do not open until Christmas.” The 25th of December rolled around, no special day when every day is exactly the same in Iraq, and I found a quiet corner of the COMM bay. There I saw little baggies filled with weird stuff. There was a CD – “The Sounds of Christmas”, with Christmas music and carols. A bag with little nuts and twigs, cinnamon and pine cones – “The Smells of Christmas”, a photo album with memories of growing up on Christmas morning for the two of us – “The sights of Christmas” as well as the few we had spent together. It was a bittersweet moment, but one that made me appreciate what she meant to me. You really don’t know the peaks of what humans are capable of until you’ve known the love a good woman. I learned that from war and have appreciated it ever since.

The last thing I learned was the value of the friends you make over there. These are a few of the guys from the “Lance Corporal’s Tent”, the guys who were the lowest ranking dudes who just didn’t matter at all in our little tent. We were weird and stupid and had fun just getting each other through. One is a rocker, one a psychiatric casualty, another became one of my lifelong best friends. One nearly got so sick that we thought he was going to die, but he refused to go home. One even lived a whole successful enlistment hiding the fact that he was gay, living a life of service under the auspices of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

War taught me to respect individuals like these, the warriors themselves. In a modern society like the United States, people are free to join or they are free to go on about their lives peacefully. No one makes you enlist here, so it is strange to imagine that there are people who do it willingly. These people accept risk as a given part of their lives. The possibility of death, be it much smaller than most people realize, is a realistic threat to their future, as is maiming and the potential of injury and psychiatric trauma. No one wants this, but it is an unavoidable acceptance. To be quite honest, those risks far outweigh any benefits like college. There are easier ways if you only want to get a cut-rate education. The pay also sucks, if you haven’t heard. These guys were my friends, but in the grand scope of things, they were much more. They deserved to be called heroes. None of them had to fight either, but I know with absolute certainty, that any one of them put themselves in the places where fighting was necessary. They all did after all.

In reflection, I realize that these individuals have immense value to the world. Their willingness to sacrifice, if not physically, than of the time with their families , from comfort and security is something special itself. Their willingness to do unpleasant things to horrible people and suffer themselves in doing so helps ensure a measure of security for others. In that security, prosperity grows, but rarely for the veterans themselves. The very idea that a 19 year old kid from one of the most educated, wealthiest countries on the planet, would give up years of his life, as well as endless opportunities to find enjoyment and comfort, is surprising. That he or she would willingly instead train, suffer, and endure hardship to be armed and equipped to fly all the way over to some other part of world to do whatever their country asks of them, is profound. That fact alone scares the piss out of anyone who would raise a weapon against such a person.

Few people would do that, though we who live safely know that someone must. The fact that kids like that exist still baffles me. Absent the politics, absent the discussion of if we should have gone to war then, or if we should go war to now, or in the future, to me, is irrelevant when you think about what these people are doing. These young men and women and their willingness to do something is important. They actually do things rather than just talk about things which should be done by someone. The actions they take have real significance and make history. They voluntarily put themselves at great personal risk for simple ideals like their country, or freedom, or even just pride. This willingness to do things others wouldn’t for values others only talk about truly showcase the scope of what humanity is capable of and the value of the fighting man to all the rest of us.


Thanks for reading. This blog is supported entirely by fan donation. If you would like to support the author, please visit: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.

What lessons can people learn from being in a war? Part III

Fear Inoculation

Fear inoculation is exactly what it sounds like. It is a process of becoming partially immune to the effects of fear. Lt. Col Dave Grossman describes in his books On Combat and On Killing, it is the experiences, conditioning and training to deal with events which would cause fear or stress and managing them to a level your body and mind can handle. Fear, causes people to forget things. It causes a reduction in the amount of blood reaching the brain and reduces the effectiveness of our vital sensory inputs. Fear makes your body do many, many things that it shouldn’t to maintain your effectiveness in high stress situations. Basically, fear makes you a stupid sack of meat. It is put perhaps the best in the science fiction classic Dune,

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.”

I’m not saying that Marines and soldiers are some sort of superhero caricatures of real people who can’t feel fear. It’s quite the opposite. These are people who go into some of the worst periods of places where it is impossible to not feel fear. General George Patton even said, “All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened.” I tend to agree. Since their jobs force them into intense periods of fear, though, it is necessary to develop mechanisms to suppress and manage your fear. Perhaps an example would be more appropriate.

I have a phobic reaction to heights. I don’t like being near balconies or high places where all there is preventing my fall is my ability to not somehow stumble off the wall or guardrail. I recently had this sensation when visiting a local historic watchtower overlooking our local lake. When I say I have a phobic reaction, I mean that when I am in these situations I can feel my heart rate spike, my breathing changes, and I get cold and perhaps a bit sweaty in the course of a single minute. I know that my fear is also not rational because I can reason that I won’t possibly accidentally trip and stumble off the four foot wall on the edge of that tower. I’ll still go up there, because my wife, completely immune to heights, likes the view. I even can acknowledge that it is a beautiful scene of the lake, but I can’t enjoy it. My body tells me this is a time to be afraid, whether it really is or not. That is a phobia.

So it surprises me that, when I needed to, I willingly stood on the edge of a fifty foot tower, leaned over and jumped off. Repelled is the more correct  term. Either way, heights are one of my greatest fears, yet I jumped off a tower for no other reason than that someone who I knew wouldn’t kill me told me to with nothing but a rope and a fall, which might. This process I would later come to realize, was the Marine Corps training me time and time again to overcome my fears and find a way to perform. While I still use it to go with my wife to be with her while she enjoys a view I very much do not, it was put in me for a very different reason. The Repel Tower, along with many other exercises in warrior training was intended to help Marines survive the wars they may face with some degree of mental clarity.

When I actually went to war I remember the first time I was really afraid. Years later, I realized how this worked. The first time I ever received indirect fire, a rocket attack on the base, I was naturally very scared. It was my first week in Iraq. It was a loud boom that you could feel, like the feeling of standing near a massive drum in a small room. We all scurried to our pre-planned locations. This wasn’t a new thing in 2005 so everyone knew what to do, at least, enough people knew what to do that the rest were able to follow along easily. I followed a Corporal who made his way to one of the bunkers. I didn’t know how long we would be there or if we were still in danger, or what came next. I remember being confused and a bit frustrated at how cavalier the Corporal was about the attack. I remember geared up and sitting under the concrete bunker, built for such purposes. After a long time, I turned to my Corporal and asked him, “Isn’t someone going to go after them?” He just laughed at me without saying anything.

The truth was, there was nothing we could do about the guys with rockets. Those rockets were ingenious little devices set to go off long after the person who set it up had gone home. By the time the blast hit, he was probably at home watching The View. It was a popular show back then. They were also fired from the center of the town of Habbaniyah down below the base, so we couldn’t just blanket the area with artillery fire, because that would be like using a grenade on an ant hill to kill one ant. There was nothing we could do about it. The constant threat of enemy rocket attacks was just something we were going to have to deal with.

So we did. I remember many days when my good friend and fellow comrade at arms Cody Solley would be asleep in our tent and an explosion would go off somewhere on the base. I’d roll over lazily and say to him, “Did that sound like inbound or outbound?” and he would say that it sounded more like us firing at them. “Good.” and I would try to go back to sleep. Moments later, the sirens would cry and we would angrily roll out of our cots, don our protective armor, grab our weapons and make our way to whatever rally point we were instructed to go, the whole time muttering colorful expletives about the stupid terrorists ruining our sleep.

While I fully accept that this story demonstrates how utterly complacent we had become, it also showcases how inoculated to the fear of being struck with one of these rockets or mortars we had become. After telling this story to others who didn’t go through it, people have told me that they don’t know how they would have ever been able to deal with the not knowing. They said that it would be terrifying not knowing if death would just come from anywhere at any time. I thought that was more dramatic than the situation deserved, but there were cases of people that definitely succumbed to this kind of pressure. There also were some casualties throughout the base, and several people I knew had close calls, but mostly just damage to the base itself. The church was hit, as was the mosque, and my blessed chow hall once, as well. The flight line was hit numerous times and as I understand, at least one of the birds was taken out. The worst we saw was a relay hub where a large number of our cabling and communication equipment was taken out, disrupting communications through half the base. That was a bad few weeks, especially for the wire guys. I can think of one person who most certainly lost his wits under the stress, though there were other factors, as well. As for those of us that were able to adapt, we knew not to let it trouble us and were able to focus on our work, in spite of the random timing and locations of these attacks. It could have come at any moment, that was true, and I can see many people being unnerved by that, but we had been conditioned to the point that they were really just nuisance.

I think this is an important time to mention the importance of training for the military. I’ve gone in very deep on the importance of boot camp as well as rationalizing how crazy it is to people who haven’t gone through it in What is U.S. Marine Corps boot camp like? The synopsis of that answer can be found in the first line:

“It is a place where you have to train 18 year olds to run to the sound of gunfire and perform under fire and the threat of death.”

One of the most intriguing descriptions I have seen for Marine Corps Boot Camp is in the way it conditions its warriors towards focused aggression and repression of fear through combat conditioning. Combat conditioning isn’t the same as working out. Regularly recruits are put into situations which simulate high stress, fear inducing events, whether it is jumping off a tower or being yelled at by six different people for minor infractions. Recruits face nonstop situations where they will be tested under extreme stress levels. This isn’t anything like test anxiety, or deadline anxiety. I can state for a fact that we can still fail at those like anyone else. This is high impact stress where in the course of two minutes a person can go from completely calm to a heartbeat of 180 beats per minute. At that heart rate, usually only brought on by the fear of death, extreme exercise or in the sultrous throws of passion (which better be seriously good since you are close to dying from it) much of the brain and body stops working predictably. You lose fine motor control, some of your senses may fail or deceive you, and you might only be capable of thinking at the very base level of mammalian instinct. The Marines train in this environment, know how to induce it under safe conditions and expect the recruit to dismantle and put back together a weapon consisting of numerous extremely tiny parts in under a minute while in it.

This type of training doesn’t just focus on higher order thinking. That is there as well. Military history, customs and courtesies, structure, communications systems, first aid, weapon characteristics, and all manner of scholastic knowledge will be trained. An example would be re-calculating the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation. That’s basic rifle marksmanship. Marine Corps boot camp goes deeper, though. They focus also on mid-brain thinking. This is the mammalian brain and the one where most of our innate, instinctual reactions come from. You might think that because I said, “instinctual”, that one can’t train it, but you would incorrect.
Combat science has shown that most of the time a kill is rendered in combat for infantry, it is a reactionary response. This means that to prepare warriors, you have to train them to react to dangerous situations, not to rationalize their way through them. Essentially, modern militaries know that their soldier is being pitted not against the rationality of the other soldier, but against their enemy’s innate instinctive responses, trained in the middle brain. Under ideal situations, they will be able to take a well aimed shot from cover and concealment at a time of their choosing, but more likely for the young infantryman, they face the danger of needing to react faster than they can think of what to do. To do this, the Marines use numerous operant conditioning mechanisms that reward their reactions to stimulus and condition them to ignore non-important information instinctively. This channels their brain’s cognitive abilities to react to stimulus and building the same neural pathways connecting their reactionary subconscious brain to their bodies muscle receptors. This means that when the training is applied correctly, a person can recognize a target from a non-target, sight in and kill the bad guy, before the average person would rationalize that they are in danger. Yeah.

I’ve made a point of promoting training as the single most important trait that businesses should learn from the military. I’m not saying that businesses should start pushing their accountants off of buildings to see how they handle mid-April or that we should scream at the receptionist for messing up the coffee, but the Marines and most modern militaries have mastered training not only a of a Marine’s ability to analyze a situation when calm is allowed, but to even groom the other parts of the brain to function when it isn’t. This is happening when most civilian companies are wasting millions of dollars in human resources on recruiting because they still pride themselves on a “Sink or Swim” model of management from the nineteenth century. It isn’t that sometimes it doesn’t work, but usually it will just ensure an unnecessarily high turnover rate and fearful company culture, rife with paranoia, politics, and unproductive competition. This isn’t because it is a better system, but because civilians don’t have experience of a better model. While this feels tangential, I can honestly say that I have had a profound respect for the Marines’ education system of training its individuals for success after seeing the failures of the business world, even very successful companies, in this regard. The United States Marines are one of the most successful organizations on the planet because of their training, which doesn’t make them fearless, but which makes them immensely competent under stress. I only really realized after the war and one only really appreciates it when he is wondering what to write in this article, and can think clearly enough to find inspiration from the top of a very, very tall tower.


Thanks for reading. This blog is supported entirely by fan donation. If you would like to support the author, please visit: Support Jon Davis creating Short Stories and Essays in Military, Science Fiction and Life.