This Memorial Day, I was thinking about combat. Actually, I started thinking about how to train Soldiers to win in combat. But that naturally drove me to deconstruct the problem and ask, “What is the nature of the combat experience? How does it challenge the individual? What does it demand of everyone who engages in it?
I settled on three traits. These are not sufficient to win in combat, but they are necessary.
“You can’t perform if you can’t breathe.” Many forget that combat pushes the individual beyond the physical limit. In other words, you likely have not yet experienced the exhaustion that combat will bring. Soldiers must be able to move heavy objects, pull themselves over obstacles, and make anaerobic sprints and continue fighting. As such, PT is not just a team building activity, it’s survival training. Nor should fitness-building only occur during unit PT. Soldiers have a professional responsibility to push themselves (on their own time) so that they 1) improve their physical capacity, 2) understand the nature and limits of that capability, and 3) shield themselves against the deteriorating effects of combat.
“We do PT. We go to the range. But when do we train the mind?” Combat is terror, distraction, confusion, elation, and exhaustion…all in one experience. Winning despite these experiences takes mental focus and emotional stability. A Soldier with focus remains calm, controls breathing, moves deliberately, and speaks rationally. This Soldier is open to a changing environment (and a changing enemy), listens to intuition, and isn’t distracted by low-priority tasks and irrelevant information. No single program trains these abilities, but creating complex training scenarios with multiple variables helps. As does spending time visualizing the combat experience. (This book explains how.)
“Courage in pain or adversity.” The paradoxical aspect of combat is that it opposes our immutable drive toward self-preservation. It requires facing and overcoming danger in nearly every action, both for duty and for survival. Combat can easily take individuals beyond their physical, mental, and emotional limits, to an unimagined place of extreme hardship. One can hardly prepare for these moments, but the more fitness and focus a Soldier possess, the easier it is to show fortitude.
“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations,
we fall to the level of our training.”
Questions for Leaders
- How intensely are you pushing yourself to prepare for the demands of combat? Are you pushing your team far enough?
- Have you envisioned what your worst day in combat would look like? What capabilities would you need to exhibit? Do you have them now?
- In what ways could you “operationalize” your daily activity and connect it to combat? How can you better prepare your team to succeed in combat?