This one hits too close to home…

Hey guys,

I wanted to share a message from a veteran that I came across the other day on Twitter. To me, no one has better described what most of us deal with after we depart service.

I know I didn’t see a ton of action, but I saw enough, and I didn’t kill anyone, but I nearly did, and all of that changed me. And yet, after I exited active duty following four years of service in the infantry — only to later voluntarily rejoin the Reserves after 9/11, where I expected to be called up — I’d often feel guilty because I didn’t think I should be feeling the way I did.

And I for damn sure wouldn’t let anyone tell me it was PTSD. No, not at all. Not me. I didn’t have it. I was certain of that, and I wasn’t going to hear anything differently about the subject.

But my friends and family would tell you I was different. Way different.

And I couldn’t really understand it at the time. The hyper vigilance. The terrible nightmares. The irrational fear, even while back in the safety of the States.

Anyway, I hope the message I read the other day means as much to you and it did me. And if it does, please share it with others.

The following message is written by Jason Kander, a veteran of Afghanistan.

Jason Kander: “I’ve had something on my mind lately, and I want to share it. If you’ve ever been part of a group of people that went through something difficult together, don’t lose touch with each other. You may not realize how crucial those relationships are until it’s too late. A story:

“In Afghanistan, I was an Army Lieutenant in military intelligence. My main responsibility was to provide intelligence reports on Afghan officials suspected of corruption, narco-trafficking, and espionage.

“In layman’s terms: Figuring out which good guys were actually bad guys or working for the bad guys. This meant operating “outside the wire” about 4 days/week, in an unarmored, midsize SUV. Usually just me and my interpreter. Sometimes I wore street clothes instead of a uniform.

“We drove around and met with people whose allegiances we could never know for sure. Usually armed only with a pistol, I was almost always outgunned and outnumbered in these meetings, and that can be frightening to say the least.

“I sometimes got to work as part of a team alongside a couple other guys – let’s call them Mike and Jake – who did jobs very similar to mine. To my knowledge, Mike and Jake were the only two guys at my camp doing the type of job I was doing. Meeting with potential bad guys, etc.

“I’m certain there were others, because I’d sometimes see other guys in street clothes in the chow hall, but Mike and Jake were the only ones I got to know personally who I felt were out there experiencing Afghanistan in the unique way I was experiencing it.

“Mike was big, tall, and soft-spoken. He had a realistic respect for the dangers we confronted. Jake was the most enthusiastic about the work. Unlike Mike and myself, Jake always dressed like an Afghan, and he grew the best beard among us.

“It’s funny the things I remember, like Mike getting irritated when Jake would use his turn signal, because no one in Kabul ever did, or the day toward the end of my deployment when a clean-shaven officer in uniform greeted me warmly and it took me a beat to recognize Jake.

“Mike had a real sense for how insane this all was. One time, at a USO show, he turned to me and said, “An hour ago I was at the site of a suicide bombing and now I’m at a Darryl Worley concert. War is weird, man.”

“I was the youngest and greenest, and I really looked up to Mike and Jake. I never really thought about the fact that we were the only three people I knew who were experiencing Afghanistan in this odd way.

“When I came home and started having nightmares, hyper-vigilance, and other symptoms, I refused to allow for the possibility that it was post-traumatic stress, because I felt as though my deployment didn’t warrant it. I’d not been blown up or shot at and I hadn’t had to kill.

“Over there, I’d been in meetings where I feared I’d be kidnapped or killed. Sometimes tension ran high enough that I mentally prepared myself to take a life out of self-defense. Thankfully, I never had to shoot my way out of a meeting, but I had certainly come close.

“That said, I spent ten years enduring symptoms of post-traumatic stress and telling myself I had no right to them, because I was just some jerk who went to meetings, unlike the “real soldiers” who’d been in firefights.

“It never occurred to me to reach out to Jake and Mike to see how they were doing. Now, I look back and wonder if they were going through the same things and — just like me — denying themselves help because they didn’t see their combat experience as worthy.

“Were they racked with nightmares about being taken? Unable to turn their back to the door for long periods? Unable to be present in the moment with their family? Convinced they “hadn’t done enough” to warrant such problems?

“If the three of us had stayed in touch, would I have gotten help sooner? Would they? Since coming home, both Mike and Jake got into serious accidents. Both were one-vehicle accidents. Given what I know now, I doubt either accident was “accidental.” Mike survived. Jake did not.

“My point is this: If you’ve been through something traumatic, stay in touch with the other people who were there with you. For your sake and for theirs. I’m going to reach out to Mike and I hope you’ll stay in touch with your people. As we say in the Army, check your buddy.”

Again, please consider checking with those you served with. Or with those you know who served, if you never served.

And don’t forget to share the article if you think it’ll help.

Semper Fidelis,

Stan R. Mitchell

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I write exciting, fast-paced thrillers. Both military action and mystery whodunnits. Ten books penned. 70,000+ sold. I also try to only write about positive things on my blog, so please consider subscribing. And obviously, if you’re looking for a quick, fun read, then click the link to check out my books. #USMC #SemperFidelis

My thoughts on the SEALs

It’s been since December that I last posted a chapter on “My time in the Corps,” but I’ve finally finished the next chapter. Here she be. (All earlier chapters here.)

Chapter 6: My thoughts on the SEALs

I want to share my thoughts on the Navy SEALs in this chapter not because my views matter, but rather because a look at how I viewed them back in the day will give some revealing insight into the mentality of a Marine.

Best of all, I think it’ll also teach you a few lessons that’ll help you in your current situation in life.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, my platoon was fortunate to spend almost a year with the elite Marines known as Force Recon. And during several of those training ops, we got to train with the SEALs as well. Specifically, it was SEAL Team 2 out of Little Creek, Virginia.

So, what did nineteen-year-old Lance Corporal Mitchell think of the SEALs? In short, I’d say that we thought we were just as good as they were. (Please don’t attack me over this until you read further!)

It’s funny. I went into the Corps holding the SEALs up in my mind as some kind of supermen. Some kind of Rambo-like force of bullet-proof men.

But it wasn’t long upon arriving to the Fleet that their sky-high reputation began taking hits from higher ranking Marines and instructors who trained me. Even at the School of Infantry, which you attend immediately after Boot Camp, I’ll never forget a salty sergeant talking about doing a machine gunner’s course in Israel with the SEALs. According to him, after the SEALs and Marines had finished their initial iteration of the fire-and-movement range, the SEALs decided to do it again.

Except this time, he said they were showing out. Going much faster and showboating in front of the Marines there, trying to really destroy the time it took to clear the course. And during this run, one of the Navy SEAL machine gunners let his machine gun get away from him on a long burst and some rounds bounced off a wall and hit a SEAL teammate. The story got a little more outrageous at that point when my Marine Corps instructor claimed the SEALs froze up upon seeing the devastating wound and were crying and panicking over their bleeding buddy. According to this tale, the sergeant ran forward and put a tourniquet on the SEAL’s leg — the man had allegedly been hit in the quad muscle.

So in short, the sergeant was saying the Marines saved the day, so to speak, after these elite SEALs made a stupid mistake and then froze up at the sight of a wounded comrade.

Even as a brand-new Marine, I didn’t believe the latter part of the story of them freezing up. It’s just nearly impossible to imagine a dozen or more SEALs just panicking and not providing first aid. Hell, even brand new Marines in Boot Camp are taught first aid and how to apply a tourniquet. Surely the SEALs master this skill as well.

Honestly, I’m even a tad skeptical of the first part of the story. For all I know it never even happened. While it’s true the sergeant told lots of vivid details about the incident, he may have been simply a gifted story teller.

Perhaps it happened, but he simply stretched the truth about the SEALs panicking. But the greater point is that in the Corps, they were hacking away at the reputation of the SEALs from some of my earliest training days. And I don’t think that was accidental.

The sergeant wanted us to believe that we were every bit as good as the SEALs or any other force out there. It was part of the mindset they were trying to hammer into our heads.

Every time the SEALs slipped up, the rumors would fly through the ranks of the Corps. “Yeah, they’re not the good.” “They’re just cocky, arrogant surfer boys who can’t do the basics well.”

On and on you would hear it.

I’ll never forget when a squad of Marines were playing the bad guys in an observed operation. A battalion of Marines were on ship and were playing the good guys, invading some make-believe small country that had overthrown their government. Waiting for the battalion on the beach and in defensive positions further in country was an op force, or opposing force. If memory serves me correctly, there was a company of these Marines playing the bad guys.

But the only part of the story that bears telling is a squad of these bad guys (regular infantry Marines, just like me), was to defend the beaches on where the good guys might land. And there were like only three places the battalion could safely land.

So these Marines studied the maps, make their best educated guess, and guarded one of those beaches, while the other hundred Marines in their company dug in deeper inland.

Day after day these Marines stayed hidden, watching the beach, hoping the SEALs or the rest of the battalion would land on their beach. The bad guys didn’t know when it would happen — or even if it would happen on that beach — but they held onto hope that they’d picked right. And sure enough, one night the SEALs showed up on their beach.

These Marines used their night vision to watch two scout swimmers land right in front of them. And instead of firing their blanks at the two SEALs, the Marines stayed hidden and somehow managed to not get seen. The two SEALs, thinking the beach was clear and safe, signaled for the rest of the SEALs to come in with their rubber boat.

And as the boat landed and the SEALs worked to drag it up the beach, these Marines launched their ambush, firing blanks and yelling like a bunch of crazy maniacs. An impartial observer, who was with the Marines watching the action, said the Marines would have wiped out the entire SEAL squad, and I remember holding onto that story as if my life depended on it.

Sure, it would probably never happen again. Not even in a hundred more attempts, but at least once, a squad of Marines had stayed exceptionally disciplined and hidden, and the Marines had bested one of the most elite units our nation has to offer. Appalachian State had beaten Michigan.

When you’re a young Marine who thinks he’s six feet tall and bulletproof, you hold onto stories like that. You tell friends at home about situations like this. And you say with absolute confidence that Marine infantry are as good as Navy SEALs.

Obviously, this isn’t close to being true. The SEALs are a much smaller unit. Their selection standards and training metrics are far more difficult. I could go on and on, but I don’t have to: you already know the SEALs are better than the Marines. Much better.

Even though it was mostly foolish that we thought we were as good as the SEALs, I still think there’s a lesson in this situation.

The Marine Corps has it right about comparing yourself to others: you shouldn’t ever see yourself as being inferior to others. You shouldn’t ever sell yourself short or think your team or company isn’t as good as the competition.

I remember when I finally got to meet the SEALs, I glared at them and wanted them to absolutely know I didn’t think they were any better than me. My buddies did the same. Even my squad leader, who I barely respected (more on that later), bragged about being able to run better than them. He had run on the flight deck with a bunch of them and since he was a gifted runner (that was about all he was), he just wouldn’t shut up about how bad they were at running.

There’s a lot more to combat than running, but instead of reminding him of that, I basked in his take down of them as well. I wanted to believe I was as good as they were, and any (and all) evidence of such a thing was gladly accepted by me.

As any service member who’s ever served in any branch knows, competition between services is fierce. And frankly, this competition is good. It sharpens each of our branches of services.

To be a Marine, you have to think you’re the best. It doesn’t mean it’s true, but it does mean you have to believe it.

Likewise, no matter what sector of work we’re in as civilians (or branch as service members), you need to think you’re the best as well. You need to have pride and high standards. You need to push as hard as you can, pretending you’re as good as a Navy SEAL if that’s what it takes to up your game.

Competition as a civilian is crushing. You literally have to be better than those around you or you will lose out. You’ll miss out on that promotion. You’ll be cut when it’s time for the company to tighten its belt.

Likewise, if you don’t have high standards in the military, it could cost you your life. You need to think you’re the best and require those around you who are dropping the ball to step it up. A unit is only as good as its weakest link,

In short, I hope each of you reading this will no longer see a coworker or fellow squad member as being better than yourself. If you believe that, then you need to change your views. Change that mindset because it will cost you at some point, if it’s not already.

Once you’ve changed your mental beliefs, start stepping up your game. If you’re a civilian, dress nicer. Show up earlier. Stay later. Work on your attitude and watch who you’re hanging out with. If co-workers are complaining about the company, politely excuse yourself. Don’t allow that poison to infect yourself.

Think of the good things about the job. Make a list of ten things you enjoy about the job, even if it’s a struggle. Change your mindset, grow your gratitude, and rise to another level. And if you’ve outgrown your job, have the courage to begin looking for the next step in your career.

Keep pushing, my friend. We may not be Navy SEALs, but we don’t have to think they’re any better than us.

Keep pushing,

Stan R. Mitchell

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Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which has remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series has also been picked up by Audible.com for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thriller, detective series, and World War II story. Learn more at http://stanrmitchell.com.

Part 5 of “My time in the Corps.”

Chapter 5: Training with Force Recon

Good ole’ Third Platoon landed the best assignment we could have ever scored (in my mind) prior to my first deployment out to sea.

As our battalion was preparing to deploy for six months to the Mediterranean Sea, each company within the battalion was assigned specific specialties. One company became a “helo company” that trained especially hard in helicopter operations. Another became a “track company” that specialized in beach assaults from inside the back of “amtracks,” which are Assault Amphibious Vehicles (AAVs). These amtracks/AAVs are essentially floating tanks that are extended more than twenty-five feet long and can carry up to twenty men in their cargo holds.

Our company, Alpha Company, was picked to become “boat company.” Boat companies train to hit the beach in the darkness of night, cutting through waves in small rubber Zodiac boats. These are the same boats you see the SEALs using in the movies. Almost everyone in the company was excited to be picked as boat company. And we had a heck of a fun time on the beach for a couple of weeks, learning to ride them correctly (up on the wide gunnels) and right them when they flipped.

But Third Platoon scored a special treat when we were picked to work alongside Force Recon as a reinforcing element.

For those who don’t know, Force Recon Marines are the elite of the elite. They’re like Navy SEALs and see themselves as equals to that much higher profile group of warriors. Also like the SEALs, they parachute, dive, and do hostage rescue missions, which are probably the hardest missions out there. These missions are the ones like you usually see SWAT teams doing on TV shows. You sneak up, put some explosive on the door, and blow it off the hinges. Then the teams rush inside, clearing rooms as quickly as possible before the bad guys start killing hostages.

This is super high-pressure, high-intensity stuff, and you have to be light on the trigger because a round through a wall kills your buddy. Oh, and you also have to be able to do this in the dark or the light, and sometimes upon command when you’re not necessarily completely ready.

It takes an enormous amount of time to fully train a Force Recon Marine. They go to jump school, dive school, SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), and many others. Most of them have been in for at least six or eight years. By far, the majority of them back in ’97 were senior corporals or salty sergeants.

These were the best of the best, and they made a huge impression on a nineteen-year-old Marine named Stan.

As part of our battalion’s deployment, Force Recon needed to be able to do deep strike hostage rescue missions that were way behind enemy lines. They also needed to be able to do ship takedowns.

The problem was Force Recon is a small unit. They were only two squads of eight. So, a mere sixteen men, plus a small leadership element.

It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re just sixteen men a couple hundred miles behind enemy lines, you’re going to be in trouble if you make heavy contact. The SEALs combat this problem by often having Rangers as a quick reaction force.

Force Recon platoons would pick a platoon of Marines, give them some extra (awesome) training, and learn to work with them over a six-month period. That’s exactly what my platoon — good ole’ Third Platoon — was assigned to do.

Our adventure started with us going to a two-week advanced training course put on by SOTG, the Special Operations Training Group. We primarily worked on shooting well at short distances, usually less than fifty yards. This was part of the Close Quarters Battle (CQB) training you often hear so much about.

For us, it was as if we had landed in heaven. Typically, you never get enough live ammo to shoot as a Marine. They seriously ration that stuff, saving it for either the zombie apocalypse or for when Putin gets to feeling a little froggy. But during this CQB training, we had more ammo than we even wanted.

We were required to fire two thousand rounds during the training evolution, which believe me is a ton. That’s so much shooting that it gets to the point where it’s no longer even fun. That’s so much shoulder time that even a puny M-16 will have your shoulder sore for a couple of days. And don’t even talk about what a pain it is to cleaning your weapon. We spent as much time cleaning weapons as we did anything else, and you haven’t cleaned an M-16 until you’ve fired that many rounds through one.

We did the vast majority of that shooting over just a few days and everyone was really stepping it up. Just knowing we would be around the Force Recon guys was enough to make guys stand a little prouder.

We also worked hard on fast roping out of helicopters, since we’d be doing that a lot. Fast roping is sort of like rappelling, except you aren’t tied in. You grip a wide rope with your hands and feet and hold on for dear life. It can be pretty terrifying when you do it on a real ship out at sea, with the wind blowing the rope and the ship below you rising up and down in as much as fifteen-foot increments.

As if all that wasn’t fast enough, we also practiced urban ops with Force Recon. We’d go to various cities (after coordinating with the local police, of course), ride around in the back of vans or moving trucks, and spring out to hit homes in practice assaults with Force Recon.

Sometimes, even a couple of our guys would be in civilian work clothes, pretending to be construction workers. We learned it was often best to block a road with cones and work signs (with hidden shooters out of sight in a van), instead of having a bunch of men carrying weapons out in the open.

This was high speed, low drag stuff right here, and it couldn’t have possibly gotten better for a platoon of plain ole’ ground pounders. And yet it did.

Force Recon wanted our platoon on the edges of any homes they hit, acting as a blocking force with our long weapons and machine guns. But they also wanted one fire team to work directly with them. Since they had to use small caliber submachine guns to clear buildings, they also required a fire team of four Marines to bring long weapons and reinforce them.

Force Recon used MP5s on their room clearing and hostage rescue work, but these weapons are only 9 mm and have a short range. MP5s are perfect for short-range, indoor work because they don’t penetrate multiple walls. But if you’re patrolling to a target and make contact with the enemy, the last thing you want is lightweight, short range MP5s, which are only good to a hundred yards or so. You need serious firepower with range. Such as M-16s, 40 mm grenade launchers, and machine guns.

That’s what a fire team of four Marines could provide and that’s what Force Recon wanted.

As you probably guessed, I have no idea how it happened, but my fire team was picked to be the four-man team that went with Force Recon everywhere on these strikes. I’d like to think my fire team was one of the best in the platoon, but looking back at the pictures from that time, I can’t say that for sure. We had some awesome fire teams in Third Platoon. But for whatever reason, our fire team was selected and the Force Recon guys really took us in under their wings.

We were quite regularly sent off to them to practice their hostage rescue missions and they were constantly pouring knowledge into our four little heads. They knew they only had six months to get us ready and they wanted us absolutely as ready as possible.

All of this was beyond incredible, but the cherry on top was working with Navy SEALs. You only hear about these guys and it was great to see them in action.

Often, on ship takedowns, the target is so big that you just need a lot of personnel to take it down. On those missions, the Navy SEALs would fast rope in first from helicopters, followed by Force Recon, followed by Third Platoon.

Yeah, we weren’t doing much room clearing — mostly holding uncleared danger areas and passageways — but we were doing ship takedowns with the Navy SEALs and Force Recon. How many people can say that?!

Seriously, what are the chances of getting to do that as a regular infantryman? It. Was. Awesome.

I’ll go into my impressions of Navy SEALs in the next chapter, but let’s get to the good stuff: taking our lives to the next level.

Lessons learned

I will always believe our platoon was picked to work with Force Recon because our lieutenant and platoon sergeant set higher standards than the other lieutenants and platoon sergeants in Alpha Company. I think both of these men, who I was lucky enough to serve under, desired to be the best. As a result of their hard work, we landed a phenomenal opportunity.

Not just a phenomenal opportunity, but a once-in-a-lifetime, win-the-lottery chance to work with one of the most elite forces in the world. The chances of getting assigned to this have to be almost inconceivable.

And then for our fire team to get selected to work directly with the elite group was just another level of luck. I had no idea any of this could happen when our fireteam was working so hard in the months prior to the deployment. We were simply competing with the other fire teams in our platoon, trying our best for mere bragging rights at the end of that week or field op, whichever we were on at the time. But we just had a great group of guys who all pushed each other as hard as was physically possible.  

Speaking of the fireteam, we also once got to lead the entire battalion on a field exercise that we were being tested on. There were fellow Marines out there operating as the “enemy” in different color uniforms and our battalion of eight hundred Marines needed to move up a road without getting ambushed.

Somehow, our fire team was picked to do a route recon alone, looking for the enemy. We took such great pride in searching as hard as we could for any enemy along the road, trying our hardest to find them before they found the battalion that trailed behind us by a mile or so.

My point in all this is that with hard work and great sacrifice comes even greater rewards. That was true in my military career and it’s always been true in the various places I’ve worked in my civilian life.

Sure, there are times politics may beat you out of an opportunity, but usually hard work wins out. Thus, the lesson is that if you’re not giving all you have, and I mean every single ounce of effort that you can possibly summon, then you may be missing out on some incredible opportunities. Some training you could be sent to. An unexpected promotion or transfer to a better division. A customer or fellow business person from another company who sees your talent and recruits you to their firm.

Everyday you’re making impressions, so you need to ask yourself if you’re making the right kind.

It’s not just opportunities you may be missing either. There were clear winners and losers in our company.

One platoon not only didn’t get assigned to Force Recon, but they got assigned to train on repairing and maintaining boat motors. And trust me, for an entire year (a six-month training workup and six months on ship), that’s mostly what they did.

They worked so hard in an effort to keep a bunch of worn-out motors running, all while facing the limitations of having inadequate parts or instruction. Worse, it wasn’t like these guys were mechanics or had a mechanical background. They were regular infantry guys who received some lame, insufficient education in how to work on the motors.

Trust me, these guys hated their entire deployment. Can you imagine joining the Marine Corps to be an infantryman and then spending a year of that time working on boat motors and shabby boats that needed constant attention and patching up?

But that same thing could be headed your way. That platoon assigned to work on boats was a good platoon. They probably were only slightly behind us in terms of ability, but look what that earned them: one year of pure hell.

The same thing could happen to you wherever you are. If you’re the one not working hard or complaining all the time, you might find yourself transferred to something even worse. Or suddenly with fewer hours scheduled.

But forget the negative consequences. Think of the positives for pushing harder in your life. If you can find a way to get yourself around people out of your league, you need to do so. Like every chance that you can.

That year of being around Force Recon did wonders for my growth and confidence, as I’m sure it did for everyone else in the platoon. (Many of my fellow platoon members went off to achieve impressive feats in both the military and civilian worlds.)

The same lesson was repeated in college. Being around professors who were far more intelligent and better educated than me helped ratchet up my ambitions and desire for learning. It’s like throwing gas on a fire. Suddenly, I wasn’t just some guy from East Tennessee with little money and limited opportunities. Instead, I had examples right in front of me of distinguished scholars, authors, etc.

In summary, if you have a similar chance to network “up” as the saying goes, make sure you’re doing it. It could be anything from attending association meetings you’ve been avoiding because they’re boring. It could be serving on the board of a nonprofit. It could be volunteering for some leadership position on your kid’s sports team. Just any chance you can grab to be around awesome people, you grab it.

You never know how much it’ll help lift you up.

Semper Fidelis,

Stan R. Mitchell

P.S. Enjoy my writing or videos?! You can leave me a tip at this PayPal link. : )—————————

Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which has remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series has also been picked up by Audible.com for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thriller, detective series, and World War II story.