Category Archives: My time in the Corps

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.

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Filed under Marine Corps, Motivation, My time in the Corps

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.

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Filed under Marine Corps, My time in the Corps

Part 4 of “My time in the Corps”

Chapter 4: Making it and standing out

By the time I spent a couple of months at my unit, I had turned into a pretty good Marine. Or at least a decent one.

During that time, we deployed to the Mojave Desert for some brutal training. The Marine Corps has a base there (Twentynine Palms) that’s one of the largest training areas in the country. It’s so large that you can practice large-scale attacks with live fire, including tanks, mortars, artillery, and airpower.

It’s probably the closest you can come to real combat in a peacetime environment, and to this day, Marine units deploy there for a month of training prior to being sent to either Iraq or Afghanistan.

I’m assuming I proved myself to those around me during that month because when we returned, I was made a fire team leader.

A fire team is four Marines, so if you’re in charge of one, you’ve got three people under you. (A squad is three fire teams.) Promotions to fire team leader are competitive (as is everything in the Marine Corps), so presumably I did just enough in our one month of desert training to rate being promoted to fire team leader.

I was decent at running and shooting well, I could hold my own in a fight (which matters for your standing in a platoon, since horseplay is constant). I was also pretty strong on my “knowledge,” which is what the Marine Corps calls mastering the details your job. This includes remembering everything from knowing the precise range of your M-16 to how to treat a sucking chest wound to how to drill a platoon, keeping them in step and looking sharp.

I lived in books, which was no different than when I was as a kid, except now I was reading Marine Corps manuals in between Tom Clancy novels. I’m not sure why I enjoyed studying manuals so much, but I was so excited about my career that I absolutely wanted to be the best.

But while running, fighting, and reciting knowledge off the top of my head wasn’t a problem, there were two things that I wasn’t good at. The first one was humps, which is what the Marine Corps calls forced marches. These are basically really long hikes with all your gear. Believe me, the packs were heavy, plus you had your flak jacket, web gear, helmet, and rifle. These were usually six to twelve miles long, but could go as high as eighteen or even twenty-five, which was the maximum distance expected by the Marine Corps in a day.

The pace is three miles per hour, which doesn’t sound too bad until you’re walking in sand, mud, or loose gravel. And the weight doesn’t sound too bad until you’ve gone a couple miles. The pack weighs usually about forty to fifty pounds, plus you’ve got a nine-pound flack jacket, eight pounds of gear in your harness (canteens, magazines, etc.), and a five-pound helmet. Top all that off with a seven-pound rifle.

That was our typical load, but if it was cold weather, the pack weight would soar to eighty pounds or more because you needed more layers and your insulated sleeping bag.

Given that I weighed 123 pounds when I hit the Fleet, that sixty to eighty pounds felt a whole lot different to me than it did to a guy who weighed 180. Shorter guys like me also had to contend with the fact that we had shorter strides, which meant we had to walk faster just to keep up!

As you’ve guessed by now, I hated humping! Most Marines did. They quite often pushed you mentally to your limit and beyond, and you didn’t want to fall out of one. There was probably no faster way to lose the respect of your peers than to fall out of a hump and have to ride in the Humvee that followed. Not only were you shamed for such a thing, but often if you failed to complete a hump they would force you to do a remedial hump on Saturday, when you were supposed to be off. Seriously, no one wants to do a hump on a Saturday in a group of just a few guys.

Humps were easily one of my biggest fears in the Marine Corps. We would learn about an upcoming one sometimes as much as six or eight days in advance. Immediately, I’d start worrying about it. I’d plan my meals and hydration, which pair of boots I thought would work best, you name it. Every single thing I could think of to help me not fall out. I always tried to plan out every single detail that would help me make sure I survived the grueling event. If we were in the field four or five days prior to the hump home, I’d make sure I saved snacks for energy. I’d also make sure I kept at least one pair of socks clean and ready for use on that sole event. I’d even pack foot powder to cut down on how many blisters I’d get.

These little things don’t sound like much, but they gave me a small edge.

Besides all the planning and mental preparation, I also exercised like a demon when we weren’t in the field. At night, if we were back in the barracks instead of the field, I’d do heavy pack runs to further condition my back and shoulders. Carrying a load I could barely shoulder was one of my greater fears, so I constantly tried to work on my weakness, piling more and more in that pack to carry around at night.

I always had the mentality that if I pushed myself on my own (at night or at the gym) harder than our officers would ever be able to, then they’d never be able to break me on a hump or field op. Of course, I got mocked a fair amount for my pack runs (probably rightly so, since I’m sure I looked like a complete moron). But I always figured the ribbing by my friends beat letting them down and suffering the embarrassment that would have gone with falling out of a hump.

My second big fear was jumping up to reach the high bar on the obstacle course. I was so good at all the obstacles and rope climbs that you must traverse, but I always worried to death about that eight-foot-high bar on the second obstacle.

I’ve mentioned in earlier chapters that I’m vertically challenged, but I also am blessed with an inability to jump high. So pretty much every time I managed to leap and grab that eight-foot high bar, it was a miracle.

A few other Marines couldn’t reach it, and most of the time, you were allowed to have another Marine run up and put their knee out for you to jump off from. But I couldn’t bring myself to go asking for help. That seemed beneath the kind of Marine I wanted to become in my mind, so I constantly worked on my jumping.

Usually, after my pack runs, I’d swing by the obstacle course and practice running up and leaping to reach that bar. It’s funny in hindsight how much I worried about grabbing that silly bar, but you don’t want to lose face in the Marine Corps.

In many ways, a Marine squad or platoon is like a gang. Even if you’ve got rank on your shoulders, it means nothing. You are judged on a daily basis for your competence, toughness, and ability to keep up. You start falling out of runs or humps, or not being able to do the obstacle course (some guys struggled with other obstacles, which I could do with ease), and you’d quickly be noticed and usually given some attention that you didn’t want from your fellow Marines.

That attention would usually start with encouragement, some tips or advice, and even the offer to help them train on that one thing on their off time. But if a Marine refused that help and didn’t fix their shortcomings, it would quickly turn into verbal harassment and worse. Our leaders always told us we were only as strong as our weakest link, and we took them at their word. We brought plenty of harassment and pain to those who couldn’t keep up.

Clearly, as I hope I’ve explained, I worked a lot on my weaknesses (humps and jumping up to reach that eight-foot bar). But I not only worked on my weaknesses, I also focused on what I was best at: knowledge.

Ever since childhood, there are few things I enjoyed more than reading. Knowing that a love of reading was probably my only true strength, I poured my focus wholeheartedly on my one skill. I read manual after manual that the Marine Corps had published. These were dense, dry things, which were not much fun to read even if you enjoy reading.

But as I learned about advanced tactics and strategies well beyond my rank and paygrade, I knew I was honing the one ability that could help me stand out. I may have been short and unremarkable, but I knew I could read and study circles around most Marines. That’s where I poured it on and worked super hard to magnify my strengths.

Two things primarily drove me forward: fear and ambition.

I feared falling short and I truly wanted to be the best. (Still do.)

These things, the fear and the desire, are what helped me stand out and be a pretty good Marine. And standing out allowed me to do some pretty exciting things during my enlistment. Standing out got me assigned to a coveted position alongside Force Recon, which I’ll explain in a later chapter. It also led me to earn Marine of the Quarter for the entire 2nd Marine Division, which I’ll also explain later. Finally, I managed to earn the rank of Sergeant, which is not something that’s easy to attain in the field of infantry within a four-year period.

Each small victory over my weaknesses (getting good at humps and never missing the bar) led to something even greater, but if I hadn’t put in the time and work as a newly minted PFC (Private First Class), none of them may have happened.

Would a Marine who needed to be helped up over the bar or couldn’t complete a strenuous hump have gotten attached to Force Recon? Probably not.

Now flip the question to your own life.

Will you get promoted at your job when you’re not good at certain aspects of it?

You know the answer to that. No, you’re probably not going to get promoted unless you’re well rounded. Sure, you’re good at the rest of it, but you need to be working on whatever part of yourself or your job that you’re not good at.

You want to reach the next phase in life, right? Good. Let’s get to work. (And if you answered “no” to my final question, you need to go look at your wife and kids and see just who you’re impacting. It also helps to imagine and dream some, thinking of just where you might end up if you can push through your current level.)

I think we should all be reaching for that next level in our careers and in our lives. Maybe you’re a great manager at work, but you lose your temper easily. Well, you need to work on that. Or maybe you’re great at most of your job, but you’re weak at math. Same thing: you need to work on that.

Maybe you’re good at saving, but don’t know much about investing. In fact, you’re scared to. Same advice: you need to work on that.

We all have weaknesses and we should all be honing and improving them. This isn’t rocket science, but it isn’t easy either. Sometimes, you’ve got to do a gutcheck.

So do a gutcheck, and if you can plow two acres but are only currently plowing one, then I respectfully say that you’re letting yourself down, you’re letting your family down, and you’re letting your community down.

Want to fix it? You already know how. Recognize your weaknesses, work on them, quit your half assing, and pick up the pace. I’ll meet you at the top.

Lessons learned

Work on your weaknesses so that you’re not below standard. This will take some hard work and probably be something you have to do on your own time, but it’s worth it in the end to do so.

Also, don’t share your weaknesses.

I hated humps and worried about that high bar, but I’m not sure I told many people. Probably, with the exception of my closest three or four friends, they had no idea I feared either of them.

When it came time to do the obstacle course, I tried to be the first in line to go. Same thing on humps. Sure, I hated them and worried I might not have the strength to finish them, but I didn’t show it. As we were putting on packs, I’d be the saying, “This isn’t anything. What’s eighteen miles? They can’t break us.”

I tried to always be motivated and fired up (and loud), so I would enter every event that we faced as full of piss and vinegar as possible. With my night runs, if someone asked (other than my closest friends), I’d tell them I was training so I could make the cut to join Force Recon, a really elite unit in the Marine Corps.

I’m pretty sure most guys in the barracks saw my night runs as simply Mitchell being Mitchell. You know, the silly motivated guy who wanted to be the best. They probably had no idea that it was Mitchell worrying he couldn’t complete an upcoming hump.

The takeaway here is don’t mention to your boss what you’re not good at. You might be right on the cusp of a transfer or promotion. Instead of talking about your weaknesses, fix them. And when you’re assigned work involving them, go enter it with good cheer. Tell your boss you’d be glad to take that math-related assignment on.

End of sermon. You know what to do now. Fix your weaknesses and magnify your strengths.

I hope this somehow inspires you in your own life. I want to encourage you that no matter where you are in your journey, and no matter what weaknesses you may have, you can overcome them. You can double the effort you’ve been putting into something or do additional research until you’re comfortable with it.

I was constantly asking Marines who had a reputation for being great at humps what their secret was. Some said just take it one step at a time. Others said just focus on the pack in front of you. Still others said to sing a song in your mind, keeping yourself distracted.

I utilized all these techniques and others, especially when I was panicking and struggling to catch my breath. (It can be hard to breath with all that weight pulling down you.)

Just like me, you can go from being the kid who’s bullied in high school to being labeled the best Marine in an entire division. Have some faith in yourself. You’ve got this.

(You can read Part 5 here.)

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.

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