Wow, it’s late July already, where in the hell does the time go? I hope all of you are having a great summer with your families and are enjoying the warm weather.
Today lets discuss “Mindset”. In my first article, “Thoughts on Readiness” I explained some training observations, my training methodology, and creating/utilizing the pyramid of readiness. The second step up the pyramid is mindset. Training for the mind is imperative to your state of readiness, but how do you train the mind? Unfortunately the only thing that I have found that works for me in most cases is good old-fashioned suffering. I break suffering into 3 facets; environmental, physical, and psychological.
Environmental stress is always present in everything we do and I could get way out into the weeds on this and break this down into several sub characters but for the sake of simplicity lets categorize this as weather. Get outside and train in all environmental conditions. This allows your mind to acclimate as your body does to varying spectrums of weather. It also allows you to identify short falls in your gear. I remember on my second tour in Iraq we rotated in country in June and it was the seventh circle of hell hot. I knew when we got of off the plane and I walked past the still running jet engine and through the jet blast only to feel the air get hotter that we were all fucked. We had just flown in from San Diego were it was 85 degrees and as I walked to retrieve my ruck and wait for ground movement instructions I checked my Suunto and it read 113 degrees and this was at 10pm! Early within the first week we conducted our first foot patrol. It was high noon when we departed our COP and the temperature was 127 degrees. We did a 12k movement in full combat gear. My kit weighed 62 pounds and I was running light compared to some of the other Marines. Most of the patrol was uneventful, however about halfway through I stopped sweating after sucking down an entire 70 oz camel back. I knew I was in trouble and it was going to be a serious test of man hood to not become a heat casualty. Two thirds of the way through the patrol, the whole squad was nearly out of water. We were sharing the last two quart canteen, passing it back and forth during a short security halt. At that moment we started taking small bursts of AK fire. We reacted accordingly and nothing really happened, it was ineffective harassment fire just to let us know that we were under observation and definitely in bad guy country. The stress from contact combined with the heat and gear caused me and four other Marines to go down as heat casualties. We were CASEVAC’d back to our COP and I ended up getting an IV bag or two. It was an embarrassing moment for me to collapse on the patrol as the senior NCO, but I learned some valuable lessons that day. First and foremost was the importance of acclimation, and being properly acclimated. It was bad leadership on our commands behalf to have us launch a patrol in that kind of heat after being in country for 3 days. The second was proper nutrition. We all drank copious amounts of water that afternoon and all night prior to the mission, but none of us ate much and had no salt tabs, nor any type of electrolyte replacement. I am convinced most of us over hydrated and washed out all of our body’s salt. Since that day extreme heat hasn’t ever bothered me that much, I have friends and family in Phoenix, Arizona and whenever I visit I make sure I get a couple good long runs in and we always get a day of shooting in 100 plus degree heat.
Currently I live in the mountains of Western Wyoming and we have snow 8 months of the year with average temps in January around -20 degrees. It’s so cold that when March rolls around and temps climb up to the 30’s you often see the locals in t-shirts shoveling their drive way.
The second facet is physical, primarily in an endurance capacity I started running ultra marathons and fast packing long distances and nothing teaches you more about yourself and mental tenacity than running 30-60 miles or hiking 80 miles in 2 days. In the past I believed running those distances was crazy, and now it would appear I have become one of the insane. Learning how to push through physical pain, blisters, muscle fatigue, ruck sores, and chaffing for long periods builds great tolerances. Like those days when it’s thirty degrees and I am rocking a t-shirt to shovel snow off the drive way, now a 10-13 mile run is an easy average workout. Where as 3 years ago I thought running a half marathon was a big deal. Through endurance training you also get the psychological stress, your mind tires as your body does and you have to fight yourself to stay focused. I have literally had to pep talk myself through sections of races to make it and finish.
As with environmental stress, psychological stress has many other variables too. I mentioned in my first article about the master class shooter who was a CrossFit stud but threw up at the sight of blood. He is actually a friend of mine, I took him pig hunting once and I shot a nice hog in the head with a 7.62 at 120 yards. When we walked up on the hog and rolled him over. The hog’s brains fell out accompanied by some blood spray. He took one look at this visceral sight and began vomiting. I stopped and stared at him with what I can only imagine was a very disapproving look on my face. Inquisitively I asked, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” “It’s the blood, it makes me sick” he replied. I unsheathed my knife and handed it to him, I made him cape the animal, cut out the tenderloins and back straps. We barbecued and happily consumed those that night. He puked and dry heaved his way through it, but he persevered and overcame a personal psychological stress. Later that night after we had eaten over beers he thanked me for making him sack up and face a mental failure point.
I have been hunting big and small game since I was a kid. When you look at what hunting is, there is no better type of mindset training. It combines all the facets together. Grab a ruck with your gear, optics and weapons and head off into the backcountry. You hike for miles and spend days climbing mountains. Utilizing field craft to track and locate your prey, and then you experience the adrenaline rush and deal with the mental aspects of killing, while practicing marksmanship under stress. Lastly you cape and quarter the animal and hike it out. Frankly big game backcountry hunting provides a level of mindset training that is unparalleled.
So in closing I will tell you, in the end your only limitation is yourself. Learn to face and break through your failure points, learn to be comfortable at being uncomfortable. Challenge and push ones self to be better, or learn something new everyday. The “Moment of Truth” can come anywhere at any time. Will you be ready?
Until next time………
Brian Bishop served for 8 years as an active duty Infantry NCO in the United States Marine Corps. After being honorably discharged he served an additional 5 years as a defense contractor in support of DEA and USASOC counter narcotics/FID operations. Brian has completed several combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently the CEO of Orion Design Group, a leading industry design firm and the chief instructor of Orion Applications, a training group specializing in, weapons and tactics training solutions.