By Whiskey Tango
Bottom line up front. The key to going where you want to in life is channeling your ability to focus your attention
Instructing Freaking New Guys.
Living in the operator community is an extremely physically demanding existence. It’s unlikely that anyone makes it to retirement without a fused spine, metal hardware, or some other lifetime ailment. An operator with ten years of experience is like 30 in dog years. The wear and tear on the body is immense. Hundreds of parachute openings jarring your spine, the countless hard impacts with the ground, and just general joint, tissue, and cartilage fatigue from hauling around a heavy combat load. I felt lucky to have made it most of my career with “minor”/manageable back pain, a plate and seven screws in my right leg, minor hearing loss, and torn cartilage in my wrist.
Throughout my career, the air force has done much better at preserving its precious human capital. When I first came into the Air Force the mentality was, “suck it up and take some Motrin to mask your pain.” Hopefully, that does the trick, and if it doesn’t take more Motrin. The culture has significantly shifted since. Air Force Special Warfare has stood up a human performance program. This program is aimed at preserving, preparing, and repairing humans physically and mentally. It’s a spoiled feeling being at the receiving end of this support. You have a strength coach telling you what to work out, when, and how to lift. You have a physical therapist to dry needles, make spinal adjustments, scrape muscles, recommend stretching regiments and treat injuries. You have a doctor to schedule MRIs, prescribe medicine, and provide treatment. You have a shrink to talk to about the mental rigors of the job. These Human Performance teams made up of doctors, physical therapists, strength coaches, and psychiatrists enhance operators' ability to remain durable. In addition to the physical preparation needed to survive there is a finesse aspect. All the muscles in the world won’t save you if you misjudge the winds and steer your parachute into a shrape object at 20 miles per hour. There is an assortment of new skill sets you must master just to get to where you’re performing your primary duties of saving lives or taking them. Parachuting, scuba diving, rock climbing, rappelling, and inserting from a helicopter are some aspects that must be mastered. In addition to maintaining the physical strength needed to perform each event, you must also build the fine motor skills of executing each task. Think of any extreme sport or regular sport for that matter. Let’s take surfing. Surfing has an extremely high level of finesse. An experienced surfer looks effortless in paddling out through massive swells, whereas if an ammeter surfer, like myself, tried to paddle out through the same surf, I would wash up on shore like a dead fish, exhausted and coughing up water from the plight. Each operator skillset has its own variants and tricks for maximal performance but they all share one common thread. I learned this commonality while instructing advanced skills training at the special tactics training school. I taught brand new operators from all of the Air Force’s special tactics jobs and operational employment. Think of employment as how operators get to work. Employment among other things is what sets the Special Operations community apart from conventional forces. An infantryman isn’t trained and equipped the same way as special forces, rangers, navy seals, Marine recon or the Air Forces Special Warfare division. A large amount of that training division is how they are able to get to work. So no spit there I was, a phase lead instructor responsible for training hundreds of airmen on employment tactics over the course of a few years. I worked with twelve other instructors with varied backgrounds on this specialized block. It was ten weeks total and focused on refining the employment skillsets. Two weeks on parachuting, a couple of weeks of helicopter employment, AKA alternate insertion extraction(AIEs), a week of specialized vehicles in all types of all-terrain toys(dirt bikes, ATVs, Humvees, Razors), scuba diving, rock climbing, and more. My focus blocks for instruction were parachuting, scuba diving, rock climbing, and helicopter employment. You could spend your entire life in an effort to master one of these skills. I had just 10 weeks to teach these new guys the ropes. I began my helicopter employment block on the tower trainer in Hurlburt Field Florida. This tower is designed as a warm-up before actual employment. It's over 60 feet high and has helicopter mock-ups fabricated into the structure of the building. It is not uncommon for an operator to snap a leg or fracture their pelvis during this type of training. The conditions of helicopter alternate insertion extraction(AIEs) are dangerous. We take it for granted but flying really is magic. Especially helicopters. Think about it. You have a 16 to 30,000-pound hunk of metal-filled people weapons and equipment and it’s just floating there in the air. It defies the law of gravity. The main rotor disk generates the lift needed to lug this heavy weight of the deck. As a byproduct of this herculean effort, it creates significant prop wash and noise. The helicopter rotor wash can be hurricane-force-like in its debris and power. The noise inside the cabin is deafening. This makes utilizing this critical capability challenging to say the least. Most communication is passed with hand and arm signals. My job was to teach people knowledge and skills without breaking them physically. The goal of my helicopter block was to train in the hardest methods of employment. I needed to produce an operator capable of sliding down a 90-foot fast rope at night with NVGs, heavy equipment strapped to his body, with the added noise, rotor wash, and general confusion that a helicopter brings to the equation. I can still remember when this shared commonality clicked for me. I sat watching repetition after repetition being performed on the static tower trainer. The class in question just didn’t seem to understand how to slide down a fast rope or rappel off a ledge. The students fully kitted with body armor, helmet, weapon, climbing harness, and rucksacks would climb the steps to the top of the tower and wait in line for their turn to perform the designated insertion technique. Cumbersome and overburdened with the added weight of combat equipment the students would enter the mock-up helicopter. The instructors passed the hand and arm signals to simulate the environment they’d enter in the next couple of training days. Ten minutes, get your rucksack on, and check your helicopter restrains. Six minutes, dawn your heavy leather gloves and check to ensure your sun wind and dust goggles are coving your eyes. Your senses are now dulled. Your vision is obscured by the marked-up goggles from deflecting rocks. Your hands are now clumsy from having on the oversized gloves. One minute, disconnect from your helicopter restraint, lock and load your primary weapon and prepare for exit. The adrenaline floods your veins at this point. The general excitement is palpable as you prepare your body for the risk it’s about to take. Next is the command “Go”. In a deliberately slowed hurry-up fashion get out the frick. Every second counts, the helicopter is now exposed as it hovers in a potentially dangerous kill zone. Grasp the rope firmly, with hands and feet while fluidly spinning out to prevent snagging your equipment on the ramp of the ledge. Watching the students was like watching baby deer learning to walk for the first time. They were awkward and confused by the critical life skills that had been thrust upon them.
Student after student would plow into the ground or clumsily traverse over the ledge. I’d cringe at the breakneck speed of the operators’ rapid descents. Post-impact the students looked stunned. They tried to save face by sounding off “ OK SERGEANT” while looking tough and un-phased. I’d ask if they were actually hurt despite their superficial tough demeanor. This was followed by giving technique correction and telling them to climb the steps back to the top and repeat the event. Eventually, this class hit a breaking point. We were banging our heads against a wall expecting different results. Then it dawned on me, their focus and attention was in the wrong place. Each student was looking at the place they were coming from instead of where they were going. I immediately called a halt in training I called over the young class leader and told him to have his men grab some water and circle up. I survey the crowd, the students were beat-up, soaked in sweat, and striving to catch their breath. I leveled with them in my calm speech, “Your focus is in the wrong place. Once you’ve exited the helicopter it won’t do you any good to stare at the top of the rope that isn’t where you’re going. I get that the added weight compounded with the height of the tower is a daunting task, but wishing that you were back in the helicopter after you’ve left won’t make it so. Gravity is taking you to the ground. That’s where you’re attention needs to be. You need to look where you are going. You’re going down, so look down. Take another ten minutes to relax in the shade then strap on your rucks and body armor. We aren’t leaving today until we get it right.” So what's the point?? We do this same act in our everyday life. When you see a wreck on the side of the road what do you do? You rubberneck. You survey the damage to see what has happened. As you rubberneck, oftentimes your vehicle unintentionally begins to drift in the direction of your attention. You are drawn to the direction of where your attention lies. Even if you don’t drift in that direction you still feel the pull of the car like a moth to a flame. More importantly, this concept translates to our life in a larger way. Do you find yourself wishing you were in the past? Back in high school or college reliving the “glory days”. Do you wish today was Friday or after your kid's bedtime? Do you dream of a better reality for yourself? Do you dream of a better environment? Being aware of where your life focus is an intentional act. Mindfulness, prayer, and meditations are methods to dissect your thoughts and determine where your focus lies. So where is your focus and attention? I believe this is why Jesus implored his followers to “fix their eyes” on him. There are so many alluring distractions in today’s society that prevent us from attaining the future we want. Netflix, Hulu, youtube, Podcasts, amazon prime, Instagram, Facebook, and video games just to name a few. I am in no way condemning the act of being entertained. I am also not immune to their charms. Nor am I discounting the educational possibilities of each. I am only acknowledging the risk of its distraction and anesthesia. Everyone wants the ability to predict the future. Everyone wants to know what’s coming next so they can leverage it to their benefit; a back-to-the-future playbook that will give you powers and insight into stock trading. Insider information that will set you up for wealth and
power. Psychics read palms and predict your next love. What if I told you that I have learned how to predict and determine the future that you really want? How to set your own path to become what you want to become. It doesn’t work as you’d think though. It isn’t a passive game like the movies and fortune tellers would have you believe. It takes work and experience. It takes refining and shaping a skill set. If you want to learn how to be successful at transversing this fourth dimension we are living in you need to learn how to be successful at looking to the future. It reminds you what actions need to be taken to get to where you ultimately want to be.
You can find your ideal future by:
1. Determining direction 2. Planning for it 3. Visualizing it
We will break this down in the weeks to come.
A message to the readers- If you found my blog insightful, I recommend using it to develop yourself and those around you. See below for some questions to ask yourself.
Discussion questions: (select some or all of the questions below)
Do you have a clear sense of direction in your life?
Do you have an objective you're trying to reach?
Do you have personal values you want to attain?
Do you have something you'd like people to line up at your funeral and thank you for?
How are you planning to become the person you want to be?
How will you reach your objectives?
Picture the step you need to take to get there.