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The Number One Rule Successful People Know

Written by Whiskey Tango

INDOC-BALLZ 05-03 Graduating Class (minus 2)

Bottom Line Upfront- There is no horn when chasing after your dream. Quitting is not an option.

Short Story-My First Pool Session at Pararescue's Indoc-2003

The bus arrived at the Chaparral pool on Lackland Air Force Base. The outdoor pool is fifty meters and twelve feet deep. The summer air was thick and the ground cooked up waves from the asphalt. We rushed off the bus and into the locker room. All eighty-five of us crammed into a dressing area designed for 25 people. I stripped out of my camouflage uniform and shiny boots. I tried to neatly fold my clothes as my body ping-ponged off of naked strangers in the tightly packed locker room. The atmosphere was chaotic and rushed. Shouting erupted from the cadre. The fear descended into the room. I was about to undergo one of the toughest selections in the department of defense. I had been training hard for this moment. In my gut, I knew all of my preparation had not readied me for this.

Garden hoses sprayed the crowd of naked men and instructors hurled chairs and insults at us as we rushed to get into our swim gear. I was trying to squeeze my 145lbs of skin and bones into gray children’s medium T-shirt. You read that correctly I was trying to fit into a child’s piece of clothing. I had one day to prepare in between finishing basic training and beginning Indoc and I spent it shopping in the kid's aisle of the Base Exchange. This skin-tight belly shirt was to prevent Cadre from easily grabbing you during “water confidence” as well as maintain maximum hydrodynamics. I had no clue what the hell I was doing or why I was wearing this ridiculous get-up. It was day one and I just listened to the other students that had been there before in hopes that they would set me up for success. Fortunately, I was not the only one dressed in a belly shirt with a speedo. Everyone was.

Our class rushed out of the locker room and into a swarm of angry instructors. Under the duress of the cadre, we lined up our masks, fins, and snorkel on the pool's gunnel. It was a dress right dress exercise doomed to fail. We tried to lay our equipment to perfection and stood behind our gear at attention once complete. We waited for the hammer to drop. The instructors eyed our equipment in silence. They stalked behind us like predators waiting to pounce. The air was a mixture of fear and chlorine. Multiple infractions were identified and rattled off. I felt like a terrible shopping list was being read to me. Ropes--pointed in different directions. Water bottle name tapes-- not uniform. Fins--misaligned. The cadre exploded and directed us into a series of flutter kicks and push up for the next twenty minutes. My legs and arms were on fire as hundreds of calisthenics were performed. We had executed a max effort PT test earlier that day. The sharks didn't care. They acted like we hadn't even begun to work out. Approximately two minutes after the entire class had been pushed passed the point of muscle failure the smoke session ended. It ended as abruptly as a rainstorm does in Florida. Raining one second and sunshine the next. The environment shifted to eerily tame. I worried about what was next.

The lead instructor began to speak. He calmly explained the act and importance of buddy breathing. Buddy breathing is a “water confidence” drill where two students float face down in the water. Students in Indoc are also known as Coneheads or cones for short. Two Cones are connected and pass a single snorkel back and forth. The exercise teaches you the power of teamwork by relying on your buddy and sharing the same lifeline. One hand is grasping the black and orange snorkel and the other is connected firmly to your buddy’s wrist. The snorkel is passed back and forth in a rhythm. Forcefully exhale, take one or two breaths, and then pass the snorkel to your buddy. Your buddy is your lifeline.

This is a pretty easy drill once you learn the art of floating. It’s easy except that the sharks get you for two and a half minutes of playtime. Once time begins the instructors begin the harassment, gator rolls, flooding the snorkel with pool water, choke holds, and dunking. They are even known to grab and rip student T-shirts. That is if they can get a hold of any of the fabric. This is where the kid's shirt comes into play. Anything goes it’s an all-out slugfest until the time stops.

Did I mention that this was day one and I had never heard of this before? The sharks were calm and they swore that this pool session was strictly to get down the process of buddy breathing. The instructors told us that this event would be without instructor harassment. They instructed us to count off, buddy up in pairs, enter the water and swim to the deep end of the pool. The preparatory command was given by the cadre ”PREPARE TO ENTER THE WATER”. I seal my mask with three fingers of my left hand while my right thumb hooked into my speedo. All at once everyone looked left then right then center then gave a million-mile stare at the horizon. Next cadre command” ENTER THE WATER. ”We chanted back our melodic team response, “ENTERING THE WATER SERGEANT”. With a giant splash, eighty-five Coneheads rolled into the highly chlorinated water. The large team's water birth was clumsy and disjointed. The instructors shouted their disgust at our lack of uniformity.

I felt like I was an outsider trying to participate in a cult ritual. Everyone else seemed to know exactly what to do. I was just a stutter-step behind them. My paranoia ran deep. At any moment I would be found out. Someone would tear off my mask and scream “HEY THIS GUY ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE HERE”. I was a pretender and I thought everyone must know it. I popped out of the water and shot an “ok sergeant” to the closest instructor. Simultaneously my right hand made an ok symbol and bounced off the center of my chest. Shouting erupted to swim to the deep end of the pool. A mass of legs and arms pounded the water all at once. Unfamiliar feet attacked my face as they attempted to propel themselves through the water. I saw men get trampled to the bottom of the shallow end as the school of minnows headed to its destination.

Once in place, we began the drill of buddy breathing. Our large class size was a super tight fit in the 12-foot-deep end of the Chaparral Pool. My buddy and I paired up and began this strange and new process. I was confused as I attempted to learn this foreign water dance for the first time. I wanted to make a good first impression, but the act of buddy breathing was strange to me. I tried to tread water with my legs and hold tight to my buddy and the snorkel. This was a critical mistake. I waited for my turn to breathe but I was burning through oxygen by treading water. Try to hold your breath and run down the block. It’s harder than you’d think. My diaphragm spontaneously convulsed as my body reminded me that I needed to breathe. My eyes bulged and my neck veins distended as I fought my subconscious for control over the need for life-giving oxygen. My muscles tensed from the mental struggle adding to my depleted state. I panicked and gave myself over to my body's urges. Eventually, I started popping up to the surface in-between snorkel passing. I was trying to sneak in breaths in the hopes that the instructors wouldn’t notice me cheating on the easy practice they had provided. No such luck. I was spotted by one of the Cadre and I could hear the shouts to swim to the side of the pool. I had been spotted for what I was an imposter.

I tried to hide from my situation, but I could hear the muffled screams in-between breaths as I popped up and down underwater. I tried to pretend like I didn’t hear them, but this only enraged the dryland sharks. Eventually, I gave in. I disconnected from my buddy, and I swam sheepishly to the side of the pool. There were 4-5 instructors in my face yelling by the time I got to the gunnel. This chaos made deciphering what to do next even more difficult. I flopped out of the water and one of them began shouting at me to begin flutter kicks. Flutter kicks are an exercise where you lie on your back and flutter your legs in the air with your hands underneath your butt. I was then instructed to dawn my mask as I saw one of the instructors unrolling a nearby garden hose. Where do all of these hoses come from? Confusion set in as to what was going to happen next. The hose came on and the water was force feed into my oval-shaped black and yellow dive mask. I was given the order to tilt my head back and breathe.

It felt like how I imagined water torture. I had gone out of the fire and into the frying pan. The water ran through my nasal passage and into the back of my throat. I began to choke and gag as they gave me special instructions as to how to best conduct the act of buddy breathing. I have to be honest none of their good instruction was sinking in. I was in straight survival mode. I was interrogated about my mental aptitude, my character, about my manhood. Nothing was off limits. Then one of the cadre got the bright idea to teach me how to buddy breath on dry land using my snorkel. He said, “It would be easier for me this way”. It was not. He had me place my snorkel in my mouth while he put the hose in it so I could learn to clear water out of my snorkel. Water in my eyes, water running down my throat, water in my mouth, and probably in my lungs. If I had been a fish, I would have been fine. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been issued gills yet. It was at this point I began puking up my breakfast. I had French toast and lucky charms all over my children’s medium swim shirt. After a few rounds of this “snorkel clearing” drill I was told to recover. I suspect that this was due to my sad state and puke-covered kid’s outfit. I was directed to enter the water and try again. After all, I had been given expert instruction and special one-on-one correction. Every chance for success. I was dazed and felt like I just went through a dry land drowning experience I searched for my buddy whom I’d never met. As I sat on the side of the pool trying to catch my breath the world looked like the inside of a fishbowl. The instructors told me I was moving too slowly. This was because my mask was still filled with hose water. I dumped the mask to clear my vision before entering the pool. The sharks blew up. Rage erupted. The entire process started over. Flutter kicks. Flooded mask. Snorkel clearing. I had broken some unspoken rule of not waiting until I was underwater to clear my mask of water. What an idiot right? I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I had made a huge mistake by coming into the Air Force. I was in way over my head.

As I laid back down on my back the shouts of the cadre began to quiet down. The world began to fade, and my mind went into a trance. My legs moved in rhythmic flutters. I was trying to escape myself. My mind retreated into a dark cave. Fear was temporally washed away. The puke was sprayed off my shirt and onto the concrete. I contemplated quitting while existing outside myself. I watched myself getting yelled at by the instructors. "JUST QUIT!!" they shouted. Another, "GET YOUR ASS UP OFF MY POOL DECK AND DO YOUR TEAM A FAVOR AND BLOW THE DAMN HORN". I glanced at the diving board to see an air horn there waiting for someone to grab it. There were two options. One, walk over to the horn, grab it, raise it over my head, depress the airhorn's red button, and shout the words, "I QUIT!". Or two, stay here in this moment and endure. Another instructor broke my thoughts, "WE ALL KNOW YOU'RE GONNA DO IT!!". I considered the second and third-order effects of phone calls to loved ones. I thought of all the people I’d have to face and tell them I couldn’t do it. I’d have to tell them they were right I wasn’t supposed to make it. They were SOOO right that I had to quit on the first day as the first one out of eighty-five. I was the only one who had a hard time with this event. I was too stupid and too physically lacking to understand the first water confidence exercise. As I was considering my fate somewhere distant the instructors were busy hammering my body. Water in my lungs. Burning muscles. Eyes burning from the chemicals in the water. Then all of the sudden. It stopped. The instructors had run out of time for that event. I had learned nothing from the encounter and tomorrow we’d try the event again. I got up like a brainless zombie executing commands but not knowing what was happening.

I felt lucky to limp away without ringing any bells or blowing any horns. I even got some respect from the instructors after the pool session. They said, “Hey you, I thought you were going to quit today but you didn’t. Not bad”. Little did they know I was contemplating it at that very moment. I was still outside myself. I was analyzing other Air Force jobs that would still be cool. Thinking about calling my parents and trying to tell them I didn’t have what it took to make it. Thinking about calling my girlfriend and wondering if she’d dump me for being a loser. I felt strung out and hopeless. I had been crushed on that smoke session. My lungs felt heavy and full of liquid. I wasn’t sure how I would survive ten more weeks of this. This was just day one. Worst of all I hadn’t learned how to buddy breathe. Tomorrow was going to be rough. I needed to learn from my experience, but I didn’t know what sense to make of the melee that had just happened to me. I couldn't give up on my dream of being a pararescueman. I wanted to wear the coveted Maroon Beret.

What did I learn?- The road to success is littered with obstacles. In the process of chasing down your dreams, pain is mandatory. The temptation is to hide from the pain. To retreat into our mind cave. The temptation is to give up and blow the horn. Successful people know there is no horn when chasing your dream. Here are three steps to avoid blowing the horn and giving up on your purpose in life.

The Three F's

1) Find your Beret. My conviction at the time was to be a Pararescueman and attain the coveted maroon beret. I would do whatever it took to earn my beret. Find your conviction and hold fast to it.

2) Find your buddy. I failed two major things that day. I failed to relax and I failed to hold on to my buddy. When you fail look for your team to pick you up. If you don't have a buddy get one. Care deeply for your teammates. If you do, they will be the ones to carry you through the coldest darkest nights. While you're waiting for reinforcements keep fighting back.

3)Find Feedback. This one is the hardest. After my pool session, I had to ask for help. This was a hit to my pride. Everyone knew I had performed terribly that day. Yet, it still hurt to ask for help. So crush that thing you call pride. Find an expert and say, "I'm not giving up, but I need your help to succeed.".


Team Building Activity (virtual or in person)

A message to the readers- If you found my blog insightful, I recommend using it to develop the team you lead. If you don't lead a team consider passing it to someone who does or shoot me a message with your answers. Listed below is a team-building activity that works with the blog above. Don't be afraid to get personal.

Instructions: Choose one of the following ways.

  1. Have your team preread the above blog and schedule a time to drive discussion questions below

  2. Schedule a lunch and learn session where you carve out time to read the blog together and then review the discussion questions below.

  3. Have your team preread the blog and use the discussion questions as an opener to your weekly meetings.

Discussion questions: (select some or all of the questions below)

  1. Name a time when you felt overwhelmed in your life.

  2. Do you have a personal dream or conviction that you are excited about?

  3. How would you describe the purpose of the organization?

  4. How can this organization help you achieve your dream?

    1. Do you feel like your dream and the organization's purpose are in conflict?

  5. Teamwork is critical, are there portions of our organization where we might be unintentionally isolating individuals?

  6. Do you have a "buddy" you can rely on when you feel like you are drowning?

  7. How can we foster a team that is more cohesive?

  8. How can we resource you to find answers when you are in crisis?


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