By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
In our ongoing LEADERSHIP 101 series, we’ve addressed the warrior (competitive) nature inherent in any true leader who has mastered the art, as well as the importance of the soul (an embracing of our spiritual nature). Remember the five mountains – Body, mind, intuition, emotion, and spirit?
There is also the sacrificial nature of the warrior leader – the willingness to give of oneself to the point of even the most extreme sacrifice – that we find when we combine the warrior’s competitive nature with the development of his spirit. It’s an interesting combination because the competitive leader wants to win. He wants to win to both achieve the goal set before him and to set the example as a leader. Yet if the leader is spiritually advanced, he is also purely SELFLESS. He has a deep desire to put others first, not necessarily desiring to achieve the goal for the goal’s sake, but for something much more altruistic.
What we find in such a leader is one who still desires to win on a personal level, but his motivations for wanting to win are also wrapped up in the responsibility he has to – and feels for – his men.
We’ll get into this in greater detail over the next few pieces in our series. But I’d first like to provide an anecdotal illustration of the idea that a truly competitive leader – desiring to achieve a goal for the goal’s sake – has an equally powerful need to set the example by achieving that goal. He (or she) is also bound by the transcendental laws of leadership to never quit on his (or her) quest to achieving a goal. And there are things of the spirit he (or she) may draw on so as to never quit in any quest of a goal.
This anecdote – minor as it may seem (and minor it is in the scheme of life) – is what we will refer to as the Awendaw Hump.
THE AWENDAW HUMP
During a recent 25K (15 mile) hump (“hike” for those who have never served in a Marine rifle company) jointly conducted with the S.C. State Guard, The Citadel, a handful of S.C. Army National Guardsmen, and a few U.S. Marines; I found myself – as one of the leaders – in just such a situation.
The hump – wherein each man was loaded-down with 75 pounds of gear on his back – was made over a concrete-hard, gravely logging road running through a remote stretch of the Francis Marion National Forest near the fishing village of Awendaw, S.C., between Charleston and Georgetown. The exercise’s objective was to deliver that gear to a makeshift forward operating base (FOB) at the 7.5-mile mark. Then turn around and walk back. Easy enough, right? Wrong.
THE WEIGHT WAS THE KILLER
Frankly, the distance was nothing. But the distance combined with the load – 75 pounds at a minimum (82 pounds of free weights stuffed in my pack) – was enough to slowly grind an NFL linebacker into the road unless he was conditioned to carry such. It was a special-operations load. For perspective, the U.S. Army’s DELTA Force assessment hump requires a 75-pound load, though their distance is far greater.
We all started out briskly. The Marines – being younger and extremely fit – and the Citadel cadets quickly outpaced everyone else. One of the Marine NCOs just back from an overseas deployment, said to several of his men, “Pace yourself, boys. That FOB isn’t going anywhere, and nobody is shooting at us.”
At 53, I was one of the older guys, but had been training for months to do this, and had humped great distances with similar weight as a Marine infantryman, years earlier.
Nevertheless, and for whatever reason (improper socks, brand-new boots, not very smart), after about a mile or so, I began developing hot spots on my feet. By the three-mile mark, my feet were on fire, badly blistered, and frankly a bloody mess. By the fifth mile, my lower back, shoulders, thighs, knees, and calves were suffering; and the pain in my now-wretched feet was sheer agony.
A young cadet fell out ahead of me. Others, I learned (from the occasionally passing security vehicle), were dropping out. Most were pressing forward.
I knew I wouldn’t drop. I had been through worse training evolutions. But there came a point at about the six-mile mark where – in addition to the pain – I simply gave out of gas. There was nothing left in me. Yet I kept putting one foot ahead of the other. I was alone on an isolated stretch of the road with several participants far ahead, and many who were far behind me.
I then considered several things.
First – as I learned in a SEALFIT mind-conditioning course I’ve been taking (taught by friend and retired U.S. Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine), “You are capable of 20 times more than you think you are.”
Second, I said to myself, “I only need to go another 50 yards before I will stop, drink water, and take a one-minute breather [in other words, establish mini-goals to achieve the maximum-goal].”
Third, I was faced with the toughest reality; I have nothing left in me, but because I am a leader (and a Marine with nearly 237 years of tradition sitting on top of that 82-pound pack), I will literally have to die before I stop.
That’s when I halted in the middle of the road – cicadas chirping in 90-degree heat with the brutal Lowcountry humidity, no breeze, no shade from the searing sun, raw bloody feet, and a back-punishing field-pack – and I turned to God.
I remember saying something like: “Please, God, help me. I am not able to go on, yet I have to. I have no choice whatsoever because I am the leader. Please give me now what I don’t have. In Philippians I’ve read, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ And as I’ve read in Mark, ‘I believe [You can help me]. Help my unbelief.’”
Had I not been developing spiritually over the past year – as I had been preparing physically – I doubt I would have heard God’s still, quiet, inaudible voice whispering through the heat and the pain. But I did. I took another step, then another, and He told me to “Go on.”
Rounding a bend, I saw two other men ahead, Sgt. Maj. Bob Dandrea and Sgt. Maj. Mark Freeman. They had stopped to drink, which enabled me to catch up. And from there – though still agonizingly tough – the company of these two men (and Dandrea’s sharp wit and humor) not only made it bearable to the finish line, but washed away the physical reality that I had nothing left.
“Boy this road seems endless,” I said, to which the Sgt. Maj. quipped in his Brooklyn brogue, “What is this ‘endless’ bit, sir? Am I gonna have to carry you.” We all started laughing. The physical pain didn’t diminish, but now with laughter there was sunlight and an infusion of just enough energy to finish the hump.
We’re going to look more closely at the relationship between the warrior (competitive) nature of the leader and the importance of the leader’s spiritual nature as the series continues. Previous Leadership 101 pieces are available here. If you have questions or suggestions, I’m at [email protected]
– W. Thomas Smith Jr. is a former U.S. Marine rifle-squad leader and counterterrorism instructor who writes about military/defense issues and has covered conflict in the Balkans, on the West Bank, in Iraq and Lebanon. He directs the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team. He is the author of six books, and his articles appear in a variety of publications. Smith’s website is uswriter.com.