EIGHT THINGS I LEARNED FROM MY UNCLE SAM |
June 17, 2010
Name: Charle Sherpa
Posting date: 6/17/10
Deploying to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Email: Sherpa at RedBullRising.com
I've recently begun listing off all the lessons I've learned while wearing my country's uniform for more than 20 years. Here's a start:
1. 'LIFE, LIMB, AND EYESIGHT.' EVERYTHING ELSE IS SMALL STUFF.
I wish I'd maintained the clarity and perspective I had after I first deployed. Everything was simple, especially when you applied the criteria used for declaring an "significant event" in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC). Downrange, if a soldier or civilian was at risk of losing life, limb, or eyesight, you had yourself an emergency. It was time to coordinate medevac, move people and equipment, and wake the commander up. Otherwise, it wasn't something to get all spun up about.
It works for parenting, too. Especially after some sort of spill.
2. PLAN BACKWARDS
Here's how backwards planning works: Identify the deadline by which something must happen, then identify in reverse each step required to get there. I once thought this was obvious -- until I found myself working on a church committee. The group was headed up by fellow congregant who was a professional "process manager." He was very good at identifying "inputs" and "outputs," and not so very good at setting deadlines. Drove me insane.
The Army teaches you how to avoid the trap of analysis paralysis. State the mission -- the who, what, where, when -- then, plan to make things happen. Then, make it happen.
3. YOUR TEAM NEEDS MORE TIME THAN YOU (NEED TO) THINK
Also known as the "one-thirds, two-thirds" rule: To optimize their chances of success, your teammates need twice as much time as you will in making the plan. Take one-third of the remaining time for yourself, and allow them two-thirds of the available time for preparation and rehearsal. Give people as much information as you can as early as you can. That way, even if your plans change, they'll be further down the proverbial road than if you had horded information until the last possible moment.
The best plan at the last minute will likely fail, because people need time to make it their own.
4. MAINTAIN NOISE AND LIGHT DISCIPLINE
When we were dating, Household-6 took me on a reunion trip with some former backpacking camp counselors. Given my Army training, I spent whole days freaking out about wearing bright colors, banging metal, and traveling in non-tactical formation. After I figured out that we were more likely to be attacked by a bear than with hand grenades, I was able to lighten up a bit. (Get it? "Lighten"? I crack me up.)
In uniform, however, I still try to minimize noise and light while out in the field -- even though I'm probably standing right next to the biggest inflatable structure in the forest, along with enough loud-humming power generators to power a small building. Even given these conditions, I trust that my red-lens flashlight will keep me safe, unheard and unseen.
I am like a ninja that way. A ninja who lives in a circus tent.
5. USE RADIO-TELEPHONE PROCEDURE, OVER
Here's a confession: I gave up trying to lose the habit of speaking in radio-telephone lingo a long time ago. Instead of "bye-bye," I close my telephone conversations with "OUT." When I call someone -- even a good friend, I'm likely to identify myself like I would on the radio: "Friend? THIS IS ..." For the record, Scout, they're called "procedure words" or "pro-words."
Years later, I knew I'd married well when Household-6 was about to give me some information over the telephone. When she told me to "PREPARE TO COPY," I fell in love all over again.
I realize it all sounds a little silly, of course, but there's some family tradition here, too. Maybe that's really why I keep doing it. For the longest time, for example, my parents would talk over little Sherpa's head by using the same international phonetic alphabet the Army would eventually teach me. Example: "Time to give Sherpa a Bravo-Alpha-Tango-Hotel."
Take the first letter in each word. Get it now? I sure didn't.
Even if a kid can spell, the phonetic alphabet adds another layer of encryption. Used in short bursts, it's a parental Enigma machine.
In another example, I remember listening to my mother talk to my overseas Air Force father via some sort of telephone-to-radio link. It was a Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS) call, that reached all the way into our kitchen telephone. I remember that Mom had to say "over" at the end of each thought, to let my father know it was his turn to talk. I also remember wondering how, exactly, my father was on Mars.
"I love you, OVER ..."
6. KEEP YOUR KNEES BENT
Whether you're on guard duty, or standing in some hours-long formation while 16 bloviating general officers wish you luck and give you advice, it's a good idea never to lock your knees. People pass out that way.
You can stand for hours with your knees bent slightly. Think of it as skiing, without the hills, the scenery, or the fun.
7. THE WORST THING ABOUT GETTING WET IS GETTING WET
Some of my basic Army training took place at Fort Lewis, Wash. That's when I learned that parts of Washington state qualify as sub-tropical rain forest. It rained and drizzled constantly.
We had meager rain gear in those days -- a rubberized poncho was about it. The worst part of the experience was when you were still a little dry, and you started to feel the soggy, creepy cold crawl up your skin: Your boots got wet, your socks got wet, your pants got wet -- you got wet. After that, it warn't nothing but a thing. You still had to watch yourself for trench foot or hypothermia, of course, but the worst thing about getting wet wasn't the water, it was getting wet. Everything after that was just more of the same.
8. SEEK RESPONSIBILITY, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY
I remember seeing a squad of infantry introduce themselves, one by one, to an audience of us new recruits. Each one sounded off with name, rank, and their function on the team: "Grenadier," "rifleman," "radio-telephone operator," and the like. After naming their position, they'd rattle off their responsibilities: "I am responsible for ..."The squad leader stepped forward last. "I am responsible for everything my squad does, or fails to do."
I can't tell you how many times I've waited to hear a political or business leader say something like that. Step up, say your name, take ownership of what happened. Tell people what you'll make happen, and let yourself be judged on performance.