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October 20, 2020


I sat up slowly. My head spinning, with the taste of blood in my mouth.  I must have bit my tongue, again. I was wearing wet BDUs, a buoyancy compensator vest, and scuba booties.

Why was I shaking so badly? As I half lay, half sat on the pool deck, I found myself being supported by someone in similar attire as myself.  My world came back into focus and I found myself staring into the serious face of a cadre.  A commanding personality who appeared slightly concerned, but mostly annoyed.  “Are you okay?” he barked.  “Hooyah, Sergeant” came my automatic and well-rehearsed response, albeit with slightly less gusto than usual.

It was coming back to me now. I’d been on the home stretch of a 50-meter underwater swim that was going painfully slow, thanks to my utter exhaustion and the drag of my uniform underwater. Everything had started to lose color, my vision began to close in, and then…blackness.  Every PJ trainee knows this could happen to them at some point during selection.  Internally this is referred to as “Seeing the Wizard.”  Also known as a Shallow Water Blackout, a highly dangerous event in nearly all other circumstances.  Yet in this training environment, safety nets are in place to minimize the risk of injury or death, although that sometimes can still occur. Thankfully, my swim buddy was watching me intently as he swam above me at the surface.  Taking notice of my change in consciousness, and dragged my limp body to the side of the pool and then onto the deck, where I now found myself.

That incident was just one small part of one of the longest, most torturous, days in this Pararescue trainee’s experience. It was around 2:00 A.M. and the remnants of my Indoc team had been suffering through Hell Night, a 30-plus hour non-stop smoke-sessions, full of creative callisthenic, grass and gorilla tortures, seemingly endless runs, ruck marches, and extended water confidence training, such as the one leading to my visit with the wizard.

These are the times that gut-check your intestinal fortitude, commitment to teamwork and the end goal. It measures your ability to suck it up and live out the motto that echoes through the proving grounds of US Air Force Special Operations, HOOYAH NEVER QUIT!

Although this event took place 17 years ago, it’s as vivid now as it was the day it happened. In fact, probably clearer considering my lack of oxygen at the time it took place.  There are many applicable lessons from our various past experiences that, when applied appropriately can benefit us in our present and future situations. For example, as a result of my time in the Pararescue Community, I am significantly better prepared for the challenges I face as a First Responder, protector of my family, and community member. Many of these SOF lessons are especially valuable for those of us who are part of the civilian sheepdog community.  With many stories and lessons to share in the future, here is the one I share today: FIND YOUR LIMITS.

Just because they called it “Superman School” doesn’t make someone who finishes it invincible like the Man of Steel, himself.  As human beings, we are only capable of so much.  When proper preparation is absent, failure is certain.

It is important to know what we are capable of, and equally, what we are not.  However, we must regularly challenge these limits so that we can expand our capabilities.  Think, growth mindset. Existing limits are NOT set in stone.  Failure is not the end result, only a highlight of areas we need to improve upon.  For example, if you cannot complete a 25-meter underwater breath-hold swim without passing out or crapping yourself, it doesn’t mean that with practice and a little technique you won’t soon be crushing that former limit and have moved onto the next challenge. This same principle applies to nearly every aspect of our lives: the classroom, the pool, the office, the track, shooting range, gym…you get the picture.

Yet, the only way to allow for growth is if we are willing to identify and push these existing limits. In the same spirit, don’t be afraid to fail…as long as you can do that safely too.  For example, if you are a civilian gun owner, and you never took a basic training class, or went to the range to increase your familiarization with your firearm, you won’t know what your shooting capabilities are. Our pride and desire not to look “like noobs” (my kid’s words not mine) inevitably put ourselves and our loved ones at greater risk.

Do you ever wonder why SWAT Officers and Special Operators spend so much time at the range, running speed and stress drills and in competition with one another?  It’s not just for bragging rights, but rather to stress their comfort zone, identify their limits, and move past them.

It’s only through training that I know I’m comfortable and capable of taking a headshot during a hostage rescue drill from a certain distance, but I’m much less comfortable with that same shot at distances beyond a certain mark. For me, until I’m willing to swallow my pride, willing to fail (safely), and willing to compete with guys whose shooting skills make me look like a novice, I can’t hope to expand my existing capability, making me a more proficient guardian.

With the right mindset and proper training, the safety of individuals and our community as a whole increase dramatically. Fight the temptation to stay within your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to fail, for this is how we learn and grow. So, with that said, take responsibility, know your limits, go out and train, and HOOYAH NEVER QUIT!


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