Categories: military work life balance

Learning the "Secret" of Being a Boss on the Battlefield AND in Life Part 1 of 2

Almost 13 years after joining the Marine Corps, MSgt Rudd's marriage was crumbling as he and his wife were emotionally distant, he was not the father he wanted to be, and internally he was struggling with dealing with the violence he had witnessed and participated in. He was struggling with burnout, but on a deeper level he was struggling with a sucking chest wound of finding an elusive sense of satisfaction in life. What was the problem? It seemed the darkness would overtake this operator...

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Yesterday I shared with you in the blog post Developing the Inspiration to Fight for Victory on the Battlefield and in Life Part 3 of 3 how an absolute “boss” on the battlefield, Master Sergeant John Rudd, was living the warrior’s dream of saving lives and killing bad guys on the battlefield. However, his personal life was slowly eroding and eventually almost crashed in 2015 after years of “chasing the dragon” following initial entering the Marine Corps in 2002. He had attained great success on the battlefield to include earning decorations such as the Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinction as well as the Bronze Star with Combat Distinction. He joined the ranks of some of the most elite warriors the world has ever known inside the Marine Raiders. He is a highly skilled Explosive Ordnance Device (EOD) technician who defused literally hundreds of bombs while ALSO being a highly deadly gunslinger who is the worst nightmare to our nation's enemies on the battlefield. He is by every definition a “Marine’s Marine” and certainly a “man’s man” who has lived the dream that in a sense many young men grow up having in terms of slaying bad guys and heroically saving the lives of fellow warriors and civilians from enemy combatants.

However, almost 13 years after initially joining the Marine Corps, MSgt John Rudd's marriage was crumbling as he and his wife were emotionally distant, he was not the father he wanted to be, and internally he was struggling with dealing with the violence he had witnessed and participated in. He was struggling with burnout, but on a deeper level he was struggling with a sucking chest wound of finding an elusive sense of satisfaction in life. What was the problem? It seemed the darkness would overtake this operator...

I have listened to podcasts where John shared his story and being a Marine myself with an active role in the veteran/military non-profit community, I have been witness to many stories like John’s. The reaction of some individuals who have never served before could be summed up from this one well meaning pastor exclaiming something to the effect of: “I hope the government takes note of this man’s story and does something different to take better care of our men and women.”

If only it were that simple. As if the “government” is some individual person who can just magically flip a switch and make everything better. One clue that this is such as a naive thought is that that 75% of the US Federal Government Executive Branch is made up of Department of Defense individuals who are in some form or fashion paid to be part of the national defense of the US. The vast majority are active duty and reserve military servicemembers. And being a member and agent of the “government” myself, I can attest that military leaders as a whole “do care” very deeply about the negative issues that that war and military service has placed on the best and brightest men and women are nation has known. In fact, this is very important to them because servicemembers are humans and not machines who must be in such a state of personal readiness to be able to go, fight, and win when their nation calls on short notice. Anything less is a national security issue that will lead to problems on the battlefield and back at home. Untold amounts of taxpayer dollars have been poured into training and warrior care programs to make stories like John’s different although with less than satisfying results.

John also shared some insight to the darkness of his life in 2015 with a common sarcastic saying among his peers in EOD community that EOD really stands for “Everyone Divorced”. So being a member of units is like EOD causes = divorce right? Hmm, not sure if that is the real issue still because there ARE elite professionals who still do have solid personal lives.

I was talking to another Marine professional a little while ago with a similiar highly skilled and highly demanding profession similiar to the USMC EOD field called Counterintelligence/Human Intelligence for what some civilians would think of as a “James Bond like spy”. There are aspects of the real life job that play out in the movies and then of course the movies is also just the movies. This Marine senior enlisted leader asked me point blank if I thought as a fellow Marine if you could be an excellent Marine AND have a good family life. He wasn’t sure as he not seen a lot of good examples himself if any. He told me how it seemed especially in the senior leader ranks there was a joke of the “first marriage is a practice one”, the second one is the real one. Of course, this second marriage is one that sustains towards the end of a senior leader’s career both enlisted and officer. I had heard something similar listening to a story of one Chief Warrant Officer whose ex-wife told him, “you were a great Marine, but you sucked at being a husband.”

Obviously there is a problem especially with military men who find success in their jobs but seem to really struggle with having a successful personal life for one reason or the other.

Of course, when men like John start to experience major issues in their lives such as marital dysfunction and dissatisfaction after years of deployments and training there is a tendency to blame post traumatic stress, the long separations away from family, or the military institution itself as the problem.

Thus the apparent answer is for men and women to either a) never join, b) the government never sends men and women into harm’s way, or c) assume men and women will go to war but they and the military institution should just come to the reality that they are making a choice to push aside the hope of personal satisfaction and a healthy family by choosing to serve their nation.

You might be thinking, where do you logically come up with those answers Chris? The truth is that these answers aren't formed in my own head but certainly have come up as talking points in various forms or another in households or the marketplace all the time. For example, my dad didn't want me to join the military because he felt that political leaders would make decisions that would ultimately lead to his son's death. I had family members who thought I could "do better" than military service. The other day while having a beer with some military friends of mine, I learned that my story was not unique as they shared similiar stories of their own relatives making similiar statements. Before joining the military my brother told me that I shouldn't plan on getting married while in the military because being separated from my family often would only lead to family problems. Then of course, while in the military, I hear and see the notion from fellow warriors who while believing in the ideals of service to their country have lost faith that it can be done while achieving success in their personal lives as well. This results in generally a binary solution: a) get out or b) resign yourself to the fact that your personal life will be somewhat of a mess but it is justified under the circumstances. It seems there is no middle ground solution, or is there?

Obviously none of these are satisfactory answers to deep problems are military and country faces in the midst of a world where evil never ceases to plot harm and courageous men and women need to stand in the gap and doing something about it.

Thankfully during 2015 for John Rudd, he had a Master Gunnery Sergeant in his life who purposefully took him out of the operational line up with the Marine Raiders and sent him to the schoolhouse instead which gave him a breather in life. By John’s definition, this literally saved his life and marriage allowing him the opportunity to process what was going on inside and in his personal life. As he processed his adult life story, he noticed a recurring pattern: pursuit and disappointment as he pursued what he THOUGHT would satisfy him. You see, John entered adulthood without a clear identity. What do you mean by this you might ask? I think by telling a little more of the back story to John's life besides just his time in combat the answer will start to make more sense.

John joined the Marine Corps thinking that the Marines would make him into a man and give him a sense of purpose that he was missing. He bought into the ideals of the organization which were good, but he was not prepared for the realities of corruption among the ranks. He married young right before he started boot camp only to come home and find out that his ex-wife slept with his recruiter! What! How could this happen?

John pushed on past a failed marriage and major disillusionment with the Marine Corps, but he still loved the organization and was able to continue to succeed. When he first joined, he was initially in the reserves. He eventually was accepted to active duty and itching to “get into the fight” of the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he joined the elite EOD units. He felt that would finally give him his break of finding satisfaction defusing bombs and killing bad guys. Well in 2008 he got to finally deploy to Iraq only to find that he was late for the big Iraq fighting. He was deeply disappointed.

Soon though in 2010, John scored a slot in a prestigious platoon and would deploy to Afghanistan. He would receive a Bronze Star with Combat Distinction for saving a little girls life in between hand jamming an IED all while managing a tough medevac. I told you this guy was a boss. From what he told me personally, he remembers when he first took a life but after that…he couldn’t count how many enemy combatants he had to kill.

In a sense, John was really living the dream he had and thought his job alone would bring satisfaction. However, the violence of the deployment was more than what John expected. That being said, he was incredible at his tradecraft and he wanted to try out his metal with the elite Marine Raider units. He got his wish.

John joined the elite Marine Raider units a.k.a. Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC) in 2013 and deployed again in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During this particular deployment, he and his team dodged death on a constant basis. In a series of events, John had to fight hand to hand for his life in a small room and got caught in an ambush by the enemy that turned into an all day gunfight to the death. Thankfully John and his brothers lived to tell the story. For his actions he received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Combat Distinction “V”.

However, at this point, John and his team of Marine Raiders were starting to fall apart. What he and they thought would satisfy them in terms of achieving glory and accolades on the battlefield wasn’t helping their personal lives. Not one bit. Was the issue just separation from family, dealing with the stress of constant danger? Partly. But it wasn’t the whole story though.

John’s Master Gunnery Sergeant ("Master Guns" as we like to call them in the Marine Corps) made a tough choice to force one of his most promising gunslingers to take a knee and train other warriors at the Marine EOD school house. During this time, John was:

Forced to stop chasing glory.

Forced to focus on others.

Discovered he was broken and had to get healthy in order to teach healthy to warriors coming up in the ranks.

Interesting enough, rather than John tell glory and war stories to junior Marines, he spoke about his mistakes along the way in his adult life and career that eventually was the real driving success to helping his Marines succeed.

He also recognized one of the biggest issues he had was that he had made the ideal of chasing glory on the battlefield his sole purpose for living. In this he had pushed his faith in God and his relationship with his wife and kids to a low priority.

It was in this realization that John would start to realign his priorities as he reflected on what being a man was really all about and where his true identity should lie. It wasn’t that being a beast on the battlefield was the problem. No, the problem was that he had made that the singular focus on his life and neglected the other parts of his life which subsequently REDUCED his effectiveness as a warrior, not the other way around.

With the same tenacity of what it took to become one of the few individuals trusted to defuse bombs in the Marine Corps, let alone with the Marine Raiders, John fought to restore his relationship with his wife and kids and truly lead them to victory in the battle of life.

You see, John didn’t end up becoming just another statistic of the “gun club” of practice marriages or the sarcastic “Everyone divorced club” due to his service as a warrior. He made a deliberate decision of the heart as much as it depended on him to not join the ranks of husbands and fathers in particular who neglected their most important relationships with their wives, sons, and daughters to chase glory for themselves in their jobs.

Furthermore, he didn’t run away from the Marine Corps and a life as a warrior either. What? Impossible you might say. Well, it was possible for John and has been proven in the lives of others who secured incredible legacies themselves in a similar fashion like the names of warriors like John Basilone, Chris Kyle, and Adam Brown.

These men were incredible warriors on the battlefield and are recognized as true "bosses" for the skill and courage they demonstrated to lead their warriors to victory under the most desparate conditions their nation called them to. At the same token, in their deaths on the battlefield, the lives they lived in loving relationship to their families inspired a legacy among those they left behind to continue sacrificially serving others and being grateful for the true love they were shown by their men.

My friend and brother in arms John instead learned and applied the secret of what it takes to be not just a boss on the battlefield but in life as well. As a result, he would teach future studs to do the same who would go on to make better decisions than he had made earlier in life. So just how did John lead himself and his fellow warriors not only to victory on the battlefield but in life as well? I will tell you in the next blog post.

Fit for the Fight and Life,

Chris Reardon

Founder/Director of Freedom Fitness America


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