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Learning the “Secret” of Being a Boss on the Battlefield AND in Life Part 2 of 2

John had survived and even “thrived” during the combat operations of his career. He and his brothers in arms cheated death many times although he admits he did lose fellow EOD technicians throughout his career. Because of the relatively ones and twos in terms of deaths spaced out, John was able to block out emotionally the deaths of his fellow Marines in combat operations. However, that ability to block out the pain of losing fellow warriors who were family to him was about to come unglued.

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In my blog post Learning the Secret of Being a Boss on the Battlefield AND in Life Part 1 of 2, I spoke about how Master Sergeant John Rudd, USMC, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician overcame the darkness of life in 2015 based on a compilation of multiple combat deployments, family struggles, and ultimately a life built that was not prepared to withstand the waves of life in the long run.

John had survived and even “thrived” during the combat operations of his career. He and his brothers in arms cheated death many times although he admits he did lose fellow EOD technicians throughout his career. Because of the relative ones and twos in terms of deaths spaced out, John was able to block out emotionally the deaths of his fellow Marines in combat operations. However, that ability to block out the pain of losing fellow warriors who were family to him was about to come unglued after John was preparing for selection to enter the Joint Special Operations Command training pipeline. He was prepared to continue down the path of working with arguably some of the most elite warriors the United States has ever known.

Life would change for John forever though after receiving news that on March 10, 2015 seven of his best friends in life from the Marine Special Operations Team 8231 were killed in a tragic helicopter accident in the waters of Santa Rosa Sound, Florida during a training mission. These men might as well been blood brothers of John’s because between 2013 to 2015 John had spent most of his time training and eventually deploying at one point with this team while deploying to Afghanistan.

During this deployment, he built an inseparable bond with them based on shared hardship of fighting alongside each other in harsh battlefield conditions where he himself was decorated with the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor for heroism in combat. He slept, lived, and played with these guys. His life was so consumed with his work, he didn’t have relationships outside of it. Due to the intense nature of his training and operations however, he had focused narrowly on only building up the identity of being a warrior on the battlefield and building friendships with his fellow brothers in arms while neglecting other vital relationships in life to include his family and his personal relationship with God.

The foundation of John's life was built on shaky ground without realizing it. As a result, he was not prepared to handle the death of some of his closest friends. Right around the same time he heard this news, he was conducting a counterintelligence polygraph. The investigator felt that John wasn’t answering a question properly and felt he was hiding something. John’s emotional suffering at this point along with other issues was what was really bothering him and he ended up failing his polygraph. John’s MGySgt pulled him off the operational forces and into the EOD School House during this time which allowed him to think deeply of where his life had taken him. At one point soon after his friends were killed, he was taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation. While he mentioned he was not suicidal, he did say that he could understand how people come to that place as the rug of his life felt like it was ripped underneath him.

Other issues in John’s life were piling up as well. Through the course of John’s workups and deployments, his family life was suffering. He had an adopted 14 year old daughter in 2015 along with 3 year old along with a wife who had suffered multiple miscarriages in between deployments. John was absent emotionally and physically in being able to help his wife through the struggles she was going through. He recognized that he needed to take a time out from attempting to continue doing whatever he could do to find the “coolest” job at the expense of his family. It wasn’t that these jobs in of themselves were bad. It was just he hadn’t learned how to pace his work and family life to ensure that both remained in balance because his personal identity was so wrapped up in pursuing an image of glory on the battlefield.

As time went on, John spent much time in counseling with trained psychologists and chaplains where he was able to process his life from growing up to the 13 years of his time in the Marine Corps. He started to realize that he tried to fill his life by pursuing a lot of experiences but constantly felt that he was always wandering and unsatisfied. It was almost like if he could pull an experience down, look at it, and then realize it wasn’t what he thought it would be.

During this time John also realized that one of the reasons he was in the state he was in happened because he was seeking so hard to embrace an identity solely wrapped about his achievements on the battlefield that caused him to selfishly push other equally important aspects of his life out of the way to include his faith, his family, and developing the people around him both on the job and off the job.

He also recognized that he had pursued a sort of “situational ethics” that was based on the sense of following what the culture around him was interested in that was ever changing. For example, the values of the Marine Corps were Honor, Courage, and Commitment, but the subculture values included pursuing the cause of being a top notch combat leader regardless of the cost in his personal life. Other values were complaining about one's spouse or making jokes about "if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one" which subtly devalued family members to baggage along for the ride to one's "real life" professionally. Some of these subculture values were at odds even within the Marine Corps itself in terms of public values vs. private cultural values. John came to recognize that culture comes from values amplied by practices. Lip service doesn't cause a positive shift in culture.

John also recognized that he had pursued the prestige of being part of the “cool guys” vs. being part of the more support service Marines because he recognized there were divides. He also recognized that there were appearances of excellence vs. the substance. As recruits they were taught to sound good and look good even if they were not. Almost the system pushed “fake it until you make it”. Aspects of this led to shading things for the commander in terms of painting a bright story when things really weren’t that bright at all. John also recognized that he had pursued the high praise of people who validated his actions even when other aspects of his life were abysmal.

As John’s ability to pursue “cool jobs” and combat was taken away from him, he recognized that he had a choice. He could embrace the “war hero” thing or accept the humbling of putting his faith in God, his family, and making other people around him better than he was first instead of pursuing a never ending pursuit of the validation of others from an unsustainable source. Being put at the schoolhouse for MARSOC EOD techs was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. He was forced to start pouring back into his family and other people as he healed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

John's regenerated faith caused him to take a hard look at his motivation and the flaws in his life. He slowly started to make the necessary changes where they needed to be. He also needed to put a more solid structure of ethics and values in his life that enabled him to understand the “why” for who he intended to be and from which he planned to build his structure of his life.

John recognized also he had to change his focus in life. He realized he had spent so much time focusing on himself and not on others. He could only lead when he stopped focusing so much on himself and on others. Rather than being insecure where he was always striving and seeking, he learned how to find a deeper security in his faith in God and being a man who existed to serve others which allowed him to have uncomfortable professional and personal conversations. As he left being the superficial, he learned to grow into a real leader who could grow and build people back up.

Over the next two years as John rebuilt his identity from the ground up, he ended up building a curriculum professionally for the EOD techs who would follow in his footsteps in the MARSOC pipeline.

John helped these Marines build a stronger identity apart from the organization they sought to serve and pay more than lip service to the “whole Marine concept”. He taught them to evaluate their lives and write out the things that were important to them. He didn’t get preachy with them but instead conducted an evaluation on himself as he taught them. He explained intellectually the things that we value in importance but in practice only pay lip service to. He went through how to balance work, family, hobbies, faith, etc, and not necessarily in that order. He taught them how to see how many of his fellow Marines would “say” that they cared about their families but in reality would do very little to take care of their wives and children. He also was part of the unique insight of the bottleneck of the training they were in and in a sense had a captive audience to teach them new life skills.

John left them with an evaluative tool to see how life gets busy but needs need to be in balance. He taught them how to be prepared to shift priorities in life in terms of time as able depending on what was happening with work or family. He taught them to be more self-aware.

As a result of John’s instruction, over two thirds of the new EOD techs entering into the MARSOC pipeline between 2015-2017 would have lives changed forever. Many of them went on to make better decisions than John had made. He can recall how one individual had a failed marriage as a result of bad life choices. However, he started a new marriage and is taking the new life skills he has learned in terms of investing in his family to have a better outlook for his life. There is also more healthy communication and a sense that the job is not all there is in life. He watched as one tech was happy to do what he did but transitioned out of his work to pursue a career in nursing without getting wrapped up in the loss of identity from not being one of the special operators anymore.

John would continue on his career not only by investing in EOD Marines but others as well along with youth in his church. His family dynamics would change as he became the husband and father he always wanted to be.

He started seminary education while he continued to mold the next generation of Marines to prepare for war in a Great Power Competition.

In the end, John’s life trajectory changed not just for himself but for many other Marines. Here’s the amazing part though. John is going to share his story live on a webinar where I get the chance to interview him and walk together through the steps on what he did specifically to teach Marine EOD techs in the MARSOC pipeline to live well balanced lives that weren’t solely focused on defusing bombs or killing bad guys. If you’re interested in watching this live presentation on October 30 at 12 pm EST, then click on this link here: Get Fit for the Fight and Life Webinar

Fit for the Fight and Life,

Chris Reardon


Freedom Fitness America