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Military Human Performance Part 4 of 5: The Heartburn

You are not sure in the first place if your team members will buy into this whole concept even if you promoted it over the long haul anyway. Thus you feel as all you would do is just waste your time and theirs on another initiative from the "good idea fairy" that will only last as long as certain personalities are in place.

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Ok, so let’s get the real heartburn out in the open for discussion while we’re at it based on my previous post: Military Human Performance Part 3 of 5: The Rub.

First, you work in an extremely demanding battle rhythm where things are always needing to be done and you don’t want to fit one more rock in the pack of yourself or the people you have.

Second, you might be thinking, ok, I could spare some time maybe to have an outside speaker talk to my people. But generally that costs a lot of money than we typically have in our unit budget even if got approved. Furthermore, it is hard to align a good speaker’s schedule with a training schedule, and of course there are only so many credible motivational speakers around who truly understand the military population.

Third, you might throw your hands up in the air and think to yourself, at the end of the day, I can’t control what grown men and women do except for managing the workplace environment on the job as far as my authority will allow. If that is successful, then well, mission accomplished.

Fourth, you are likely frustrated because you want to see and be part of making a change, but maybe you’re not the ultimate authority in your section or unit. In other words, you’re not the actual section leader, director, commander or whoever who has the perceived final decision-making authority. Even if you are, you have real mission priorities and critical training gaps most likely that you would love to have filled during any white space you have.

Finally and most importantly, you are not sure in the first place if your team members will buy into this whole total fitness concept even if you promoted it over the long haul anyway. Thus you feel as all you would do is just waste your time and theirs on another initiative from the "good idea fairy" being promoted by out of touch professionals at higher organizational levels which will only last as long as certain personalities are in place.

Between the problems in the last post and the heart burn topics that I've addressed above based on reactions and realities of what I've seen from my years working in military units, I wouldn't blame you for casting aside any hope of achieving any real results of military total fitness asides from the standard metrics of mandatory physical fitness tests, medical evaluations, and ensuring medical shots are taken.

That being said, maybe we can learn from the past on how total fitness was achieved in military units long before it was mentioned as a concept in the 21st century. A great example of a military warrior who found success at least from what we know both in training, on the battlefield, and in life can be discovered from the World War II era.

During World War II, GySgt John Basilone stands out in military history as a larger-than-life leader who you would naturally follow to the death as a Marine Corps Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, and Purple Heart recipient. He is rightfully revered by Marines and military professionals throughout the generations who have worn the uniform since the World War II era concluded due to his courageous leadership under fire in some of the most desperate battles in US history. Wishing to gain some insight into this leader's ability to inspire his mean, I researched and read details about his life. Something that struck me was John Basilone didn’t just teach his Marines how to fight in a tactical sense. He did that certainly with his machine gun drills and other training regimes, but he did much more. He understood something deeper that when bullets were flying, warriors need a fire lit in their soul that will keep burning when all hell breaks loose. They needed a fire lit in their hearts when the easiest thing to do was to run away or to just lay down and die.

John was given the opportunity to train Marines who would later fight on “X Island” which would soon be known to them as “Iwo Jima”, arguably one of the toughest battles in US history and certainly one of the most defining battles for the US Marine Corps. From one of the Marines who served with him, it is written: “Basilone did more than drill us. He taught our recruits the meaning of esprit de corps, and in those of us who had fought, he rekindled a desire to fight again. His simplicity, his cheerfulness, his grasp of human nature, and the charm and easy grace with which he carried his honors gave us not only confidence but pride. We were “Basilone’s boys” and envied for it.” (The Life and Death of “Manila John” by William Douglas Lansford)

Because of John’s “human performance optimization" on the job, he and his Marines fought and won against the odds stacked against them in a manner that had strategic implications.

John Basilone wasn’t just a fierce warrior whose men would follow him to the death though. While John is rightfully famous as a decorated American hero and Marine Corps legend, he was a family man. After coming back home from Guadalcanal, he received incredible amounts of publicity. He was offered options with Hollywood, was asked to be a leading figure in parades, and he even got to meet the president. Girls threw themselves at him. Sounds like a dream come true right? Not for John. He never found happiness in the spotlight. A qoute describing the essence of who he was as a man is as follows:

John Basilone was a traditional guy. He loved his country and he loved the brothers he fought with. However, he wanted more than anything else to have a wife and family of his own. He is quoted to have said, “I wanted to know how it was to love somebody the way Pop loved Mama. At least I wanted a few days, or weeks if I could get it, to know what it is like to be married. I wanted to be able to say, ‘I love you’ a few times and mean it.” (Quote from Hero of the Pacific, James Brady)

John eventually found his gal in the serving line of a chow hall on Camp Pendleton. The love of his life was named Lena Mae Riggi, a Marine Sergeant serving as a cook in the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Just weeks before Basilone would return back to the Pacific theater, they decided to get married Marine Corps style (by that I mean with little delay) at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church in Oceanside, CA. A month after getting married, they bid farewell in a Camp Pendleton chow hall. “We talked of our life after the war-what we would name the first boy and the first girl. She held up pretty well while we talked. She didn’t cry, and pretended she was ok…I told her, ‘I’m coming back,’ and she believed me. (Hero of the Pacific, John Brady).

For Lena though, her ‘great love” never came back home. John was killed in the Battle of Iwo Jima just seven months after getting married. Lena was young, 32 years old to be exact at the time of his passing, but she never remarried. When Lena died in the late 1990s, she was still wearing the wedding ring that John gave her. (Great Love Happens Once: The Enduring Story of John and Lena Basilone, Cpl Teagan Fredericks, USMC). Arguably besides securing a legacy as a courageous and skillful military leader, John secured a legacy of loving and inspiring his spouse to the point that she never married again. I'm not saying that the ultimate measure of a warrior should he die is that his/her spouse will not remarry but I am saying that teaching military professionals to secure a quality legacy in life especially in the eyes of their loved ones is crucial to their own well being, the military community, and their nation as a whole. Warriors can be taught to live will excellence on the job and in their personal lives.

What does it look like to train warriors to be excellent on the job and in life for the 21st century? In my next post, I'll cover what that practically looks like based on my observations of what I've seen work in real life fast paced military units.

Until that posting, if you haven't already, I would encourage you to get free access to Be a Boss on the Battlefield and in Life; a 45 min video mini-series of 19 video clips highlighting the story of a modern day "John Basilone" by the name of MSgt John Rudd, USMC, a combat decorated Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technican who has also served with the elite Marine Raiders. John Rudd tells his story of missing critical aspects of total fitness in his career until his life hit rock bottom in 2015 followed by a healing process that led to him teaching Marine EOD techs coming up in the Marine Raider pipeline what it took to achieve total fitness themselves.

Fit for the Fight and Life,


Chris Reardon

Major, USMC

Founder/Director of Freedom Fitness America