Categories: Military Fitness Military Mentoring Military Family Work Life Balance Military Leadership

Mission First...People Always?

I felt a twinge of guilt that I wasn’t as engaged in the lives of the men and women who work for me and that I work with as I should be. I had let the tyranny of the work schedule and wanting to succeed professionally start to overtake one of the most important aspects of leadership…taking care of your people. We like to say in the military or at least the Marine Corps: “Mission First…People Always.” I wish it was exactly like that but confess that sometimes I don't get this right...

Get a FREE Copy of the Be a Boss on the Battlefield and in Life Video Series!

Two Friday's ago, I got done with an intense few weeks regarding a planning exercise with my unit and was smoke checked emotionally and mentally but grateful for a day off. Something was bothering me though as I thought back through the week regarding an offhand comment from one of my Marines. I was rushing into my office to change into my uniform only to then rush out to another meeting. "Semper Fidelis...looks like we never see you anymore..." or something to that effect. I can't remember the exact words now, but the tone wasn't sarcastic so much as disappointed...It is almost the type of comment that one of the Navy Officers whom I work with overheard his elementary school age son say, “dad is never home.” I felt guilt that I wasn’t as engaged in the lives of the men and women who work for me and that I work with as I should be. I had let the tyranny of the work schedule and wanting to succeed professionally start to overtake one of the most important aspects of leadership…taking care of your people. We like to say in the military or at least the Marine Corps: “Mission First…People Always.” I wish it was exactly like that but I have to confess that I don't always get this right.

I remember feeling that Friday morning looking out my window at the ships docked in port that something was missing. I realized that in the midst of my busy battle rhythm that I was forgetting to spend time to talk to the Marines and Sailors I worked with...most of whom were away from their families during our overseas assignment. I pondered that in a shorter time than I realized my time to impact them would be gone…forever. I realized that while the work we do is necessary and important, so also is the work to build relationships around me and lift up the lives of others. It is so easy to get tunnel vision on the mission at hand. I think the more senior yet in leadership with more and more responsibility, this temptation likely gets greater and greater. At least it does for me. I decided right then to make some immediate changes that included intentionally building relationships outside of our day to day duties with the various demographics of leaders I work with both in my section and out. This included taking out some of the leaders I work with to a restaurant offering outdoor seating according to all the COVID-19 restrictions we are obligated to follow both for the host nation and the US Navy/Marine Corps. I also went back and thanked the Staff Sergeant who made the initial comments to me about my busy schedule. He was taken aback and tried to apologize, but I told him he didn’t say anything wrong, the truth is he was right.

That being said, I asked him if he and a few other Marines would be interested in doing a CrossFit Hero Workout of the Day (WOD) with me on the last morning of the work week. Before I knew it, interest got going as we started talking about various workouts and the Master Sergeant that works for me mentioned we should do "Fight Gone Bad" which is a CrossFit Benchmark Workout. In general Marines like to work out, but some of us can get lazy at times with it and you need the motivation of others to get you to the gym in the morning (or whenever you choose to exercise). If you don’t know this particular workout, here is the layout:

Fight Gone Bad

3 Rounds For Total Reps in 17 minutes

1-minute Wall Ball Shots (20/14 lb)

1-minute Sumo Deadlift High-Pulls (75/55 lb)

1-minute Box Jumps (20 in)

1-minute Push Press (75/55 lb)

1-minute Row (calories)

1-minute Rest

Score is given for complete repetitions and calories on the row. Well, let us say we got started fairly early in the morning after a brief warm up run of about 1 mile, some stretching, and then getting to it with the WOD.and then got after it while I played some music and encouraged my guys. Honestly while the workout was tough given the heat and humidity never mind the pace of the workout, I had to say I had a blast. It was one of the first times working out in a small group since COVID-19 started (we were socially distanced) which pushed me and the other guys. Upon finishing the workout, we went to a cool location in the outdoor functional fitness gym on base to stretch and watched a YouTube video message from Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL, titled: WARRIOR MENTALITY - MOTIVATIONAL SPEECH FOR 2017. It is an epic message that has been supremely impactful to me that I have watched multiple times. I encourage you to check it out. Jocko tells a story in his epic “Hollywood Navy SEAL” approach he is branded for regarding the brutal details of war. He then pivots suddenly to an awful scene in 2006 in Ramadi, Iraq where a fierce firefight broke out although the battle was not between friendly forces and the “enemy” but “us vs. us”. This resulted in one friendly Iraqi Soldier getting killed and one of his own fellow SEALs injured. Miraculously no one else was killed. It was blue on blue, the mortal sin of combat as Jocko mentions. I won’t spoil the message of the video for you if you haven’t watched it, but he discusses the values of responsibility and humility from a leadership and team standpoint in a manner that anybody can relate to, but warriors can especially relate to.

After watching the video, I asked the Marines what they thought. They were keyed in the video the entire time and afterwards we discussed professional experiences seeing people just point blame at each other and not really solving problems while also talking about positive leadership examples. We wrapped up stretching and the discussion in just under 30 minutes and energized, we started walking back to our work center.

I didn’t realize though that this was the bonus over the next 20 minutes as we walked back sweaty and tired as the hot sun blazed. I recognized that the real mentoring started happening in an informal setting at this point. We got to talking about life and the Marines opened up to me about their family life growing up and I got to tell various stories myself of family life both growing up and as a now husband and father serving in the military. We got into a conversation about whether you could have a good family life in the military or not to include discussion on the joke that is not so funny of some senior enlisted or officers who have a "practice marriage" before being able to have a more stable marriage not ending in divorce. I provided my insight that I had been encouraged in my younger years coming up in the military of dynamic leaders who had fruitful careers and family lives because they didn't make their work and lives about them, they made their lives about serving those around them to include their families which made them better leaders in general instead of workaholics chasing after accolades and glory for themselves. In any case I was encouraged that my taking initiative to spend just a relatively small amount of time working out with my fellow Marines and doing a small PME was a great encouragement to them.

We plan on inviting more of the Marines and Sailors we work with next week to do the same thing based on initial pilot program. If you are a military leader and you would like a template of the workouts I have done with those whom I serve with along with dynamic videos for discussions that are sure to get your people's attention and have an impact, then check out the link below to join a FREE 2 week challenge Freedom Fitness America is putting on called the “#Fit4Fight&Life Challenge" starting Oct 4!

Oh, of note, it was satisfying to hear from my office one of the Marines complaining how sore he was to his fellow Marines. That’s how I know it was a good time...

Fit for the Fight and Life,

Chris Reardon


Chris's LinkedIn Profile