08 Aug Will Skill

I had not planted my feet on that ground in thirty years, but there I was standing in front of 460 brand new paratroopers at Fort Benning, Georgia. I remembered some aspects of my training clearly, but some of it was like looking through a screen door on a foggy day. Thirty years is a long time, and I wondered how that training had shaped who I had become. The NCO in charge of the graduation ceremony called out twenty-five students to assemble in front of the other parents and grandparents that had earned their wings in years past. It was surreal as my son posted himself in front of me, and I pinned the wings I earned in 1979 on his chest. Never then, nor recently, did I think I would have the honor and privilege. Seeing my son beam was much more gratifying than when I had earned them myself.

What struck me during the ceremony was that the soldiers I trained with at the height of the Cold War never thought we would fight the Soviet Union, so training always felt like drill. Fort Benning now has a palpable energy that did not exist in 1979. In 1979, the only soldiers with combat patches on their right shoulder were “old” Vietnam veterans – soldiers we really couldn’t relate to. Almost every soldier on the post has a combat patch indicating that they had recently deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. What stands out to a casual observer is that these soldiers are astonishingly young. There is no doubt today’s military training takes on special relevance and urgency in time of war, and these young men and women joined knowing the risks “without any mental reservation .” In the 1980’s, we learned skills, but never had to test our will. Today, these soldiers know that their ability to persevere, their indomitable will, is principal to their success as leaders, because their fellow soldiers depend on them to survive and succeed in the harshest of circumstances.

How’s your will tested in your environment? Is it a competitive advantage?

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