Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I will never leave a fallen comrade…

It’s part of our Creed.  We all know it.  It’s been engrained in us from day one, especially if you’ve been in a leadership position.  You take care of the dude to your left, front, right and rear.  They depend on you.  They need you.  

So who did you leave behind this time?  Who’s the one guy you tend to leave behind more than anyone or anything else?  Take a look in the mirror.  Yeah, that guy.  You need them just as much as they need you.  And if you’re run down, and you’re not functioning properly, what good are you to them?

Let’s look at this as if you’re still wearing the superman outfit first.  I can remember more times than I’d like to admit, being locked in my office, truck, track, CHU and told by my Right Hand man, “Sir, get some damn rest.  Right now you look like a bag of smashed ass and you’re acting accordingly.”  They were right.  I had either run myself down to the point where I couldn’t make decisions or my temper was off the chart.  Throwing everything out of whack.  Every one of those guys that “needed” me proved time and again that I needed them more than they needed me.  I learned pretty much everything from my 1SGs, PSGs, SLs and yes, sometimes even my team leaders.  

Well now the situation is different.  I get to pick my clothes out when I go to work.  Now who’s got your back?  Is it a friend, is it your family?  If you’re lucky, you’ve got some great co-workers or a mentor.  Chances are, it’s pretty much just you and your family; maybe just you.  At least that’s how you feel right now.  

The transition is hard.  You miss folks; you see everything differently than everyone else does.  Maybe you don’t see the point in killing yourself at work because no one else does.  More than likely, you’re killing yourself at work because no one else will.  You’re tired, angry and probably feel alone and misunderstood.  Sounds like a teenager doesn’t it?  So what do you do about it?  Drink, become depressed, whollowing in your-self pity or rebel?  Sounds a lot like a teenager doesn’t it?  Well as degrading as that sounds, it’s normal.  Considering you have bills and probably others to take care of and not wanting to admit “defeat” to your home boys that are still in; none of these are good options.   To be honest, I’m still not used to being out and have done all of the above.  But I packed my ruck, not someone else.

When I got out, I had been back from Iraq for less than 3 months.  I moved to a new area without any friends or support network outside of my wife.   I missed my son’s first birthday by about 4 days.  So yeah, he was three weeks old when I left.  Let’s recap; new Veteran, reintegration with family and being a dad for the first time, unemployed, no friends, paying a mortgage on one house and paying rent on another…want me to keep going?  When I make a shit sandwich, there’s no such thing as halfway cooked. 

Yeah, it built up and it sure as hell got worse.  Is it better?  I could argue that.  But let’s be honest, if you have to make an argument for something, it probably isn’t looking so hot.  

So how do I take care of me?  First, I told my wife that I loved her and asked her to be patient with me.  Then I had to figure out what was driving me nuts and making me unhappy.  Professionally and financially, yeah.  Personally, yeah.  Family?  Nope that’s good.  

Ok genius, what do you like to do?  What do you miss? What makes you feel worthwhile?

I like running or riding for way longer than makes sense or doing some ridiculous event with little training just to say I did it.  So every so often I pick an event, go out and have a good time.  I go to the kiddy section of the gym my wife works at so no one laughs at me.  But I go.  I’m not pinging off the walls with energy but I actually need to stay in shape and expend energy.  It makes me feel like I did something.

I liked working with folks.  Developing young leaders is the one thing that I enjoyed the most when I was on active duty.  Becoming an instructor at 4th RTB and deciding to be a company commander, then living those dreams were the most rewarding jobs I had.  I reached out to GallantFew as a mentor and someone looking for a hand; and life has been significantly better since then.  Keep in mind that this was less than a year after I separated and was still very far from making the adjustments that I needed to in order to make the impact that I want to.  

The folks I’ve met through GallantFew have been absolutely amazing.  I’d like to think that I’m helping but in all honesty, I’m getting more out of them than they are of me.  I’ve been working with GallantFew for almost two years now, helping where I can and asking for a lot of advice.  I can call anyone of these guys or gals (that I’ve never met) and they respond with more than I can ask for.  

My true and honest turning point was a few months ago, when I reached out to a guy that I had never talked to before.  He was a bit down, confused and feeling like he didn’t know where to go next.  I used a little common sense, got to know him and listened.  He sounded a lot like one of the many young Soldiers I had.  He sounded just like me.  We did an inventory, came up with a hasty plan and he got moving.  He’s in school now and more than on his way to success.  I remember hanging up the phone and saying to myself, “Self, you’re an idiot.  Slap yourself, self.  You just told this kid what to do and you aren’t even doing it yourself.”   Yes, that’s exactly how the conversation went.

Professionally?  I’m way happier after changing jobs once already but I’m still working on that one.  So instead of being mad at everyone or feeling sorry for myself, I started studying.  One certification at a time.  Do I have a clearly defined endstate?  Nope.  Will it really improve the situation?  Maybe.  But I’ve got a goal and I’ve got a plan so I started moving instead of sitting on my duff.  How’s that saying go, “A good plan executed violently now is better than a great plan executed tomorrow?”  

Remember the 1/3, 2/3’s rule?  Well it applies to everything.  So does a lot of other things you did as part of your PCI’s and PCC’s.  Pretty much the only difference is, you don’t have to worry about “getting bumped around”.  Do an inventory of your assets.  Eval your situation.  Check your pax roster and task org accordingly.  Focus on the mission critical tasks, do a little COA Development, wargame a bit, pick an azimuth and start moving.  Don’t forget that you need to take a knee, eat chow and drink some water every once in a while.  Oh and if you’ve got a buddy, put a rock in his ruck.  It’ll be funny.  The rest is cake and battle drills.  It worked over there, it’ll work here.

The points being is that you DO have to take care of yourself and you DO have to learn to lean on others, admitting your wrongs or weaknesses.  We tend to forget that as an individual, as the leader, we are the one that has to spot check ourselves.  If that means letting some chores slide every once in a while to get a few more winks on the weekend, leaving right when your shift ends or just doing something you want to do because you enjoy it every now and then.  Make time for yourself.  It sounds selfish but it really isn’t.  

In regards to asking for help, think about this. You get into a nasty situation over there; did you hesitate to call for indirect or QRF?  Probably not.  Why in the hell would you hesitate to call someone and ask them for help here?  When you’re in a bind and isolated, it leads to nothing but bad decisions.  

Lastly, don’t forget to laugh.  Take a look around, there’s plenty to laugh about.  We learned to find the joy or ridiculousness in the simplest things before and we should still do that.  Life is hard enough and being angry all the time is tiring.  I know that I’ve been in worse spots and was still able to laugh.  Hell it’s gotten me in trouble.  But it still turned out alright.


Clarence Matthews  

Clarence is an important part of our team and has volunteered to be available when a veteran is in crisis mode (you'll see his contact info at the top of GallantFew.org).  

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