That was the drill sergeant’s decibel climbing challenge shouted sarcastically toward the two hundred forty men of Charlie Company 1-46 Infantry.
Under the blaring August sun, soldiers in training ran off a bus outside a Fort Benning barracks to begin their military career. Each was loaded down with about fifty pounds of gear and given the first order: “Run.”
Their destination was only about three hundred yards around the corner, but they didn’t know that. It could have been a five mile run for their life, based on the tone from the drill sergeants. They circled around the new soldiers like swarming sharks making the young men feel utterly surrounded.
Some took the aggressive wrangling in stride. Others nervously dropped everything, scampering to pick up their camouflage caps before their superior caught them from behind.
As I followed the pack with my camera, documenting the experience for our docu-series "Charlie Foxtrot," I felt a switch flip on for these young men. In that moment, they were undeniably present. I call it “Military Zen."
I first noticed it while interviewing these soldiers at a very specific turning point in their lives: exactly one hour before they began Basic Training. I asked each of them similar questions: How do you feel about the possibility of fighting in war? Are you nervous? What are you afraid of?
Their answers were consistent. Their focus was on the excitement of beginning their service. They would prepare for the worst, but they didn’t seem afraid. Instead, these young men were prepared to become prepared.
“No, not really. I think that a lot of people fear the unknown. I just kind of don’t know the unknown. So, I think that’s it,” he said.
That’s Military Zen, if you ask me.
Members of our Armed Forces are focused, driven men and women who prepare for whatever may come. They are in the moment, dealing with the matters at hand to accomplish the mission at hand.
The future – that’s something they’ll prepare for, but not worry over until their mission puts their battle plan in action. To succeed, they remain present.
However, the past can be much more crippling as they return home from warzones, suffering from the moral injuries of combat and fighting PTSD after enduring moments so dark I’m not sure I could even dream of them in a nightmare.
According to the Veterans Administration, 20% of all service members who deploy return with PTSD, 22% suffer a Traumatic Brain Injury and 7% have both. That averages out to about one in four being affected.
There’s another side to the numbers. The fact is most people who serve do not emerge traumatized or suffer from brain injury - 72% aren’t diagnosed with either.
Veterans are among our nation’s brightest assets. The skills learned while serving translate into some of the most hirable, admirable attributes of the American workforce. They’re leaders who go on to run companies, families and hold government office – with and without enduring symptoms of PTSD.
It’s a skillset born at Basic Training.
“Welcome to the Army. Take your time.”
In a way, that sarcastic phrase actually fits, as service members prepare for an uncertain future by finding clarity in the moment, on and off the battlefield.