Serving in the Marine Corps infantry is one of the most taxing occupations the military has to offer. Whether you’re out patrolling in a hot zone, calling in mortars on an enemy position or just humping hundreds of pounds of gear, it’s tough.
For one former Marine, military service fuels his music and reflects his experiences in the Corps.
“So you’re the newest PFC? Well, welcome to the infantry. Around here we like to do things a little differently. I know your drill instructor taught you those morals and ethics, but you got to put that to the side to kill more efficiently. ”
These are the opening lyrics of “Welcome to the Infantry” performed by Marine rapper, Fitzy Mess, and they couldn’t be more truthful.
Military working dogs are among the world’s most elite four legged warriors. Serving side by side with U.S. troops since World War II these brave animals have saved thousands of lives and earned their stripes by performing as critical military assets. But before they ever patrol a base or go on a combat mission they must meet the very high standards of military dogs.
These are 11 steps to turning a puppy into a badass military working dog:
1. Breeding Procurement
The Department of Defense acquires puppies from breeders overseas as well as in the United States, but many now come from DoD’s own military working dog breeding program at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. Established in 1998, the DoD’s state of the art whelping facility has dedicated “puppy development specialists” who take care of them until they are about 8-10 weeks old.
2. Fostering Program
If you live within two hours of Lackland and meet certain requirements you could qualify to foster a future K9 hero. The foster program allows the dogs to have a normal puppyhood by being exposed to different environments and become socially sound. Volunteer foster families take great pride in raising the puppies, like the one pictured above. See if you qualify to foster a puppy by clicking here.
3. Selection Evaluation
The dog will return to Lackland when he or she is around 7 months old and go through puppy training. In the same way civilians must be screened by military recruiters to see if they are a fit for the armed services, the puppies are evaluated to see if they display the attributes needed of military working dogs. If they don’t get selected to move on they may still qualify to be used at another agency or they will be adopted out.
4. Dog Training School
The few dogs selected go to Dog Training School, the military working dog boot camp. The dog trainers at DTS are experienced handlers from all military branches, and for many it’s a dream job to get assigned there. The entire mission of DTS is to train and certify dogs in the fundamentals of being an MWD. Each dog is different but typically they will be at DTS anywhere from 4 – 7 months. The head trainers will then assess the dog’s ability in detection and patrol work. Even here dogs can fail and wash out of the program. Some wash outs become training dogs for brand new handlers going through basic handlers course. The dogs who pass earn the coveted title of military working dog — but they are still not mission-ready.
5. Base assignment
Each newly-minted MWD will get orders to a kennels at a U.S. military base around the world. Normally, a MWD will work his or her entire career at one base.
6. Handler assigned
Every kennel in the military has a kennel master in charge of all operations of the unit. Once a new MWD arrives the kennel master will assign a handler. Now the MWD has finally been partnered with their first MWD handler, and the real training begins.
7. Obedience Training
Simply because a handler and MWD are assigned to each other does not mean they can function as a team yet by any means. The dog needs to learn to trust and respect the handler, and that starts with obedience training — the foundation of all good MWD teams. Handlers give basic obedience commands followed by lots of praise, and the team starts to create trust, mutual respect, and an overall bond.
8. Patrol Training
MWD’s have an innate drive to pursue (and bite) bad guys. Once a dog team has established a foundation of trust, allowing the MWD to do patrol training helps strengthen that trust while also creating in the MWD a sense of protection over the handler, and it keeps the MWD’s morale high.
9. Detection Training
While a few MWD’s won’t be certified in patrol, every MWD must be certified in detection as it is the primary mission of an MWD team. A dog’s nose can detect up to 10,000 – 100,000 times better than a human’s, they just need guidance on how to properly maximize their gifted olfactory skills. While each MWD is trained to detect either explosives or narcotics by the time they graduate DTS, handlers must train with them to learn each dog’s specific behavior when they pick up a scent.
10. Train, Train, Train
Every single day dog teams must train. Whether it’s patrol work, detection, or simple obedience they must develop an unbreakable bond in which they fully trust one another with their lives. In order for a dog team to work efficiently they must both be good, not one or the other. In the same way an infantryman must know his weapon inside and out and maintain it every single day, a handler must train, groom, and know everything about his or her MWD. Once the kennel master feels confident the team can work effectively together, an official MWD team certification is scheduled.
11. Dog team certification
To be certified as an official MWD team and granted authority to operate as one, the kennel master puts together a real-life detection training scenario that involves all of the odors the MWD is trained to detect. The commanding officer of the unit must be present and personally witness the MWD team successfully locate every odor. Once complete, they become an official military working dog team. And any handler will tell you that handling a military working dog is not only a tremendous responsibility but also a lifetime honor.
Remember when Somali pirates made headlines for seizing an oil tanker? That batch of Somali pirates was pretty smart. Others have managed to be very dumb. How dumb were they? Well, some pirates tried to hijack a pair of U.S. Navy warships.
According to a United States Navy release, on March 18, 2006, the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) were patrolling off the coast of Somalia as part of Task Force 150 to deter piracy. During their patrol, they were approached by a vessel towing a number of skiffs.
A boarding party from the Gonzalez was sent to investigate, but noticed a number of people were brandishing rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The pirates on board the skiffs then opened fire on the Cape St. George, inflicting minor damage.
The Cape St. George and the Gonzalez, as well as the boarding party, proceeded to return fire, using what a contemporary CNN.com report described as “small arms.” The main pirate vessel was set afire and sank. Two smaller skiffs were captured, along with 12 pirates and one body. A Somali pirate group would claim that 27 “coast guardsmen” had been sent out.
The Virginian-Pilot reported that the wounded were first taken to the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) for treatment. The pirates who survived this near-catastrophic failure in their victim-selection process were eventually released and repatriated back to Somalia.
Four years later, the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47) also came under attack, according to a CBS News report. The BBC reported that five captured pirates were given life sentences for piracy.
Career Incentive Pay is another part of the U.S. military’s Special and Incentive pay system and is intended to help the Services address their manning needs by motivating service members to volunteer for specific jobs that otherwise pay them significantly more in the civilian sector.
Each career incentive pay amount is in addition to base pay and other entitlements.
Title 37 U.S. Code, chapter 5, subchapter 1 outlines several types of S&I pay, and sections 301a, 301c, 304, 305a and 320 address incentive pays that are career specific.
1. Aviation Career Incentive
Who: Military pilots
How much: $125 to $840 per month, dependent on number of years serving as an aviator. This lasts the duration of the pilot’s aviation career.
2. Submarine Duty Incentive (SUBPAY)
Who: Navy personnel aboard submarines.
How much: The Secretary of the Navy has the ability to set SUBPAY up to $1,000 per month, but it is currently between $75 and $835 per month.
3. Diving Duty
Who: Service member divers.
How much: $340 for enlisted personnel and $240 for officers per month.
4. Career Sea
Who: Naval officers who’ve been assigned duties above and beyond what might be typical for an officer in the same rank and which are critical to operations.
How much: $50 – $150 per month, dependent on rank. There is a limit on payments made to O-3s to O-6s, and only a certain percentage of personnel in each rank can qualify for the pay.
5. Career Enlisted Flyer
Who: Enlisted personnel on flight crews for the Air Force and Navy.
How much: $150 – $400 depending on years in the aviation field.
“Between now and 2015 terrorist tactics will become increasingly sophisticated and designed to achieve mass casualties.” Verdict: Definitely true. Sadly, this prediction became true quickly, on September 11, 2001.
“Iraq and Iran [will] develop long range missiles in the near future. Iran … could be testing such weapons by as early as the coming year, and cruise missiles by 2004.” Verdict: Both true and false. Iran is definitely working on an ICBM and was expected to test it in 2015. But international sanctions on Iran has brought it to the negotiation table and diplomats say they are close to a comprehensive deal.
“The world population will grow by more than one billion, to 7.2 billion.” Verdict: True. The world population is now about 7.3 billion.
“Europe will not achieve fully the dreams of parity with the US as a shaper of the global economic system.” Verdict: Not quite true. The CIA report was very bullish on the European economy, which had been sluggish at the start of the year, but has recently picked up steam.
“Aids, famine, and continuing economic and political turmoil means that populations in many [African] countries will actually fall.” Verdict: False. Africa’s population rose from 800 million in 2000 to 1.1 billion in 2014.
[ad-box path=”/41755326/300x250_button” width=”250″ height=”300″]Now that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a thing of the past, the U.S. military accepts that homosexuality doesn’t affect combat readiness or battlefield performance. In fact the RAND Corporation studied this in 1993 and found no impact on allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
But there was a time when military leaders actually thought the opposite – that purposely forming a unit of gay couples would enhance their combat effectiveness. For 40 years, it seemed the theory was right on.
The Sacred Band of Thebes was a hand-picked unit of 300 Greek soldiers that were chosen for their abilities and merit, not on their social class. They were also 150 couples, male lovers devoted to the Greek god Eros, and – according to the Macedonian author Polyaenus’ book “Stratagems,” they were “devoted to each other by mutual obligations of love.” They trained constantly in all areas of classical combat, including horsemanship and unarmed combat.
What this translated to on the battlefield was that this hand-picked group of foot soldiers did a lot of ass kicking.
After the 2006 movie “300,” many tended to think of the Spartans as the most elite warriors of the Bronze Age. The Greek historian Plutarch actually records the first instance of the Sacred Band in combat in a fight against Spartan leaders Gorgoleon and Theopompus at the Battle of Tegyra. The Spartans outnumbered the Thebans 2-to-1 and advanced on the Theban force. The Sacred Band immediately killed the Spartan leaders then cut through the Spartans like a warm knife through butter. The rest of the Theban force flanked the Spartan army as it fell apart.
It was the first time in history where a Spartan force was defeated by a numerically inferior enemy.
This led to a sharp rise in Thebes’ power and a general peace treaty between major city-states. Of course, that doesn’t mean the fighting ended there. Four years later, Sparta and Thebes were again at war. By this time, the mission of the Sacred Band in combat was to form at the head of the army to fight and kill the best warriors and leaders of the enemy force, just like they did at Tegyra. At the Battle of Leuctra, 12,000 Spartans were pitted against 8,500 Thebans. As the Spartans tried to end the battle by flanking the Thebans, the Sacred Band smashed into the entire Spartan right wing and held them in place until the rest of the Theban army could move in. The Spartan army was decimated, their king killed, and the city-state severely weakened.
Thebes maintained its independence for 40 years because of the Sacred Band’s combat skill. They didn’t lose a single battle in that time. It would all come crashing down when Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander invaded Greece in 338 BC. The Macedonians brought a new battlefield innovation, the long-speared phalanx. Greek Hoplites were no match for the phalanx and when Philip met the Thebans at the Battle of Caeronea, the Greeks quickly broke and fled – except for the Sacred Band.
The Band was long-thought to be invincible, but they died where they stood, to the last man. Their last commander fell with them. Plutarch, in his work “Lives,” wrote that Philip II wept when came upon the bodies of the Sacred Band of Thebes when he realized who they were.
Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything unseemly – Philip II of Macedon
As debate continues on the impact of President Trump’s executive order which halted the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, and placed a temporary 120-day ban on people coming from seven Muslim-majority countries that President Obama listed as “concerning” in 2015, are the ways the U.S. military has been affected.
Members of Arizona’s Air National Guard have been working with Iraqi pilots since 2012 to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The program was expected to continue through at least 2020, according to a Department of Defense press release when the program began. Under Trump’s travel pause, no more Iraqi pilots will be able to enter the country.
Arizona Sen. John McCain is working to exempt Iraqi pilots from the executive order, and released a joint statement with fellow Rep. Sen. Lindsey Graham over the weekend.
“At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies,” the statement read. “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred.”
Interpreters for US troops stuck in limbo
Many combat veterans who worked with interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan are angry that the travel ban has compromised the safety of those who they say were instrumental in keeping them safe during combat deployments.
“Doing so would send a strong signal to those who show such immense courage to advance U.S. security interests at a risk to their own safety, as well as the many veterans and warfighters who’ve relied on the service of these individuals for their own protection and to accomplish their objectives,” the letter said.
Increased tensions with countries in the Middle East
Several allies in the Middle East sent cables to the White House on Monday, warning that the ban could be used as a propaganda tool for ISIS, and make the area more dangers for U.S. troops and coalition forces.
Qatar was the most critical of the executive order, with a senior official telling U.S. diplomats, “You could not have given our adversaries better propaganda material,” according to CBS News. He mentioned that despite the beginning decline of ISIS, “The timing of this has given the group a lifeline.”
In an interview with CBS, former CIA deputy director Mike Morell echoed the sentiments, saying, “It’s playing right into the ISIS narrative. ISIS has not said anything about this yet, but people around ISIS, who amplify its message, are talking about it, and they are saying, ‘See? We told you, this is a war against Islam.’ So this is going to be a recruitment boon for ISIS.
Five years into the Syrian Civil War and two years after the rise of ISIS, Turkish troops finally entered the fight on August 24th, with OperationEuphrates Shield.
Turkish military officials say their artillery and rocket launchers fired 224 rounds at 63 targets in two hours. Turkish Air Force planes also struck targets in the ISIS-held town of Jarablus, which Turkish troops captured later that day.
It was ISIS’ last stronghold along the Turkish border.
The operation aims to clear the Turkish-Syrian border of “terrorist groups” to increase border security. Unfortunately, the Turkish government considers the Kurdish YPG, the most effective force fighting ISIS in Syria, a relative to a terrorist group – the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK. Turkey has been fighting the PKK for 30 years.
The 62-mile border area targeted by the Turks puts the NATO ally and its Syrian rebel forces on a collision course with U.S.- backed Kurdish and Arab fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces. Skirmishes between the two groups have already started south of the town of Manbij, just 21 miles from Jarablus.
Turkey gave the Kurdish fighters who captured Manbij from the Islamic State a week to leave the town and retreat East of the Euphrates River. The United States is backing its Turkish ally on the issue, and the Kurds are complying.
The Twitter account for the official spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State said the move was to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, the de facto ISIS capital.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have moved east across the Euphrates to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa, Syria #defeatdaesh
“I was so pissed off I went to DEFCON 5” or a similar phrase in the lexicon means you are at the highest level of anger, but it doesn’t make any sense when you explore what DEFCON really means.
DEFCON, the shortened-version of “Defense Readiness Condition,” is a five-level scale of alert status that the U.S. uses to determine nuclear readiness. In essence, the number next to DEFCON tells everyone how close we are to getting into a nuclear shooting war.
So where did it come from?
The need for DEFCON came from the Cold War. In 1958, with the U.S. pointing all of its nukes at Moscow — and Russia doing exactly the same back at Washington — the Air Force created the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to provide early warning and defense against nuclear threats.
Though it has somewhat changed over time, the DEFCON system was proposed by NORAD in 1959. It created a system of “five different alert levels with detailed, if ambiguous, descriptions and expected actions by military forces at each threat level,” according to the Encyclopedia of the Cold War.
The levels are primarily used by the Joint Chiefs of Staff or commanders of joint commands, and can be in force military-wide, though they are usually only applied to specific units. But unlike the saying of “going to DEFCON 5,” the worst possibility is at level one.
What are the levels and what do they mean?
There are five DEFCON levels, which signify varying conditions of readiness. They are:
DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness. All is calm, the skies are blue, and we aren’t even thinking about nukes.
DEFCON 4: Above normal readiness. The U.S. slightly increases intelligence and strengthens security measures.
DEFCON 3: Air Force ready to mobilize in 15 minutes. There’s an increase in force readiness above normal readiness and things are heating up. Troops start fueling up missiles and bomber crews are getting ready.
DEFCON 2: Air Force is ready to deploy and engage in less than six hours. Things are getting really serious and we are one step away from pushing the button. The missiles are ready to go and waiting on the order, and bomber crews are in the air near their targets.
DEFCON 1: Maximum readiness. Nuclear war is imminent, so you should probably get into the bunker.
Have we ever gone to DEFCON 1?
Nope, but we came pretty close.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, U.S. Strategic Air Command was placed at DEFCON 2 while the rest of the military was at DEFCON 3. What that meant for military units: On Oct. 22, 1962 SAC ordered its B-52 bombers on airborne alert. Then as tension grew over the next day, SAC was ordered to remain ready to strike targets inside of the Soviet Union.
“Pilots flew these nuclear laden airborne alerts, commonly known as Chrome Dome missions, for 24 hours before another air crew assumed the same flight route,” wrote Air Force journalist Stephanie Ritter. “Chrome Dome ensured that a percentage of SAC bombers could survive an enemy surprise attack and that the U.S. could retaliate against the Soviets. At the height of the air alerts, SAC produced 75 B-52 sorties a day.”
In addition to the flying sorties, more than 100 intercontinental ballistic missiles were placed on alert, waiting for the president’s order to launch. Luckily that didn’t happen.
U.S. forces were brought back to DEFCON 4 on Nov. 20, 1962. Though it has been placed at DEFCON 3 a few other times, the only known readiness level of 2 was during the missile crisis.
Islamic State leaders have been forced to abandon one of their religious beliefs by no longer forcing Muslim women to wear the burqa in public. The reason: Women under ISIS domination are fighting back – and using the face-and-body covering garment to do it.
Using clothing items to cover women’s bodies is common in the Islamic world. Many Muslim women are not forced to wear these garments, they are proud to do so. In some areas, however, the law does force women to wear certain coverings.
These items range from a simple headscarf, called a “hijab,” to the full-body burqa.
The burqa became synonymous with the harsh treatment of women in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
Now, under penalty of torture and death, ISIS forces women to wear such a garment in cities under its control.
They used to, anyway.
According to theInternational Business Times, sources inside the ISIS-held city of Mosul in Iraq say a Muslim woman in full veil shot and killed two ISIS fighters at a checkpoint south of the city’s center. She used a pistol hidden under her burqa to do it.
ISIS is now on the alert for similar attacks.
Burqas are used by women in some parts of the Muslim world, but Iraq and Syria are typically not among them. Syria, traditionally a secular state, discourages the use of Islamic head coverings. When the Syrian city of Manbij was liberated from the Islamic State by Kurdish fighters in August, VICE’s Tess Owen reported women burning their burqas. Some lit cigarettes from the burning garments.
When Maj. Gen. William Westmoreland took command of the 101st Airborne in 1958, he noticed a severe lack of proficiency in small-unit tactics and patrolling.
So he immediately created a school to fix the problem.
When he took command of all American forces in the Vietnam War, he once again created a school to teach long-range patrolling and small unit tactics with a Ranger-qualified cadre of instructors from the 5th Special Forces Group. To graduate from this school, you had to bet your life on it.
Dubbed “Recondo” school, Westmoreland claimed it was an amalgamation of Reconnaissance, Commando, and Doughboy. Recondo training emphasized both reconnaissance and standard infantry skills at the small unit level.
In 1960, Army Magazine described the Recondo tactics as “dedicated to the domination of certain areas of the battlefield by small aggressive roving patrols of opportunity which have not been assigned a definite reconnaissance or combat mission.” From these graduates, the 101st developed the Recondo Patrol.
This patrol type was meant to allow a Recondo to create as much havoc as possible in their area of operations. The patrol could be used against a disorganized enemy, as a screen for retrograde operations, to develop a situation or conduct a feint ahead of an advancing force, or to eliminate guerrilla activity.
It was the last ability that Recondos would put to great use in Vietnam.
The Recondo school was set up at Nha Trang and was inspired but the highly successful Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol training conducted by detachment B-52 from 5th Special Forces. This program, known as Project Delta, was originally intended to train Special Forces and their Vietnamese counterparts in guerrilla-like ambushes.
The course became so popular that within two years over half of the students were from regular Army units. Westmoreland expanded the school to teach Recondo tactics to as many LRRPs as possible.
In order to qualify for the MACV Recondo school, participants had to be in-country at least one month and have at least six months remaining on their tour upon completion. Students also had to have a combat arms MOS and an actual or pending assignment to an LRRP unit. Finally, they had to be in excellent physical shape and be proficient in general military knowledge.
The school was open to soldiers and marines of the Free World Military Assistance Forces, including the South Vietnamese, Koreans, Australians, and Filipinos. Many U.S. Marines also attended the training.
The curriculum of the school included improving students’ skills in the areas of map reading, intelligence gathering, weapons training, and communications. Weapons training included a variety of American weapons as well as weapons used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army. Particular attention was also given to mines and booby-traps. Communications covered the use of several different radios, field expedient antennas, and proper message writing techniques.
The school also gave advanced training in medical treatment, including the use of Ringer’s lactate solution and intravenous and intramuscular injections. Schooling also focused on air operations – especially the use of the UH-1 Huey helicopter for insertions and extractions. Forward Air Controller techniques were taught with students calling in live ordnance on a target.
Most importantly, the school taught patrolling.
Students learned different patrolling techniques, preparation, and organization. Proper patrol security was taught along with intelligence-gathering techniques. The students trained heavily in immediate action drills to react to or initiate enemy contact.
After over 300 hours of training, averaging over 12 hours per day, it was time for the students to take the final exam: an actual combat patrol.
In the early days of the program, the area the prospective graduates patrolled was relatively secure and quiet. As the war progressed, however, contact with the enemy became a given. This led to students saying “you bet your life” to graduate from Recondo School.
At least two students died in Recondo training with many others wounded. An unknown number of Viet Cong were also killed in the skirmishes during the “you bet your life” patrol. This led to the school itself receiving a nickname of its own: “the deadliest school on earth”.
In just over four years of operation, over 5,600 students attended Recondo school. Just 3,515 men graduated, not quite two-thirds of all who tried. Each student who graduated was awarded a Recondo patch, worn on the right breast pocket, and an individual Recondo number that was recorded in their 201 personnel file. The Honor Graduate from each class was also given a specially engraved Recondo knife.
Despite the school and its graduates’ success, Westmoreland’s successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, officially closed the school on December 19, 1970. The Recondo name and training lived on, as some divisions continued to host their own Recondo schools until they were eventually closed too.
If your idea of self-care is eating paleo and running ultra marathons, I’ve got news for you – you’re missing out.
Self-care goes way beyond the way you feed or train your body: It’s about health at multiple levels. At its core it requires attention to regulating your nervous system – to regularly giving your brain and endocrine system (your body’s network of hormone-producing glands) the chance to calm down and return to normal levels.
This type of self-regulation is important for your physical and mental performance whether you’re an elite athlete or an everyday person of any age.
Pain isn’t always weakness leaving the body
As a veteran, you know that the military does a great job attaching metrics to physical fitness. Service members are required to pay attention to their physicality, and intensity is emphasized. These are good things in many ways. After all, you can’t see improvement without testing your body’s limits.
However, the military often falls short on the topic of balanced wellness. Many veterans leave their time in service physically broken, with muscular imbalances, and hold fast to the belief that if training is hurting, it’s helping. We might even think that only malingerers, failures, and dirtbags take time to care for themselves.
I’m not here to suggest that you give up your high intensity training. But I am here to say that the whole point of intensity should be about using it to increase your performance in a smart and productive way.
Whether your goal is muscle growth or cardiovascular improvement, attaining your specific training objectives will be easier when you lower your blood cortisol levels (the stress hormones your body produces).
You can do this by practicing self care and something called “mindful movement.”
But isn’t mindful movement for hippies?
Mindful movement is as useful for grunts as it is for POGs as it is for civilians. Here’s what career infantry officer Maj. Gen. Thomas Jones, USMC (Ret.), has to say about it:
“For many years as an infantry officer, I worked feverishly to build resiliency in combat Marines. However, and unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was a civilian that I learned that I was missing the central, necessary ingredient…to crafting resiliency: a thorough understanding of the physiology of stress within the body…I learned that mindfulness enabled me to personally address stressors with positive outcomes.”
Mindfulness is a form of self-care, and what it really means is that you’re paying close attention to your breath and body so you can discover how to care for yourself. For example, if you notice that you have really tight hips, you should work to correct the problem instead of ignoring it. This type of awareness is a very calming thing – we can use breath as a vehicle to connect our (sometimes very) disconnected mental and physical selves, and it can let us know how we need to adjust our training or lives to perform more effectively.
When we’re busy and stressed, paying attention to the needs of the physical body is one of the first things to go. However, we can benefit tremendously from figuring out when we’re not in a rested state and then working to provide our bodies and minds with opportunities to relax.
Why are mindfulness and self-care so good for me?
When we effectively manage stressed out bodies and minds, our levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) are lowered. Lowering cortisol is helpful because it improves our brain’s ability to function and our body’s ability to perform.
Alternately, high levels of cortisol encourage your body to seek out and crave simple carbs and store them as fat. Too much cortisol also impairs upper-level cognition in our brains – making it harder to think clearly, experience empathy, and communicate effectively. It can also degrade our physical performance.
Finding ways to lower our stress – even if only for a few moments – has the opposite effect and is incredibly beneficial to us.
So what does a drop in stress hormones feel like? Think about the last time you enjoyed an activity or training – when you took a deep breath in and you just felt that “Ahhh!” feeling – even if you were working hard and running up and down trails. You may find it while running, skiing, doing yoga, getting a deep tissue massage, or even lifting weights. Some people call it a “click,” or a “shift.”
That moment will look different for everyone, but when you find it, take note.
If I want to practice self-care – where should I start?
The first and most important step to practicing self-care is to commit to managing your time so you can structure a plan for success.
Next look at how what you’re doing on a daily basis makes you feel. Tune into that and take notes for a few days. Do you feel depleted at the end of a day? Energized? Hopeless? Keyed up?
Once you have a read on how you’re doing, begin to expand your skills. If you only know one or two tools to make yourself feel better, the good news is that you have lots of room to grow. Continue to do what you already know you like and benefit from, then learn and add in a couple of new options to your wellness program and nutritional choices.
Pay attention to how you’re treating your body with food. Consider taking fast food and soda out of the options column for yourself. If you don’t want to take them out, then look to add items that taste amazing and are healthy. Instead of restricting, add in.
If you feel overwhelmed as you think about all the training and wellness options out there, consider plugging into an organization or non-profit that can teach you helpful skills. As a veteran, if you can imagine a self-care or mindful movement option, a non-profit probably exists that supplies it.
Self Care Resources
Outdoor Odyssey – Funded weeklong retreats for wounded, ill and injured active-duty and veteran warriors, designed to craft a definitive plan for the future with the support of a team. Designed and operated by those who have been there!
Outward Bound – OIF/OEF veterans can enjoy all-expenses paid week-long trips rock climbing, dog sledding, sailing, and more, as they learn the value of compassionate leadership.
Sierra Club Military Outdoors – Power ski, ice climb, whitewater raft and more alongside fellow veterans in some of America’s most stunning backcountry.
Just Roll With It Wellness Retreat – This free three-day retreat teaches self-care and mindfulness practices, gives you the opportunity to connect with other veterans interested in physical and mental health, and includes a travel stipend.
Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas is a U.S. Marine veteran and wellness coach who writes about resilience building, creating strong communities, and the science of spirituality. You can find her new book, “Brave, Strong, True: The Modern Warrior’s Battle for Balance”, here.