PUBLISH TO APPLE NEWS
Lessons aren’t always taught and learned within the confines of a classroom and an education isn’t always received from a teacher at a school or institution. Sometimes the best lessons learned are those that make us question ourselves and challenge our abilities.
Maybe this is why I try so diligently to step aside from my office desk and step out into the one place that I truly feel at home—the great learning institution of our rivers, oceans and mountains.
About ten years ago, I hadn’t quite started towards my college degree but had begun what would become a feverish travel ambition to include an annual summer pilgrimage to the Alps. At first, my trips to the Alps were to see and experience the things that I had only seen in pictures or videos. Everything was new to me and I was a bit hasty and rambunctious with my time. My scope of activities was limited almost exclusively to BASE jumping. But as the years have gone by, I have focused less on keeping the throttle pegged to eleven and more on experiencing other aspects of the mountains, mountain culture, history, and beauty of such an incredible landscape.
This has made things a bit challenging, as it requires more time and a reprioritizing of resources. But it has paid significant dividends in my mental well-being, thus making my transition back into the “real world,” post military service a bit less painful. This year, (three years removed from military service and 2 semesters shy of my graduate degree) I decided to enroll in a summer school class for my master’s program just to make things a little more interesting. While I never falter on responsibilities or obligations, this addition to my annual mountain adventure-fest would certainly be unfamiliar territory.
Taking a summer school class wasn’t part of my plan. However, the availability of this particular course would be an excellent way to reduce my course load during my thesis semester. There was only one issue: I had already booked my summer trip and dedicated a large amount of money and resources towards it.
After a short conversation with the course’s professor, I was able to work out a viable and responsible way to meet all of the objectives and still salvage the business and pleasure portion of my trip (the jaunt through the Alps would be directly after my jump into Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day).
Regardless of school, I had images of soaring grandeur in my head. There were several jumps that I had been dying to do in previous years and hadn’t been able to for one reason or another. I also wanted to get in some paragliding and as much speedflying as possible. While I generally try to remain somewhat flexible in my plans, this year I would have to give up most hope of getting some of these jumps/flights in.
I decided to bring my speedwing (a small, fast wing based largely on a paraglider, but in contrast is designed to fly fast, steep and lower to the ground) with me to the Alps instead of just wingsuits and BASE rigs. As
it would turn out, this decision would help give me the flexibility in time spent adventuring since nearly all of the bigger, Alpine BASE exits were still under snow and ice.
After a quick two-day stop in Germany’s Black Forest region to pick up a cuckoo clock and gummy bears, I finally arrived in the heart of the Berner-Oberland region of Switzerland. Sitting in the shadow of the Alpine legends, Eiger, Monk and Jungfrau is a series of valleys and steppes that is prime for anything mountain and anything adventure. A literal postcard, this region is where the novice and expert alike come to test their mettle. As I nestled into my chalet, unpacked and organized my gear, I began to come up with a game plan.
Already caught up on school work for the week from my frolic through the Black Forest, I earned myself a few days of play and would ultimately decide to shake off the cobwebs with a few warm up jumps at an exit called “Via Feratta.”
With a few jumps under my belt and a few beers and brats in my belly, I decided to retire to my chalet, open up the window to the balcony and listen to the waterfalls and ultimately, the rain, which stuck around about two days longer than forecasted. I used this opportunity to suck down cappuccino and hammer down on schoolwork.
Finally, my good mates Mavs (from Australia) and Chinook (from The Netherlands) and I decided to check out the indoor standing surf wave an hour away in Lucerne. If you’ve never heard of a standing surf wave and have no idea of the concept, then just think of a wave formed in a river that never ends, shuts out or breaks and stays in one place. Now think of that same concept, but inside, and in a huge rectangular pool. After a few good falls and a bit of stance adjustment, I was making full use of the width and depth of the wave and, most importantly, found a new way to spend weather days!
Once the weather passed through the area, Mavs and I decided to hit up some of the hillsides above the Via Feratta exit to try our luck with some hiking and speedflying fun. While I had skied this area in the winter and early spring months, seeing it with an eye that was primarily focused on carving deep turns in fresh Swiss powder, I was now looking at the terrain with a different scope of intent.
There is just something surreal and unnatural about flying over mountain terrain only feet above the ground or treetops when the ground falls away and you suddenly have 2,500 feet of air between you and the next solid thing below you. It’s like getting the rug pulled out from underneath you, only the rug is the Earth. No matter how many times I fly lines like this, my lower belly tingles with simultaneous nervousness and excitement. Making this line so much sweeter was the fact that that there is a massive waterfall that drops the length of the cliff wall that we get to play with. The visual of the water falling away from you as you fly alongside it, then putting the wing into a dive next to the waterfall only to see the water slow down then seemingly go upward as you accelerate faster than it is falling is unreal.
Once safely back on the ground, high-fives, yip-yaws, brats and giggles were of abundance. Mavs would have to get back to work sooner than later anyway and I determined that I could stand to crack the books a bit more to stay ahead on things. Or at least not fall behind. Back to my chalet I went, cappuccino in hand.
The next few days would be a repeat of the day before. Morning speedfly run from the Schiltgrat to Stechelberg, laughs, high-fives, brats, giggles, followed by wind and thermals midday, followed by one or two afternoon BASE jumps, capped off with a late afternoon/evening thunderstorm and rain. Not a bad way to spend a good portion of the week.
Finally, as if Mother Nature was finally done giving us a hard time, our schedules and the weather finally synced up like a Swiss watch. Right on schedule and just in the nick of time too. I was coming down to my last week in the Alps and still had some fun (and schoolwork) to get done. With a solid weather forecast finally in our favor in the northeast corner of Switzerland, we decided to make a run toward the border and try our luck. Literally a stone’s throw from Lichtenstein (only a few kilometers from the border), this area is known for great skiing, awesome paragliding, and what has now become one of the most infamous wingsuit BASE exits in the world.
Affectionately known as “The Crack” to most people, “Sputnik” and the exits along the ridgeline that it sits on have become an icon in the sport. While I had jumped this area before, we had our sights on trying to find a viable footlaunch site for our speedwings so that we could explore the area further and in a different way. This would take a bit of RECCE, a dash a research, and definitely a leap of faith. We decided on mid-morning launches for breakfast and wingsuit BASE jumps for lunch and dinner. This would be a meal plan that even Brooke West would approve of.
We were stoked. The set up for our first launch off the saddle between “Sputnik” and “Fatal Attraction” (another BASE exit) was filled with a lot of angst and unsettled emotion. We were confident in our ability as well as our planning and assessment of the site and conditions, but the unknown still sat firmly on our shoulders whispering doubt into our ears. Eventually, after a bit of self-talk and acute attention to the sine wave of conditions, our confidence in ability and assessment won the battle. One last line and harness check and we started running down the hill, one after another until our feet were no longer furiously striking the ground. While the feeling of relief came over me that I was now safely on off the ground, I quickly fell into sensory overload with seeing this terrain in a completely different way. There were so many more possibilities with this form of flight over wingsuiting. There is more glide, more time, more range, and more unknown.
Mavs and I decided to make these first few flights at this new site what we call, “sightseeing” flights. Smooth, mellow flights where we take in all the aspects of the flight; terrain, sights, everything. Once on the ground, we chatted about the flight, what we saw, what we thought, and how we wanted to attack the next flight. After the hour-plus train ride around the ridge to switch out gear and get back up the mountain, we would make good on both our lunch and dinner dates with our wingsuits.
After three days of this diet, our appetites were completely sated. I was sitting fat and happy on the drive back to Zurich, ready to hop on a plane and catch up on the homework that I had been neglecting.
Whether the fun was just starting to really happen or you feel you just left too many cards on the table, the close to a trip can often be bittersweet. However, regardless of the “big Alpine jumps” that I didn’t get or the time “seemingly wasted” spent doing homework and watching the rain fall, after nearly a month traveling through Europe seeing the best it has to offer, I was content and ready to get back home.
Three-hundred-and-fifty-three meters in fifty seconds.
It was in 1934 that Florence Ilott dashed across the Westminster bridge in the time it took Big Ben to ring out his twelve chimes at noon.
A member of the staff at the House of Commons, Florence was a young Brit and an amateur sprinter. She had started working in one of the tea rooms Parliament as a teenager. Like much of the young, unwedded staff would have, Ilott lived on the premises where the chimes of Big Ben would ring out all through the night.
It was one of the members of Parliament, a man who knew of Ilott’s love for sprinting and her speed, that suggested she undertake one of Britain's most challenging running challenges. Though the origins of the challenge are unclear, workers at the House of Commons, staff and Members of Parliament alike, had long attempted to sprint across the bridge in less than twelve chimes.
On the morning of April 14, 1934, the 20-year-old Ilott donned her running gear (which, let’s face it, was likely made of wool or something equally as heavy at the time) and readied herself at the southern end of Westminster Bridge. The buzz was huge, as no one had ever successfully completed the run in time before. Members of the press lined up, cameras in hand, hoping that Ilott might be the first to run the bridge in less than twelve chimes.
The first bell chimed at noon and Ilott was off. She dashed past walkers and onlookers, writers from the Associated Press, the Evening Standard and the Daily Sketch, and traffic-bound cars alike. As the bells chimed, Ilott picked up speed, hitting her full-sprint stride within the first hundred meters.
By the time she’d reached the finish, Big Ben’s bell had only rung ten times. Not only did she beat the challenge, but Florence Ilott beat it with time to spare.
It had taken fifty seconds.
Extrapolated out, that’s equivalent a 56.6-second four-hundred-meter dash which, in 1934, would likely have been a world record (the first women’s world record wasn’t recorded until 1957 when it was clocked at an even 57.0).
Ilott became an instant celebrity around Britain as the press went wild for her and her feat, leading to her having a hugely successful career as a sprinter specializing in the 220-yard dash.
Sadly, this was back when female runners were unable to compete professionally, thus the fruits of Florence Illott’s talents were the clocks, crockery and cutlery she’d won at race after race in lieu of prize money; talismans of her lightning-quick speed that filled her home as she raised a family throughout the rest of her life.
One of the first conversations coaches have with people is about their goals. To best do our jobs, we need to know what it is they out of their training program.
Are they after six-pack abs? Chasing a 300-pound snatch? Looking for the ability to run faster and jump higher?
Most often, we’re met with the typical, “all of the above.”
As a coach for SOFLETE, it’s become obvious that tactical or hybrid athletes want to be good at everything. They’re the ones often in search of “all of the above,” which makes perfect sense when you think about it on a surface level.
Due to the uncertainty of your profession, you try and train for all the things all the time. Therefore, as I coach of tactical athletes, I am no longer surprised when they come to me hurt, stressed out and unable to achieve balance.
The question remains if you consider yourself a member of the "tactical" community, how best should you train?
Tactical Athletes Need to Be the Best Movers on the Planet
Fitness is not the job of a tactical athlete.
This slogan should be a mantra posted up in every military gym and police HQ fitness facility. Your job is your job, which has specific fitness requirements. Your six pack and biceps don't stop bullets. Your body armor does.
Tactical athletes have to be the best movers. As a baseline, if you want to prepare yourself for the genuine uncertainty of the battlefield, focus on a solid foundation of movement. If your training is geared at loading your frame with hundreds of pounds of excess muscle, not only are you restricting movement, but when your ass gets shot, it will take your whole team to move you. This makes you a liability, rather than an asset, despite your 500lb bench press.
What this means for your training is that you need to focus on a base of mobility and postural strength, not size. You need to be able to change directions, run, jump, sprint and most of all, not get hurt all the damn time. If you find yourself incapacitated for three weeks because you rolled your ankle walking through a furnished house with NVGs on, you're wrong.
As a tactical athlete, your joints take a beating. Between ruck marches, body armor and the effects of a solid PLF, your joints bear the brunt of your work. By increasing your range of motion combined with the proper stress of an external load to recondition the body, you can increase the longevity of your lethality.
After all, outlasting your enemy is the goal, right?
Tactical Athletes Need a Level of Unprecedented Balance of Mind and Body
It’s relatively simple to structure training plans based on energy system requirements. If you are a cop chasing a suspect through crowded city streets, I know that you are going to require a robust aerobic system that can facilitate the creation of ATP (Adenosine Tri-Phosphate) so you can ultimately outlast the perp on foot.
But when that suspect draws a weapon, forcing you to draw yours and ultimately end his or her life, it induces a stress that sticks with you. And that stress takes a physiological toll that impacts your training. You are a fool to believe otherwise.
Situations like the one mentioned above are where we begin to see the benefits of mindset training. Put just, your brain can be trained just like your body, and as a tactical athlete, you need a firm grasp on your "why.”
Where mindset training differs from physical training though is in approach. Mindset isn't achieved through sets and reps like a back squat. This is done in those quiet moments that you have with yourself when you first wake up or before you go to bed, when you recite your personal mantra that keeps your head in the game when it matters most.
Your mindset is what brings you into the gym in the first place and gives you the drive you need to continue going. At SOFLETE, we don't preach the hippie shit because we care about the lives of trees. We teach it because it works. Each former member of the SOF employee base at SOFLETE, has personal experience with those dark moments that come from making the hardest decisions in the execution of their duties.
Soon, those stressful moments begin to manifest themselves in the form of actions and those actions have consequences that impact your ability to train. It’s why alcohol isn’t "on the meal plan." Tactical athletes need to understand that all physical training is is "controlled, acute physical stress designed to create a stress adaptation." Those stress adaptations can be positive or negative.
Tactical Athletes Have the Highest Stakes of All Athletes
Tactical athletes play for the highest of stakes. The consequences of failure make the need to train of the utmost importance to all those who partake in this sport. Like athletes in other sports, tactical athletes play team sports. If you train like a specialist, you're doing it wrong. This isn't to say that you can't have hobbies and things that you do on the outside to "supplement" your job performance, but when the "supplement" becomes the main focus, you've entered into the realm of specialty.
Type A people don't do well wrestling the concept of "not being the best" in anything they do. Which is all the more reason to understand what exactly it is you are trying to be the best at. As a tactical athlete, you are trying to be the best at your job. Rich Froning or Matt Fraser might be the fittest men on the planet, but they weren't Green Berets and therefore they are not in my arena.
As leaders in the tactical realm, this is a valuable lesson to let solidify in your brain. Just because someone can run a four-minute mile on the PT test doesn't make them the best soldier. Focused training to suit their needs and the needs of their team on the battlefield does. Tactical athletes are those who those who can run pretty well, lift pretty well and live pretty well, too.
I’ve been a United States Marine for almost twenty-five years now. It’s all I ever wanted to be, and I am cognizant that there is a certain rare blessing in getting to be what you wanted to be when you were a kid. With that said, at age forty-six, with retirement more than just an ethereal notion, the shine is just a bit off the apple. However, I recently had a brief moment that reminds me why this was all so alluring thirty years ago.
I was parking my truck for another windowless, fluorescent filled Monday within the Pentagon. In front of me, two fellow Marines parked, presumptively for the same thing. As members of the smallest service, Marines in a crowd often give one another a smile and a nod of acknowledgement. The Pentagon, with 30,000 civilians and service members is certainly a crowd and this interaction was no different.
What was different is that my subconscious recognized one of the forty-something Lieutenant Colonels emerging from their car, though my conscious did not.
Suddenly it was December 2004 and I was standing on a road in Karabilah, Iraq at 2 AM, trying to account for a HMMWV-load of Marines blown up when a Chinese Type 72 anti-tank mine detonated under the front left tire of their truck and waiting for a follow-on attack.
The blast sheared off the front of the truck. It slid about fifty feet, leaving a trail of hot oil and hydraulic fluid, ending up nose down in a HMMWV sized hole on the side of the road. I and the Marines in the lead vehicle of our five-vehicle patrol had passed over the mine unaware. The second vehicle was similarly fortunate. Then, abruptly, BOOM!
The biggest balloon in the world burst and a flash of light like a single strobe lit up the buildings on either side of the street and my driver was accelerating us out of a potential ambush and I was taking a deep breath as I had learned to do before pushing transmit on my radio handset, because Marines need to hear calm in the voice of their leaders during times of stress.
“Dagger 80, this is Dagger 8 Actual. Status, over.”
“Dagger 80, this is Dagger 8 Actual. Give me a status report, over.”
“Dagger 80. Give. Me. Your. Status. Over!”
Getting urgent now.
“DAGGER 80! I NEED…”
“Break, Break…Dagger 8 Actual, this is 83…Vehicle 3 hit a mine…Dagger 80 is checking on the guys. We’ll move to them.”
“Negative 83, hold what you got in case we get hit.”
If your enemy knows what he’s doing, a mine or IED should be covered by fire from a prepared ambush. I was waiting on the follow-on machinegun and rocket fire to start.
Then Dagger 80’s voice, that of my Platoon Sergeant, came over the radio, dazed but doing his job because that is what Platoon Sergeants do even after they’ve been rocked by the blast of 5.4 kg of TNT and RDX explosives in a 50/50 mix.
“Dagger 8 Actual, this is 80…I have nine wounded.”
“80, 8 Actual. Nine?! The number is supposed to be ten!”
“I’m still looking for the driver.”
The blast pushed the floorboard of the truck up to the steering column, blowing the driver out of the vehicle in the process. That was the ironic blessing in having “gone to war with the army we had.” Had he not been in the open front of a barely armored Hummer, and had an enterprising Gunnery Sergeant from the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines Motor Transport section not invented and installed armor he and a Staff Sergeant from our unit stayed awake for most of three days welding onto the undercarriage of our trucks, that Lance Corporal would have either been turned into a pink mist or had his neck snapped when he slammed into the roof of the cab at the exponential speed of Chinese explosive. As it was, he was thrown up and out of the cab via the half door and left behind when the truck slid down the street and into the hole, the remainder of the Marines in it ending up in a pile at the front of the truck bed.
What happened next is why I love Marines and Sailors (and Soldiers and Airmen for that matter) and why, this Veteran’s Day I felt the need to tell a war story.
My Corpsman came up on the radio,
“Dagger 8 Actual, this is 83, we’re moving to Vehicle 3. Moving now.”
Not a question. Not a request. A statement. And then he and a Marine ran seventy-five yards down a street, weapons facing out, covering one another and fully exposed to anyone that was there to finish what they’d started. They arrived at the stricken vehicle and began assisting injured and dazed Marines as they climbed out. Then those same Marines; bruised, bleeding, and concussed, moved to establish a perimeter. Weapons up, facing out. Ready to fight.
The Marines riding in the rear truck climbed out of their vehicle and moved to close our perimeter and protect our rear and flanks. The Company Sergeant Major, the most senior enlisted member amongst 300 Marines and present only because real leaders share danger, turned to the junior Sergeant who was in charge by authority of his position in our platoon and said “Where do you need me?” Then he took the position to which he was directed. Weapon up, facing out. Ready to fight.
Meanwhile, our Forward Air Controller (FAC) was working to find us a way to move the wounded and ensure the helicopters overhead knew what was going on. Unable to sit still, I moved down the street to the truck behind me, where one of my Team Leaders assigned himself the duty of bodyguarding me while I stalked up and down the street, careless in my anger, talking to my commander in the helicopter overhead and to my men who were working diligently and effectively to apply order to chaos. The Marines in my lead vehicle, unbidden by me, had moved forward in search of a landing zone and then come back to report success in finding a small dirt lot in which Iraqi kids played soccer.
By now, it appeared an ambush wasn’t coming and we were focused on getting our two wounded Marines evacuated as rapidly as possible. The FAC announced that one of our two escort helicopters, with my commanding officer aboard, would evacuate the two worst wounded; the vehicle driver and another Marine. The remainder of the injured Marines would go out in the remaining four vehicles, a contingency we had planned for and practiced. My driver moved into the zone to try and identify any critically dangerous obstacles.
I rejoined my vehicle and we moved to the edge of the makeshift landing zone. The LZ was completely unlit and surrounded on three sides by Iraqi homes and power wires. Debris littered the dirt lot. The pilot of the inbound UH-1 “Huey”, flying on night vision goggles (NVGs), would experience a dirt cloud on landing as his rotor blades whipped the desert soil into the air. An AH-1W Cobra gunship orbited overhead as the Huey descended into the impromptu landing zone.
I contacted my Commanding Officer (CO), suggesting he join me in my truck so my Corpsman could fly out with the wounded. We needed to send the front-line medical care with the injured to treat them in flight and to let him assist the next echelon of care on landing. My CO demurred, saying he would just stay where he was. I was livid at his violation of procedure. I was also completely ignorant of the fact that in the blacked out LZ, in the dust, on NVGs, the Huey landed hard enough to snap the skids on landing, sending the helicopter belly down in the dirt. The impact broke my CO’s ankle, but knowing I didn’t need the stress, he just directed us to load the wounded without telling me he’d just been in a helicopter crash and was injured himself (incidentally, he stayed in country another three months with his broken ankle, kept flying top cover for me, and didn’t go home till we all did).
The pilot, knowing time was of the essence with wounded Marines, announced that he would fly the helicopter out of the zone despite having no functional landing gear. The implication? He would have to crash the helicopter a second time to get it on the ground at our base.
Crossing the parking lot, my subconscious and conscious clocked. I caught up to that pilot, his call sign “Cup”, at the top of the elevators in the Pentagon. We talked and realized I’ve been serving with his brother in law for the last four years without knowing the connection. I was able to thank him for his bravery, selflessness, and airmanship. I was able to tell him that the two wounded are walking around today. One is a police SWAT officer. The driver, called “Little Brother” by his fellow Marines, is in his thirties now and surfing again. I was able to thank him for keeping the faith with the Marines on the ground and risking his life (and that of his crew) to aid us. He was appreciative but acted like his performance had been just another day. Perhaps it was for him. But for me, it exemplified why I’ve lead this life for more than two decades.
Memories like these exemplify why I left my wife for the first time on our first anniversary. Why I missed the birth of my child and why she measures her young life in Daddy’s trips to Afghanistan. Why “normal” for the daughters of one of my Army Special Forces friends is their Dad departing to war every 12–18 months of their lives. Why another friend asked, via Facebook, if anyone in the DC area could attend her career Army father in law’s Arlington interment because she and her husband were both in Afghanistan and couldn’t be there for her mother-in-law. Why other, better men and women have given so much more than I, up to the last full measure. So thanks, Cup. Thanks for exemplifying for me, especially in our striated, fractured times, what this day means and why it matters. Semper Fidelis, brother.
Russell Worth Parker is a career Marine Corps Special Operations Officer. He likes barely making the cut-offs in ultra-marathon events, sport eating, and complaining about losing the genetic lottery. He is an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and graduate of the University of Colorado, the Florida State University College of Law and the Masters in Conflict Management and Resolution Program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Special Operations Command, the United States Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or the United States Government.
If you're unsure what Apnea Training is, watch this video to learn more.
The Oxygen Advantage
As athletes, we constantly look to improve muscular strength, endurance and flexibility. However, during those brutal grinders, the first thing to go typically isn’t our muscles, capacity or pliability. Rather, it’s our breath. When our breath goes, there is a cascading effect that reverberates through our system leading to breaks, missed reps, dropped barbells and the like.
The upside to this problem is that you don’t need a gym to train your lungs. You just need focused effort and a plan. Apnea training is an exceptionally valuable endeavor and you can do it from the comfort of your own home, while on the couch watching television.
Apnea training or hypercapnia training is a fancy way of saying “holding your breath.” Yes, that silly game we played as kids where would see who could hold their breath the longest actually has been proven to be a quite effective tool in the effort to improve overall athleticism.
Breathing is the quickest way to both hype up and calm down your nervous system, thus learning how to breathe becomes exceptionally important when trying to rid your body of Co2, the byproduct of aerobic metabolism. The buildup of Co2 in your system causes a domino effect during brutal workouts which inevitably ends with you slowing down and your ability to tolerate and subsequently flush out Co2 from the system will give you a leg up over the guy who is sucking wind next to you. Your muscles crave oxygen but the exchange is one-for-one. One molecule of O2 in equals one molecule of Co2 out.
As mentioned above, breath holding and other forms of apnea training are designed to increase the body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide. When Co2 builds up, it is uncomfortable. It’s the sensation that causes your twelve-year-old self to shoot up from the bottom of the pool after a whopping twenty oxygenless seconds of impressing your friends. By incorporating doses of apnea training (static or dynamic) into your training you allow your body to adapt to the stress caused by Co2 build up.
During hypoxic training, you are depriving your body of its greatest need, oxygen. So of course, there are risk factors to be aware of during your bouts of holding your breath. Your body has built-in reactions to such threats to the system such as passing out. If you pass out in a pool by yourself holding your breath, you drown. If you pass out standing up, you will fall and hit whatever objects are between you and the floor. If you have a health condition that makes hypoxic conditions particularly life-threatening, then these techniques are NOT for you. The rule is to never do hypoxic work alone. ALWAYS have a buddy.
Provided all things are healthy and functioning properly, incorporating these techniques in small doses over time is both safe and effective and will improve your level of aerobic fitness drastically.
“To me, it's disturbing whenever I see authority figures embracing Punisher iconography because the Punisher represents a failure of the Justice system. ... The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice system, an example of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they're basically siding with an enemy of the system." –Gerry Conway, The Punisher co-creator.
Whenever there is a political or social movement, there is inevitably its converse. In the wake of Black Lives Matter movement came Blue Lives Matter. I certainly have my thoughts on what constitutes the genesis of both of those movements: Michael Brown’s death and the officers killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge. But this is not that article.
With the rise of the Blue Lives Matter movement came an explosion of Thin Blue Line stickers, flags, patches, and other products. As a Law Enforcement Officer on the job well before Ferguson and the son of a cop, I grew up in the culture and knew of the Thin Blue Line (TBL) well before any of these incidents occurred. The TBL was something unique to law enforcement, a way of acknowledging our own, something that in a way had to be earned by carrying a badge and a gun for a living. I still support that idea of the Thin Blue Line, but I am uncomfortable with some of the variations it has taken on, specifically, the common association of it with The Punisher emblem.
For those who don’t know, The Punisher, Frank Castle, is a Marvel comic book character who made his debut in 1974. Castle is a former US Marine Force Recon veteran who turns to vigilantism in the wake of the murder of his wife and children by the mafia after they witnessed a murder. Castle employs his extraordinary skills to hunt down bad guys and dispose of them when he deems necessary. There are plenty of articles and interviews from The Punisher’s creators and others who delve into psychology of Castle, but putting it very simply he is a tragic figure.
I understand the appeal of The Punisher, especially for Law Enforcement Officers. He is not constrained by policy or hamstrung by politics; he certainly doesn’t have to wear a body camera. He is simply dispatching criminals, fighting a “total” War on Crime. He is not afraid to get his hands dirty and eliminate those who prey on the innocent. There have been many times in my career where I have seen crooks walk or get a sweetheart deal on serious offenses and it can be incredibly frustrating, especially when it was your case or your scene. You spend hours, days, sometimes months working on a case, speaking with victims, families, survivors, meticulously documenting incidents, drafting warrants, organizing evidence, reviewing criminal histories. Then, poof! There it all goes. You begin to wonder why you even bother. Sometimes the prosecutor drops the ball, sometimes you get a bad judge, sometimes you wonder where they find these jurors, and sometimes it’s your own damn fault.
That frustration can easily turn into disillusionment with “the system”. You might start thinking The Punisher’s way of battling crime might not be that bad of an idea. Criminals should have a healthy fear of punishment, right? Part of The Punisher’s aura is simply his presence, a true consequence for wrong doers. The Punisher is “true justice” manifested. Except that as Law Enforcement Officers, we do not deliver justice. That is not our job. Our job is to deliver people to justice.
As a veteran Homicide investigator put it to me, our mission is to find the right person, who did the wrong thing, and to help ensure a fair amount of justice is delivered. To put it another way-let the evidence and facts direct you to the guilty party and build as strong a case as you can in order for the other parts of the Criminal Justice System to do their jobs correctly. Police Officers play a part in “the system” but we are not the only cogs in the machine. In a society that frequently tells us to be our own individuals, to blaze our own path, working in such a complex, bureaucratic quagmire, can be frustrating in its own right, let alone adding in the moral complexities of “right and wrong.”
Right about the time the Blue Lives Matter movement was born, American Sniper, the film based on a book of the same name, hit theaters. American Sniper is based on “The Legend”, US Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Kyle racked up 160 confirmed kills and is credited with being the Deadliest Sniper in US History. Kyle famously used The Punisher logo as his calling card- one his team quickly took up. “The Punishers” of SEAL Team 3 put the emblem on their vehicles and kit and it unmistakably struck fear in the hearts of their enemies.
As with most things military, they trickle down to Law Enforcement, especially things designated as “tacti-cool.” The Punisher emblem, a longed fanged Grim Reaper is most certainly that. But, as with most things developed for war, there is a not a straight line progression onto American streets. Our streets are filled with other members of our community, not enemy combatants. Should police be equipped with heavy body armor, carbines, have access to ballistic shields and armored personnel carriers? Yes. These are tools that have come from the military and have found to be vital to ensure officer and civilian safety. Further, these are only deployed in specific situations or to protect specific locations (i.e. Times Square, Airports, etc.). Police are not conducting patrol operations in APCs.
Admittedly, over the past decade, the landscape of American Law Enforcement has changed a great deal. It is heavily influenced by the 18+ years of war our country has been in since 9/11 and in the wake of such incidents as Ferguson. However, that has not changed our core mission: to protect and serve our communities. Ours is not to intimidate nor take matters into our own hands. We are not Punishers, that is not our job, nor should we look up to that ideal. If you’re looking to get your war on, stay in the military or sign up, there’s one still going on.
Suffering is a well-trodden topic. From Hollywood movies to tall tales, oral histories to family anecdotes, even in song (especially if you’re listening to country), suffering is one of the most integral parts of any good conflict. And conflict is what always drives a great story.
Scroll through pages on Amazon or browse the shelves at your local bookstore and you’ll find tons of books about suffering.
There’s a variety of reasons for the enduring popularity of stories about other people’s trials and their journies through suffering.
Sometimes these types of stories allow us to feel the pain of their characters, to place us in otherwise unthinkable circumstances, or to explore the depths of human hopelessness.
What these stories can also imbue us with is hope. Through tales of awesome and often unbelievable survival, we can learn that no matter how hard our own lives get, we can endure. We know others before us have suffered and come out on the other side. Most importantly, these stories give us an appreciation for life.
Here is a list of some of my favorite examples of books that tell tales of embracing the suck.
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic by Alfred Lansing
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton took a crew of twenty-seven men to the South Atlantic on a ship called ‘Endurance.’ Their goal? Cross the Antarctic over land. By October of 1915, the ‘Endurance’ was trapped by ice and the men were castaways in one of the planet’s most remote and unforgiving regions. This book tells an unbelievable tale about men who leaned on each other in the face of certain death and how, despite all the odds, they survived.
Skeletons on the Zahara by Dean King
Chronicling the horrors of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked in West Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold in slavery and marched across the unforgiving Sahara for two months, Skeletons on the Zahara is an often horrifying and always harrowing tale of human suffering. It’s also an amazing and unbelievable read.
Minus 148 Degrees: The First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley by Art Davidson
Climbing a mountain as tough as Denali is hard enough. Doing it in the middle of winter can only be described as hellacious. Davidson’s account of history’s first winter ascent of the hulking peak is painfully detailed and beautifully described, often leaving the reader shocked by its brutal honesty and no-holds-barred retelling of this intrepid climb.
River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candace Millard
Theodore Roosevelt is known as being one of the baddest asses that ever lived. Always in search of adventure, of danger and of challenge, Roosevelt was no stranger to suffering. Though through all his adventures, his journey down the then-unknown Amazon in the wake of a crushing political defeat was arguably the most perilous and important he ever undertook. “A dazzling debut,” according to Amazon.com, Millard’s tale reveals the darkness of the jungle and, through stories of murder, betrayal, and Roosevelt’s near-suicide, the darkness that exists at the core of the human spirit.
We’ll always be fascinated by what lies beneath our oceans, especially when it comes to shipwrecks. In the early nineties, two recreational divers came across an unknown German U-Boat mere miles off the coast of New Jersey. No historian, no government, no books or records could identify exactly which ship the men had found. It was as if they were exploring a ghost. Over the next six years, the divers, along with a team of elite sea-searchers, sought to uncover the mystery of the phantom U-Boat. Some divers wouldn’t live to see the conclusion of the expedition. Others would see their rivalries turn into great friendships. All would be changed by what lay beneath the frigid waves off of New Jersey.
Denali. The name alone conjures certain images, certain feelings. The sheer size and heft of the mountain, intimidating, often deadly. Maybe climbing Denali is something you’ve done. Maybe you’ve stood at its base, feeling those feelings and seeing those images with your own two eyes.
Now imagine those feelings and images if you knew that no one had ever climbed Denali to her peak before; if you knew that you were the first person ever to undertake that climb.
That’s what British explorer and adventurer Hudson Stuck did in spring and early summer of 1913, as he became the first person ever to summit Alaska’s awe-inspiring Denali.
Born and raised in London in the mid-19th century, Stuck, yearning for a more adventurous life, emigrated to Texas in 1885 to work as both a cowboy and a teacher. By 1889, Stuck was also ordained as an Episcopalian priest, serving a congregation in rural Texas and then in Dallas as the century wound down. In addition to leading his congregation, Stuck was an advocate for child workers -- he helped pass early child labor laws in Texas -- for millworkers, and for the poor. He was also a leading voice in the opposition of lynching, which reached an all-time high in Texas around the dawn of the 20th century.
In 1904, Stuck made his way north to Alaska on a missionary trip. Learning to travel via dogsled and snowshoe, Stuck soon began founding missions, churches, schools and hospitals in and around the booming city of Fairbanks.
And though his life’s work was in helping people, Stuck was an adventurer at his core. Having climbed Washington’s Mount Rainier, along with various other mountains and peaks in his time in Alaska, Stuck set his sight on the indomitable Denali.
In March of 1913, Stuck and his team of five -- which included renowned guide Harry Karstens and Alaskan Native climber Walter Harper -- departed Nenana for Denali. On June 7 of that year, the crew had summited, with Harper the first to reach the top.
While the remainder of Stuck’s life was to be filled with adventure, his true mission became helping Alaskan Native youths in pursuing their education. Stuck went on to found and sponsor myriad scholarships, allowed Alaskans to head south to the continental U.S. in search of higher education. Under his purview, several young Alaskans received educations, many of whom returned to their native home to become leaders in their community. Most famously, John Fredson, who summited Denali alongside Stuck, graduated from Tennessee's University of the South only to return to Alaska and eventually become a tribal leader in his native lands.
Whether leaving his home behind to become a Texas cowboy, climbing a theretofore unchartered mountain, the largest in North America, or committing himself to the community around him, Hudson Stuck was a man of virtue, of action and of adventure. He was a living embodiment of the Die Living nation.
No, not the part of your body that hangs over your belt. We're talking about your gastrointestinal system effecting your overall health.
Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach? This is the perfect example of the gut-brain axis, or the connection that exists between the gut and the brain.
There is a two-way communication between your gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. This two way system means that intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, depression or stress.
A Johns Hopkins expert referred to the gut as a second brain hidden within the walls of the digestive system. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with over 100 million nerve cells, and scientists have given it the name “the enteric nervous system”. These nerves, neurons and neurotransmitters found in the gut and brain communicate back and forth. An example of the brain and emotions affecting the gut is irritable bowel syndrome, characterized by hyperactivity of the nerves in the enteric nervous system that can be triggered by emotional shifts.
The gut-brain axis draws interest from the field of neurology, gastroenterology, psychology and nutrition. So far most of the research about this connection is based on animal studies, but human research is underway to help us understand more about the fascinating brain-gut connection.
The Gut Microbiota
Inside your gut there are about 100 trillion living bacteria that influence your health. Of these 100 trillion, there are over 1,000 different species of bacteria, both good and bad, that collectively are known as your gut microbiota. There are many different factors that influence the balance of these bacteria in your body.
Some major influencing factors are:
- Medications (especially antibiotics, which can kill both the good and bad bacteria in the gut)
What does the gut microbiota do?
The gut microbiota has a protective role in addition to other metabolism functions. The gut microbiota protects against intestinal infections such as H. Pylori and C. Diff that can cause infectious diarrhea and even ulcers. The gut microbiota also contributes to immune function. Recent research suggests that certain bacteria strains in the gut can even help protect against various cancers and heart disease. The gut’s more obvious role is to help to metabolize nutrients found in food, as well as some medications. The gut microbiota even synthesizes vitamin K.
The good bacteria of the gut microbiota keeps the pathogenic bacteria in check. When there is an imbalance and the bad bacteria outnumber the good, this is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis of gut bacteria can negatively affect your health in many different ways and contribute to many chronic diseases including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
The gut microbiota is its own ecosystem that plays an important role in human health. By maintaining the health of your gut, you can influence your health beyond the digestive system.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics are defined as living microorganisms that are intended to have benefits on a person's health. These are living bacteria cultures of the good bacteria already found in your gut.
You might recognize the term probiotics from the recent trend of using probiotic supplements. Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods like aged cheese, cultured non-dairy yogurts, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh and yogurt. Read food labels and look for a list of active cultures. Not all yogurts for example contains active culture, but two common ones to look for on a label are bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Probiotic supplements are generally recognized as safe for healthy adults, but it’s recommended to consult with your primary care provider or a Registered Dietitian if you are using probiotics for gastrointestinal issues or a weakened immune system. Some of the possible benefits of probiotic supplementation include:
- Enhanced calcium absorption
- Preventing and treating digestive disorders including:
- Gastrointestinal infections
- Irritable bowel diseases
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Preventing and treating allergic disorders
Prebiotics promote the growth of of probiotics, also known as those good bacteria in your gut. They are non-digestible food components that are naturally found in certain foods like asparagus, bananas, garlic, lentils, nuts, onion, soybeans and whole-wheat products. These prebiotics are gut health promoters, that work with probiotics to maintain a healthy gut.
What you can do to promote gut health
Of the many factors that affect gut health, you can control most of them. Age and genetics are out of your control, but what you choose to do with the remaining factors can change your gut health for the better.
- Drink lots of water
- Eat a range of fruits and vegetables for prebiotics and fiber
- Eat whole-grains for prebiotics and fiber
- Eat fermented foods and/or dairy that contain probiotics
- Avoid things that alter the gut microflora in negative ways if you can- such as alcohol, artificial sweeteners and certain medications
- Take a probiotic supplement if you and/or health care provider deem it a beneficial part of your health routine
Probiotics: In Depth. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 2016. Available at: https://nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics/introduction.htm. Accessed January 9, 2018.
Publishing H. Can gut bacteria improve your health?. Harvard Health Publishing. 2016. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Publishing H. Health benefits of taking probiotics. Harvard Health Publishing. 2015. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/health-benefits-of-taking-probiotics. Accessed January 8, 2018.
The Brain-Gut Connection. Hopkinsmedicineorg. 2017. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection. Accessed January 8, 2018.
Wolfram T. Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You. wwweatrightorg. 2015. Available at: http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-the-dynamic-duo. Accessed January 15, 2018.
Zhang Y, Li S, Gan R, Zhou T, Xu D, Li H. Impacts of Gut Bacteria on Human Health and Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015;16(4):7493-7519. doi:10.3390/ijms16047493.
Brad Thomas wants the members of his community, the collective mass of current and former Special Operators, to know that beyond the darkness, there is light. And it is through the music that he creates with his band Silence and Light, a band which is wholly comprised of Operators, that he is trying to bring that message to his community.
Thomas is an experienced Operator, having spent twenty years -- twelve in Delta Force after eight as a Ranger -- in some of the most volatile combat situations on Earth. Having been through that, Thomas's focus today is on his band and the charitable force they can become. Since starting Silence and Light in 2018, Thomas and his cohort have committed to using their band as both a conduit for a positive message and an entity in which they can give back financially to their community.
Recently, the band decamped to Los Angeles where they spent two weeks in the studio with Grammy-winning producer (and Marine Corps veteran) Josh Gudwin cutting their first album, the royalties from which they've pledged to donate to the Special Operations and first responder community.
Tell me a bit about the band.
The band is called Silence and Light. Tyson Stahl is our bass player, Jason Everman is one of the guitar players, I'm the other. Fred Cowell is the singer and Brandon L is the drummer.
Give me the history of the band. How'd you all get together? What's the backstory?
Originally, it started as a mechanism for me to figure out a way to give back to the Special Operations community and ultimately.
Really, it was my way of showing my fellow veterans that, if I can do this -- having dealt with the dark days that I've lived through, from Mogadishu to one battle after another all over the place to suicides and all kinds of other shit that I've been surrounded by throughout my entire career -- that anyone can do this.
I was inspired by my wife, who was looking at a roomful of musical equipment in my house and was like, "It's a shame you're not doing anything with this stuff."
So I was driving to work the next day, was getting ready to go see a concert with my buddy Jason Everman. And the lightbulb went off. I realized that I figured out that I wanted to sell music and take the proceeds and give them to Special Operations and first responder charitable organizations.
Since that day, it's grown into being this almost full-time thing.
We had to set up a corporation to support it, to figure out financially how that all works, and all of the time that goes into something like that. You know. But originally, it came from that idea of wanting to do something that contributed to our community. And it's a healthy and creative outlet that combats a lot of the negativity that I've seen and dealt with throughout my career.
You started the band with Jason Everman. Was it just the two of you at first?
Yeah, it was just the two of us. But at that point, I put up a social media thing to get the message out there. From that, every other piece and part came through that. People saw what we were doing and started reaching out, asking if they could help out, how and if they could contribute.
That led to include our producer Josh Gudwin, who is a veteran but also a Grammy-winning, A-list record producer. He did four years in the Marine Corps and wanted to figure in more special things there but got injured. So he got out and just absolutely started kicking ass in the music industry. He's worked with everyone.
Justin Bieber. Celine Dion. Maroon 5. Will.I.Am. You name it.
Wow. That's big shit.
Yeah. He's just been kicking ass.
So where is the band based out of?
We're in five different states, so the way that works is that I create all the music and share it with the other guys electronically so that they can listen, understand it, you know, give it a thumbs up or thumbs down. And then we get together, once a month, sometimes more. We have a studio in North Carolina where we all meet up. And that's when we write and create everything.
Five different states? Where is everyone located?
Yeah. Jason's in Washington state, Fred is in Texas, Tyson is in North Carolina, Brandon is in Virginia, and I live in Long Island.
Most bands, unless they're touring, they're not all together. Most people don't hang out, live in the same house with their bandmates. I think that's something don't realize about the music industry. But it's very common.
After the band crystallized, did you start making the record right away? Or was their more of a gestational period? It couldn't have been easy to get a band off the ground when that band is all over the country. Did you know these guys before starting this band?
There was a little bit of trial and error with the singer. But everything else fit like a glove right off the bat. The meat and potatoes of the band -- everyone but a singer -- met up in Vegas. We hung out for a few days and felt each other out. It was a little awkward at first only because we'd never met. But we understood the goal of the band, we all got on the same page and there was an immediate chemistry there.
There has to be an interesting dichotomy with you guys, because people who play in bands are too often passive-aggressive types, too often afraid to talk about the hard stuff. Whereas the guys in your band have ostensibly made a living talking about and living through the hard stuff.
Absolutely. Some of the tension and inner turmoil amongst bands is what makes their music great. Van Halen is a good example of that. But with our band, we don't need to add that because A: we've already lived the dark days. I don't need to hit my rock bottom to see what that looks like. We've all been there. And B: because we're very direct about stuff, I can send these guys a song I wrote and they can be like, "Dude, this sucks," and my feelings aren't hurt and I know how to deal with things.
Take me through the band's timeline.
Just the discussion between Jason and I happened in May of 2017. All of the members didn't get together and meet until January 2018. We played together for the first time in February of 2018 and in January of 2019, we went to LA and recorded the album.
And how did you get linked up with Josh Gudwin?
Much the same way the band got together. He saw my social media, saw the message, saw what I was trying to put together and he DM'd me. He said, "Hey man, I don't ever offer this but I'm down to help out. Let me know what I can do."
And I took him up on his offer and he followed through.
What was it like going from trying to get this thing off the ground to flying out to LA to work with a Grammy-winning producer who has worked with some of the biggest artists in the world?
It was exactly what I thought it would be. We went into the studio having barely known Josh. But we did a lot of talking on the phone, just kind of understanding what we wanted it to sound like, references for production, what our favorite albums sounded like. And he's done a great job making our vision a reality.
We went into the studio with songs that were 85-90% completed but knowing that he was going to be there to make them better. Because of that, I was never 100% married to any one thing in the song. If Josh said I needed to change something, usually I'd change it. Some things I'd fall on my sword for. But in the end, Josh's ear wins Grammys and I had to be willing to accept that feedback.
What was the actual process like? How long were you in the studio? How many songs were you cutting a day?
So we recorded everything live. Got in a room and just recorded everything as a band playing together. Once that was all recorded, we'd go back and clean up everything we needed to clean up. So the drummer's the first one in because you start with drum sound. So we spent about four days redoing all the drum tracks with a ton of input from Josh. Then bass, then guitar. Then at the very end, we put the vocal icing on the cake. All in all, that was a two-week process.
But beforehand, we did a lot of preproduction. A lot of rehearsals so that you're not fucking around wasting anyone's time. So our November and December of 2018 were busy getting everything polished and dialed in. And we went in there just like we would accomplish a mission, a military task, took some criticism, adjusted and, I think, knocked it out of the park.
What was Josh's take on working with you guys?
He was very open about our work ethic, was very impressed with how seriously we took the process. There was no screwing around. It was twenty-to-twenty-two-hour days for two weeks. And he worked just as hard as we did.
Where did you cut the album?
Stagg Street Studio in Van Nuys. The engineer was a guy named Bill Lane. He's worked with The Eagles, Jackson Browne. He's worked with some huge, huge names.
What's the status of the album?
I wrote about seventy songs and from that, we pulled ten that we recorded in LA with Josh. We're gonna start rolling songs out soon in support of the album. We don't really need a label to do what we want to do, especially considering how all of the proceeds are going to go back into the community. We don't want to deal with someone or some label taking a cut from money that's really meant to support a cause.
We may just drop six songs as an EP. We need to see what kind of feedback we're getting on what we get out there. Josh is knocking out a couple at a time so we've got a bit of a loose timeline to play with.
Does the record have a name that we can share?
It's called Silence and Light, which is an homage to Van Halen. Their first album was self-titled, so that's just us paying our respects to them.
What's the plan as it stands today?
We've got video stuff with audio teasers that we'll start rolling out soon to let people know that it's coming. We'll do three songs with three separate videos to keep people engaged. We're flexible but we have a loose plan going forward.
I think by mid-September, the album will be live on all the places where people get music.
And hopefully, people will see that if we can get out there and do this in a way that is creative and healthy, in a way that helps me deal with stuff positively, that anybody can do it.
I heard Kelly Starrett mention once that the reason why he refers to it as "The Supple Leopard" is that if you think about it, a leopard is always ON. "A leopard doesn't have to do its leopard warm up, or drink its leopard pre-workout shakes…a leopard is simply always ready to move."
If you interpret that ‘being on and ready’ means slamming 4 monsters a day to stay alert, you are doing the exact opposite of what is being promoted. Balance is being READY to up-regulate when needed but also being able to down-regulate just as quickly.
Our goal with any mobility program is to become the human counterpart of leopards, poised and masters of both our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The fight-or-flight (sympathetic) response is a necessary response, but a more important response is the rest-and-recover (parasympathetic) response to allow tissues to recover and regenerate.
The Importance of Your Mobility Program
Your body has a shelf life, and bad movement, especially when external loads are placed on the system, will drastically decrease that shelf life.
It is no secret that our jobs are dangerous and extremely taxing on our bodies. In many gyms and even the military, our "mobility" comes in the form of some early morning stretches and possibly a cool-down if people aren't too eager for coffee and a shower. Our culture is that of "go-hard, fast and heavy", and time is always limited. Mobility training remains on the back burner until life and doctor's orders force it to the forefront by an injury.
Our time certainly is limited and requires an exceptional balance between multiple competing demands…if we only have 20 minutes, chances are you are more likely to grab a barbell than a band, and sometimes that is appropriate. If you find yourself barefoot, look down at your arches; are they collapsed? If so, activate them. Feel the glutes fire: this builds motor control; if you feel yourself sitting for 15 hours a day, break it up by standing, actively and with good posture; and most importantly, always remain mindful of your breath.
Mobility is something you have the opportunity to train every day because you move every day.
SOFLETE’s Mobility program attempts to address common movement faults and promote stability at end-range of motion. When a muscle is exposed to a new range of motion, there is an activation or neuromuscular re-education pattern that must occur in that new range to reduce the risk of injury.
As a force, we've come a long way through the implementation of both the THOR and EXOS programs; however, we still have a long way to go. First off, these services are only available to elite units and neglect many of those who still find themselves shaving years of good movement off their lives due to time spent under the shear and compression forces of body armor and heavy rucksacks. Oftentimes these individuals are in units with one Physical Therapist for several hundred if not a thousand soldiers and subject to a culture of people more likely to see the Doc only when something breaks. Kelly Starrett and mobility WOD explain this chain reaction in their I3 Model: "Incomplete Mechanics" lead to "Incidents" which lead to "Injuries".
The timing between each stage is subjective; however, for many of us, the slow degradation of our mobility spans over years: a lack of mobility or stability causes mobility compensations which results in incomplete body mechanics leading to "incidents"...and with enough incidents, injury follows.
Think about it like this: wearing heavy rucksacks and body armor creates a significant amount of stiffness and compression in the thoracic spine and shoulders. If the lats and pecs are tight, they will compress the shoulder and pull the lower back into hyperextension. Over time this causes the shoulder to "roll forward" and nagging low back tightness resulting from the external load placed on a frame of bad posture. As a result of bad posture, this new default shoulder position causes Joe to tear his labrum trying to knock out his strict pull-ups at Selection.
BUT let's be real, we aren't going to stop wearing body armor or stop wearing heavy rucks. A simple post ruck or post movement protocol can certainly help to alleviate stiffness and compensatory movement patterns and AT LEAST slow down the rate of degradation which leads to injury.
SOFLETE’S Mobility Recovery Program
Rather than just drop your kit or your ruck near your bunk and pass out after a long movement, I would recommend spending a couple of minutes on a simple protocol that will help restore proper body mechanics:
Foam Roll breathing/active pec release. The first 2 minutes following any time in kit should be rolling the upper back perpendicular to the spine using a peanut, RAD Roller or dense foam roller if none of the others are available. This is followed by lying on the 3 foot foam roller head to tail bone and allowing the diaphragm to depress during respiration, taking stress off the accessory muscles of the shoulder/neck. With hands clasped on the abdomen and shoulder blades lightly pinched into the foam roller, focus on breathing in through the nose for a count of 3-4 and exhalation out the mouth with a 6-8 sec release.
Side lying T spine rotations would follow with the top leg at a 90 degree bend at the hip and maintaining contact on the foam roller-10 each side
Childs Pose next. Do this for 10 deep breaths.
Lax Ball release to Lats, Upper trap, anterior shoulder, distal quads and calf would follow. Do these as needed.
Static stretching with 1-2 minute holds of the following: Hip flexor, pecs, Achilles/calf, lateral hip, lats
Finally, stretches with voodoo bands are good, but for recovery any type of low load cardio such as a bike will have the same perfusion effect.
A solid mobility practice is the last bastion of truly "functional fitness." As our fitness has evolved, the loads we use in training have become heavier than anything I’d ever actually pick up in real life and put over my head; however, for those who want to continue taking our kids out of the bathtub without having low backs on fire, mobility programming is certainly for you. It is my personal belief that there is a massive amount of untapped strength in this community and the culprit is our inability to move into the positions that allow us to leverage our muscles in their entirety.
As Operators, we can only hope to be like supple leopards, always on and always ready. In my opinion, the true goal of any mobility program is to bring longevity into our given endeavors and practices. We only have one body, and when it's burnt out or broken, we can't get another. Mobility is what prepares you for the unknown and unknowable and gives us the abilities needed to thrive in it.
This article is co-authored by Soflete Coach Chris vanBrenk (with no fancy letters after his name) and Theo Ballard PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, MTC. Theo Ballard is an awesome human being and a Physical Therapist at THOR on Fort Bragg, NC.
I left the Marine Corps after thirteen years of commissioned service to become an Army Warrant Officer and fill a void because I needed to be able to answer the question “What If”.
I need to start from the beginning. I grew up an Army brat, born at the Fort Campbell, KY base hospital in the summer of 1982. My father was part of a newly formed unit of elite Army aviators stood up to provide precision rotary wing support to US Special Operations Forces after the failure of Desert One in Iran in the spring of 1980. He was among the few that paved the way for what is now the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), otherwise known as the “NightStalkers”.
I grew up obsessed with the military, intrigued by any unit deemed “special”. As I grew older and my arrogance got the best of me; I was convinced that I would only go “special ops” or be a pilot. Arrogance and ignorance usually go hand in hand. Like most headstrong adolescents, I was convinced it would be easy.
I graduated high school in the year 2000 and continued on to college. I signed up for Army ROTC and hated every minute of it. In my mind, I was surrounded by nerds that were glorified boy scouts and I couldn’t stand them. I was annoyed by the caliber of young Cadets in my class and looked for other opportunities. One day while walking to class, I happened upon a crusty Marine Gunnery Sergeant at a USMC Officer recruiting booth. He yelled “Hey, you wanna be a Marine Officer?” I replied “absolutely not”. When he asked me why, I couldn’t articulate a meaningful answer. I only knew that I wanted nothing to do with the Marines. At the time, I had no idea how wrong I was.
I eventually applied to the Marine Platoon Leaders Course (PLC). I went to Marine Officer Candidates School in 2004 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant by my Father, an Army CW5 in December of 2005. I was eager to begin my journey as a young Officer in the world’s finest warfighting organization. I went to The Basic School to learn what being a Marine Officer was all about, excited for my follow on pilot training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida.
As a motivated young Lt in flight school, I only wanted to fly the AH-1W Super Cobra. I needed to fly that glorious death machine whose sole purpose was close air support to the hard charging Marines taking the fight directly to the enemy on the ground. I was lucky enough to get my first choice; a Cobra squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC. A young and naïve 1stLt; I checked into my first fleet squadron with aspirations of becoming as formidable and deadly an attack pilot as possible. Throughout my progression as a Lieutenant and young Captain, I dedicated every spare moment I had to learning as much as I could about my profession in arms. Nothing else mattered. When that first “danger close” moment came; I wanted the Marines on the ground to be able to count on me to provide accurate, timely, and deadly fires; it consumed me. I progressed as a young instructor pilot and eventually attended the Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) Course in Yuma, AZ; I was ready for anything. Except for what happened after I got back.
My wife of seven years left me. I had been too consumed by my work to notice that I had been neglecting her for years. In my anger and pain, I blamed her; my arrogance still does. We often forget that the mission doesn’t matter to our loved ones the way it does to us; we choose this life, not them. They choose us.
After WTI, I immersed myself in my job. I was a recently divorced and short tempered Captain who knew everything and could do no wrong. I was eager to deploy again and had no qualms about deflecting my anger on young impressionable Lieutenants who just wanted to learn. I had become what I hated most; a selfish, bitter, and arrogant instructor pilot. After a few months of bitterness, I finally snapped out of my selfish pity and rage and came to my senses. It wasn’t about me and it never was. I was deploying again soon and had a lot to accomplish to get my squadron ready. I had to get my mind right. Most of all, I owed it to the young officers to be what they deserved; a salty Captain with all the answers and someone who would keep the field grade officers too busy to bother them with good ideas.
This is not a war story. There were rough moments during the deployment, but it was nothing compared to what our brethren on the ground endured. Throughout the deployment I became frustrated with our reactive mentality. We stood Troops in Contact (TIC) support every day, 24 hours a day, as a unit. We would hear that awful chirp drop on MIRC chat and immediately knew our Marines, British counterparts, or the ODA we were supporting were in trouble and we’d launch at a moment’s notice to provide Close Air Support or MEDEVAC/CASEVAC escort. But we were reactive and defensive in nature and I absolutely despised it. We were supposed to be bringing the fight to the enemy; not letting them set the tempo. We were failing to take the initiative and politicians were tying our hands with restrictive Rules of Engagement (ROE).
As my frustrations grew, I began to question my future in the military. I debated getting out and doing the typical Officer thing; get an MBA and figure it out. However, I knew deep down that I had a void to fill and needed something more. I applied for an exchange program with the 160th SOAR to fly the AH-6 Little Bird as the Marine Exchange Pilot. I got selected as the alternate and was furious. In my disappointment, I decided to accept a “Hotfill” job with the United States Marine Corps Embassy Security Group as an Inspecting Officer. For three years I traveled to every country in continental South America to inspect the Marine Security Guards safeguarding the Embassies and Consulates in South America. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and a much-needed break from the typical military life. I got to live as a pseudo civilian in Fort Lauderdale, travel alone to a different country in South America every month, meet a lot of very influential people, and most of all, I even met my amazing now wife while I lived there. But I still wasn’t satisfied professionally. The void that had always been there hadn’t gone away. I was starting to feel guilty that I had it “too easy”. An emptiness festered inside of me due to less face to face interaction with my Marines and I became frustrated with “leadership by email” and micro-management. I was talking, not doing and I knew it would only get worse the further I climbed up the ladder. Something had to change.
Unfulfilled, I decided to apply directly to the 160th SOAR and assessed in September 2016. It was the strangest yet most fulfilling week of my life. I can’t go into details, but I was intrigued and immediately knew I was in the right place. I ended up passing and was selected for the MH-60 DAP (Direct Action Penetrator) on the condition that I would resign my commission and apply to the US Army as a Warrant Officer.
Today I support the nation’s elite Special Operations Warriors in a modified Blackhawk gunship that brings more hate and discontent to the battlefield than any other rotary wing platform in the US inventory. I’m a CW2 at the bottom of the food chain and had to completely start over, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Service in the military means certain things to certain people; to some it’s not about service, it’s about getting something out of it. I’m not afraid to admit that I’m guilty of the latter. I love my country and I’ve dedicated a significant amount of my adult life to serving, but if we’re being honest, I just wanted more. The curiosity, the allure of Special Operations, and the desire to do more drove me down this path. A lot of people, including my wife, are convinced I’m out of my mind for giving up a career as a field grade officer in the Marine Corps to be a junior Warrant Officer in the Army. Forfeiting $40,000 a year and the potential of being selected for Command sounds crazy to some. To me it’s not as crazy as always wondering “What If I could’ve done more”. I can live with taking the risk, but I can’t live the rest of my life wondering “What If”.
Die Living isn’t just a motto; it’s a way of life and a state of mind. Some might even argue that it’s a curse, but it’s definitely more than a salary. You only die once, but you get to live every day. Make the most of those days and make decisions that allow you to live with confidence that you did something with your life that deserves remembrance. Don’t live on the side lines, live a life that matters Die Living, NSDQ, DRMF!
- Dave Morris
Back when “explorer” or “adventurer” were viable professions, back when men cut swaths of jungle with simple machetes, searching for ancient treasure or peaks of cloud-draped mountains; when women piloted their aircraft around the world, breaking records and appearing on as many front pages as the New York Yankees (as human flight was a concept barely two decades old at that point), Aloha Wanderwell was making an international name for herself as an intrepid and fearless explorer, an adventurer of the highest regard.
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1906, Wanderwell -- born Idris Galcia Welsh -- was already a world traveler well before her tenth birthday. Along with her sister and mother, a young Idris followed her stepfather to Europe as he fought in the First World War with Britain’s Durham Light Infantry. After the war, the family stayed in Europe, sending the young girls to boarding schools in France and Belgium.
In 1922, responding to an ad looking for a young woman to join a round-the-world expedition, Idris met Walter “Captain” Wanderwell. Captain Wanderwell was immersed in the Million Dollar Wager, which was an endurance race to see which of two teams could visit the most countries using the then-new Ford Model T. Idris joined the expedition as a driver, translator and documentarian, soon rebranding herself as “Aloha Wanderwell.”
Beginning in Nice, France in late 1922 and ending in early 1927, Wanderwell became the first woman to ever drive around the world. In her Model T, Wanderwell drove from place to place, while filming the farthest reaches of Earth and lecturing the “civilized” world on what she’d discovered.
The couple drove through forty-three countries, from Cuba to South Africa, through Europe and South America. As the roads in many of the places the couple traveled were often dirt paths, the duo often had to resort to ingenuity to keep moving. Famously, they use elephant fat for motor oil and crushed bananas for grease when in Africa.
In 1932, Captain Wanderwell was mysteriously murdered aboard the couple’s yacht while docked in Long Beach, California. Many speculated the murder was some sort of retribution for his work as a spy during the First World War, an act for which he was jailed in the United States in 1918. Others blamed Wanderwell’s womanizing ways and pointed fingers at any variety of scorned husbands. The murder was never solved.
Aloha Wanderwell would go on to marry a man named Walter Baker. Her zeal for travel, adventure and discovery would hardly wane as the couple traveled to New Zealand, Australia, Hawai’i, China, India, Cambodia and several other exotic and far-reaching locales. Wanderwell continued to make films documenting her travels and eventually settled into a long career giving lectures about her life and adventures.
After retiring from the lecture circuit in 1982, Wanderwell lived quietly with Baker for the rest of her life. After leading an exciting life, full of adventure and exploration, of fearless discovery and insatiable wanderlust, Aloha Wanderwell died in 1996 at eighty-nine years old.
The police culture has historically been diametrically opposed to the concept of its members being fit.
While it’s not that police agencies or individual officers aren't enthusiastic about working out, or that agencies don’t want their officers being fit, quite the contrary, it is the officers’ lifestyle that can prove to be a detriment to sustained fitness. Certain aspects of police fitness have been getting better in the past few years based on general public knowledge of health and exercise; newer members have grown up in the age of instant fitness “knowledge” available on the internet. Unfortunately, there will always be some things about the police culture that will probably be detrimental to your workout routine, regardless of how educated those in law enforcement become.
Rather than write about what exercise routines to do (which always just ends up just being the author's personal opinion), I thought it might be cool to share some of the fitness pitfalls in a career timeline-based format which will shed light on the things to come for rookies just coming into the police world and probably get a chuckle from those of us that have spent our lives being cops.
In this series of articles, we’ll start off with the academy and move on from there in stages. Keep in mind, these experiences and phenomenon may not have been the path of all law enforcement officers, but I’m pretty confident that most of the veteran officers reading this will acknowledge at least some parallels.
Working Out and Burning Body Fat at The Academy
You are going to get skinnier and weaker in the academy.
Most American police academies are long on running and calisthenics and short on muscle building workouts. Almost all recruits end their academy time nice and skinny for their graduation photos because they have burned off a lot of fat, and subsequently, quite a bit of muscle doing all that running, all those jumping jacks, burpees and mountain climbers.
The secret is, police academy physical training programs are designed to remove body fat from recruits and maybe tone them up a little within a hard 6 month window. The workouts that they have you do in the academy are designed to improve your fitness to the extent that you will pass state-mandated PFTs, to make chubby recruits temporarily fit, and to an extent to punish you.
Pull out your academy group photos and see how skinny you and your classmates all were. That's probably because the workouts you did didn’t account for building raw strength. Realistically speaking, ask yourself how fit and strong could someone possibly get in 6 months (especially doing exercise sessions that are mixed with a strong dose of negative reinforcement)?
Here’s lies the problem: on your first night on patrol, you could wind up wrestling with a 240 pound parolee who has been lifting weights in prison for the past 5 years. And here you are, a new officer, in your most emaciated post-academy form, attempting to subdue him without the benefit of physics on your side. Does anyone think you can just shoot this unarmed monster because he’s currently bigger and stronger than you? Watch the news lately? You can’t. You will go to prison, where you will see this man again, but this time without any toys on your belt.
You will need brute force and strength to do police work sometimes. I’m pretty sure you won’t be able to mountain-climber most criminals into handcuffs, and you’re kind of not allowed to run away from the situation, which basically eliminates the two types of physical preparation that you just mastered in the academy. You can always try the department approved wrist locks, throws and takedowns, except for (spoiler alert) they don’t work if there is a large strength deficit between you and an opponent.
I am telling you this because I know it to be true, as I have seen many thousands of people physically taken into custody. Of the percentage of detainees that did resist, almost all of them required a degree of physical strength to subdue them. I am not a martial artist or trained fighter, but during my time on the job, I did become an expert at using leverage and my strength to subdue arrestees.
Building Strength at the Police Academy
So, how do you prevent graduating the academy weaker than you went in? Eat larger amounts of clean-burning, healthy foods than you are used to, in order to account for the caloric deficit that will occur. Lift weights a few nights a week after work or on weekends. During my academy in the 1990’s (pre-wellness) we would go to diners and pizza shops in the area on our meal break and I still graduated 20 pounds lighter than my usual weight.
You are going to burn a lot of calories in the academy because of steady workouts and mental stress, so feed your body a little more good stuff so it doesn’t need to feed off your muscles. Assess the amount of PT you are doing after the first few weeks of the academy and then start calorie and nutrient counting, not to lose weight but to keep good weight on.
A few academies out there are getting more progressive with functional PT programs in recent years, but for the most part, recruits who were bodybuilders initially return to bodybuilding after the academy, crossfitters back to crossfit etc. The recruits in the middle, for whom the academy was their first exposure to organized physical training, graduate and make sure they never even think of the exercises they did there during PT and qualifications.
I get it. I entered the academy after 10 years of steady exercise routines and I excelled as one of the top physical performers, and even so, I didn’t do another sit-up or push-up until it was time to take physical qualification tests for specialized units 4 years later. There was just too much negative reinforcement associated with the standard PT exercises, and I was simply sick of doing them after 6 months. I did, however, go right back to distance running and weightlifting immediately after the academy (my comfort-zone essentially) and so training-up for these PT tests was no big deal.
For the recruits who don’t have a pre-existing conditioning program in their lives prior to the academy, I suggest finding some physical exercises you like doing and jump right back in the saddle after the graduation party.
In the next section of this series we will examine the role of fitness during your first few years on the job, and how fitness can make these formative years go A LOT smoother.
Thomas Longa retired after 22 years in law-enforcement, the last 15 of which were as a member of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit’s Apprehension Team (A-Team) He currently works training SWAT teams nationwide.
After 20 years flying in the Marines, I saw myself as a man of action. When it came time to retire, I didn’t look for jobs in business or government or even flying in the airlines. I was a life taker and a heartbreaker. Well, a heartbreaker, anyway.
I was by no means a Tier One operator or anything like one, but I had come to think that having a purpose meant being kinetic, meant being in some type of danger. I looked down on staffs and higher-echelon leadership as somehow having betrayed their roots on the pointy end of the spear.
I looked at contract jobs overseas in conflict zones. I looked at flying helicopters for hospitals. I looked at aerial firefighting. I finally went with the Baltimore City Police Department. I’d read about how bad that city and that department were, but fuck it. Embracing the suck is what being a man of action is all about, right? The only question I had was, “Will I get to run and gun?”
The answer was “Hells yeah.” At the age of 42, I went through the Baltimore Police Academy. It wasn’t the “Q” Course or BUD/S, but it did come with a considerable harassment package. Doing a faux boot camp at 42 after having done the real thing was humbling--doing field day and incentive PT while being yelled at by people with no idea how to conduct military-style instruction. Not because it was all that physically demanding, but because I felt like I was starting on a whole new journey from the bottom up when I’d just finished a career doing something I had mastered.
It certainly served as enough masochism to satisfy my need to be a tough guy. And if that didn’t get the action jones out of my system, the 10 weeks I had to spend in a patrol car in Baltimore’s Eastern District (tourism slogan: “As featured in the hit HBO series ‘The Wire’”) before getting to fly did.
I finally set to work turning JP-5 into handcuffs. I can’t say it didn’t have its moments. Playing Star Wars canyon chasing dirt bikes between high-rises is a great way to spend an evening. Getting to do things like surveil a drug dealer from a mile away, getting him on video pulling out dime bags hidden in his dreads, then vectoring two police cars to jam him up made long fly days worthwhile.
But once I got the hang of that, what else was there? Was I supposed to wash, rinse, repeat that for 15 years until I earned another retirement check?
I’d gotten my badge and a gun and that was great, but was I still making a difference? Yes, for sure. I helped take down crime from above. Every arrest was that much less garbage for someone else to take out. And I felt as if I was taking out more than my share of it. My crews didn’t wait for calls to come; we went hunting.
But was that the biggest difference I could make? Not just in terms of what good could be done, but also in terms of what I was capable of?
As much disdain as I had for staff pukes and those in higher-echelon leadership, sometimes making a difference isn’t always a matter of being the one actually doing the hands-on work. Any given person on the front lines can only do so much.
We need people to run things, too. Neither job is better or worse, but in my case, I always felt I needed to be on the front lines to do something worthwhile.
Truth be told, staying on the “pointy end” also let me off the hook for some of my career disappointments in the Marine Corps. Of course, I wasn’t on a high-level staff or a commander! That’s obviously because I was a pilot’s pilot and a tactician, not because I wasn’t seen as suited for such positions. Why not double down on that identity? That justification involved a fair amount of self-deception; while not all staffers are great tacticians and operators, plenty of them are.
After two years in Baltimore, I was lucky enough to have a good friend from the Marine Corps tell me about a job in the defense industry working with the V-22 Osprey program. It wasn’t a job about my stick skills, though--it was about my knowledge. I traded in my gun for a laptop and while I’m still flying a lot, it’s in the back with a cocktail, not in the cockpit with a kneeboard.
I’m no longer helping lock up bad guys, but if I do my job right, a lot of other people have jobs that can support themselves and their families. That’s not an insignificant thing, and maybe in the great scheme of things it’s doing a little more good.
It’s not as badass to say I’m a manager as to say I’m a military or police pilot.
But I am making a difference.
Too often, men and women “of action” think that that action is what defines them. Physical danger doesn’t define action. Impact defines action. Are you making an impact? Are you making the world a better place? Are you utilizing your talents to the fullest?
As much as we like to think we’re immortal, the available evidence doesn’t support that hypothesis. At some point, all of us have to hang up our spurs, or someone else will do it for us.
There’s an old saying in aviation. “Someday every pilot will go on his last flight. The lucky pilots know when it’s their last flight. The unlucky ones don’t.” Just like many superstar pro athletes want to keep playing even when it’s time to start announcing, so do many tactical athletes. Whether it’s the high of the action itself or the immediate feedback it entails, the resulting adrenaline is addictive.
Adrenaline junkies, like any addict, sometimes need a moment of clarity to set themselves straight. Some people can push it further than others, but whether at 30, 40, or 70, eventually one has to change from being the action to directing the action.
If you want to die living, it’s not just about being in the middle of the action. It’s about being in the middle of the impact.
Carl Forsling lives in Arlington, Texas, and works in the defense industry. He is also a senior columnist for Task & Purpose. He is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot who retired from the military after 20 years of service. He is the father of two children and a graduate of Boston University and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.