By: Gary Alexander, O2X Lead Instructor
Truth be told, I did not come up with the following list of 5 things on my own. During my 22 years in the U.S. Air Force, I learned to take advantage of all my resources. So, I picked up the phone and talked with some of my trusted friends and teammates. Air Force Combat Controllers, Navy SEALs, and Air Force Special Tactics Officers—their combined military service adds up to more than 90 years of experience. I used my personal experiences and their input to compile a list of our lessons learned. If I was starting a military career, or just needed a check on my current path, I would hold myself accountable to the following:
Know why you do the job that you do every day you wake up
Don’t lose sight of that. It’s okay if your purpose changes, but you better have a goal for getting out of bed. When I first joined the military, my motivation to keep going was that I didn’t want to fail. After the first time I deployed to Afghanistan, it morphed into staying faithful to my team. Over the next 10 years, I developed a strong sense of pride in serving my country and knowing that I was making a difference. Once my kids entered the picture, I’ll be honest…it was all about them. I carried a picture of them around in my notebook to help remind me why I did what I did. They were the reason I got out of bed every day. My kids and my wife are the reason I do what I do today. Define your purpose.
Invest in your physical fitness as a professional
As a Tactical Athlete, you have a requirement to be capable of accomplishing physically demanding tasks to succeed. Whether it’s for an initial fitness assessment, promotion, annual evaluation, or just an everyday requirement; you have an obligation and responsibility to those you have sworn to defend, protect, and save. It is part of your job. Make yourself sweat, breathe hard, and make your muscles ache during your training. Establish goals and develop objectives. Train in your body armor, load up your ruck, and go through the movements that require tactical agility. Be ready for whatever challenge is thrown your way. The public expects you to be at your best all the time. And you should hold yourself accountable as well.
Learn from your mistakes
When you make a mistake, admit it, fix it, learn from it, and drive on. There are not enough pens and paper to capture all the mistakes I have made. Some are minor that only I noticed, and others are major that affected the organization. Minor or major, grow from your mistakes. If you dwell, you are not improving yourself or your team. If you repeat the mistake, you didn’t take the time to analyze how to improve. If you make excuses, you are only covering up the potential to improve. Set the example that mistakes are acceptable as long as you adapt and are willing to learn from them.
Take care of your finances
If you are spending more money than you earn, it is going to cause problems down the road. Put money in a savings account or mutual fund. Set it up for an automatic deposit each month. You don’t need a bigger TV, upgraded phone, or another watch. Keep your spending in check. Buying a car, purchasing your first house, and sending a kid to college; those are going to be times you need that saved money. Enjoy the money you earn today, but be ready for that unexpected expense tomorrow.
Spend time with your family
Nobody ever says at the end of their career, “I wish I had spent more time at work.” Your job will always have work for you. You’ll never get to the end. It’s like the internet; it’s infinite. Yes, you’ll have days that are longer than others. But, when you have the opportunity to get home and spend time with your family—do it. Encourage others to do the same.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have served in the military when I did. Thank you to the amazing men and women I was able to work with; for the positive effect, you had on my family and me. Thank you also to the families that allowed me to be a part of their own families. I’m proud to have served next to many great people as part of the Special Tactics community and Special Operations brotherhood. For those who are just starting their military career—good luck. Thank you for your service, and enjoy the opportunity that awaits you.
-Gary Alexander, O2X Lead Instructor