We All Struggle
In the summer if 1988, I had my first training rotation in the Mojave Desert at Fort Irwin, California; best known to soldiers as “NTC” or the National Training Center. Many soldiers have trained here to stimulate the harsh conditions of the Middle East–the Mojave is one of the hottest places on earth.
We began the war-time training maneuver at midnight. My first time leading a night convoy with three less-tenured soldiers taught me a valuable lesson that I still think of to this day. The pressure to be the leader I desired mounted as the cold desert evening arrived–the chill of the night paled in comparison to the chills in my stomach. I’d be responsible for making sure we arrived at our destination safely and on time.
Every Struggle Teaches Us Something–That’s the Gift
We departed on schedule. As we got on our way, I calmed down slightly, but was still unsure if I had a good sense of direction. A few minutes passed and a radio call came from my First Sergeant–the head honcho was only a few vehicles behind us. “Top” (as we called him) asked over the squelch of the radio, “Specialist Herrera, you have us on mission? Over.” I wanted to keep our radio chatter to a minimum, so responded in the most confident, cryptic tone I could muster, “Roger. Out.”
After that brief exchange, I was absolutely certain I needed to speak up and tell my convoy comrades we might be lost. I didn’t. Inside, I sensed I was wrong. The pressure inside me grew more and more unbearable, but my exterior stayed stoic. I kept my vehicle completely fooled that I was in control (my mind thought, “holy *bleep*…I just lied to Top!).
Fast forward 30 minutes and I still felt way off but said nothing. My Platoon Sergeant (Sergeant Williams) was in the vehicle behind me and finally radioed me to stop the convoy.
Sergeant Williams came around to my side of the vehicle. He was not happy. After a colorful, one-sided exchange, my anger burst. I admitted, out of sheer frustration, that I was lost. To this day, I’m not exactly sure why I was so scared to speak up.
Leadership is Sharing Those Gifts
Sergeant Williams’ response completely surprised me. He uncharacteristically and calmly said to me, “Come with me Herrera, we’ll take lead in my vehicle and get back on track. I’ve been lost in this *bleeping* desert countless times.”
I expected him fire back again in a colorful manner, be even more upset, or completely embarrass me. But I think he could tell I passed my limit.
He never said a word afterwards about me getting lost. He showed me how to get back on track and told a few stories of his own mishaps. I knew if I had kept going, I would have jeopardized the whole mission.
The fear of failure, looking bad in front of others, and admitting you’re wrong can paralyze you sometimes.
Fortunately, I made this mistake in a training exercise and not in a real combat situation.
We made up the time and successfully got the convoy to our destination. I changed as a soldier that day and so did my level of trust with Sergeant Williams. I would’ve followed him anywhere.
Three Signs So You Can Self-Assess at Any Time
- Admitting You’re Wrong. Just the act of admitting you’re wrong decreases tension–others may already know you’re wrong. Admit truth and gain trust.
- Asking for Help. Imagine the example I could have set for the three other soldiers in my vehicle. Maybe they would learn to ask for help without fear–that asking for help is a strength.
- Accepting the Help That’s Offered. Arguably, one of the best ways to build the trust we want is to accept others’ help.When we accept help, we signal to others that we trust not only their support, but who they are as a person.
Veterans, we learned how important these signs of strength were during our time in the service. We must model these lessons with more intentionality for the teams and families we serve.
Should you know a veteran that needs help, please lead like Sergeant Williams did for me. Do so compassionately and show them the way again.
Hail the Volunteers!