Back in my Army and West Point days, I never thought of marching
and carrying a ruck in fitness terms. It
was a necessity. What you carried on
your back is what you brought into combat. The more you put in, the more you were weighed
down. The less you put in, the more you
ran the risk of being ill-prepared.
Recently, however, I realized the fitness benefits of rucking for civilians. I started carrying a weighted ruck in preparation for the Shadow West Point March back that happened last week. The March Back coincides with the annual 13-mile march back of the United States Military Academy’s Plebe Class at the conclusion of summer Cadet Basic Training. I and about 15 fellow members of the West Point Society of Central Texas finished the march last week. The March included loaded Rucksacks and the Texas Heat! See the picture below. The Weather Channel even filmed a piece about us! I will let you know when it comes out.
Rucking has many benefits and is my latest fitness obsession. There is even a community of Veterans that go
on rucking events. It is called GoRuck
and raises money for Veterans dealing with PTSD. I am currently training for the next major
event near Austin.
Here are the five major benefits of Rucking:
Impact. Unlike running that puts stress
on your joints, rucking is low impact especially if you pack your ruck
It burns 3 times the calories that walking does (even more in Texas
Carry your Hydration. A ruck provides a convenient compartment to
store water and remain hydrate. I fill
up the bladder from my Camelback in my ruck.
It adds weight and prevents me from passing out int the Texas heat!
I bought my rucksack for less than 40 dollars on Amazon. There is no need to get a specialized
rucksack unless you want to. To weight
it down, I just evenly distributed 5 lbs. weights that I already had in
Fun and social.
I loved marching with fellow members of the Long Grey Line and being out
Marching with a ruck is not just for the military. Pick up your ruck, lace up your shoes and
march back to health!
I meant to write this blog a few weeks ago when I infiltrated the Oklahoma Football watch party for the Army versus Oklahoma game (see picture below). A devoted Army fan, I went to the only watch party for the game put on by the Oklahoma Alumni of Austin. I and two other of my West Point alumni joined close to 200 enthusiastic OU fans.
I thought I would leave the game about after 20 minutes since Army was supposed to lose by 30 points. But I ended staying to the end. For those who did not see the game, it went into overtime! Even though Army ultimately lost, they gave the powerhouse Oklahoma team a run for its money. How were they able to do it and go on to have a top 25 season (please, please stay there and Beat Navy!)? There are three characteristics of the Army Football team that lead to success both on the football team and for those trying to get healthy:
Consistency – The Army football team does not have a lot of plays, but what they do have they run in a consistent manner. Each player knows exactly were to block in their Flexbone Triple Option set. This scheme is run only at the Service Academies and it requires discipline and consistency. Each player needs to execute flawlessly due to the smaller size of the players. This type of consistency also served me well as I lost over 170 lbs! I did not have a lot of plays in my weight loss arsenal but what I did have (tracking points, walking, mindfulness), I did on a consistent basis. Each day I tracked my food, walked at least a mile, and spent at least 10 minutes on meditation. Much like Army pounds the football down the field, I pounded away the pounds with consistent execution!
Persistent – The Army football team persistently pursues its playbook even when behind. They do not stop running and driving even if they have to catch-up. Passes are few and far between as they methodically drive down the field. They never stop pursuing their game plan. This persistence is also necessary to successfully restore your health. When I started out, I could barely walk around the block. But little by little, through persistence, I was able to workup to 50 miles in a single day. I did not do it in a week or a month but through persistent exercise over the course of a year and half. Be persistent like the Army Football team and stick to your plan. You will get healthy!
Attitude – The Army Football team stands undaunted against any foe as they demonstrated in the OU game. They stay positive even when facing incredible odds. Also, even when they come up short in the end (like they did in the OU game), they do not let it get them down. They just pick themselves up and win the rest of season, driving into a top 25 spot! You need the same attitude when tackling a weight loss journey. Setbacks will inevitably happen. Like the time you gain 2 lbs in a week because of work demands cut, or eat too much for Thanksgiving (while watching football no less). But at these times, it is important to have a positive attitude and continue marching to your goal, just like the Army football team marches down the field!
I would like to end with a rephrased Army fight song for those driving to their weight loss goals:
For many, losing weight and keeping it off is akin to warfare. It was for me. Many days during my year and a half journey to lose a 178 lbs. I felt like I was in the Battle of the Bulge. I was pummeled on all sides by my enemies – junk food, worry, and inactivity. I needed the right weapons to beat back the break in my defenses and drive to victory. And I found them in these five key weapons in Weight Loss warfare:
Bananas – The banana is the ultimate weapon in defeating junk food cravings for several reasons. First, they are very discreet and compact. You can hide them in your backpack or briefcase and pull them out whenever a junk food frenzy hits! Indeed, they were my weapon of choice in defeating my arch nemesis – Peanut M&M’s. Second, they come with their own protection a removable skin that keeps them clean and ready to eat in all sorts of terrain – Nature’s MRE. Lastly, they sustain for the long haul with their fiber and potassium. Eat one and you can drive past a full candy bowl without slowing down.
Sneakers are the ultimate weapon against our next enemy of health – inactivity. Sitting and remaining dormant are two of the most powerful armaments in our foe’s arsenal. There are more expensive tools to defeat them – gyms, the latest exercise equipment, etc. – but I have found the trusty sneaker to be the most effective. Sneakers are like the famous Kalashnikov rifle that the Soviet’s used in WW II. You could drop the Kalashnikov in the mud or march in the rain and it would always fire when you pulled the trigger. Likewise, sneakers are a lost cost, effective way to beat inactivity. For example, when I am out of town for work and know I will be away from the gym, I find a hotel about a mile or two from the workplace, lace up my sneakers and take a twenty-minute walk. I then switch into my shoes and put them in my backpack; along with my trusty banana that replenishes my potassium! There they remain until ready for access with my next bout with inactivity – lunch!
Audiobooks – Two other enemies in the struggle against weight gain is lack of knowledge and boredom. Audiobooks are the perfect antidote to both. Take them on a trek while walking on a trail and you will forget the foes trying to drive you away from your objective. I have whiled away the hours listening to James Patterson as I worked off the weight. Next, audiobooks provide you inspiration and knowledge to counter the enemy’s every move. For example, The Power of Habit taught me how to counter the triggers to eating. Walking with audiobooks strikes fear in our nemesis to health!
Weight Watchers – An effective game plan and strategy is the greatest force multiplier on the battlefield. Weight Watchers provides that game plan with its program Freestyle. The program provides you the structure, support and tools to defeat cravings and the disinformation campaign that our modern lifestyle deploys.
Your Mind – The most powerful weapon in the weight loss struggle is your mind. The harbingers of weight gain use worry, negativity and self-loathing to distract you and bring you down. To counter them, practice mindfulness and positive thoughts. This will counter the senseless eating that often accompanies worry and restlessness.
The winning combination of the five weight loss weapons will bring you success. Use them and drive to victory and a new you!
I believe one of the most improbable goals in human history was undertaken by our founding fathers and mothers when they established this country. A country formed for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today I had the pleasure of attending a moving ceremony in memory of Memorial Day at Sun City in Georgetown, Texas. Senator Cornyn (listen here Memorial Day Speech ) and others spoke on how for over 230 years the servicemen and women of this country have laid down there lives for this idea. They gave their lives to keep us free and to allow the experiment of democracy to proceed.
But the experiment is fragile. Too often in today’s time, we do not listen to our fellow Americans. To see their side and to honor their equal right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Indeed, there is too much me and not enough us. And it is a disgrace to the sacrifices that these brave service men and women gave. They gave all for us. Can’t we honor their memory by at least listening to the ideas of our fellow Americans and engage in Civil Discourse?
We all must endeavor to see in shades of grey. To listen with open ears and understand what the other side is saying to honor the memories of our fallen. Indeed, it is fitting that the uniform of the United States Military Academy is Grey. Life is seldom Black and White. It is grey! And it is our responsibility to diligently discern the grey by nurturing this fragile dream of democracy and listening to our fellow Americans. To hear a compelling podcast on this topic from a guy pleading to you as I do, listen to Dan Carlin’s Common-Sense podcast linked here Common Sense – Shades of Grey.
I also spoke about in my previous blog about how I walked 50 miles in honor of Veterans, the aforementioned “improbable goal”. But what is more improbable, is that a citizenry of people of every creed and race giving their lives for a single idea. So today as a plea for all of us to get along, I take you through a virtual 50-mile walk with each 10-mile marker in honor of the fallen in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
Mile Marker 0 to 10. Army. Col. Richard (Dick) McEvoy. I will start with the person that I know best. Richard (Dick) McEvoy, USMA class of 1980, was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor with DynCorp after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. He was the S-3 and I was the S-2. I also worked with him when he was the Commander of A Company. His company always got the highest scores in inspections and had astounding Esprit de Corps. I looked up to Dick and he was a role model as a calm, no nonsense commander that balanced mission and troops. He went on to train other soldiers as the Commander of the National Training Center. Here’s more about Col. McEvoy here McEvoy Memorial
Mile Marker 10 to 20. Navy. LAUREL BLAIR SALTON CLARK, M.D. (CAPTAIN, USN), NASA ASTRONAUT. Service is not confined to battle in wars, but also advancing the cause of freedom through the courageous act of exploration. Captain Clark perished in Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 while reentering the earth’s orbit. I remember it like it was yesterday since she perished near Palestine, Texas where the Space Shuttle broke apart upon reentry. She advanced the US Space mission by conducting over 80 experiments. She also had a distinguished career in the Navy prior to her mission. Her squadron won the Marine Attack Squadron of the year for its successful deployment. She represents the brave women that defend our country and advance the cause of freedom. Nearly 200 women have been KIA in Afghanistan and Iraq alone. Read more about Captain Clark here Captain Clark
Mile Marker 20 to 30. Coast Guard. Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Brandt Bruckenthal. The Coast Guard is a crucial branch of the Armed Services. They defend our country and embark on humanitarian missions that serve our country and advance our image. Petty Officer Bruckenthal was a damage controlman, who with two U. S. Navy sailors were killed in the line of duty while conducting maritime intercept operations in the North Arabian Gulf.
Bruckenthal and six other coalition sailors attempted to board a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal. As they boarded the boat, it exploded. Bruckenthal later died from the wounds he sustained in the explosion. Bruckenthal was the first Coast Guard member killed in action since the Vietnam War. His service as well as others in the Coast Guard such as our family friends the Lawrence’s advance the cause of freedom by defending our coasts. Read more here about Petty Officer Bruckenthal here Petty Officer Bruckenthal
Mile Marker 30 – 40. Marines. Ira Hayes. Ira Hayes was a Pima Native American who was immortalized both in the statue in Washington as he lifted the flag on Iwo Jima during WWII but also in one of my favorite songs by Johnny Cash called the Ballad of Ira Hayes linked here Ballad of Ira Hayes. Ira did not die on the hills of Iwo Jima but back in the country he defended. He represents all the Veterans that defend us with all their hearts, guts and souls but when they return we do not care for them adequately or honor their sacrifice. He is memorialized in a statue; let us remember him in our hearts and our actions as we care for the cause of the Native Americans.
Mile Marker 40 – 50. Air Force (Army Air Corps). The fallen of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen is the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II. They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. They have been immortalized in the movie Red Tails and they went on to produce 3 Generals in the Air Force – Daniel James was appointed a brigadier general by President Nixon for keeping his cool in the face of Qaddafi’s troops, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the original commander of the 332nd Fighter Group and the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and Lucius Theus, who retired a major general after dedicating most of his 36-year career in the Air Force. They were one of the most decorated units in WW II and had an amazing record against the German Luftwaffe. This group of the first African American Aviators fought valiantly in WW II even though they did not have rights in the Jim Crow South. 66 of the 450 Tuskegee Airmen lost their lives in WW II, dying for a country that did not accept them in some areas. Read more about the importance of memorializing these great Americans and others on Memorial Day here in a letter from the Tuskegee Airman Institute President Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Letter.
Our journey of 50 miles on Memorial Day demonstrates the resilience and sacrifice of the men and women of this nation. Immigrant or native, white or black, men and women -each gave the ultimate sacrifice. The least we can do on this Memorial Day is to listen to one another with respect and support this fragile goal of Democracy! We are all brothers and sisters with one idea – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So, the least we can do is to love and understand one another!
I learned from many leaders as I grew up through the ranks in the 9th Infantry Division, Motorized – whoo-ah (see my graduation photo from Airborne School in Fort Benning, below). I had the pleasure to talk to General Schwarzkopf as he pumped iron at the gym (he was strong!!!) and General Shalikashvilli (former Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff) when I was Deputy Division G3, but the best leader hands down in my book was Colonel Dolan.
I first served under Colonel Dolan when he was the Commander of 3/60 Infantry as his Battalion Military Intelligence Officer (oxymoron). I would like to relate two of the many things I learned from him with some brief stories:
Be confident in your area of expertise.
Lead Up Front
Be Confident, You are the Smartest Person in the Room!
Let me set the stage. I had just had a successful command as the Platoon Leader of a Tactical Intelligence Platoon. Although part of an Infantry Division, my platoon of Korean Linguists and military intelligence analysts were more akin to the doctor’s on MASH (the famous TV show), then the gung-ho ground soldier. They were more Hawkeye Pierce than GI Joe. I was now moving from being the officer of a platoon of unconventional but brilliant, Military Intelligence soldiers, to being the only non-Infantry Staff Officer for a battalion of battle hardened soldiers that just came back from a tour in the Mid-East. And the person that I had to provide intelligence on the enemy among other things had the reputation of being the toughest one of all – Colonel Dolan.
I was in Military intelligence reason for two reasons. The good reason is I had a reputation of being able to analyze intelligence and figure out what the other side was doing. The not so good reason is I am not as adept with typical military tasks such as firing a weapon, so being in the infantry now was a bit intimidating.
I was about to give my first briefing with the rest of the staff to Colonel Dolan and I was nervous. I had studied my presentation the night before and could tell you the number of people, the deployment tactics, and the weaponry of the enemy battalion down to the last detail. I also prepared a detailed briefing book. But when I got in front of Colonel Dolan, I became nervous and spoke too fast on those few occasions when my dialog was not punctuated by um’s and ah’s. But worse yet, in my eyes, I forgot one fact that I wanted to present. Altogether, not a good start.
Colonel Dolan called me in later the day and now I was scared. I felt certain that he found out about the one fact I missed. Instead, he started off by saying he read my briefing packet and thought it was A+. He then asked me a few questions that I responded to. Relieved, I was ready to go when the boss told me he had one more thing to say. “Lt. Grier that briefing book and the content of your briefing were excellent, but the whole time you were speaking you acted like I was going to fire you. You are the smartest person in the room when it comes to Military Intelligence. So let me be clear. The only time I will fire you is if you do not act confident when you are the smartest person in the room. Now go out and do great things.”
These words are still ingrained in my mind more than 25 years later and I try to remember them each time I need to give an important presentation. Many of us discount how well prepared we are in our area of expertise when we need to manage up or speak to leadership. We try to remember every detail instead of being confident in the knowledge ingrained in our mind. The bottom line is each of us our paid to be an expert in something. Those things that you are expert in don’t be scared of missing a fact. Do not hug a tree and miss the forest. Be confident. You are the smartest person in the room.
Lead Up Front
The commander of a Battalion is sometimes affectionately know as the Old Man or Woman. That is primarily a term of endearment, believe it or not, and is based on respect for the knowledge and prowess they gained over the years. Only secondarily is it based on age.
Colonel Dolan was the quintessential Old Man. He proved his prowess on the battlefield where he was awarded a Silver Star. He was also old in terms of Army standards having just turned 40. Due to this milestone, the Brigade commander made him get a physical before he could run in the Brigade run. This did not sit well with the Old Man much to our chagrin as you will see.
The day after he got his physical, we had a report by the equivalent of the battalion HR lead that a bunch of the enlisted guys and an officer or two did not do well on the practice Army Physical Readiness Test. The APRT is the equivalent of a java certification for a developer. You had to pass it to do your job.
The day of the Brigade run arrived bright and early. I liked Brigade runs, normally (this was in the days when I myself was not an old man). The only hard thing is that being an MI officer and the only non-Infantry officer on the staff I got the duties that the Infantry staff officers did not want. In this case, I had “fall out” monitoring duty. This meant I had to circle around the four companies in our battalion (each with about 150 people) the whole time we were running. I had to report to the Old Man how the companies were hanging. Usually this was not too hard because I was many pounds lighter then and a great deal faster. Also, Colonel Dolan kept a steady pace and he usually was not so fast.
But today was a different story. A perfect storm had hit with Colonel Dolan’s physical and the report of soldiers being out of shape. The old man was out to prove a point. He began at a brisk pace and proceeded from there. On my first lap around the battalion, the Captain of C Company yelled out, “Hey, Don what is the Old Man doing?” I said, “I don’t know but let me check”.
As I ran around the battalion, some of the more out of shape soldiers were getting winded. I myself was breathing hard especially since I was running double the distance. Back at the front of the battalion, I told the Old Man that several of the company commanders had asked what was going on. All he said with a face of sheer determination was “The Go Devils (our nickname) are meant to go fast”.
So on a subsequent lap around the battalion as I was gasping for breath, I told Captain Gerras that I did not know what the Old Man was doing. He yelled to me “Tell him to slow down, a quarter of the battalion is falling out”. I yelled back, “Sir, you are welcome to tell him. I am just trying to make it back around.”
I made it back up front just as we were nearing the gate of the parade field. Now custom is you stay in formation behind the battalion in front of you. Not today. Colonel Dolan decided to pass the Second Battalion! He yelled Go Devils Coming Through and he passed Second Battalion in a dead sprint. Colonel Dolan asked me how the battalion did. I told him one gasp at a time “Not …..(Gasp) ….all ….made….. it, but ….there …… will…… not……. be………anyone…..failing…… the ……. APRT … any …. time … soon. “
And those gasping words rang true. The Battalion got the point and for weeks all the soldiers could talk about was how fast the Old Man had sprinted. And he still had it!
The lesson in leadership is that sometimes the Old Man or Woman has to show the team how it is done. In the Army, being fit is a work necessity. Colonel Dolan showed the team how it was done. He led by example. This does not mean that every time when a team member needs an extra boost to complete a task, the leader has to do it for them. No! What it means is that at some critical junctures it is important that the Old Man or Woman lead the way and show the prowess that got them to the position in the first place. It is not enough to manage a spreadsheet. You need to lead up front and pass the competition. Go Accenture! Lead the way!