The Cold Hard Truth: Lessons Learned in Perseverance and Determination

Photo by Christopher Reif

Jonathan Vann
Staff Writer

A cold hard truth reared its ugly head once again during an ROTC Training exercise.

About a mile into a ruck march, I am looking up and down the marching order, and I see what is the typical norm of an initial training event.

Cadets are hobbling because of blister birth. Sweat is running down temples profusely. Ruck sacks are feeling heavier from inappropriate packing and configuration.

There appears to be the presence of excessive fatigue because, for a lot of the cadets, this is the first time they ever walked more than mile under load or the first time in quite some time. Discomfort is alive and present, and it is only going to elevate.

Fast forward about 15 hours. My comrades and I are traversing steep hills and valleys during a highly vegetated land navigation exercise. The ruck sacks are still on our backs.

To make things even more strenuous, the distance from point to point varies from 500 to 1,500 meters – just about a mile in civilian terms. Small blisters are now big blisters. Entire uniforms are drenched in sweat.

If maintaining hydration was not a necessity 15 hours prior, it is definitely a priority now. The weight of the ruck sack – still ever-present, despite correct configurations. The heat and fatigue are at an all-time high.

“Why am I doing this?”

“Embrace the suck.”

– on repeat in my head.

Time and time again I find myself feeling drained of everything, and here I am reliving that experience in ROTC land.

I always find the answer, and once again, it was through past experiences – in this case, from time on the battlefield.

Those moments are what the ROTC FTX and every other training event I have experienced prepared me for.

Our leaders flawlessly emphasized the “Train As You Fight” philosophy on all of us.

Throughout exercises, cadets utilize various tactics they will perform on the battlefield, gaining first-hand experience of how real-life battles are going to be.

We learn about tactical movement, performance under fatigue and extreme conditions, land navigation and vital weapon fundamentals.

Because of heat and blisters, we constantly check each other for proper hydration and physical conditions.

We correct each other’s ruck sacks to prevent further discomfort.

There is even a team development course to build trust among peers and develop leadership attributes.

Everything that happens during the exercise, you learn to expect from your peer or superior in a combat zone.

During an 11-year career that has seen two combat deployments, I had never conducted land navigation without gear or a ruck sack.

Not once did I move through a mountainous road in a tactical wedge or file without at least 35 pounds of body armor in strenuous environments.

I can say the same thing about my comrades on the battlefield.

Not once did they fire a weapon incorrectly.

We always checked the physical conditions of our battle buddies.

Fatigue was a daily occurrence in the combat zone.

But we still “embraced the suck,” accomplished our mission and learned from it.

This is the cold hard truth: discomfort and “embracing the suck” is what training is all about – making you better and stronger.​

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