Saturday, 18 July 2015 17:47

During a job interview some time back with a Fortune 500, I was shocked when the interviewer, a lady asked me a rhetorical question - What did you learnt from the Army? Isn't it just about following instructions? I was taken aback but kept a professional front and went to supplement her answer. So, it struck me that I should share 3 Life Lessons from the Military which will follow me for life. Here's a Singaporean's perspective. Enjoy.

1. Rehearsals


We race as we train, and train as we race.

Never underestimate the importance of rehearsals. Practice makes perfect. Practice creates competence. We fine-tune competence till we achieve excellence. Such is the mindset that our commander imbued into us. This is so that when the enemy knocks, we will take them out with a swift and decisive victory.

Rehearsals serve as the foundation for success to our missions.

Towards the end of our 9 months when we became more fluid with our manoeuvres, we trained and rehearsed even harder. We wanted to achieve excellence and mission success. It reached a stage where we knew our buddy's actions and movements with simple gestures.

The fact is, the better prepared we are for our job interviews, for work, for presentations, IPPT, starting a family, etc. - we will be better.


2. Mindset & Resilience


"Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress."
(Definition extracted from American Psychological Association)

I remember the initial days of Officer Cadet School - the long and hard days of outfield exercises, constant screaming and yelling from the 'monsters', summer heat that pierces through our equipment to reach our skin, sleep-depriving-mental-torturous-turnouts in the wee hours that didn't seem to end, and the most creative punishments that our instructors could conjure.

The 9 months of training is definitely one of the most memorable experiences in my life. On the contrary, the attrition rate at the end was close to 30-35%. In the first few weeks, and on occasional pre-exercise/trainings, I laid alone and awake in my two-men dormitory, questioning myself (I saw two different bunk mates resigning to fate) - Am I next to fall? If I was strong enough to complete this training? I feel like giving up. I'm too weak. I kept talking down to myself. I'm afraid of the pain to come. (It's like one is afraid of horror movies, yet he/she still chooses to pay to catch one).

When thoughts of throwing in the towel snuck up on me, I recognised it, my senses heightened, like I was in the zone, in a flight or fight mode; I could programme instructions to my brain, "Don't Give Up! ; What Doesn't Kill You, Makes You Stronger! ; You can do this! " It was as if these positive pictures and thoughts that I was painting to myself was working.

There was a 9 days Jungle Confidence Course (JCC) that we had to undergo in Brunei where cadets had to trek and survive in the wild for 9 days with only 24 hours of combat ration, navigating from A to B. Failure to complete would result in negative repercussions. Halfway through, hiking with close to a 25-30kg Full Battle Order, complete a team's Signal Set coupled with our Survival Gear, my knee cap seemed like it was going to snap - I thought this was it, I am going to become handicapped.

During ascension towards the top of the moutain's peak, we had to go on all fours, I couldn't take my load - I thought this was it too. (Special Thanks to my buddy, Shawn, who helped take the load off my shoulders during the final climb). The third happened while I was building my shelter and the log fell directly against my head - Oh no, blood. Not again. My buddy takes out his FAD to wrap my head.

You always have more to give.

The pain and hardship of such regimes are inevitable, yet the by-product of such training is increased tolerance to pain, adversity and stress. It creates and brings out the best in both our peers and self through the worse of times. It makes us a stronger person, mentally and physically. It molds excellence into character. It has prepared me for life, by increasing my threshold towards stress and adversities.

Here's 5 pointers on how our Navy Seal Lieutenant Colonel (pictured above) trained and molded us upon: "What being a Navy SEAL taught me about Excellence"


3. Teamwork


At some point in time, we have heard of many acronyms for TEAM, the cliche, "Together Everyone Achieves More = TEAM" or "There is no I in the TEAM". Without a doubt, it is as simple and literal as it means.

You can't do everything on your own.

As a cadet, our tasks usually revolved around accomplishing an objective together. Each of us owns a different role and contributes to the overall mission and team's success. As an example, in a "defence exercise", one person cannot setup a locality within a day. It takes a platoon / company / battalion size of us to work on individual stations simultaneously. E.g. Barb wire, Booby Traps, Trench Digging, etc. Collectively, the zone then becomes fortified and ready against attacks.

To add on, we are only as strong as the weakest link. I remember in an overseas exercise, we had to simulate a casevac (casualty evacuation). Guess who was on it? The instructor appointed the heaviest person to role-play the injured. As a team, we had to carry him for over a kilometre through undulating hilly terrain with our blistered feets and worn bodies.

In this drill, moving too fast, carrying too high/too low only results in dropping our buddy. We had to find the sweet spot to synchronise our footsteps, speed and height to ensure the safety of our team member. (Not to forget our injured buddy's load was distributed amongst us and that's at least another 5kg)

The point is this, with most tasks, it's always a WE-thing, together, us; it's seldom an 'I'. We will always be inter-dependent on the buddies / families / colleagues / managers / business units around us. Such is the way the universe works. As the saying goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."


To Lead, To Excel, To Overcome!





Writer: Eugene K. (@EugeneKoh)

Eugene loves picking weights up and riding through the grind for fun. If he's not deadlifting, he's flipping tires and whipping up scrambled eggs.