Words of wisdom from John Tate.

Of late I’ve seen several discussions of whether competition aids or impairs combat. Here is a thought for you, one dealing with what I suggest is the most important factor: mental focus.

For context, my Army life was 4 years of NDCC in high school and 1 year ROTC/Pershing Rifles in college; my life in the Navy only had a few recce missions were guns were trained on me. And I worked trying (successfully) to save a sinking boat, thinking all the while, “This is a stupid way to die.” But I’ve worked on-and-off as a patrol officer for 17 years, and I worked as a fireman for 10. I’ve done wildland man-hunts, building searches and traffic stops, mostly solo (that’s how rural and small town officers work). I’ve fought fires standing on roofs that were collapsing around me, and in basements with the building falling in around me. I’ve gone into burning buildings were you crawled because (1) the fire filled the overhead, and (2) the smoke & fire were so thick you couldn’t see trip/fall hazards.

Ask yourself why do we dedicate so much time in boot camp and AIT, basic artillery, armor, engineering schools on what I will call “discipline exercises,” such as close order drill, ruck marches, one man digging a hole while another fills it, push-ups to exhaustion, etc. Ask yourself why do we spend so much time on close order drill and/or formation marches even after basic schools? My answer: to instill obedience.

OK, maybe there’s not as much of that as in the past – but the principle is the same: stimulus = response; order received = order obeyed.

What I have done, and what you have done, is send thousands of rounds down range in competition. That takes focus … focus built and strengthened by drill. Drill the builds both muscle memory and habits that take the place of conscious thought, which in turn allows the conscious thought to be devoted to the job at hand. But there is more. The job at hand is hitting target center, and with sufficient drill, one develops the ability to have that single operation consume most all your conscious thought.

That, I suggest, is a drill developed, mission focused, mental discipline that can be applied to any stressful environment.

I’m not suggesting an equivalence between military and police/fire. But I am suggesting intense drill can develop the focused mental discipline that is required to displace, or at least overcome distractions, especially the distraction of fear.