Updated: Jun 4, 2019
The sweat burns your eyes.
That constant heat coupled with dust and the fact that you are wearing a fucking helmet, armour and carting around more ammo in this shitty desert than one could shoot in a year; the weight of it all creates this constant ache in your body.
Sleep was a luxury sometime last week. The best meal you had in the last two weeks was a ration advertised as a burrito and you’re not really sure the last time you had a shower, bird bath … 2 days ago? No, maybe yesterday? Yeah yesterday.
BOOM! ‘Crack’ thump, ‘crack’ thump, ‘crack’ thump, “CONTACT RIGHT!!!” ‘crack’ thump.
This gunfight has now started.
Your heart rate jumps, adrenaline is now dumped from your renal gland into your blood stream and you’re riding high on fear and aggression.
The recoil impulse from your carbine, that feeling of the buffer cycling round after round, coupled with the rich smell of gunpowder, have become a familiar comfort.
The sound of shouting, indistinguishable to many, becomes a plan. Like a quarterback calling a play that you are somehow able to hear over the ringing in your ears. You pinpoint the enemy and almost as soon as it started – it’s done.
The only thing remaining is the sound of ringing and that of a medic working on mortally wounded comrade.
The same man you played poker with a few days before?!
He's not even old enough to buy you a beer and now he lays burnt up on the sand, covered in blood and dust.
This work day maybe over for him but you, rifleman, have no reprieve from this hot dusty, miserable and hostile place. It’s now time for you to saddle up and bring that hard fight to the enemy. This is where you push your inner belief system and your physical body to places you've never even considered.
You are here in this moment because you are a well-trained and refined component of a Infantry rifle section. You are not here by chance. You are here, covered in sweat and dust, exhausted to a point you thought long ago was enough, because you earned the right to be here. Earned it with character, tenacity, and pain. You earned that mindset.
So how does one achieve the mindset to focus, place accurate fire and ebb and flow with such speed and aggression that you are able to win the approaching gunfight? And do so having endured such hardship and witnessed such horror which would undoubtedly crumble the average man.
It starts with a volunteer process, going to a recruiting center and jumping through all the hoops until one day you report for basic. Ten weeks later you leave that place and report for Battle School. It’s here you are taught just that – battle.
The ability to maintain your composure in the two-way range of a combat environment is imprinted here. It is not just a lesson – it’s a way of life. Here, you either become a warrior or you don’t. You only leave here with what you earned.
The amount of physical, mental and pure pain you will endure here will initiate you to the warrior mindset. It will begin to prepare you for the gunfight.
For here, not only are you tested daily under incredible stress, you will bond with your fellow infantry brothers. You become family here. This bond is more than half the warrior mindset. If you do not bond here you will not earn loyalty and respect. If you are not loyal, if you do not work hard or do not sacrifice your comfort for your peers and place mission before self, you will fail here.
Success as a combat warrior and a gunfighter is only based on the strength of your team. There is no place for individuals or individual comfort here. Everyone endures and everyone lives by the words “don’t cope, prevail.”
Your composure and your calm under fire starts here. It’s earned here. Without this base of basic skills that are learned here under duress, it’s difficult although not impossible to attain that place of heightened awareness. That place where you can process and identify threats, place shots, communicate and understand a rapidly changing plan, all while maintaining speed and initiative.
It’s foolhardy for people to begin to train for a gunfight without being under duress. Whether it be physical or mental, stress needs to be a key component to your training. It needs to be added and built into training as a progression.
If you train with a gun for the purpose of defence, enforcement or war, you must add stress in the form of a shot timer, movement and other distractions, being of course mindful of safety.
The perfect start is the use of a shot timer so you can start becoming “time” aware, so you can slow down and refine fine motors skills. While you become time aware train your vision and you will become comfortable, proficient, composed and smooth with your drills.
As described at the beginning of this article, those firearms skills and that awareness is all encumbered by the environment of what can only be described as an immense level of suck.
Preparation for the suck is built in the fraternity of the infantry. You earn your place there. For those of us that have earned that level of suck, we wear it with pride and show it in our humble accord and display it in our eyes.
We have earned our place and no one can take that from us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shaun A. is a former Recce Patrolman with 3 PPCLI who has served in Afghanistan and is now an avid shooter and instructor.