Photo Credit: Copywright by Reuters and Retrieved from willsrobinson.wordpress.com https://willsrobinson.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/exclusive-the-story-behind-an-iconic-image-from-the-war-on-terror/
I wrote this article in conjunction/relation to this iconic image of Staff Sgt. William Bee. To read more on the article attached to this photo, please follow through to the link above.
With very little common sense, a hard head, and a can-do attitude, I enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Fall of 2005 originally as an Infantry Marine. During my Infantry training at the School of Infantry (SOI), I had the opportunity to try out for the Reconnaissance program to become a Recon Marine. I felt like this was the first time I really needed mental fortitude. The reason for this was you were not forced to do the Recon selection like in boot camp or SOI. This was a special program in which guys were handpicked by the senior officers and senior enlisted advisors. It was all volunteer and was a brutal selection process. The selection started during my training at the School of Infantry (SOI), so the volunteers had to wake up around 0330 (which equates to 3:30 a.m.). Reason for this was so we could complete the physical selection before our normal day started, which was around 0600 (6:00 a.m.). I remember that it was held during winter and the ground was frozen. It was a miserable morning. I’ve always lived by the motto, “If it isn’t hard then it is not worth it and if everyone could do it then it’s not special.” With that, I was one of the 100 guys they selected to attend the Recon selection and I jumped at the opportunity!
Our first task was to complete a 3-mile run as fast as possible. Once the run was completed, I had to do 20 pull-ups with strict form. After that, we did 100 crunches in a 2-minute time frame. I remember like it just happened yesterday- that we all had thought the selection process was over and out of the 100 volunteers, they were going to pick the top fastest out of the group. We were right about one thing, and that was they were going to pick the top 20 performers, but did not know that the selection had JUST STARTED! The surprise of just starting the selection affected a lot of Marine's mindset which affected their performance. After the selection process, we were then instructed to put on our military uniform and meet at the pool. For those of you that have never swam in clothes, just know that it is a difficult process to perform! From there we did a timed 500-meter swim with our camouflaged uniform on. This was miserable because as I did the swimming strokes the camouflage blouse sleeves would wrap around my shoulders which added to the difficulty of swimming in heavy fatigues. The swim assisted in the selection process along with the surprise of more physical tasks to perform. Not everyone was able to complete the tasks within the time allotted.
After we completed a 500-meter swim for time, we were instructed to complete an underwater crossover- which was underwater swimming for 25 meters. We were all exhausted and having to complete a physical task on one breath-hold added more stress to the selection process. Think of it like this: Running a marathon, then being asked to run some more once you’ve exhaustedly crossed the finish line.
Once everyone had completed the 500-meter swim and underwater crossover, the instructors sent the guys who didn’t make the times or quit, back to our barracks. The guys that had completed the tasks were instructed to jump into the deep-end of the pool and acquire arm’s length from each other and tread water. The instructors stated that the time would start once everyone was in position- we were broken into columns and rows in the pool. This added to the frustration and stress because it took a while for guys to get in formation, focused, and relaxed. Once we had all taken our positions in the pool, we then locked eyes onto the instructor. Think of it like deer in headlights. As we tread water, the instructor stared down at his watch, which for us, felt like a lifetime!
And then he finally said, “time starts now!”
I instantly thought, “Wait…What…What time and how long?”
The time was unknown, and the stress was increased. When you are exhausted and have nothing to distract you from the pain, your mind naturally starts playing tricks on you. If you are not prepared the mind tricks are not fun and will derail you from your goals. Afterall, mind tricks are never fun! Many guys quit during this time. In this process, the instructors had not added any physical tasks- the instructors purpose was just to test us for the mental fortitude we would need for future endeavors. This process was to strengthen our abilities that we would eventually face in combat.
After about 30 to 45 minutes, they instructed us to get out of the pool and change back into our running gear. At that point, the instructors informed us that everything at that point will be timed, and these times will count towards passing or failing the selection process. Once we had all changed into our running gear, we then ran a 3-mile run, did the 20 pull ups, and completed 100 crunches in 2 minutes. It was a horrible process, but I was determined to not let anyone beat me and was driven to succeed. Fortunately for me, I was one of the 20 guys that had been selected. At this point of my military career is when my life became crazy- in the sense that my position became more demanding in that my physical abilities had to meet the required standards, and my mindset needed to be sharper than ever! I was able to attend RIP which was the Recon prep-course and then the Reconnaissance School in Coronado, California where I then became a “Recon Marine.”
Hardship – The Test
I was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 during one of the many bloody campaigns in the Helmand Province. We had information that the Taliban and foreign fighters had a route they were running logistics for combating NATO partners. With this information we (my Recon Team) decided to ambush the fighters. We left our safe haven at nighttime and hiked all of our medium machine guns, sniper rifles, and explosives to the area we thought would be best to take out the enemy. One thing we did not know at the time was that our enemy traveled with an over watch. This means that they had two groups of guys. A lead group or “group 1” which led the patrol, and an overwatch or “group 2” which would conduct a counterattack or take notes of how NATO was conducting operations, so they could learn and adapt to how we (NATO) operated.
My Recon team was in position before the sun came up. All of us were sweaty and exhausted from carrying heavy rucks and weapons, but the battle hadn't even started! This had a negative impact on our mental abilities and if not properly prepared could have affected our performance. As we moved forward in preparation, we had set up all of our guns and sniper positions. As the sun came up, we could see the enemy patrol walking through our kill zone. As they walked through the kill zone, we opened fire and were able to drop every enemy combative. It was clean and we had no resistance. In other words, it was a quick kill. With that we made a plan to move from our position at night while staying alert for the next 18-hours. Once again, we were not aware of the overwatch position our enemy had on us.
As the adrenaline left our bodies and complacency attempted to set in, we started to receive enemy fire. It was a counter ambush from the enemy’s overwatch. I don’t want to get too detailed about it, but I can remember taking cover behind a small dirt wall. The bullets from an enemy’s machine gun were eating the wall up. As the wall got smaller and was slowly turned into dust, the particles were falling in my face and lap. I was laying on my back attempting to hide behind the small wall and could barely breathe. Paralyzed and gasping for clean-air I could only breathe in the dust from the dirt wall.
I recall feeling my mind wanting to run into a panic attack! My team was pinned down and we did not know where the enemy was located. I was terrified to move, and my mind started to shut down. Right before it shut down, I had a flashback to the beginning of my Recon selection when I attended RIP where the instructors were drowning us. We were in a circle treading water with our uniform on. The instructors called this game “crowd surfing.” They would slowly crawl over us which simulated a drowning experience, in which some of the guys needed to be resuscitated and CPR was administered on those who needed it.
After that flash back, I remember taking 3 deep breaths that gave me very little oxygen. It was just like being drowned and fighting to get just a little bit of oxygen- which provided a few minutes of fight. This was enough for me to get my mind right and maneuver from the enemy fire and return fire. We were able to win that skirmisher and gratefully, we all survived that day.
If it was not for the proper training, mindset, and execution, I would have likely not made it home, and even worse, I may have lost some of my brothers. The roughness and intensity of the training I had received while becoming a Recon Marine had developed my determination, mental strength, and willpower to be successful in my position.
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