Welcome back to the Life on Target podcast. I’m your host, Nathan Spearing. I hope as always, you are on mission in life doing what you do best, or taking steps to order your life so that you can do the things that God puts you on this earth to do that no one else can do. And I hope this episode will enable you, equip you to do that.
Today is the 19-year anniversary of when I first joined the military. Those of you that have been with me for a little while, know that I’m no longer in the military. I left the military in 2016, but I still remember the day I left for infantry basic training back on February 23rd, 2003. I was 19 years old. My parents dropped me off at the Nashville Military Evaluation Processing Center or MEPS. And I got on a bus, then boarded a plane to Fort Benning, Georgia, where I would spend the next almost six months of my life and training on my way to become an Airborne Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Boasting in the Lord—Not Our Ability
Now, my military a career can most succinctly and accurately be described as failing my way to the top. I had to repeat many portions of my military training because I made careless mistakes, and, candidly, I feel like that is when God realized that I was starting to boast in my own strength at a subconscious level maybe, maybe not at a conscious overt level to others, but my internal soundtrack that we talk about, I started to think I was pretty awesome. I started to think I was God’s gift to freedom a little bit. And you do need to have a certain level of swagger, a certain level of boldness and confidence to do the kind of things that I did in the military. But as a Christian, we know that we don’t get to boast in our abilities, that we give credit to God for that.
And I think the scripture that most accurately describes this is Jeremiah 9:23–24:
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”Jeremiah 9:23–24
Obviously, in this Evangellyfish culture, Christians can read that verse, say, “That’s right, I boast in the Lord—that’s it.” And at the same time, neglect cultivating wisdom, neglect working out so that they can be mighty in applying ourselves diligently to our work, so that we can get a profit for our children’s children.
We need to remember that what we do is not for our glory, but is for the glory of the Lord, our God. But at the same time, that is not a reason to neglect these things, to have these narcissistic tendencies, that these trappings that seem to sneak their way into the way that we live our lives every day now in a comfortable, free society.
Living Boldly Requires Risks
And I want to tell you about a time that I failed in the military so hopefully that you put yourself in a position to fail. I think it is easy in this day and age to carefully cultivate our life so that we are not uncomfortable, so that we are not in a position where we might fail, to orchestrate the events around or the things that we put ourselves into, the things that we attempt to do, to make sure they’re not too hard or too public, where we might actually mess up. And some people might see us mess up, and then they’ll know we’re a fraud they’ll know we’re a phony. And we can’t have that when really being a fraud and being a phony is living comfortably and shying away from risk and keeping yourself from reaching the potential that God has woven into your being for his glory—taking those talents and burying them as opposed to investing them wisely and learning and growing along the way.
The British Special Air Service, the SAS have a motto etched on their logo “Who Dares Wins.” And I love that motto because it speaks to the quality of being daring. And that if you dare greatly, if you do things boldly, if you identify targets and you go after them with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength for the glory of the Creator, you win. And if you don’t do that, if you live safely comfortably with your Netflix shows and you’re barely giving your employer 40 good hours, taking a long lunch break, clocking out a little bit early, being ready to quit, because it’s hard, because the struggle, not rejoicing in your toil, you’re not winning.
My Military Training History
And there’s lots of ways that I have a tendency to play it safe and to not go for it, to not dare, but physical challenge historically for me has not been that. And when I left for the military in 2003, to try to join the build most elite light inventory fighting force in the world, there was no guarantee that I would make it through training.
When we showed up in basic training, I was in a Ranger platoon, which essentially meant that the majority I think was around 40 to 47 of the 50 guys in the platoon had Airborne Ranger contracts. And the U.S. army knows that the most people that join the military are not going to make it to Ranger battalion. But they need infantry guys in all the units. So they’re okay signing up people and sending them on the Ranger pipeline because they know that in basic training some of them are going to struggle physically, and they’re going to be told that they can’t make it, and they’re going to believe it, and they’re not going to want to ship to Airborne School or to Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), or they’re going to do Airborne School and they’re going to fail Airborne School, and they’re going to get sent to a mechanized infantry unit that doesn’t require them to be Airborne qualified.
Or they’re going to get to (RIP) and it’s going to be really hard and they’re going to give up and they’re going to just say, “This is really hard and I’m okay with just going to the 82nd Airborne, and I don’t really want to put myself in a position to keep having to do these hard things physically. I’m okay. I’ll just take whatever assignment the army gives me because this sucks.”
Don’t Listen to Your Wuss Voice
And thankfully I can look back on my military career and I don’t have moments where that type of thinking, that wuss voice—David Goggins calls it something else rhymes with or has a couple extra letters then the word itch. But that wuss voice is in there for all of us. And when that wuss voice comes into the subconscious mind as you’re applying to yourself to do things difficult or challenging to you and you listen to it, and you give up—shame on you.
And if you’re the person that doesn’t know about that wuss voice because you never anything really hard shame on you. As men, we have to do things that are difficult. We have to apply ourselves in areas that are extremely uncomfortable for us. And if we don’t, we are burying our talents.
Anyway, I progressed through basic training, Basic Infantry Training, went on to Airborne School and honestly felt like it was kind of a joke the whole way through. It was pretty baffling, the state of physical fitness of even army recruits, and the inability to excel in the army physical fitness test of just two minutes of pushups, two minutes of sit ups, and a two-mile run. And Airborne School had a nine-minute mile pace for five miles and many people fell out and didn’t make it through Airborne School because they couldn’t pass that very slow pace for five miles.
And I went to Ranger Indoctrination Program, three weeks of hell essentially, where they tried to get you to quit. And we did several weeks of physical training and acclimation to the climate because we were in Fort Benning, Georgia in the middle of the summer. So, the Army required that we do several weeks in the heat. So, it was physical fitness, pulling weeds for several weeks before we actually began the three-week course. And I was, I think at that point 20 years old because I had a birthday while I was in Airborne School. When I joined the military, I was 6’2” and 165 pounds and I could run, and I could do pushups, and I could do pull ups, but I met my match in the Ranger Indoctrination Program.
Rucking with a Cut in My Lower Back
When we put on the 55-pound ruck—I believe it was 55 pounds—and had to do an eight-mile road march. And I did it, I was able to make that happen, but it crushed me. They put us as the military likes to call it “nut to butt.” And in a line on either side of the road and the Ranger sergeants took off and it seemed like we were going much faster than the 15 minute mile pace at times and there was a slinky effect throughout the ranks so that when the people in the front would fall behind and they’d run to catch up, then those of us at the back of the line would find ourselves sprinting with our ruck sack to catch up to the line. And if you didn’t maintain that one arm spacing from the guy in front of you, then the Ranger sergeants would essentially tackle you like the NFL and knock you into woods and make you get on the bus.
So there was this fear in the air for us, for the eight miles. I made it through the eight mile, but I didn’t know, I didn’t realize that I had improperly sized my load carrying equipment. And so the metal hook that holds the belt up with the suspenders of this load carrying equipment was ground into my lower back by the kidney pad of the ruck sack, which is the thing that a lot of the weight of the ruck rests on your lower back from the straps down to your back. And it actually opened up a one-to-two-inch slice in my lower back. And I didn’t want to let the sergeants know about the injury because they were looking for reasons to drop people. So, I think I was able to put a t-shirt there, keep the bleeding under control, but that was the beginning of the three weeks.
(Almost) Becoming a Heat Casualty
And then later on, so we were in the field for another week and then I also had to do a twelve-mile road march. And as I said, I barely made it through the eight-mile, and the twelve-mile was a bit too much. At the ten-and-a-half-mile mark, I was staggering back and forth, and the sergeants pulled me and said, “Get on the bus.” And I didn’t want to get on the bus. “No, I can make it”. And they screamed at me, “I said, get on the bus!” They pulled me out because I had let the spacing develop, and I got on. And they ended up taking me to the medical shed and given me the “Silver Bullet.” Those of you that haven’t been in the military or haven’t had the privilege to understand that vernacular the “Silver Bullet” was a core temp thermometer that they took rectally to get your temperature.
And I had, I believe a 107.4 core temp. Now those of you that have been in the military or those of you who’ve done things physically hard, know that the body will run hot when it is physically challenged. And I, as 165-pound, 6’2” dude, was sucking with weight on my back and my body was working overtime. But I never lost control mentally. I was there. They were asking me when they did that core temp. When they pulled me out, they asked me to repeat my social security number, or my date of birth and where are you? And I was perfectly cognizant of what was going on. And they wanted to drop me from the Ranger course because I was a heat casualty because that temperature was incredibly high. And they viewed that it would set me up for— once you’ve had one heat casualty, you’re more susceptible to have more heat casualties, and you’ve actually damaged your body’s ability to regulate its temperature.
And so, they put me on a medical review list and I to go and meet with the surgeon for Ranger battalion. And he said that I wasn’t a heat casualty. And whether that’s true or not, God was looking out for me at the time. And he said, “If he maintained his mental awareness and he was able to recite his social security number and he was able to speak to you coherently, and he never lost awareness of his surroundings, then he wasn’t a heat casualty.” Because the first organ that goes in a heat casualty is the brain. You start stuttering. You don’t know where you are, you lose capacity, it’s the first organ that loses its ability to function, and since I maintained that ability, biologically, I just was a guy that ran hot. And I can take that. I run hot. That’s just a deal. I got a high temperature. I go after it.
Being Late (Almost) Killed My Chances
And so, I was allowed to continue the course, even though had pulled me from the first road march. There was a retest, like I was saying—repeating things—that was the beginning. But unfortunately the night before the retest road march, I didn’t hear the formation time appropriately. They decided that particular night to have an eight o’clock formation—an hour earlier than it had been every single night to date. I think it was two-and-a-half weeks into a three-week course and I didn’t hear that it was supposed to be at eight o’clock. So, I showed up 15 minutes early for the nine o’clock formation the night before it was a Wednesday night, I believe retest is on a Thursday, and the parking lot or the black pad at Ranger Indoctrination Program was empty. There was nobody there at all.
And I immediately had this sinking feeling. Why? There should have been hundreds of people and hundreds of should—I think that point there should have been at least 40, 50 guys standing there on the black pad and there was nobody. So, I walked inside to the Charge of Quarters, the 24-hour desk and the Sergeant on duty was like, “Ah, Ranger Spearing. Where have you been?” And was told by him that I had missed the formation said, “Yep, you’re dropped. You can’t show up on time, we don’t need you in Ranger battalion. So just go to your bunk.” So I had to go upstairs to the barracks, to my bunk. Everybody was already packing and getting everything ready and realizing that I was probably going to get dropped the next morning.
And we woke up, I went out to the black top, I had everything ready to do the road march because I wasn’t dropped yet unless they told me, and I was prepared to do the next thing and so the Sergeant called me over and said, “Hey, you’re dropped. As soon as we get done with this road march, are you sure you want to do it?” And I said, “Am I dropped now sergeant?” And he said, “Nope, you’re not. But seems like a pretty dumb thing to go through a 12-mile road march and go through all that pain just to get dropped when we come back.” Said, “Well, Sergeant, if I’m not dropped, I’m going to go ahead and do it if that’s okay with you, Sergeant.” And he let me do it. So I did the road march and the retest road march is a release road march. So they didn’t put you line. So there was that ability to not have that slinky effect.
And I went after it running determined to finish. And I think I finished second place of the retest guys and well under the time required for the 12 mile road march where I think it’s three hours and plenty of time. And they told me, “Oh, good job road marching. The 82nd needs good road marchers too, we’re going to drop you as soon as you get back.” And I was brought back to the barracks, and they immediately dropped me for being late for the formation.
Earning Opportunity by Embracing Risk and Discomfort
But the difference between me being somebody that was dropped before the road march in the sense that I quit and didn’t want to do the next hard thing and being dropped after completing the road march, was that I was offered the opportunity to recycle, to start the next Ranger Indoctrination Program at day one, instead of being sent to the next unit, “Needs of the Army,” they call it.
And I went back through and I passed everything the second time. And I was assigned to a Ranger battalion. And the rest they say is history. But that was one of the earliest times in the military that I had the option to shy away from something difficult, especially with the pending drop warning, as they say, or the appending reality that I would be kicked out of Ranger battalion, as soon as I finished that road march, but going for it anyway.
Staying the course and continuing to do something hard meant that I still had a shot at fulfilling the potential that God had given me physically, spiritually, mentally, I was able to continue. And so I’m able to look back on the career and that could have been it. That could have been essentially the beginning of the end for me, where I went to a unit that was not the elite unit, that wouldn’t allowed me the opportunity to continue to progress up to the very top in the Department of Defense at that one crossroads if I had made a different decision.
Where Are You?
So those of you out there that maybe can look back on your life, where there was a crossroads and you didn’t pick the right way, or you can see God’s hand that he’s been gracious to continue to lead you down the path without any missteps, without any wrong turns, either way, where are you now? What is the path ahead of you look like? Where are you potentially listening to your wuss voice and deciding to take the easy route? Where are you letting circumstances around you gets you down and make you shy away from your God-given purpose here on this earth? And are you going to be done with that soundtrack, that broken wussy soundtrack that comes into your subconscious and causes you to shy away from risk? Or are you going to tell that wuss voice to shut up and man up and go for what you have been called to do regardless of what the outcome will be?
I hope it’s that. I hope it’s the latter. And I hope that you are encouraged today to do that, to seek out discomfort, to seek out physically, mentally, spiritually challenging environ and to excel. And when you mess up, when you’re late, when you can’t do what you need to do, when you come up short, you learn.
You don’t just jump right back up without taking the opportunity to learn what got you down there in the first place. But that you’re analyzing your mistakes, and then you’re standing up, dusting yourself off, and going for it again. You have it in you to do what you’re called to do. God will equip you in what he has for you. If you will seek to gain wisdom and understanding through His Word, you will seek out hard things and not shy away and boast in the Lord and seek him to sustain you through those times, to work hard, to be profitable, and to build your family, go for it. And remember “Who Dares Wins.”