Culture Military

The Small Tasks

What comprises a firefight? When you talk about bullets zipping down hallways or mortars whistling and crashing through the night, a few images tend to come to mind. People think of acts of heroism, like a soldier carrying another wounded soldier to safety. People think of the explosions and wrapping tourniquets around limbs and packing wounds with gauze. They might think of the horror of seeing human flesh ripped apart and the tears of soldiers far too young to die.

And yet, most missions on most deployments are not comprised of moments like these. Even the ones where you have a whole lot of shooting—the shooting starts and stops pretty abruptly, and the hours before and after are filled up with other necessary, mundane tasks.

It’s obvious why our minds jump to the dramatic parts of a mission. It’s because they’re, well, dramatic. They stand out and they are typically the most important few seconds of a person’s night—perhaps their entire lives.

But it’s the other, small moments that make up the mass majority of missions (and the entire deployment). It’s feeling your safety with your gloved palm after your weapon has been jostled around while climbing over a wall. It’s drinking enough water and making sure you aren’t wearing too much clothing during a long infil so your sweat doesn’t freeze when you arrive at your destination. If you’re a leader, it’s checking and re-checking those in your charge, ensuring they’re doing all the other small things correctly.

The Art of War is a timeless classic that resonates with me on many levels. There are a lot of quotes that stand out, but when you read and digest the thing as a whole, one thing becomes clear: Sun Tzu wants to always win the battle before it even begins.

“[A]ttaining one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the pinnacle of excellence. Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.”

There are a lot of lines that put a high priority on the non-dramatic parts of a war, prioritizing them correctly to shift the tide in your favor long before the battle starts, like drawing the enemy to fight in terrain that gives you the advantage, or cutting off their food supply and fighting a hungry army. It’s not all glorious work, but it lines up circumstances as such that winning it the natural outcome. A contemporary example could be bringing night vision to a fight in the middle of the night, where you can see and your opponent is literally blind. At the end of the day, you have to seek as many unfair advantages to your battles as possible.

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

Like any knowledge, it isn’t converted into wisdom until it can be applied to other parts of your life. And the concept we’re dealing with here is easily applicable in the whole scheme of things.

When we think of the tribulations of civilian life, we often think of big break-ups, arguments, quitting a job, scrambling to pay bills, problems with drugs or alcohol — it depends on who you are and where you come from.

And yet the small moments must be tended to. Physical fitness is imperative to good mental health. You don’t need to be a monster, but you need to take care of your body. Debt has to be prioritized and knocked out, as financial stress is a killer in the US. Relationships must be tended to like a plant, with its daily needs being met—surprise—every day, whether you feel like it or not.

These are the civilian equivalent to routine weapons maintenance, to ensuring your combat uniform is properly set up, and to the monotonous practice of basic, perishable skills like ready-ups or saline locks. They will set you up in such a way that when obstacles come knocking on your door — the battle is already won.

Take a job interview, for example. When you enter the interview, you can make sure you look presentable and practice the questions you know to practice—but how many other factors can you line up in your favor? Exploit personal connections at the job if you can (in a respectful, tasteful way that will benefit them as much as you). Work on your confidence long before the interviewing process; hone a skill commonly desired in the workforce you want to join. When you write emails to your prospective employer, be clear, concise, and well-organized, with quick responses during working hours. Show them that you know the skills required for the position and more — and if you don’t, learn those skills before you go.

If you do those things, you’ll have the job locked down before the interview, and it’s just a matter of watching it all go down.

You can win battles before they arrive by paying attention to the small, inglorious tasks that align the circumstances in your favor.

Sometimes those little tasks include a whole lot of miles.
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2 years ago

Excellent advice Luke!

Joni Smith
Joni Smith
2 years ago

Great advice for everyone no matter young or old or circumstance.. Thanks Luke.

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