[November 9, 2021] Our Drill Sergeants in Basic Combat Training took sadistic pleasure in screaming at us raw recruits … at least it seemed that way. After a long march or any similar difficult task, they would say to us, “time for a gut check.” In other words, they wanted to know if we had the intestinal fortitude to carry on in the training or drop out as so many did.
It was the tail end of the Vietnam War and our troops had learned valuable lessons in combat about the value of the staying power of American forces. Our basic training drop-out rate was high and the NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) in charge of us wanted to know who had the strength and resilience to stay in the fight. Were we reliable when the going got really tough?
What they meant by asking us neophytes for a “gut check” – despite the fact we had just been tested to our physical and mental limits (or so we thought) – was that it was time for us to discover whether we could stay the course. Without fortitude, everything else we would do as soldiers would be for nothing if we could not see the mission through. That argument continues to be made about the U.S. Congress lacking the fortitude to carry on in Vietnam … the military did, but Congress did not.
There is little room for soldiers who will quit at the smallest obstacle. The obstacles we overcome as leaders differ from that of a Private in the Infantry. A senior leader has to have moral conviction, clarity of purpose, and courage; in essence, leaders also must have the guts to push through to mission completion. It is difficult to convey in written word what it is inside a person that produces fortitude but it will rise to the surface in some.
“Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues.” – John Locke
As soldiers we’re trained to overcome adversity and complete the mission within the established rules of warfare. This is never easy. Without fortitude however everything else we do will not come to fruition without it. This is what John Locke was writing about in this quote.
Whether it was the jungles of Vietnam or Guadalcanal, the city of Fallujah Iraq, or any battlefield where a Soldier, Airman, Sailor, Marine, or Coastie plies the craftsmanship of warfare, or the field of professional sports, or the corporate boardroom, having the guts to see the mission to the end is what makes them the best in the world.
Those with intestinal fortitude are a rare breed. Those people can be relied upon to come through no matter what. They are the very best and we count on them every day to make sure we are successful.
Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).