What I learned about life from the Army and war

For six years, I was in the Minnesota Army National Guard. For one of those years, I was stationed on a base in Al Basra, Iraq, where I lived and worked.

The base was my home and it was under a constant risk of physical attack from militia mortar rounds.

Security is an illusion

This taught me that security is an illusion. You can always build a higher fence and your enemy (or competition) can always build a taller ladder.

When that is your life, there are a few ways in which people tend to respond:

  • Let emotions control actions.
  • Fall into denial and ignore reality.
  • Become crippled under the weight of insecurity.
  • Control the things that can be controlled and accept what cannot.

If your emotions run rampant, you deny insecurity altogether or let it cripple you, then your insecurity is actually heightened. You put yourself at increased risk and become more vulnerable.

However, if you accept what you cannot control, you are empowered to focus in on those things that you can do and put yourself in a more favorable position.

My realization

When I was in Iraq, I had a fantastic coping mechanism which empowered me to have ownership and take action, even though I was constantly at a heightened risk of death and injury.

I realized that I can apply this mechanism to other situations and you can too.

How does this help you?

This perspective is applicable to much more than physical attacks. You can use this when others accuse or criticize you and when you feel insecure, defensive, unsure of yourself or apprehensive.

What to do

  1. Assess the landscape
  2. Identify the direction of vulnerability
  3. Determine what is in your control
  4. Respond accordingly

In non-violent situations, this usually means that you focus on what you know to be true.

Very Important notes

  • You are empowered to and should seek professional help if you are in a violent situation.
  • This is not a blanket justification for arrogance or denial.
  • Finding an increased sense of security for yourself should not lead to counter attacks or decreasing someone else’s sense of security.


What do you think?

Do you agree/disagree?

What did I miss?

Leave a comment below.

2 thoughts on “What I learned about life from the Army and war”

  1. Hello!

    The only point I would add is that it helps to know the source of the danger as much as possible.

    Sometimes, all you know is that your safety is in danger by force “a” or person “b”.

    That is an ok place to start. Anything else you can pick up will help. Sometimes disasters do strike at random. People’s actions usually aren’t. If you can understand, even minimally and/or generally, why you’re being threatened, you will be safer.

    If I can understand the danger, I can avoid it in the future. If I can understand the reason for the danger, I might be able to help the person causing it, as well as keep myself safer. If nothing else, the better I know and relate to my attacker (Stockholm Syndrome aside. Having a reason is different than having an excuse or justification.), the more truth and control I’ll have and the safer I’ll feel.

    On a related note, Hopeless and Helpless are illusions only. Admittedly particularly in the western world, help is as little as a tweet, post, text, or phone call away. The problem often isn’t a lack of help. It’s a lack of courage.

    Fear can be a stronger barrier than any fence. It can also be a more powerful weapon than a machine gun or land mine. If I’m too scared to go to war, what can a gun or bomb do to me?

    I’m glad that more people than you and I can read this conversation. The world needs to hear it.

    On a side note, I remember walking with you through those days.

    My words are based on my own experiences with danger a decade later.

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