Lessons From A Weekend With Special Forces

I spent the weekend with a U.S. Army Special Forces team. Their captain—my best friend from childhood—was getting married.

Many members of the team were Rangers before graduating to Special Forces and had done several tours in the Middle East. The best man—a captain of another Special Forces team and a Ranger school classmate of my friend—once spent 26 out of 30 days in live fire combat.

Here is an amalgam of the team: average height, build like brick sh*thouses, unassuming. Kind, easy to talk with, quick to smile. Unbelievably modest and humble considering what they have done and continue to be willing to do.

I spent a lot of time with the best man, and asked him what it was that set these guys apart. What allowed them to get through the intense selection and training? To operate at an elite level in the face of constant danger? The answer was quite simple: he said “we are more stubborn than anyone you’ll ever meet. Nothing will stop us from achieving what we need to. Perseverance is what sets us apart.”

Sure enough, everyone that I spoke with had an insane story about other-level discipline and persistence. Acts of valor too many to list. Running into enemy fire to grab children. Throwing a wounded officer out of the way before charging his assailant. Refusing a stretcher (despite a bullet having ripped through an abdomen) because others needed it more.

Yet each man would struggle to give a reason for why they did what they did.  Pure selflessness, performed automatically.

Something I have discovered is that those whom I admire most have two things in common: they put others before themselves and they never give up. We can’t all be so exceptional, but we can do it in other ways. Listen to Barry Ritholtz’s recent interview with Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb and you’ll see what I mean.

It is so hard to act beyond self-interest—I am as guilty as anyone of thinking too much about myself. But this weekend re-enforced my conviction that these two qualities—selflessness and perseverance—are the noblest to which we can and should aspire.

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My young son has been sick quite a bit (he’ll be OK), and I have this overwhelming desire to suck all the pain and illness out of him and inject it into myself. These men are doing that for us—constantly.

Thank you to every one of the men I met, and to everyone who has or does serve. Thank you to the families of those same people, who have to endure their own intense hardships. Whatever you may think of the army, or the politics, or anything else, the men and women of our armed forces deserve our utmost respect and deep gratitude. Happy belated Memorial day. Sua Sponte. De Opresso Liber.