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  • Writer's pictureMichael Van Elsberg

Inspiration from the Special Operations Community

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

Special Operations Forces (SOF) are essentially endurance athletes with weapons. They are warriors, Spartans, and occasionally epic, heroic figures who operate in harsh, unforgiving environments. They often carry heavy equipment and gear, sometimes each other, over various kinds of terrain. In their world, functional strength is necessary for survival. Core strength, mobility, balance, flexibility, power and explosiveness are essential. But most of all they require a certain mindset in order to be successful. They must be comfortable in situations and under conditions that most of us do our best to avoid.

Over the years I have had the great privilege to meet, corresponded with, and train with veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Grenada, both Gulf Wars and the War in Afghanistan, as well as members of the SOF of Vietnam, Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. One friend, a former Special Air Service Regiment member, has recently completed the Seven Summits. Cheers, Malcolm.

I have also studied the careers and accomplishments of countless others and I do what I can to learn as much as possible from them about mental and physical toughness. I also draw a lot of inspiration from them and their stories. Below are just three examples of these profiles in courage.

Thom Shea, who, when he was a third-phase United States Navy SEAL instructor, had to prepare himself to be a platoon chief, so he began extreme adventure racing. Later, after he left the SEAL teams, and despite injuries that doctors told him would prevent him from ever running again, he began running ultra-marathons. (Ret.) Senior Chief Shea is currently CEO of the Adamantine Alliance, author of the book: Unbreakable: A Navy SEAL's Way of Life, and the host of Unbreakable Podcasts.

Billy Waugh, who, despite being severely wounded in the jungles of Vietnam while serving as a member of the United States Army Special Forces, managed to return and fight--and also later continue to serve his country in a long and storied career in the CIA. (Ret.) Sergeant Major Waugh is the author of the book: Hunting the Jackal.

And David Goggins, who managed to overcome severe mental and physical challenges and adversity and transform himself into a SEAL, and later ultra-endurance athlete. (Ret.) Chief Petty Officer Goggins is the author the book: Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds, and is also featured prominently in the book: Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet, by Jesse Itzler.

When I train--especially when I am struggling to move forward in some way--I often hear the voices of these men in my head, urging me to continue and to never quit or give up. I try to learn from the lessons that they had to learn the hard way, preparing for their chosen professions, and throughout their careers.

Training and selection at Naval Special Warfare Command begins with Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) school, and the most physically and mentally demanding part of BUD/S is called Hell Week. Sometimes, when I'm tired and out of the middle of nowhere, and it's a long way back, I can hear what I imagine is the instructor from Hell Week speaking through a loudspeaker, and with the sound of the waves at Coronado beach crashing in the background, I can hear him say, "Get your heads up and get your eyes open. Stop trying to hide from the pain.” “Heads up; eyes open."

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