Hiking tips

5 tips for the mental toughness of a growl

Grunt is the generic name given to the infantryman. Retired sailor and author Gene Duncan defined the grunt as: “A term of endearment used for that dirty, sweaty, dirt-crusted, sore-footed, camouflage-painted little SOB in ripped pants, tired, sleepy, handsome, little SOB who has kept the wolf away from the door for over two hundred years. Although technology is changing the tools and characteristics of warfare, there will always be a need for boots in the field. Today’s grunts may have more gear and gadgets than previous generations, but long hikes with heavy packs, sleeping on the ground, extreme heat and cold conditions, and the bad guys who get you shoot at are things that grunts of all generations have in common. Training and preparation for these conditions requires mental toughness. Just as physical strength can be developed, mental strength can also be cultivated. Below are 5 things that will help you build mental toughness from a growl standpoint.

Maintain an unused heating layer

Grunts will inevitably find themselves in cold and inhospitable environments at some point. There is a saying that goes “pack light, freeze at night”. Sometimes you make the decision to carry the weight of extra gear, so you have the clothes and gear needed to maintain the heat later. The gear available to keep you warm these days includes Gore-Tex jackets and pants, polypropylene tops and bottoms, fleece sweaters, fleece gloves and caps (i.e. say beanies or watch caps). Layering is key, and stripping layers off before making a move is essential. Seasoned leaders will tell their employees to have a heated, waterproofed, padded layer all the way to the bottom of your bag. It’s a diaper you’ll never put on. Why bring it if you’re not going to use it? It’s a deliberate choice, a technique for building mental toughness that admittedly plays a mind game with yourself. When you are seriously cold, when things get really bad, you can say to yourself, “yeah, but I still have a heating layer that I haven’t used yet.” It provides a measure of hope, reassurance and proof of preparedness. Each time you reach your endurance limit, but maintain the maxim of never using that last heating layer, you get tougher. You prove that you can handle more than expected. If you give in and put on all your heated diapers, but still feel cold, then a feeling of dread and despair creeps in. This demoralizing effect can be prevented by disciplined action and good leadership.

U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force – Europe 20.2, Marine Forces Europe and Africa, participate in a culminating physical training session during an advanced marine infantry preparatory course in Bardufoss, Norway, Sept. 18, 2020. (Photo by U.S. Marine Corps by Sgt. Abrey Ligins)

Expect support to fail

The grunts will go up in anything. Trucks, armored vehicles, helicopters, ships, etc. Anything that will keep them from walking. Walking with a backpack is also called hiking, humping or rucking. Not to denigrate the S-4 (the logistics section of an organization), but all too often the trucks don’t show up. The reasons don’t matter. It could be a maintenance issue, competing priorities, or the planners just didn’t request the transport correctly. Either way, the grunts, sitting on their bags by the side of the road, waiting for the trucks, will inevitably be told “Get up!” Moans and complaints can be heard in the ranks. It doesn’t take long for a grumpy youngster to expect this to happen on a regular basis. He goes to the field and is told that they will be back, but he expects to work. If the route is visible, it’s great; but if he’s not and he’s actually coming back twelve long miles after being in the field a week, he’s mentally prepared for it. This type of mental conditioning develops a perspective where you “hope for the best but expect the worst.” When the “worst” happens, then it is not amplified by mental anguish and disappointment. When others lose their temper, you can stay collected. This is a good trait to have in a crisis.

Longer term project

You may be told that the field operation takes seven days and then it turns into 10 days. Your deployment was scheduled for six months, and then there are nine left. As a professional fighter, we know that the mission comes first, the situation changes and the enemy gets a vote; but there is always an emotional reaction when these changes occur. You can mentally inoculate yourself by expecting things to always take longer than expected. An old Navy master sergeant I know (a grunt) left for work one morning saying to his wife, “I’ll be home between 4:30 p.m. and October.” There is a guy who understands. You can mitigate your loved ones’ disappointment by “underpromising and overdelivering.” An example is the platoon sergeant who comes out of the field and expects to be home around 1700 but tells his wife he will be there around 1900. He is not deliberately deceiving her; it provides an estimate that accounts for uncontrollable variables such as the number of armory sites or the first sergeant’s last-minute assignments. When he comes home at 5:30 p.m., everyone is happy. They rejoice gratefully in little things. When done habitually for years, this type of practice helps set realistic expectations and deep mental toughness takes hold.

5 tips for the mental toughness of a growl
Pvt. Elia Bulavakarua (Top) and Pvt. Epeli Loniceva (right) teach Cpl. Steven C. Anderson Jr. (left) how to search for cassava, July 15, 2016, during jungle survival training, in Ovalau, Fiji, as part of a multinational bilateral training exercise between the United States and Fiji. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. William Hester/Released)

Bring your own food

The basic principle here is preparation, self-sufficiency, and not expecting anyone else to come to your rescue. Yes, the army will feed you and resupply you…eventually. Marine Corps doctrine describes friction as “that which makes difficult that which is inherently easy”. Sometimes there will be friction that will delay restocking. There will be times when you will have to perform under duress without having a full stomach. You can avoid some of this discomfort while maintaining your ability to function by getting into the habit of keeping some food on you. It could be nuts, jerky, one of the many protein bars/meal replacement bars on the market, or what we used to call “an emergency MRE”. An emergency MRE is your least favorite, stripped down and tidy menu option. You can also skim a few components of an MRE such as the First Strike bar (more like Last Strike bar) or the alleged MRE version of jerky called “smoked turkey nuggets”, rumored to be dried ostrich scrotum. Either way, you get the point. Put away something to avoid starvation. Make sure it’s something you don’t prefer to avoid unnecessary snacking. Again, this approach reinforces the concept that you don’t expect someone else/organization to solve your core problems.

Don’t be quick to ring ENDEX

The term ENDEX means “end of the financial year”. It’s something you hear after a month-long training event. At this point people are tired, dirty and hungry. The desire for the material comforts of a shower, a meal and a good night’s sleep is strong. Before such indulgences can be enjoyed, there are many tasks to complete, ranging from ammunition control, weapon maintenance, gear handover, and accountability. Troops are advised not to “smell the barn”. It takes strong leadership, developed over years of experience, to keep the troops focused. You cannot drop off your bag too early. You must ensure that all responsibilities are met before turning your attention to yourself. This type of mindset is very useful in a family after a shopping spree in several grocery stores. As soon as you get home, the kids all try to disappear into the bathroom, their bedroom or some corner with their noses in the smartphone. Negative! Everyone on the bridge. Bring all groceries indoors, store them properly and dispose of bags/wraps together as a team. Once these actions are completed, they can then be “let loose to the winds”.

So, grunts can be a stubborn, obnoxious, and arrogant lot; but they are strong physically and mentally. These are highly desirable attributes to have in battle. These are also good attributes to have in “normal” life. The five things from a growl’s point of view listed above will help you develop this type of mental toughness.