A Message from Your RIP Instructor:
Your conditioning saved you in combat, but it may bury you in life.
by Brandon Young
Note: The heartbreaking truth is that I can’t save you. And you cannot save your brother or sister. We can speak up; we can walk with the voiceless. We can have the courage to be real, be seen and be heard. We can hear others without judgement. We can get help, trained professionals that can change the situation. And we are not alone…
After countless hours of freezing rain, bitter cold and the cut of the ruck on my shoulders it finally happened: I let go of my illusions that the situation would ever improve.
I embraced my indoctrination as an Airborne Ranger and entered into a brotherhood of shared sacrifice and violence on the fringe of American society. Many years later I peered at the formation of young Ranger hopefuls in the same field, under the same vicious sting of a Cole Range winter and smiled as the herd thinned itself naturally. “See the woodline? Touch it!”
We talk of Brotherhood all the time. Brotherhood is belonging. Brotherhood is family. Brotherhood is anytime, anywhere. So what can we learn when one of our family, one of our brothers takes his own life?
Surely, we must take stock and learn something. We talk about the depth of our bond forged of long nights and moments best forgotten, but are we hiding a shallow truth in plain sight from one another? Are we really being honest with each other? Are we truly sharing how we feel inside?
Sometimes I think not.
What are we so afraid of?
I think shame is what we are all hiding in plain sight. Shame that we are not good enough, strong enough, “Ranger” enough. Shame to admit that we are not “ok.” That we are struggling with emotions that won’t stop swelling inside us and shame from our inability to silence our thoughts from the still of our comfortable homes (though we were capable of quelling them during the battle overseas).
We were taught to silence our emotions in order to execute in combat, to operate in a zero defect environment. We were taught to be indomitable, bulletproof, invincible: invulnerable. And here today, with all that training and experience, it’s just not working anymore. Today we have become unable to silence the storms inside, unable to stop the memories and we are ashamed of our inability to “suck it up and drive on.”
I know the struggle well, our indoctrination was precise and the approach was intentional.
As a former RIP Instructor (Ranger Indoctrination Program, now known as the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program/ RASP) and Pre-Ranger Instructor my role was specific and our approach was exact: create killers. Un-feeling, un-yielding destroyers capable of operating and leading under the most intense emotional and physical stress imaginable.
The physical part, that was easy. The emotional and mental parts, that was the trick. The culmination of our approach was numbness or compartmentalization: indifference.
Indifference was achieved when no matter how bad, no matter how much it hurt (how terrified or miserable) you executed with exact aggression on target. Precise violence of action.
Indifference was critical to your ability to perform on target. To be physically, emotionally and mentally willing to enter a building and clear a room knowing full well that on the other side awaits an enemy ready to kill you is not normal. Face this fact right now. To combat the terror of a life stepping into the breach, you have been conditioned to ignore your emotions. Taught to excuse the fear, the pit in your stomach, taught to harness the adrenaline coursing through your veins and focus all your being into acts of unprecedented and calculated violence.
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