If you served in the military no matter what branch of service you were in, you learned at some point the importance of having space to maneuver. Whether you were maneuvering pairs of boots, a tank, a ship, or a fighter jet, having adequate physical space was essential to executing maneuver smoothly and safely. Likewise, when we encounter challenges in life, our minds need maneuver space to mentally negotiate difficult moments. This series will highlight each month a different brief cognitive tool that you can use in your daily life to potentially create more maneuver space. Remember having maneuver space, or space to think, is a gift in life. Once you create it, use it to your advantage!
Marksmanship and Mindfulness
No matter what branch of service you were in, chances are at some point you had to qualify on a basic weapon system, more than likely an M16/M4 variant rifle. The techniques that you were taught in basic rifle marksmanship allowed you to master a relatively complex task. These techniques relied often on repetition to build competence and precision. Repeating the task continuously built muscle memory and for those that particularly excelled, an ‘expert’ rifle qualification badge awaited. Each branch of the service has slightly different marksmanship skills and techniques to help service members become experts, but the fundamentals are similar. The U.S. Army has its fundamental elements of the shot process: Stability, Aim, Control, and Movement. The U.S. Marine Corps states the fundamentals of marksmanship are aiming and trigger control.. All these fundamentals have a similar theme: how to build consistency through control.
Similarly, mindfulness is a technique that you can learn much like marksmanship. Mindfulness can be summarized as, “simply paying attention without attachment or judgment.” When we are mindful in the moment, we create maneuver space in our mind to think in a non-judgmental manner. Just like marksmanship, mindfulness has some fundamentals that you can practice through repetition to build competence and precision. Success in mindfulness similarly depends on your ability to be consistent in a daily routine. Let’s examine further how we can parallel skills from marksmanship to build expertise in mindfulness practice.
A parallel is a way to use something you already know and apply it in another manner. Sometimes a metaphor, analogy, or an allegory can be a component of a good parallel. Using a term from psychology, a parallel is a way to often ‘Re-Frame’ what you already know in order to see a situation in a new light or from a new perspective. Embracing parallels can help us normalize new concepts, and build rapid trust in our abilities, and the self-confidence needed to apply a learned technique. Marksmanship skill is therefore a great technique for Veterans and Service Members to parallel when learning mindfulness. The U.S. Marine Corps ‘BRASS’ marksmanship technique: Breath, Relax, Aim, Stop, and Squeeze is a particularly effective parallel to understanding basic mindfulness. The below helps illustrate the parallel process:
Becoming an Expert at Mindfulness
Like in marksmanship, mindfulness skill requires us first to control our breathing. Breathing is our body’s breaking mechanism. When we control our breathing, we have better control of our body and mind. These are long deep belly or diaphragmatic breaths, just like in marksmanship. With a few controlled breathing iterations, the body and mind begin to relax. From this quieter place, things become clearer. These moments of pause allow us to focus our thoughts in a non-judgmental manner and the opportunity to make a wise choice instead of a mindless reaction. As you tune in to what’s happening in the here and now, thoughts, emotions, and sensations become clearer. You now have more mental maneuver space and power to choose a response aligned with your values.
Mindfulness, just like marksmanship, requires a lot of practice to build consistency. Repetitions on the range built your competency at engaging targets. Creating time to practice mindfulness as part of your daily routine is similarly important if you want to be an expert. The BRASS technique reminds us of the importance of control. That control, just like with mindfulness, starts with breathing. Whenever you want to remind yourself to practice mindfulness, think of a parallel to the fundamentals of marksmanship and breathe! As you become more proficient, you will find mindfulness creates maneuver space in your mind to think and engage in life with expert results.
About the Author: Mr. Bongioanni is a licensed mental health counselor who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also a senior leader in the U.S. Army Reserve. His professional interests include human behavior, applied psychology, and military cultural competence. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Check out past issues of Maneuver Space below:
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.
 Department of the Army. (2016). TC 3-22.9 Rile and Carbine, https://armypubs.army.mil/ProductMaps/PubForm/Details.aspx?PUB_ID=106419 (p 5-3)
 Department of the Navy. Headquarters United States Marine Corps (2012). MCRP 3-01A Rifle Marksmanship. (p. 5-1) https://www.trngcmd.marines.mil/Portals/207/Docs/wtbn/MCRP%203-01A.pdf
 Shapiro, F. (2012). Getting past your past: take control of your life with self-help techniques from EMDR therapy. New York: Rodale Books; 294.
 Adapted From: Rabb, D. (2010). Cultural Competence: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. Coming Home Project Training.
 VA Integrative Health and Wellness Program. (2022). Mindful Moment. Whole Health Facilitated Group.