It’s not about what’s on your helmet. It’s about what’s in your head.
I remember basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey well. However, one day really stands out. That day was when we threw live grenades.
I was first platoon leader because I was the tallest person in the company. That was how they assigned positions when I was there– the tallest down to the shortest so when marching we looked uniform. So because I was at the front, I got to go through the grenade range first.
When we arrived at the open range; the Training Instructors (TI’s) met and told us the layout and what would be happening. From our formation the practice range was off to our left and the live range was a short distance beyond on the right. They put us at ease and demonstrated the proper way to aim, throw, and recover.
The practice range was open with not much around it. It did have a wooden wall about 4’ tall. The live range was harder to see because it had a very large earth embankment surrounding most of it. We would move from the practice range to the live range one at a time. When we were done at the live range, we could gather behind the embankment and watch the others. There were some small windows of 10” thick clear material that we could see through. We were not to go anywhere else but stay with the protection of the earth embankment. Safety first.
I have to admit I was a little nervous being the first. I like watching and learning from others. That way I don’t make as many mistakes. There was some time between the instruction and demo phase and the action phase. The voice inside my head was going crazy. I was going to die. I was going to make a fool of myself. I was going to kill the TI. I was going to screw up and be doing the low crawl and pushups for the rest of my life. On and on it went until they told us to fall in. Then my mind went blank, and I started to sweat.
Everything in basic training is done on a run or at the march so I am sure I did one or the other; I just don’t remember which one. I’m pretty sure I ran up to the TI because I remember I was breathing really hard. He handed me the first practice grenade and told me to throw. I got to throw three in all. Then he took a large piece of chalk and wrote something on my helmet. Told me to get going and pointed toward the live range.
I could see the TI for the live range and I ran toward him. I approached the live range from the side. I had a road in front of me, the earth embankment on the right, a thick concrete wall about 4’ tall and 10’ wide on the left, and past the wall an open field with craters in it. The TI was standing about half way down the road and it looked like he was standing in the wall. As I passed the end of the wall, I realized the wall wasn’t 10’ wide, but that it had stalls in it (like our cow barn with sleeping stalls). Each stall was about 4’ wide with very thick concrete dividing them. The TI was standing in one of the stalls. I ran into the stall. He looked at my helmet, handed me a grenade, and told me to throw.
I took the live grenade, crouched down, pulled the pin, stood up, aimed, popped the spoon, threw, and hit the dirt in the stall. There was a loud explosion. He tapped my shoulder, told me I was a go and to move behind the embankment.
Each exercise during basic is classified as a go or a no go. If you are a go, that means you have done a good job and can move on. If you are a no go, you must redo the exercise until you get it right or they send you back to start over with another company.
I was relieved that I had performed satisfactorily and now could watch everyone else to see how they’d do. As the company moved through the exercise, the number of us behind the embankment grew larger than the number waiting to go. We were almost done. Everyone was relaxed and having a good time telling each other how they had done. The ones behind the embankment told the ones just finishing how far they had thrown.
All of a sudden we noticed a private coming down the road with two big eyeballs drawn on her helmet. We all had no idea what that meant. It quieted down as we all watched her approach the TI. He grabbed her and pulled her into the stall right next to him. He handed her the grenade but did not move back. She crouched down, pulled the pin, stood up, popped the spoon, and dropped it in the stall. The TI grabbed her, threw her over the wall into the next stall, and then jumped over himself. He covered her with his body. There was a loud explosion and all kinds of debris hit the windows. We couldn’t see a thing for a moment. The cloud of earth and smoke cleared just in time for us to see the TI pick her up and throw her out the back of the stall. He was yelling at her and pointing to a place off to the right that we couldn’t see. She got up and ran.
All of us behind the earthen embankment immediately turned to one another and asked, “What’s on my helmet?” We had forgotten that we had completed the exercise. We forgot what we had done and began worrying what someone else thought of us. I would like to say that as the leader I stepped forward and pointed that out to everyone, but I didn’t. I was right there with them wondering what was on my helmet.
However, I am here to tell you now that it is not about what’s on your helmet that counts. It’s about what’s in your head. It’s about what you believe about yourself and what you can do. It’s not about what others think of you. It’s about what you have accomplished. It’s about all the wonderful things that make up you.
That is what my book Bully Proofing You is all about. It’s about teaching you and reminding you that it’s not about what’s on your helmet, it’s about your belief in yourself.
Thanks for letting me share with you. Please pass this story on to someone you feel would benefit from it. Until next time, remember all the wonderful things you are.