For most of my life, I’ve been obsessed with physical performance. I believe that everyone should train to a standard that would allow them to physically perform necessary tasks as they arise. I think this should be a base standard goal for everyone, whether it be for a standard of living, a hobby, a sport or an emergency crisis. This high-level health philosophy also has the added benefit of keeping you much safer in a hostile environment… the current pandemic situation comes to mind… as well as being able to recover from injury much better than the average person should a tragic event arise.
I’ve always been into fitness and martial arts, but I can trace the beginning of when this thought process really took off to a specific event.
In early 1991 the Discovery channel aired a documentary of something called the US Army Best Ranger Contest on TV. The Best Ranger Contest is a grueling 62 straight hour competition/race comprised of ever-changing physical tasks and technical soldier skills tests on par with the most insane ultra-enduro event in the world.
What makes it even harder is, in keeping with the Rangers buddy team tradition, it has to be completed as a 2-man team to win. So not only do you have to be insanely superhuman, but you also need to find someone as insane as you to compete with! About 50 team compete every year.
The 1990 Best Ranger Contest winners were SSG Mark Sheehan and SSG Bobby Beiswanger
In 1991 was also when Operation Desert Storm (the first invasion of Iraq) kicked off and I quickly scurried to the recruiter’s office to join up! I took the ASVAB test and scored so high the recruiter told me I can pick any job I want… even Officers course. Remembering the incredible feats I saw on the discovery channel, I told him I want to be a Ranger. He asked me “Really?! Cause you can do anything else” I said no way!
Fast forward 6 months or so…
After basic training I arrive at my first duty station in Ft Ord, California. The 7ID, one of the last remaining Vietnam style Jungle Warfare units still operating in the 90’s. I get assigned to my new platoon and discover a new platoon sergeant is also arriving at the same time to take over.
The new PS’s name? … SSG Bobby Beiswanger… the Best Ranger Winner I saw on the Discovery Channel!
SSG Beiswanger was only a temporary assignment to my platoon, he was preparing for his Special Forces Selection course to become a Green Beret… but he made a permanent impact on my life for the months I got to work closely with him. He took a small group of us under his wing to mentor and train with while he prepared for his SF selection with the goal of getting us all to pass Ranger School.
The pinnacle lesson that I remember to this day, and still apply, was this…
One early Saturday morning we met up 12 miles out in the training area for a road march… full gear, 55lbs rucksacks… not that bad really. He said we are going to race for time back to the barracks and that this was the real deal… everything you got…. life or death!
He said “GO!” and took off! It only took probably 15min for him to be gone out of my sight… to the fuckin horizon!
When I finally made it back to the barracks he was already showered, changed and sitting on the steps waiting for us.
You must understand, I didn’t suck. I was already very fit and a better performer than most of the other guys in my unit and I made it a point to study my ass off to know all the skills and ‘The Book’ inside and out… I prided myself on the fact I was more ‘knowledgeable’ than the other guys. That’s what made the lesson sting so much more.
As I ran up to the steps exhausted and sweating my ass off, SSG Beiswanger just glanced up at me and said… “Andersch, you’re the smartest guy in the room… but if you can’t actually do it you’re not worth shit to anyone.” Then glanced passed me with the look I’ll never forget… the look that said I’m unreliable.
In the military, if you can’t be counted on to be up to the task at the critical moment then you may as well not be there at all… certainly no one wants you there.
“Andersch, you’re one of the smartest guys in the room… but if you can’t actually DO IT, your not worth shit to anyone!”
I couldn’t believe what just happened, I was blown away… I had no idea what real human capability is, and how behind it I was!!! That there was humans just walking around on this earth that could do shit like this!! It was crazy!
I believed I was gonna to breeze through this… I was sorely mistaken!
This feeling only became clearer over my career as I moved up over my 8 years into more and more elite units. Super humans performing super human tasks as a standard work day! If this is what I wanted to do, it was going to take a complete and total life commitment… I was all in!
At the beginning I over equated power with knowledge, and that can be true… but not to the extent you sacrifice ability. At the end of the day you have to be able to function, to perform… or else it all means nothing and nothing will ever get done.
Knowledge isn’t power… Knowledge + Functional ability = Power… but it’s also equals reliability… accountability…. and just makes you an overall asset to your society in general. It makes you Valuable!
From that point on I made physical performance a priority and went on to accomplish some really cool things over my short 8 year career and beyond as a civilian. As soon as I was able to demonstrate that I was consistently producing above standard results in the pinches I became my leaderships ‘Go to’ guy for a lot of crucial tasks. That was my first priority every time a moved to a new unit. When you’re functional and reliable you are very, very valuable. This simple lesson can pay huge dividends to anyone, anywhere… in any environment from the military, to your job to your family!
It’s a shame that SSG Beiswanger will never know the impact he had on me, he probably wouldn’t even remember who I am.. But he was instrumental in founding the basis of a life philosophy I carry to this day.
On a side note… I never did make it to Desert Storm, it was over so fast!
Things never work out the way you think…