Never laugh at a gunnery sergeant

I didn’t know whether I had my hands at all. Sarabmeet was claiming that he was brain-dead. And I was wondering how could have this all started with a sweet-smiling marine corps officer saying “I am the good one”! These were certainly the most intense 24 hours I’ve had in my life.

We already had an idea of what was coming at Quantico, the training field for Marine officers. People had warned of the mental and physical drain you may suffer all through. But I think, some of us took it lightly and grossly underestimated the impact. In a few moments of our arrival, were divided into platoons and made to drill on a chilly night with our heavy bags on. We were screamed at, made to do multiple rounds of intense parades, and disciplined brutally on any mistake.

I made the mistake of smiling at the drill Gunnery Sergeant. Well, what happened after that was ruthless for a lean person like me – I was made to run madly like on a wild-goose chase with a lot of baggage. The GySgt ensured that my smile vanished and I was all dead serious (at least while looking at him).

Over the next 24 hours, we slept only for 2/3 hours (depending on how much we feared being “disciplined”), we led challenges where we needed to act quickly in some high-pressure situations, we crawled over ropes, we jumped over obstacles, we fell, we rose again, we tried to hide from enemy in extremely cold water, almost all the training activities you would have seen in the movies!

But that is not the point. The intense physical pain lasted for a day – the learnings acquired and the moments spent at Quantico, will last a lifetime. Here are few things which I will always remember:

  • Ductus Exemplo (lead by example) – this (motto of Officer Candidates School) highlights the difference between a leader and a boss. Always stand by your team and your peers when trying to make sound decisions under extreme pressure.
  • Be decisive and act quickly, even if you do not have perfect information. Act even if you are 70% confident of the success of the decision – The marines call it the “70% rule”. Of course, you may fail in a situation of low certainty (like in war and business), but be ready to adjust quickly according to the evolving situation.
  • Don’t blindly copy what other successful leaders did. What worked for them may not work for you. Tweak your leadership style per your strengths.
  • You are much stronger than you think you are. The marine officer leading my team was of the same physique as I was. He said that he could handle the intense training for weeks and months because he did not mentally break down. For me this was the most important take-away!
  • And last but not the least, NEVER EVER SMILE AT A GUNNERY SERGEANT!

Of course, it sounds cool to say that I attended Quantico, but honestly, more than that it is a chance to test your judgement in an environment that has the potential to stifle you mentally and physically. As the movie “Into the Wild” beautifully articulates, “…And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once.”  Perhaps, this was one of the ways I wanted to measure myself.


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