Situational Awareness

"Pay attention to detail!"

I was in the Navy for a period of my young adult life. It was not as long as I had hoped. A medical issue just a few weeks into boot camp led to an early general discharge. But, boot camp is designed so that lessons that take years in the civilian world are packed into every single day there. I learned so much then that remains with me and makes me a better human today.

One of the ideas that pops up in almost every lesson in military training is that extreme attention to detail matters. That in every situation, focused and unbroken awareness matters. That, in the worst cases, it is the difference between life and death. And so this level of attention to detail is stressed at every turn.

On the way to RTC San Diego, several of the new recruits I was traveling with and I ran into a couple of young soldiers at our layover in Denver. Nervously asking them about what Boot Camp would be like — how hard it would be or any tricks to make it easier — they responded "Just pay attention to detail. If you don’t you will be in a world of hurt." As soon as we arrived on base, and the yelling began, "Pay attention to detail!" was a refrain so constant it could have been a rock anthem chorus being blasted in our ears. And, in those coming days, when punishment would come, it would usually come only when the details were ignored or missed. And as our hands bled and burned from the few dozen push-ups on freshly gravelled blacktop amidst the Southern California heat our ignorance had brought upon us, the number of repetitions due was increased if each and every man failed to execute the punishment with attention to detail and precision.

Because, when it is the hardest to maintain focus — a fire fight, when you are scared and lost, when death is almost certain — is when it is most important to pay attention to every detail and execute extreme awareness in the situation. The safe path away from the battle, the weakness in the enemy defense, the ally you could signal for help, if it’s there at all it is there in the details.

The lesson that remains with me is that this is true of any situation in everyday life. That if an answer exists at all, if not obvious, it is only found by paying attention to the details. If you get into a bind, that will show you the way out. In tough spots, the answer is being mindful and aware of all of the available options. By having situational awareness in every direction you will find the your way out of the darkest certainties.