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First Mission Fun

My first mission within a Sniper team didn’t exactly go the way we’d planned…

We were inserted via Chinook helicopter a little after midnight on a moonless night. It was dark, really dark.

We were each carrying around 65-70 kgs of equipment. It was heavy.

Our task was to walk in under the cover of darkness behind enemy lines and set up an overwatch position to observe a target area. We were a small element that was part of a larger plan.

The helicopter insertion went off without a hitch and we were on the ground just after midnight. We calculated our position and soon discovered that we had been dropped 2kms from our planned landing zone. We also quickly discovered that the supposed flat ground was actually a series of undulating hills consisting of a slippery gravel-like surface.

We began our trek.

It was tough going. The slippery and underrating surface, combined with the weight of our equipment and low ambient light made for extremely slow going. We had a brand new interpreter with us for this mission and he was not prepared for the task.

We had to continually stop every few minutes and after a couple hours had barely progressed at all.

This was going to be a long night.

The trudge continued with frequent stops for various reasons. It was an extremely quiet night and many thoughts ran through my head during the slow move. Throughout my military career I had experienced many nights like this. Walking in the middle of the night, carrying heavy equipment in total darkness and wearing night vision goggles. I never had one particular thought pattern during these nights. I never had to try and keep myself motivated with constant self talk or other reassuring mindset strategies.

I simply accepted the situation, bitched and moaned occasionally to let off some steam and got the job done.

We continued our infiltration throughout the night and had to lay up before first light. As the sun began to rise, myself and a team mate who was 6 foot 5 and weighed 110kgs, crawled into a very small cave to wait out the day.

It was a bloody long day. 14 hours or so and over 50 degrees. That day was probably the longest day I’ve ever experienced.

That’s the thing… sometimes a situation just sucks and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. Mental toughness isn’t about not allowing yourself to experience anger or frustration or pain or somehow suppressing these emotions. It’s about accepting these emotions, allowing yourself to feel them and to continue on regardless.

It’s kind of like saying to yourself: “I know you’re there pain and discomfort, I can hear you, but f#ck you, I’ve got things to do!”

As the sun came down on the longest day of my life, it was time to move. We heaved on our ridiculously weighted equipment, sucked down some hot water and moved out. We were all quite dehydrated and lacking physical energy.

We had laid up a little way up the mountain and the descent was quite tricky. There was plenty of loose dirt and rocks and it was hard to maintain our footing. We were sliding down the mountain and I could feel a nice blister appearing on my right heel (later back at base, I cut off a piece of dead skin covering my entire heel.)

Again it was slow moving with heavy equipment and constant undulating ground. After a couple of hours and while taking a short rest, something happened that was the funniest thing that I’ve ever heard…

Our interpreter was really struggling. He was dehydrated, had zero energy and was clearly hating the new job he had chosen in a field in which he had no experience. He was somewhat delirious and my team commander ordered him to sit down. He called over our second in command and asked for some water.

Our interpreter, barley conscious and comprehendible, looked at our second in command and asked: “is it cold water?”

Our entire Sniper team lost it with laughter! Sitting in a little gully, in the middle of Afghanistan behind enemy lines, dehydrated, low energy levels and many kilometres yet to travel…. we all broke out in muffled laughter… our interpreter wanted ‘cold water’.

The funniest thing I’ve ever heard!

This is what we were really good at in Commandos, getting what little humour we possibly could out of a shitty situation. Sometimes a bit of humour is exactly what you need to boost morale and help you get on with a task.

To this day, this is what I’ve always tried to do. When life gets tough, I’ve always tried to see the humour and not take things too seriously. This will actually allow you to handle the situation better. You’ll learn not to get too worked up and let emotions take over. You’ll learn to relax, see a situation from a more positive angle and if things do get out of control, you’ll be able to let it go more easily and move on with your life.

We finally arrived at our pre-determined grid reference and set up a hide overlooking the small village of our intended target. Our interpreter needed an IV drip and every time I looked at him I smirked remembering his classic request for cold water.

We completed the rest of the mission and the following day we humped out a few kilometres to our extraction LZ, where we were picked up by the chinook and taken back to base.

A tough mission, but with some extremely funny moments.

Rhys Dowden


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About the Author

Rhys Dowden is the owner of Operator Edge, a company through which he provides to his clients extensive mental conditioning along with military, self-defense, and strength training.

Growing up in Queensland, Rhys enlisted in the Army as soon as he was 18 and then served a little more than four years in the Royal Australian Armored Corps.

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