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A blog where I discuss (mostly) topics related to Special Operations.

Cellulitis, Selection & Sleep Deprivation

We jumped off the trucks, grabbed all of our equipment and walked into the transit lines. Everybody collapsed on their beds and went straight to sleep...


Dead-legs, Deep Breathing & Dulling The Pain

We lined up in front of the Huey helicopter that was about to insert us 60kms North into Helmand Province; the most deadly province in Afghanistan...

Bullets, Bad Guys & Breakfast

We crowded around the Special Reconnaissance Vehicle, or SRV, to chew the fat. The SRV is a cut down and improved version of the land rover vehicle the Military has had in service for many years...

Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Last year I was contacted by a good mate of mine who I’d known for many years. We’d done Army cadets together and he had also joined the Army, a few years before I did. He was now a Warrant Officer and posted to a transport unit in Townsville.

Winning After A Loss

A few weeks ago I won gold at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition in Brisbane. It was my first win as a brown belt. A win is great, but what was special about this win was the fact...

Just Like James Bond (only not)

“Want to go to Dubai?”

This was the question from a close mate of mine as soon as I answered the phone.

“Sure, when?” I asked.

8 Things I Learned In SF (Part 2)

Continuing on from last week's blog in which I admitted how many times I've probably watched the greatest movie ever, Predator...

...here's Part 2.

8 Things I Learned In SF (Part 1)

Let's be honest, I've watched Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at least 147 times...

... at least!

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.

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This episode is a little different - in it, I discuss my attempt at completing the Ultra Trail Australia 100km race held at the Blue Mountains. It was much tough than I'd anticipated and some great lessons were learned!
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Cellulitis, Selection & Sleep Deprivation

We jumped off the trucks, grabbed all of our equipment and walked into the transit lines. Everybody collapsed on their beds and went straight to sleep.

 

I, however, was off to see the medic. My elbow and most of my left arm was double its normal size. I had bursitis of the elbow and it was infected. I required IV antibiotics.

 

It was day 30 of the Commando Selection and Training Course or CSTC. Those of us left on the course, 30 from the original 100, estimated we had 3 or 4 days to go before Selection was over.

 

We were midway through the penultimate phase of training. The FMP’s or full mission profiles. We were required to complete a full mission from concept of operations through to the prosecution of the mission and finally the debrief.

 

We had just completed the second of three missions and were given directions to get some sleep before the debrief. It was 0600 hrs. We hadn’t been given specific timings, but I suspected they weren’t going to allow us much sleep at all… it being Selection and all.

 

We had one more FMP to complete before moving into the final phase…

 

Demarcation. A 2-3 day operation with no food and no sleep. The worst phase of the Selection process.

 

I looked down at my arm, tracked the IV line up to the saline bag filled with ‘anti-fat arm’ antibiotics that was attached to the stand. I was willing the fluid down the tube and into my arm. I really needed to get to bed. The bag didn’t seem to be draining at all, but maybe that was just my imagination.

 

I drifted off into slumber, but the medic on duty kept startling me awake banging around with whatever crap he was attending to. I’m sure it was a ploy to keep me awake. I felt like wrapping my IV line around his neck to silence him, but before I could enact my plan, a veil of darkness filled my vision and I was sleep again.

 

I felt a shake on my arm. “You’re done.”

 

My eyes shot open and I sat up. Confusion hit and I didn’t know where I was.

 

“You can go back to your lines now,” the same voice said.

 

I looked over my right shoulder.

 

It was the annoyingly loud medic.

 

I remembered where I was.

 

“How long have I been asleep?” I asked.

 

“About 15mins,” he replied.

 

“A good nights sleep then,” I said sarcastically. “I’m ready for another 32 days.”

 

I stumbled out of the RAP (Regimental Aid Post) and proceeded back to my bed like a zombie. By this time it was 0700 hrs. I collapsed onto the bed and was asleep before the bedsprings had a chance to rebound.

 

“EVERYBODY UP!” Came the raucous call from outside our lines.

 

I lifted my head, wiped the drool from my mouth with my right hand and looked at the G-Shock on my left wrist.

 

0710 hrs.

 

WTF.

 

The final FMP had commenced.

 

Over the next 24 hours, we planned, rehearsed and executed another mission, received about 20mins sleep the following day before entering the final phase of Selection…

 

Demarcation.

 

From rumours of previous courses, we had assumed demarcation lasted 40 hours. We were wrong.

 

Demarcation is tough. You basically move from one activity to the next carrying awkward and heavy equipment, patrolling, conducting snap missions and ambushes. This is all continuous movement with no sleep and little rest. ‘Rest’ included digging trenches with your small entrenching tool or even smaller cups canteen (small steel cup).

 

We did each receive half a cup of rice after day 2, which was nice of them. That was some sweet, sweet rice.

 

The lack of food was certainly draining, but the worst thing throughout the demarcation phase and Selection as a whole was the sleep deprivation.

 

Sleep deprivation sucks. And it sucks hard.

 

Once your body is deprived of the essential element of sleep, you lose focus and clarity. It’s hard to concentrate, think quickly and process information. Hand-eye coordination leaves you, well-known skills evaporate and remembering a person’s name seems as intellectually difficult as solving a Rubix void cube…

 

Impossible.

 

On what was to be the last night of demarcation and indeed the entire Selection course, I was lying in a defensive position around a stronghold we had just secured. It was without a doubt the most tired I had ever felt in my life.

 

While I was lying there, straining to hold my head up let alone my weapon, resisting the urge to sleep and barely able to engage in conscious self-talk, I thought to myself…

 

“I can’t possibly stay awake another night.”

 

At that point on day 34 of Selection, I couldn’t actually comprehend staying awake for another night. It just seemed impossible, physically impossible.

 

While I was contemplating this conundrum, I felt a kick to my ribs and looked up. There was an opposing figure with night vision goggles staring down at me, smiling. It was another candidate. I didn’t know him well at the time, but he seemed like a good dude and I was to get to know him extremely well over the next two and a half years. We became great friends. He was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

 

“Come on mate, let’s go,” he said.

 

“Where?”

 

“We have to go on a clearing patrol, there might be bad guys out there,” he said sarcastically.

 

“Right,” I replied.

 

“What else you got to do anyway? It’ll be fun,” he said still smiling.

 

I smiled back. He was right; I didn’t have anything else to do. I got up and trundled off.

 

At that moment I had a mindset shift. Instead of thinking how much I still had to do, I started to realise how much I’d already achieved. I’d completed 34 days of a Special Forces Selection course and while I certainly didn’t want to quit, I was focusing on the negative rather than the positive.

 

From that point on I’ve always chosen to focus on the positives, how much I’ve achieved in the past and how much I can gain confidence from all those past wins. This gives me the belief and confidence that I can achieve any other task I set myself while keeping me motivated, persistent and committed to completing those tasks.

 

This has been an effective and successful mindset strategy I’ve used ever since Selection, and it will help you too. Gain confidence from all your past wins and utilise that confidence to propel you forward and achieve further wins.

 

Sometimes you’ll make that mindset shift yourself and sometimes you just need a kick in the arse from a good mate to remind you.

 

- Rhys Dowden

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8 Things I Learned In Special Forces - Part 1


Let's be honest, I've watched Predator starring Arnold Schwarzenegger at least 147 times...

... at least!

While it's a great movie, it's typical Hollywood and there's many, many things wrong with the movie in regards to how things actually are within a Special Forces unit and the missions we undertake.

So it got me thinking about some of the most important lessons I learned while in the Army. It also got me thinking about the total myths about Special Forces that Hollywood like to perpetrate.

Here are 10 things I learned in Special Forces...and a few myths busted!


1. Self-Reliance

After completing Commando Selection and the Reinforcement Cycle to receive my green beret, I was pretty confident. I'd been through a lot and came out the other side a stronger, more resilient individual...

... and I needed to be.

Nobody in the unit was going to hold my hand every step of the way to ensure I was 'ok'. When I received my green beret I was expected to perform immediately. I was expected to be able to get the job done at a high level without supervision. My teammates were relying on me.

If a situation was challenging, I didn't automatically run to someone for support to fix it. I dug in and attempted to work it out for myself and often I was successful.

It would appear that very few people nowadays make the effort to try and work out problems for themselves and find solutions. People are all too quick to give up and run off to find help without giving themselves the chance to learn and grow.

Yes, it may take you a little longer to work out the problem, but giving yourself the opportunity to succeed in challenging tasks will pay off 10x fold in momentum, confidence, pride and persistence.

It will build your character with attributes and your mind with knowledge. Don't automatically look for the easy way out and give your problems to others to fix. Begin to build your self-reliance by giving yourself the chance to learn and succeed. You will be genuinely surprised at what you can accomplish.


2. Controlled Aggression

I like this saying a lot. There's a HUGE difference between aggression and controlled aggression.

Aggression is uncontrolled and reactive. It shows low emotional intelligence and is hard to direct and utilise in a positive manner. It's a negative emotion, which people often don't consciously choose to employ.

Controlled aggression however, is managed and directed. The individual consciously chooses to employ this tactic by utilising its power and directing it where and when they need it. It's a positive emotion.

Within Commandos I was taught controlled aggression early on. With everything we were required to undertake, i.e. parachuting, live fire training, helicopter underwater emergency training, room floor combat, demolitions and combat - just to name a few, we needed to be aggressive. Aggressive to get over fears, hurdles and setbacks but controlled to employ intelligent thinking, problem solving and teamwork.

Utilise controlled aggression to get fired up for a task you may be nervous or anxious about. Harness the energy to complete a task, but remain clear-headed, emotionally intelligent and in control.


3. Situational Awareness

Situational Awareness is the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening in your immediate vicinity.

More simply, it is recognising what is going on around you.

Situational Awareness is a key attribute in Special Forces training. It's probably the number one attribute potential candidates are assessed on throughout the Selection process.

And for good reason...

Commando's mainly utilise live fire training to prepare accurately for operational deployments. During this training, we conduct 'run throughs' within the room floor combat range all with live rounds. We engage targets in a 360-degree arc and fire rounds within inches of our team members. All this is conducted in visually restrictive S10 respirators or gas masks.

Start developing your situational awareness now. Be diligent about what's happening around you. Process the information that's being presented to you and see things before they happen.

Even if you can't prevent problems from occurring, good situational awareness will provide you with a sense of control, a sense of awareness and calmness that will allow you to overcome any setbacks quickly and move forward.

If you combine your knowledge of situational awareness with emotional intelligence, you will develop a cool, calm and focused mindset willing and able to react in a positive manner to the environment around you.


4. Sometimes you'll look like an idiot

During my sniper course we were conducting practice stalks in which we had to locate the enemy, find a hiding position and set up before taking a shot. It was a stressful time during the course and I managed to make it even harder for myself.

The senior instructor, or SI, was talking to one of the students about the scope on the rifle and how it functioned internally. He was describing how moving the outside elevation and lateral dials of the scope effected the position of the crosshairs within the scope and therefore, where your barrel pointed and your bullet impacted the target.

I was pretty tired at this point and only got the end of the conversation. I blurted out...

"So the bullet leaves the barrel of the rifle already having been adjusted to hit the target?"

The instructor looked at me blankly for a minute and then burst out laughing along with the other 4-5 students within earshot.

With my question, I had implied that the bullet could in fact change direction later on down the trajectory path in mid-air. Basically, an act of God!

I chastised myself. I was tired and wasn't having the best day (or couple of weeks for that matter) and this simply topped it off. I was embarrassed for a while, took the laughter on the chin, got over it and moved on.

If you make a mistake and look like an idiot, own it, learn from it, let it go and move on. Most likely, everybody else will too.


Special Forces Myths busted...


1. SF guys are muscle bound - In Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jesse Ventura and Carl Weathers are huge! This is simply not the case within most Special Forces units. It's not practical. With the specific requires of the job plus the constant deployments and travelling, I don't recall any soldier who was overly muscular. Bodyweight strength, speed, explosive strength and endurance were the main physical requires needed to do the job well.


2. Patrolling shirtless - A cool look in Predator was after the assault on the jungle camp, half the team began the exfiltration without shirts on and only wearing their vests. Although it looks cool, I never saw this occur. In the movie, with the thick vegetation and insects, patrolling shirtless would be stupid and reckless. Plus, you'd look like a tool.


3. Massive knives - Most of the characters in Predator seemed to carry huge hunting knives. Now obviously in the jungle you would need machetes to try and cut through the jungle, but having massive hunting knives serves no purpose except to look cool and take up space on your kit. The only knives we ever carried were small precision implements.


Comments? Let me know!


Part 2 next week...


- Rhys Dowden

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8 Things I Learned In Special Forces - Part 2


Continuing on from last weeks blog in which I admitted how many times I've probably watched the greatest movie ever, Predator...

 

...here's Part 2.

 

8 things I learned in Special Forces…and a few myths busted!

 

5. Bad times always come to end

I remember years ago watching a documentary about an adventure racer. This dude was almost 40 years old and was killing it on the adventure racing circuit and winning most of the events he entered.

 

These events are brutal with 4-5 days of constantly being on the move. Racing over 100’s of kilometres of terrain and water, hiking abseiling, kayaking, running and navigating to the finish line.

 

The one thing this guy said that has always stuck with me is: “young people who I race against and quit, don’t seem to realise that the hard times are always going to end.”

 

I never truly understood his statement until I joined the Army, and particularly Commandos. I went through some pretty challenging times within the Army, but this guy on the documentary was right. They always ended.

 

I remember one time in Afghanistan while we were conducting an observation mission. I was sitting in my sniper hide with my mate observing an area. The day was brutally hot as usual and because of the terrain and situation, I couldn’t change positions with my mate. I was tasked with looking through the spotting scope the entire day with no rest.

 

All 14 hours of it.

 

But, like all shitty situations, it finally came to an end. It always will.

 

6. Trainability

This is another crucial element of being a Commando. It’s also why Commando’s selection is called the Commando Selection and Training Course. You’re not just tested on your toughness and your ability to keep going when you’re tired, hungry, cold and wet. You’re also tested on your ability to learn new information quickly, retain that information, then recall it and apply it when you’re tired, hungry, cold and wet.

 

Being able to do this is a great confidence builder and allows the soldier to learn many, many skills which they will be required to employ time and time again while serving within Commandos. It could be months or even years before you’re required to recall information and those skills taught, then utilise them for a task.

 

Some people have a natural aptitude for this ability, but the majority of us have to work at it. You can actually train yourself to develop this skill. How? By getting out of your comfort zone consistently to experience, learn and develop new skills and acquire new information. The more you do this and the more you test yourself, the more confidence you’ll gain and the better you’ll become at it.

 

7. Breathe

When we are exposed to a stressful or dangerous situation, our brain lets us know about it, and quickly. Our bodies are flooded with stress response hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

 

Our bodies will respond to this release of hormones with a series of physical signs. Our heart beats rapidly, our breathing becomes shallow, our palms start to sweat and our hands shake, our pupils dilate and our bodies tense up. This is a primal response to stress in order to ready our bodies for the freeze, posture, fight or flight reaction.

 

As this arousal response happens and our bodies react to stress and the subsequent release of these hormones throughout our bodies, we find it hard to focus and think clearly and with clarity through the situation.

 

What we must do is breathe. Breathing deeply a number of times will allow you to begin calming yourself and focusing on the situation at hand. You will be able to stabilise your brain and start thinking clearly again.

 

You very rarely, if ever, have to act immediately in an emergency or stressful situation. Take the time to take a few deep breaths. This will calm you and enable you to make more effective decisions, be less reactive and allow you to deal with, or survive, the situation as you best can.

 

8. Humour

While serving overseas within Commandos, I learned how humour could be taken to another level. A disturbingly darker level.

 

We used to play rock, paper, scissors to see who would lose their legs on that particular deployment. Pretty morbid I know, but it was a humorous way to pass the time.

 

And it certainly didn’t stop at rock, paper, scissors. There were charts and scoreboards, pictures and artwork. All morbid and tasteless and very disturbing to an outsider. But it worked. It helped to distract from the stressful situation and relieve tension. It was funny, disgusting and liberating.

 

When you’re in a challenging or stressful situation, try and find the lighter side if possible. It certainly doesn’t have to be morbid or tasteless like a bunch of soldiers, but it may just ease the tension and hopefully allow you to get through a particularly tough situation with smile.

 

Special Forces Myths busted, cont…

 

4. Engaging the enemy while standing– This is a great scene inPredator. The entire team stands together in unison and unleashes a whole lot of hell on an unseen enemy! While this looks cool, it usually doesn’t happen. You’re not taught this and natural instinct and training will throw you to the ground to fire your weapon from the prone position. Now, I say it usually doesn’t happen because I actually did this once. We were patrolling one afternoon in Afghanistan on a very hot day and were contacted by the enemy. I was quite fatigued by this point as I was carrying the 7.62mm Minimi machine gun. When the contact was initiated, I didn’t fling myself to the ground, I didn’t even take a knee. I simply turned towards the threat and began firing my weapon. It was a great way to unload some extra weight and feel cool in the process 

 

5. The ability to construct elaborate traps– The Green Beret team inPredator certainly had a lot of skills, one of which was the ability to construct a brilliant trap for the Predator using only the jungle and some smarts. I’d be hard struck trying to build a trap for a small rodent let alone an alien killing machine. We weren’t taught these skills, although I’m wondering why the hell not?

 

6. The ability to construct high-powered bush weapons– Dutch (Arnold Schwarzenegger) was awesome. He was a brilliant leader, had huge muscles, smoked cigars and could craft a deadly weapon out of easily acquired jungle materials. Although I can build a pretty accurate slingshot, I’m not sure it would have the power, cyclic rate of fire or effective range to bring down anything bigger then a wasp.


- Rhys Dowden

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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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Just Like James Bond (only not)

“Want to go to Dubai?”

 

This was the question from a close mate of mine as soon as I answered the phone.

 

“Sure, when?” I asked.

 

“Plane leaves at 8.30pm” he replied.

 

It was just before 5pm and I was about 30mins from home. The airport was about an hour from my place. That didn’t give me much time to stuff around.

 

“I’ll make it,” I confirmed.

 

The gig: to fly to Dubai, meet up with some British expats working in the country and help identify possible candidates for a “train the trainer” contract in Iraq.

 

I was working at Australia Zoo at the time and quickly ran over to my boss, told him the story and said I needed two weeks off.

 

He granted my request and wished me luck.

 

With no time to waste, I jumped in the car and headed home. I was unprepared to say the least. No bag ready, not enough clean clothes, I needed a hair cut and a shave…

 

No time for that. I grabbed what I could, shoved it all in a bag, secured my passport in my pocket and headed out the door.

 

I met my mate in the airport parking lot where he handed me my itinerary, plane ticket and some details about the gig in Dubai. The scene reminded me of an old spy movie, except I was substituting a Rolex with a G-Shock and my Holden Barina looked nothing like an Aston Martin (although it was silver.)

 

I got through customs and security and made the plane on time. I settled down into my seat and caught my breath. I went over the details of the job.

 

The two guys I was meeting in Dubai were former British Officers who had also completed stints in the Oman Army. They spoke Arabic fluently and had lived and worked in Dubai for a number of years.

 

I started to feel a little uneasy as I went over exactly what was to be required of me on this trip to the Middle East.

 

Basically my job role was to conduct interviews of local Dubai Soldiers and ascertain the competency of those suited best to take on the role of training Iraqi Soldiers. A new contract had just been secured and was to begin in a couple of months and this was the first step in fulfilling that contract.

 

I felt a little out of my depth. I had no experience in this type of work and began to wonder what the guys in Dubai were expecting.

 

They weren’t expecting me.

 

I was 24 years old, had recently discharged from the Army where I had reached the dizzying heights of private, and I looked unkempt to say the least. I hadn’t been to the Middle East previously, I had no experience in fulfilling this type of contract, and I was currently working security at Australia Zoo.

 

The guys I met in Dubai didn’t seem too happy with my arrival and began peppering me with questions about my background and experiences. When I informed them I had completed the basic Arabic language course in the Army they hit me with more questions, but this time in the local language…

 

How do you say this in Arabic, and what’s that in Arabic? How would you pose this question, and whom would you ask regarding this?

 

How do you say hello and good evening? What’s stop and go? What are the different commands you would use? What’s the word for gun, bomb, knife, and shoot?

 

Okay fellas, I thought, I’ve only completed a 3-month course and I’m certainly not fluent. I could see what they were doing though. They were testing me and I was falling short. It was soon apparent that they didn’t think I was suited to the job… and neither did I to be honest.

 

They had a discussion between themselves and informed me they needed someone with more experience and my services were not needed. I was to spend the night in a hotel and head back to Australia the next day.

 

My first stint in the Middle East lasted just under 24 hours.

 

I analysed what had happened…

 

I had jumped into a situation I wasn’t prepared for.


I didn’t have the relevant experience.


I hadn’t researched the job in depth.

 

This resulted in me feeling…

 

Embarrassed.


Dejected.


Deflated.

 

On the 15-hour flight back to Australia I vowed never to put myself in a situation like that again. While I am a big advocate for getting out of your comfort zone and taking action, that day made me realise that there is a huge difference between having the courage and discipline to commit to a task and blindly taking the plunge without due diligence.

 

I crawled back to my job at Australia Zoo the next day, learned from the experience and bounced back.

 

8 weeks later I had secured another gig, this time in Iraq and on a contract I was suitably experienced to fulfil. Over the next two years I developed my Arabic language skills, my Soldier skills and my life skills.

 

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation…

 

  • Do your due diligence before committing.
  • Research exactly what you’re getting into.
  • Be prepared.
  • Realise when you may be over your head and out of your depth and be ready to take action to rectify the situation.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be willing to constantly improve.
  • Keep your head up.

 

Remember, just because someone may have more experience then you, doesn’t mean they’re better then you. Be ready to learn, adapt, overcome and employ a growth mindset.


- Rhys Dowden

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Winning After A Loss

A few weeks ago I won gold at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition in Brisbane. It was my first win as a brown belt.

 

A win is great, but what was special about this win was the fact that only 1 week before I was beaten in my first competition as a brown belt. Soundly beaten. I was put into a chokehold after about 10 seconds and fought for the next 2 minutes trying to get out of it. I finally had to tap (submit) or pass out.

 

What’s worse was that it was my home competition and everybody from my club was watching.

 

It’s interesting what goes through your head after a loss. There’s frustration, self-pity, doubt, embarrassment, just to mention a few emotions. Even though I know I deserve to be at my new rank, there’s just something about the human psyche that makes you question your ability after a loss.

 

Do I deserve to be here? Is everybody else at this level way better then me? Will I continue to get beaten at these competitions?

 

So what did I do?

 

I adopted the growth mindset, which I always do. I analysed the loss. Broke it down and learned from it. I asked my coach and myself how I could improve and what I could implement to ensure it didn’t happen again.

 

Simply put… I went to work. I went straight back to training on Monday night and began to work even harder to improve the deficiencies in my game. I didn’t make excuses as to why I lost. I accepted it, learned what I could and formed a plan to get better.

 

That night I looked online for the next BJJ competition. It happened to be on that weekend, so I entered.

 

Why?

 

Because I’d experienced a similar situation previously: As a newly promoted purple belt, I entered my first competition and was also soundly beaten. Back then I also chose to apply the growth mindset by analysing, learning and improving my game.

 

I entered the next BJJ competition, which happened to be in Melbourne at the Arnold Classic and won both my weight and open divisions. It was a great learning experience.

 

This is why I chose to enter the competition the very next weekend. I wanted to challenge myself again and see what I’d learned and improved on from my loss the previous weekend.

 

I experienced the customary pre-competition nerves, which is normal and absolutely fine as long as you don’t let those nerves get the better of you and impact your performance. This is where breathing is so important. Deep, rhythmic and slow belly breathing will keep the body flooded with oxygen, calm the nerves and focus your attention.

 

I felt good and ready for competition and came away with the victory.

 

What was really great about the competition is that I felt like I belonged. It validated that I could compete at this level and that I could perform well.

 

It wasn’t the fact that I won, but the fact I fought well, competed and matched the level of my competitors.

 

It also confirmed that training hard is what matters the most. Not natural born talent, but consistency of effort, persistence, determination and personal drive.

 

So, after a loss in life, adopt the growth mindset. Analyse your loss, determine why you lost, what your deficiencies and shortcomings are and form a plan to overcome them and improve.

 

Then make a conscious effort to challenge yourself again to see if your plan has worked and if you have grown, adapted and ultimately, improved.

 

You never fail. You either win or learn.


- Rhys Dowden

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Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone


Last year I was contacted by a good mate of mine who I’d known for many years. We’d done Army cadets together and he had also joined the Army, a few years before I did. He was now a Warrant Officer and posted to a transport unit in Townsville.

 

‘Bill’ decided to get in contact with me after he’d watched a couple of videos I’d released about mindset training and wondered if I’d like to fly up to Townsville and give a mindset seminar to his unit.

 

I jumped at the chance. However, I was a little nervous as it was out of my comfort zone. Yes, I’d done many talks before, particularly with my previous company, but the attendees always came to us and it was a more aggressive and ‘in your face’ style event.

 

This seminar talk would be different. It would be 200 soldiers seated in a hall with myself front and centre, talking mindset techniques and strategies for over an hour. I definitely had a little anxiety.

 

The talk almost never happened. Bill and myself had a slight miscommunication; I had double booked that particular day and I almost cancelled. But I knew that this talk was important for a number of reasons…

 

  • It would be good for business.
  • I could help some soldiers and give back to an organisation that had given me so much.

 

And…

 

  • It would give me a chance to get out of my comfort zone, develop as a speaker, learn some new things and test myself.

 

I moved some things around and confirmed with Bill that I was able to deliver the seminar. I did, however, have some work to do. I wanted to deliver a great seminar and bring my teaching points across as well as I could.

 

So what did I do?


I decided to learn some presenting skills and Googled: “How to give a presentation.” My search found this guy whose company is called “Rule The Room Public Speaking.” I enrolled in one of his online courses, which taught me everything I needed to know about giving a killer presentation. I did exactly what I was taught. I wrote out my speech, memorised my opener, as well as every new topic explanation and practiced in real-time my entire speech – 3 times through.

 

It worked great. I flew up to Townsville, prepared well, conducted some breathing exercises immediately before I presented and was able to deliver a great presentation for 1 hour and 20 minutes to 251 soldiers. From the feedback I received, the soldiers got a lot from my talk and the Commanding Officer and Regimental Sergeant Major were suitably impressed with the seminar.


That’s the beauty of getting out of your comfort zone and pushing some boundaries… it helps you to improve and grow as a person, learn new things and put into practice coping mechanisms to help with stress and anxiety.

 

When you do get the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone, take it, but be prepared. Don’t simply jump into a stressful situation blinded. Do your research, prepare yourself adequately, learn from subject matter experts and kick arse!

 

So get out of your comfort zone! You’ll build your confidence, fill your bag with new tricks and learn from any mistakes to improve and develop professionally and emotionally.


- Rhys Dowden

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Bullets, Bad Guys & Breakfast

We crowded around the Special Reconnaissance Vehicle, or SRV, to chew the fat. The SRV is a cut down and improved version of the land rover vehicle the Military has had in service for many years. The roof was chopped off, bigger wheels attached, the suspension bolstered, a gun turret added and, of course, a fridge securely positioned in the back.

 

It was March in Afghanistan, Helmand Province. It was cold and rainy. We’d just spent the previous night recovering a number of vehicles bogged in the red clay mud that was an integral part of this beautiful countryside.

 

We were all tired and dirty, but in good spirits. We were in Afghanistan, a number of us on our first deployment and we’d been in our first bit of action a couple of days before. I had a Red Bull in one hand, a Mars Bar in the other and I was talking to some of my good mates with whom I had passed Commando Selection less than 12 months before…

 

And now we were killing it in the Ghan… what was not to love!

 

The ‘Iron Maiden’ crew I was talking with were a great bunch of lads. Two of them I went through Special Forces Selection and the reinforcement cycle with, while consuming copious amounts of beer to aid in the journey. The third guy at the vehicle was a 2 Commando legend and great bloke. I’d gotten to know him reasonably well over the last six months and it was comforting knowing he was around if a firefight broke out.

 

All three men were subsequently killed in different operations over the next few years… such is the nature of war and the profession we'd chosen.

 

At this moment, however, I was enjoying talking some shit with these boys until suddenly…

 

Crack, crack, crack…

 

Incoming small arms rounds started whizzing over our heads and we hit the deck instantly, crouching behind the vehicle. One of the lads jumped up into the gun turret and took control of his .50 Cal machine gun and began returning fire.

 

I wanted to do the same, but my vehicle was positioned about 30m away in the 7 o’clock position of our company harbour. I was going to have to make a dash for it.

 

Just as I was about to break position and make a run back to my vehicle, I noticed gunfire coming from within the centre of our harbour. I took a closer look and realised a couple of guys from the very centre of our position were on their guts firing their weapons in the general direction of the incoming fire. Not only had these guys no idea where the enemy fire was coming from, and were basically shooting blind, they were firing their weapons from inside our position with the bullets travelling through a narrow gap between our front vehicles.

 

These guys were not qualified Commandos, but were support staff who were with us on this particular extended operation to provide specialist skills… running and gunning was not one of them. I casually (and by casually I mean vehemently and frantically) tried to catch their attention to provide them with immediate feedback of their gun-fighting skills, or lack thereof, and get them to cease firing so I could get back to my own vehicle and the Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher that was waiting in my gun turret.

 

I finally got the attention of the killers in the centre and they held their fire long enough for me to muster all my sprinting ability. Feeling like Usain Bolt, but no doubt looking like Samwell Tarly (Game of Thrones) I dashed the 30 or so metres back to my own vehicle, almost pulling a hammie in the process.

 

I clambered my way up the vehicle and muscled awkwardly into the turret with my now tightening hamstring. I gripped my Mark 19 with both hands, ready to unleash hell on the idiotic insurgent who decided to interrupt my nutritious breakfast.

 

I quickly glanced at my gold tops (the grenade launcher’s ammunition, consisting of 40mm high explosive rounds with their customary gold coloured front ends) and grinned slightly, knowing the devastation these bad boys would shortly deliver.

 

With both thumbs depressing the butterfly trigger simultaneously, I held my breath…

 

clunk.

 

Misfire!

 

F#ck.

 

And isn’t this just how life plays out sometimes? You’ve trained hard, you’re prepared, you’ve done all your lead work and planning, you’re mentally in the game and ready for action…

 

…You’re inoculated to stress, you’re battle ready, your fine motor skills are still functioning, your breathing is controlled and you’re thinking as clearly as possible, you’re primed…

 

And shit just doesn’t turn out the way you’d like. Life gets in the way, changes the rules and delivers its own game play.

 

Murphy’s law rears its ugly head and you miss out.

 

What can you do? What do you do?

 

You deal with what’s in front of you. You rectify the situation and move forward, ready for your next opportunity.

 

With rounds continuing to whizz over my head, I got down to business unjamming my weapon and attempting to get into the fight.

 

The Mark 19 was jammed good and proper. The bolt was fully forward and the big girl was not budging. It took a number of minutes just to pry the weapon open and pull the bolt back before going into the stoppage drills of unloading and reloading.

 

By that time, the engagement had fizzled out. The enemy had completed their small harassing job and had disengaged and disappeared. I hadn’t fired a single round and it was over.

 

Just. Like. That.

 

I was given the obligatory roastings by my teammates who had a good laugh about my misfortune. I certainly couldn’t blame them or get upset as I would’ve done the exact same thing and enjoyed every second had the roles been reversed.

 

All I could do was learn from the situation, analyse the fault and what went wrong to ensure it didn’t happen again. Nothing else needed to be said; nothing else needed to be done.

 

I fixed the stoppage, actioned the weapon and was good to go, ready for the next opportunity.

 

I didn’t have to wait too long.


- Rhys Dowden

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Dead-legs, Deep Breathing & Dulling The Pain

Camp Bastion, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

 

We lined up in front of the Huey helicopter that was about to insert us 60kms North into Helmand Province; the most deadly province in Afghanistan.

 

These Huey helicopters were beefed up versions of the ones that flew many, many missions in Vietnam back in the 60s and 70s and they were awesome machines. Twin engine, 4-blade helicopters with plenty of grunt and manoeuvrability.

 

We grabbed one of the Huey door gunners to take the team photo. A 6-man Commando Sniper Team in full kit, heavily armed and ready for action.

 

It was go time.

 

We loaded up into the Huey. As I was lead scout for the team I went on last. The Huey isn’t a big chopper, especially compared to the Chinook and CH53s we had been flying around in, but it was sufficient for a 6-man team... just.

 

I crammed in, pack on, with my sniper rifle secured to the top and M4 with grenade launcher gripped firmly in my hands. I attached my strope (quick release rope that secures the soldier to the helicopter).

 

We lifted off.

 

It was just after midnight on a pleasant October night and the temperature on the ground was around 20 degrees Celsius. As the chopper began rising into the sky for the 20min journey, higher and higher into the Afghan mountains, the temperature dropped dramatically.

 

I did not have a fun insertion that night.

 

As the chopper was full with my team and I was last on, I wasn’t totally within the aircraft skin. With the chopper screaming through the air at about 100kts, I was receiving the full lashing of the cold mountain air. I tried turning into the middle of the chopper even more and was subsequently leaning on my left arse cheek. My leg started to go numb and I began to shiver.

 

This was going to be a long flight.

 

As the flight continued and we rose higher into the mountains, the temperature dropped even further, but there was nothing to be done. My leg was now totally asleep; I was freezing cold and very uncomfortable.

 

I concentrated on the one thing I could control – my breathing. I began breathing deeply and focusing on each breath as I exhaled. Big deep belly breaths. I got into a nice rhythm, which was almost meditative.

 

While it certainly didn’t take away the fact I was freezing my arse off and I could no longer feel my leg, it helped get me through the situation quicker than if I’d simply sat there stewing over the shit time I was having.

 

Finally, after what seemed like an age, my team leader held up two different coloured cyalumes together… the 3min call.

 

Then came one blue cyalume… the 30sec call.

 

We came into our drop-off point and the pilots manoeuvred the helicopter into position.

 

We hovered 3–4 meters from the ground. The door gunner looked across at me, raised his arm and gave me the thumbs up. That was the signal for me to jump off the helicopter.

 

F#ck off, I yelled. Mainly to myself as he couldn’t hear me over the noise of the Huey.

 

I shook my head at him and motioned downwards, signalling that I needed the chopper closer to the ground before I jumped. A 10-foot jump with all of my equipment wasn’t going to cut it and I would no doubt sustain an injury.

 

I could see the door gunner talk on his radio headset to the pilots. I looked down as the pilots manipulated the helicopter controls and we moved a little closer to the ground.

 

I looked up again at the door gunner. He smiled and gave me the thumps up signal. It’s hard to tell your exact height with night-vision goggles on as your depth perception is compromised.

 

I looked down again, pausing momentarily…

 

3, 2, 1, jump.

 

I hit the ground hard. It was probably only a 5-foot jump, but it was onto a rocky creek bed. I rolled over and tried to stand, but fell over.

 

My leg was asleep.

 

I commando-crawled away from under the chopper so my teammates wouldn’t land on top of me. They all piled out. Mostly fell, recovered and moved away from the chopper.

 

I looked up. The door gunner was looking down, smiling and giving me the thumps up.

 

I returned with the one-finger salute. The chopper rose, banked upwards and began to fly away. I could see the door gunner laughing as the Huey took off.

 

It reminded me of Adam Sandler in the movie Happy Gilmore when he’s playing mini golf and the big clown keeps laughing at his attempt to sink a putt… “He’s laughing; he’s having a good time.”

 

I lay on the ground for a few minutes shaking my leg awake. Finally I regained the use of it and stood up. A few comments from my teammates and we were away.

 

We began our ascent to our predetermined position to provide overwatch to the rest of the company, which had simultaneously landed a few clicks up the creek line.

 

As always, the position wasn’t ideal, but it never, ever was. We picked two sniper hide locations and split the callsign.

 

My team second-in-command and myself moved up into our location. We were limited with options, surrounded by high ground and the sun starting to rise.

 

We weighed up the risks of being able to conduct the mission, get eyes on the target area, being supported and providing support to the other team and the ability to facilitate an effective withdrawal.

 

5 out of 6 wasn’t bad.

 

We established our position and I got behind the glass (spotting scope) for the first watch as the sun rose. As the sky filled with daylight we could fully evaluate our position.

 

Although we were hidden, it was obvious we couldn’t move around freely. I would have to stay in the observer’s position the entire day.

 

All 14 hours of it.

 

Usually we rotate every 1–2 hours behind the spotting scope to avoid fatigue and ensure that a high degree of focus and attention is maintained.

 

Today it simply wasn’t possible.

 

It definitely wasn’t an ideal situation, but I dealt with it. I accepted there was nothing to be done, except my job. I got behind the spotting scope and stayed there the rest of the day.

 

Like I did the previous night in the chopper, I used deep breathing to ensure constant and much needed oxygen was getting to my brain and, in particular, my eyesight.

 

I took short, regular breaks to refocus, relieving the strain on my eyes, dulling the headache, sipping some water and staving off complacency.

 

It was a long, long day, but it finally came to an end. We completed our mission by providing valuable intelligence, battlefield commentary and precision fire support and were extracted that evening without incident.

 

I learned a couple of things that day…

 

  1. Breathing can help you through tough situations. The 4-count combat or tactical breathing method or deep, rhythmic, belly breathing. Concentrating on the actual inhale and exhale of the breathe will help you focus, relieve stress and help you cope by providing the body with a constant supply of oxygen.
  2. Sometimes situations aren’t ideal and you can only do the best with what you have. You weigh it up, calculate the risks and make a decision based on the information and situation at hand.
  3. Shitty situations always come to an end. As much as it sucks at the time, time itself will continue without fail and the suboptimal period you may find yourself in, will eventually dissipate.

 

When you find yourself in a less than ideal situation…

 

  1. Breath.
  2. Do the best with what you have.
  3. Know that it will end… it always does.


- Rhys Dowden

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