WASHINGTON (May 1, 2015) -- "Every day completed is another day closer to the finish … Always remember why you're doing this."
2nd Lt. Warren Galloway spoke these mantras to himself when going through the U.S. Army Ranger School. Like most students' experiences, Galloway's Ranger School journey was mentally long and challenging.
FIRST GOAL: GET TO RANGER SCHOOL
Galloway was commissioned at Truman State University and wanted to become an infantryman. Instead, the Army made him a field artillery officer. After Galloway completed the Officer Basic Course on Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he arrived to 2-77 Field Artillery Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division on Fort Carson, Colorado. He wanted to deploy to Afghanistan to join the rest of his unit, but he missed the cut by 72 hours in July 2014. That is when he told his battery commander, "I want to go to Ranger School."
By September, he learned he received a date for Ranger School. While he had spent the previous two months preparing himself physically, his battery commander, Capt. Alex Morse emphasized the need for Galloway to also prepare mentally.
"Ranger training is hard. It will test you mentally, physically, emotionally, and relationally. It will push you beyond what you thought you were capable of and make you a better leader, teammate, and Soldier … It requires stubbornness of mind, always finding a way to drive forward regardless of circumstance … With a mission mindset committed to the process, Rangers continue to move forward." - An excerpt from the Building Mental Toughness for Ranger School, Airborne and Ranger Training Brigade - Student Information.
Morse recommended Galloway work with the Master Resilience Trainer - Performance Experts, or MRT-PEs, from the Fort Carson Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, or CSF2, Training Center. The MRT-PEs are experts in sport psychology and are able to provide tailored performance training to Soldiers that builds mental toughness.
In his first meeting with CSF2 MRT-PE Kelly O'Brien, Galloway stated his biggest concern was completing the five-mile run to meet Ranger School standard. This entails not only finishing five miles within 40 minutes, but also getting to the halfway point in 20 minutes. O'Brien decided to kick off their training by focusing on personal values. "Tying his values to motivation was a lot of that first session," O'Brien said.
"Research has shown that values drive our internal motivation," O'Brien said." By leveraging our core values, those that guide how we live our daily lives, we can ensure that the goals we set for ourselves are personally meaningful."
Galloway began to identify some of his core values, such as his desire to be part of something bigger than himself, never quitting, and never letting himself or others down. O'Brien had Galloway relate these values to the five-mile run and to completing Ranger School. Ultimately, his success in both endeavors would allow Galloway to live up to his values.
"When we link our values to our internal motivation, we experience an increase in concentration, a decrease in anxiety and are we more likely to persevere despite setbacks," O'Brien said.
One technique O'Brien introduced was effective self talk, which is when someone uses phrases that are productive and purposeful, while focusing on what is possible. This self talk helps leverage motivation, and prevent thinking that is counterproductive to accomplishing goals.
O'Brien and Galloway continued to meet for the next few weeks. They spent time working through the goal setting process, a performance skill, where an individual identifies a personally-meaningful goal and develops a concrete plan to ensure achievement, so that Galloway could establish smaller, more manageable goals to reach bigger goals.
Galloway incorporated these smaller goals into his training. He mapped out his own benchmarks at each quarter mile and assessed his pace at each mark. Based on his progress, Galloway employed effective self talk.
"I started running a little faster and got my breathing under control. One phrase that was meaningful to Galloway was, "When you want to succeed more than you want to breathe, then you will be successful." He went from completing the five miles in 40 minutes, 20 seconds, to completing the course in 38 minutes. He was now cleared to go to Ranger School.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL: GRADUATING RANGER SCHOOL
Through the first and second phases of Ranger School, Galloway drew on his values and motivation to get him through the tough times - his new motivation to complete Ranger School and show his Fire Support Team back on Fort Carson that he could be their leader.
"Over five days, I slept a total of 100 minutes," he said. "There were instances when I was mentally done. I would think, 'I am not an infantry officer. I don't need to be Ranger qualified. I don't need to be here.'" But he knew quitting would mean, "letting myself, my dad, and my command team down," which goes against his core values, so he kept going. He was able to focus on not quitting.
Galloway faced a challenge when he had to recycle the second phase, or mountain phase. Recycling happens when a student performs successfully but suffers an injury, and is therefore unable to finish. The student is able to go through the course with the next class.
While waiting to join the next class, he wrote down and laminated two sayings: "Every day complete is another day closer to the finish" and "Always remember why you're doing this." He taped them to his bunk and woke up to them each day - triggering his internal motivation.
After completing mountain phase, Galloway's challenges were far from over. Two weeks from completing the third and final Florida phase, he rolled his ankle. Fortunately, his injury did not keep him from completing Florida phase. Galloway kept his ankle taped, tied his boot a little tighter, and was able to continue with Florida phase, but not without adding additional challenges.
Contrary to the familiar phrase "embrace the suck," Galloway drew on O'Brien's lesson about effective self talk. "Thinking about 'what's my 25-meter target' or 'you can do it' rather than 'my ankle hurts too bad.' Focusing on the suck would have likely shut [Galloway's] performance down," O'Brien said.
"I really just had to keep hold of my mantras and effective self talk. It was the little things. Little benchmarks to keep motivated," Galloway said. Much like his five-mile run benchmarks back on Fort Carson, he made himself focus on smaller goals during those patrols, such as the next hilltop or making it to the patrol base.
Those benchmarks built on each other, and Galloway finally finished the Florida phase and graduated Ranger School, March 6. He had to leave behind one of his fellow students, who needed to recycle Florida phase. Realizing how much he relied on them, Galloway gave his friend the laminated mantras to help him build his motivation and eventually complete Ranger School.
"What was most helpful for me was pairing Hunt the Good Stuff [the skill of recognizing the good in each day and reflecting on it, therefore building optimism] with the effective self talk, Galloway said. "It's a mental skills marathon."
Galloway's next goal is to make it to Ranger Regiment, but for now, he is focusing on being a great leader for his Fire Support Team.