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NEWS | Feb. 10, 2015

Are you ready?

By Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Hughes 437th Airlift Wing command chief

I glanced at my watch, Nov. 16, 2007, 6:22 a.m. ... 23 more minutes to go.  Sweat dripped from my brow.  The straps of my 70 pound ruck dug into my shoulders.  I bounced the ruck, tugged and adjusted the straps ... much better.  My legs ached as I reached the top.  I made another hash mark on the FLYN (freaking little yellow note ... a post-it) stuck to the wall, took a deep breath and started back down the eight flights of stairs, 17 steps per flight, 136 steps to the bottom.  No headphones, no external distractions ... just me, a ruck, and stairs.  It was not quiet.  I was lost in thought ... my mind raced, monsters inside my head raged, argued, resolved ... the clash of ideas was deafening.  At 6:30 a.m. I heard the click and subsequent slam of a stairwell door, the familiar sound of boots on linoleum followed by huffing and puffing as someone else trudged up behind me. 

"Morning Sgt. Hughes, what are you doing ... are you deploying?" 
"No sir." 
"You have a race coming up?"
"No sir." 
"Then what are you doing?" 
"Getting ready." 
"For what?" 
"I don't know." 
"What do you mean?" 
"Sir, I have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but whatever it is, I will be ready." 
"Uuuuuuuuuuuummmmm ... okay."

I heard the third floor stairwell door click behind me, the major was gone ... I was alone.  Now it's 6:48 a.m., 1 hour 3 minutes, 27 hash marks, up and down 216 flights; shirt soaked, physically smoked, mentally stoked ... mind, body, and spirit balanced ... ready.

Fast forward three years.  2100 hours, 103 degrees, just finished a seven mile run.  I sat in a steel folding chair in a trailer at "The Deid" and guzzled two full water bottles.  Sweat puddled on the floor under the chair, shirt soaked, physically smoked, mentally stoked ... mind, body, and spirit balanced ... ready. 

Two weeks later at a forward operating base in Iraq, alone in a small three room cinderblock building with bullet pock marks from when the airfield was seized years before, zero dark thirty in the morning, 36 hours without sleep, four more hours until watch relief, the phone rang.  "F-16's have been scrambled from a base in the south to provide close air support for troops in contact, need to launch the alert tanker to support the F-16's."  The next 30 minutes were a flurry of activity.  Aircrew and maintenance crews alerted, mission binder prepped, aircrew briefed, aircraft successfully launched.  All quiet again ... the silence was deafening.  I struggled to stay awake, watched another beautiful Iraq sunrise, and waited.  The last few hours dragged.  Finally, I gave the changeover briefing, skipped the mess tent, the shower, and fell face first onto my cot ... battle rattle in a pile at the foot of the bed ... physically and mentally smoked.  Eight hours of sleep, one-and-a-half hours of PT, shower and shave, a hot meal and two extra-large ice coffees to go, and right back into the grind.  I was ready. 

The other morning I woke up, ran my favorite eight mile loop, my mind raced, raged, argued, and resolved; physically smoked, mentally stoked ... mind, body and spirit in balance ... ready.  Later that morning a master sergeant, "I see you running all the time; do you have a race coming up?"  I smiled and said "No, no race, just getting ready."

How do you balance your mind, body, and spirit?  Will you be ready for whatever life brings your way?  Being ready does not mean you have an answer for everything or can run a given distance ... it means you are mentally and physically prepared to endure when you have no answers and do not know where or even if there is a finish line.