As John prepared for selection into the Joint Special Operations Command, he received the worst news he could have received: all of the brothers whom he had trained with, fought with, and ultimately lived life with from Marine Special Operations Team 8231 were killed suddenly in a helicopter accident off the coast of Florida.
You see, John had survived and even “thrived” during the combat operations of his career. He and his brothers in arms cheated death many times although he admits he did lose fellow EOD technicians throughout his career. Because of the relative ones and twos in terms of deaths spaced out, John was able to block out emotionally the deaths of his fellow Marines in combat operations. However, the sheer magnitude of the loss was more than John was prepared to handle. During his workup and follow on deployment to Afghanistan between 2013-2015, John had built an inseparable bond with them based on shared hardship of fighting alongside each other in harsh battlefield conditions. He slept, lived, and played with these guys. His life was so consumed with his work, he didn’t have relationships outside of it. Due to the intense nature of his training and operations however, he had focused narrowly on only building up the identity of being a warrior on the battlefield and building friendships with his fellow brothers in arms while neglecting other vital relationships in life to include his family and his personal faith.
The foundation of John's life was built on shaky ground without realizing it. As a result, he was not prepared to handle the death of some of his closest friends. Right around the same time he heard this news, he was conducting a counterintelligence polygraph. The investigator felt that John wasn’t answering a question properly and felt he was hiding something. John’s emotional suffering at this point along with other issues with was what was really bothering him eventually led him to fail his polygraph.
At one point soon after his friends were killed, he was taken to a hospital for a psychological evaluation. While he mentioned he was not suicidal, he did say that he could understand how people come to that place as the rug of his life felt like it was ripped underneath him. John’s Master Gunnery Sergeant pulled him off the operational forces and into the EOD School House during this time which allowed him to think deeply of where his life had taken him.
Other issues in John’s life were piling up as well. Through the course of John’s workups and deployments, his family life was suffering. He had an adopted 14 year old daughter in 2015 along with 3 year old along with a wife who had suffered multiple miscarriages in between deployments. John was absent emotionally and physically in being able to help his wife through the struggles she was going through. He recognized that he needed to take a time out from attempting to continue doing whatever he could do to find the “coolest” job at the expense of his family. It wasn’t that these jobs in of themselves were bad. It was just he hadn’t learned how to pace his work and family life to ensure that both remained in balance because his personal identity was so wrapped up in pursuing an image of glory on the battlefield.
As time went on, John spent much time in counseling with trained psychologists and chaplains where he was able to process his life from growing up to the 13 years of his time in the Marine Corps. He started to realize that he tried to fill his life by pursuing a lot of experiences but constantly felt that he was always wandering and unsatisfied. It was almost like if he could pull an experience down, look at it, and then realize it wasn’t what he thought it would be.
During this time John also realized that one of the reasons he hit such a rock bottom was due to seeking so hard to embrace an identity solely wrapped about his achievements on the battlefield. This caused him to selfishly push other equally important aspects of his life out of the way to include his faith, family, and developing the people around him both on and off the job.
He also recognized that he had pursued a sort of “situational ethics” that was based on the sense of following what the culture around him was interested in that was ever changing. For example, the values of the Marine Corps were Honor, Courage, and Commitment, but the subculture values included pursuing the cause of being a top notch combat leader regardless of the cost in his personal life.
Other values had slowly internalized were leaving his family in the dust subconsciously given jokes like "if the Marine Corps wanted you to have a spouse, they would have issued you one" or "EOD" stands for "Everyone Divorced". These cynical jokes subtly devalued family members as baggage along for the ride to one's "real life" professionally. John came to recognize that culture comes from values amplified by practices. Lip service doesn't cause a positive shift in culture for sure.
John also recognized that he had pursued to varying degrees appearances of excellence vs. the substance which led to moral injuries because he and his team mates were not as honest on certain issues as they ought to have been. As recruits they were taught to sound good and look good even if they were not. Almost the system pushed “fake it until you make it”. Aspects of this led to shading things for the commander in terms of painting a bright story when things really weren’t that bright at all. John recognized that he had pursued the high praise of people who validated his actions even when other aspects of his life were abysmal.
As John’s ability to pursue “cool jobs” and combat was taken away from him, he recognized that he had a choice. He could embrace the “war hero” thing or accept the humbling of putting his faith in God, his family, and making other people around him better than he was first instead of pursuing a never ending pursuit of the validation of others from an unsustainable source.
Being put at the schoolhouse for MARSOC EOD techs was probably the best thing that ever happened to him. He was forced to start pouring back into his family and other people as he healed mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
John's took a hard look at his motivation and the flaws in his life. He slowly started to make the necessary changes where they needed to be. He also needed to put a more solid structure of ethics and values in his life that enabled him to understand the “why” for who he intended to be and from which he planned to build his structure of his life.
John also changed the focus in life. He realized he had spent so much time focusing on himself and not on others. He could only lead when he stopped focusing so much on himself and on others. Rather than being insecure where he was always striving and seeking, he learned how to find a deeper security in his faith in God and being a man who existed to serve others which allowed him to have deeper professional and personal conversations while casting aside the need to always be liked. As he left being the superficial, he learned to grow into a real leader who could grow and build people back up.
Over the next two years John rebuilt his identity from the ground up and ended up building a curriculum professionally for the EOD techs who would follow in his footsteps in the MARSOC pipeline. John helped these Marines build a stronger identity apart from the organization they sought to serve and pay more than lip service to the “whole Marine concept”. He taught them to evaluate their lives and write out the things that were important to them. He didn’t get preachy with them but instead conducted an evaluation on himself as he taught them. He explained intellectually the things that we value in importance but in practice only pay lip service to.
He went through how to balance work, family, hobbies, faith, etc., and not necessarily in that order. He taught them how to see how many of his fellow Marines would “say” that they cared about their families but in reality would do very little to take care of their wives and children. He also was part of the unique insight of the bottleneck of the training they were in and in a sense had a captive audience to teach them new life skills. John taught them how to be prepared to shift priorities in life in terms of time as able depending on what was happening with work or family. He taught them to be more self-aware.
As a result of John’s instruction, over two thirds of the new EOD techs entering into the MARSOC pipeline between 2015-2017 would have lives changed forever. Many of them went on to make better decisions than John had made. He can recall how one individual had a failed marriage as a result of bad life choices. However, he started a new marriage and is taking the new life skills he has learned in terms of investing in his family to have a better outlook for his life. There is also more healthy communication and a sense that the job is not all there is in life among those he is still in touch with in the MARSOC community. He watched as one EOD tech was happy to do what he did but transitioned out of his work to pursue a career in nursing without getting wrapped up in the loss of identity from not being one of the special operators anymore.
John continue on his career not only by investing in EOD Marines but others as well along with youth in his church. His family dynamics drastically changed for the better as he became the husband and father he always wanted to be. He started completing higher education and found a new lease in life molding the next generation of Marines to prepare for war in a Great Power Competition instead of focusing solely on deploying as much as he could to get an unsustainable adrenaline rush.
In the end, John’s life trajectory changed not just for himself but for many other Marines. Here’s the amazing part though. I've been honored to have the opportunity to interview John and have him share his story live on a webinar where we will through the steps on what he did specifically to teach Marine EOD techs in the MARSOC pipeline to live well balanced lives that weren’t solely focused on defusing bombs or killing bad guys.
"Be a Boss on the Battlefield AND in Life” Webinar on Oct 30, 12 pm EST
On Oct 30 at 12 pm EST, I am going to host MSgt John Rudd on a 60 min webinar so that he can share his story with other warriors who are in need of knowing his secret to balancing his professional duties as a gunslinger AND a husband, father, son, and brother as well. John is going to share the importance of shifting his sole identity deriving from being a terror to his enemies to opening the aperture of his mind, heart, and soul to remembering his roots and investing in the people he values the most…his family and fellow warriors. In this, he will share how this change in focus is what brought him mentally, emotional, and spiritual restoration to become an even greater leader in the Marine Corps.
In this Webinar you will take away the following
- You will hear John's story of joining the Marines after 9/11 through the good and bad from going through a painful divorce after finding out his ex-wife slept with his recruiter while John went through recruit training, his early years in the EOD community, his combat experiences, and his rise into the MARSOC community...
- You will hear how specifically how after self reflection and counseling after almost losing his life and wife how John and friends around him "chased the elusive dragon" as their source of identity that ultimately led to an unbalanced life destined for self destruction
- You will hear about how John overcame moral injuries related to killing in combat as well as other common ethical decision making along with practical steps on how to condition yourself and your team to decreasing the risk factors associated with it
- You will learn the importance of building an identity outside the praise of others and narrowly focused on your job
- You will learn the lessons that John taught to aspiring Marine EOD techs entering the Marine Raider Battalions that enabled them to build stronger personal lives and healthier families while still maintaining readiness for combat
- You will be invited to participate in a new leadership development system free of charge for military professionals and their teams designed to tie in tough group physical fitness training with video-based life lessons relevant to victory on the battlefield and in life.
What is the consequence of not taking advantage of this virtual event, and thus learn about critical components of a warrior’s training? From my vantage point though, there are very real tactical implications to neglecting this training. We can’t just blame the ugliness of war, deployments, and long training periods away from our family, getting married young, or any other reason regarding military life as the sole reason why there are negative human breakdowns on the battlefield and in the personal lives of the many who go through deployment.
Blaming our leaders or lack of training isn’t going to help either.
We ARE leaders in the profession of arms and at our level, we have the power to make a difference.
So I’ll close out here by quoting Jocko Willink, a retired Navy SEAL turned leadership expert:
“So I say, take ownership…take extreme ownership. Don’t make excuses, don’t blame any other person or any other thing. Get control of your ego....Don’t hide your delicate pride...from the truth. Take ownership of everything in your world…the good and the bad. Take ownership of your mistakes, take ownership of your shortfalls, take ownership of your problems, and then take ownership of the solutions that will get those problems solved. Take ownership of your mission. Take ownership of your job of your team of your future and take ownership of your life.
And lead. Lead. Lead yourself and your team and the people in your life. Lead them all…to victory. (Warrior Mentality-Motivational Speech, Jocko Willink).
I hope to see you on this webinar so that together we can combat the darkness facing our fellow warriors and their families! This is a rare opportunity to glean insight into the life of a vulnerable operator willing to share from his mistakes and steps taken to make a come back from rock bottom that will no doubt help you and your team be ready for whatever is thrown your way.