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Fortitude

Progressive Forage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 30 September 2020

Navy SEAL training has become legendary, and having no personal experience, I have to take at face value the accounts of those who have. In his book Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage, Dan Crenshaw describes a portion of training called “drownproofing.”

It’s based on a legend (not verified as factual) where an American POW in Vietnam was being transported along the Mekong River when he was thrown overboard with his hands bound behind his back and his feet tied together. They thought he would drown. He didn’t.

Crenshaw explained there are two ways to swim successfully and keep from drowning in a situation like this: The first is to let yourself sink to the bottom, slowly exhaling, then calmly springboard yourself back to the surface, repeatedly. But, be advised, he says: If you launch too hard, you waste energy and throw off the apex of your jump (which should be just enough to clear the water surface – no more). But, launch too lightly, and you don’t clear the surface. If you break the rhythm, you will drown. And, it’s only effective in 10-15 feet of water.

The second way to overcome this is to do the porpoise swim. By staying flat on your belly and methodically dolphin-kicking while maneuvering your head to barely clear water, you breathe, kick, arch, repeat. But, if you panic, you start sinking, and there is no method to help you once you start sinking even a little bit.

The exercise, Crenshaw explains, isn’t about preparing SEALs for the tiny chance this may happen. The point is to teach soldiers to engage in “deep calm” and focus when all else is flying apart. In a gunfight, for instance, yelling and screaming may be natural reactions to bullets and explosives (just like yelling and screaming may be natural reactions to drowning), but it is also useless. It prevents problem solving and meaningful action.

My daughter had a similar experience the first time she went tandem skydiving. As she left the airplane at 120 mph, the noise was loud, she felt cumbersome in her gear, and suddenly she was disoriented and confused with a lot of wind whipping by, combined with the anxiety of rocketing toward earth. Only when she remembered the previous instruction to “look up” did she raise her eyes and in so doing caught sight of a large lake – she knew that lake. And, very quickly, all focus came back. She was oriented. She started to think through the instructions she had been given and was able to perform.

Let’s bring this home – is there a lesson we can learn? Are you, for instance, “drownproof?” What would that look like for an ag producer? As industry events, commodity markets and society all come apart around you, can you engage that deep calm and focus on the needful tasks ahead? Measure your actions? Restrain your weaker selves? Because this confusion – well, “it ain’t over yet.” Work the problem.  end mark

Lynn Jaynes
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