Apr 9, 2022

A Bench In Baghdad


was fortunate to spend some time with some heroes once.  

It was Iraq in 2008, just after the surge. We were a small team and what we were doing was hard, and it made a difference. The days were hot, and the nights often seemed hotter. A layer of dust in your nose, always. At 11 PM, the heat would still radiate out of the cement. It was like standing on a giant hot plate.

Our team was quite incredible, and I look back on those days as some of the luckiest days. I remain grateful for lessons, the love, and the experience. Hard things, good humans. Not all of them are still with us. Rest easy, brothers. I miss you.

One More

Our team had some of the best humans I've ever known, most still fighting the fight years after I left the Army. One I will call Big D is one of the strongest men I know. Incredible. When he would do leg presses, I would have to collect every 45 lbs plate in the gym. He would strap in and proceed leg press a Prius. Gosh.

We would, of course, do bench presses too. I'd show up with excuses for why I didn't bench heavyweight. There was some BS excuse about a wrist I broke when I was 14 or a whiny thing about a shoulder from swimming. I'd lay down to do my set, and I'd see D slide another 10lbs. Shaking my head, I'd get to work.

He would stand on a small platform right behind the bench, watching me. Focused. Caring. Diligent. Honest. Ready to help. As my muscles started to fail, I would hear "One More" in the growl only an ODA team sergeant like D could have. After that, he would put his hand on the bar and say, "Another." I'd give it everything I had.

The bar always went up and back on the rack. I'm not sure how much he would lift but having him behind me gave me the confidence to go all in and do "one more." One more than I thought I could. You see, D was my spotter.

We all need spotters

Spotters show up with you when you are going to do hard work.
Spotters often believe you can do more than you think you can.
Spotters focus on you.
Spotters are honest and tell you when your form is terrible and you are making a mistake.
Spotters call you out on your Bull$#!t.
Spotters are there to give you that ever-so-subtle lift that helps you get through it.
Spotters help you take risks.
Spotters have the benefit of not hearing the self-doubt voice in your head. But they know it's there.
Spotters remind you when it is a rest day so that you can come back stronger.

Spotters call you out on your Bull$#!t.

You Can Do More

I am fortunate that I get to work with great humans. I get to play a role in helping them grow their capability, experience, responsibility, influence, and compensation. Usually, this means we are giving them more to lift. If we are doing our jobs, we give them more BEFORE they come and ask for it. Then, we need to ensure they have the authority and resources to do what we ask them to do. We also need to get out of their way. Give them the support, honesty, love, and encouragement to lift them when they need it. We need to be their spotter. We all need spotters.

It's Not About Me

I showed up at that gym with my teammates because I knew the chance of one of them going down in a firefight was real. If D went down, that would be 275 pounds of badass Green Beret (plus kit) that I would have to figure out how to carry. Good luck.

Fast forward more than a decade, and my life is very different but in many ways the same. D and I are no longer working together, something I think about every day. I know the barrel-chested freedom fighters with little green hats are playing no small part in helping defend Ukraine. Keep at it, brothers. De Oppresso Liber.

Today, my job is to help good people do hard things. Not different from what we did during that deployment. While the mission is different, the way we carry it out isn't. We suit up, clock in, and take responsibility. We do our best, get better every day and do the next right thing. This with a laser while focusing on taking care of the people to our left and right.

We are all lifting heavy things. We all need a spot from time to time.


  1. Show Up: If you want to get stronger, you have to do the work. Do the reps.
  2. It's Not About You: You might have to carry someone. Get ready. Stay ready.
  3. Don't go alone: It's always better together.

I'll leave you with a few words from others.

Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.

-Sigmund Freud

Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and start with the person closest to you.

-Mother Theresa

The secret to performing under pressure: don't do it for yourself, do it for someone else

-Ethan Hawke

A Moment

I don't remember how got to Iraq that second time. I remember leaving. Funny how that works.

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