Four Fundamentals

When I was a young man and being taught how to engage and destroy enemies of the American people, wise young men with round brown hats taught me some fundamentals. They called them fundamentals of marksmanship, but they were really just fundamentals.

  1. Steady position
  2. Sight picture
  3. Breathing
  4. Trigger squeeze

The most important thing you need to do as a soldier is to close with and destroy your target with extreme prejudice. You train and train and train so that you know exactly what you’re looking for. You get this feeling in the back of your neck and the muscles in your shoulders lock up to hold your head steady. You seek cover and concealment and you watch your target. You make sure that this is the target. Your training makes it easy to think that so many people are targets and threats, but your morals are still intact. You could never bear the thought of destroying an innocent woman.

You watch her and try to stay undetected. You pay attention to her subtle movement. Her body language reveals more than her clothing. The way she moves tells you everything you need to know. It is time to engage.

When it is time to take your shot, the first step is to make sure you have a steady position. You want to make sure that your body is in line with the weapon. You want as much of a stable platform and support as possible. Once you engage, your position will be revealed and you do not know how your target is going to react, so take your time before engaging. Be comfortable. Be in a position that you can stay if things get a little choppy and even if the first shot misses, but gets you attention.  The more your weapon is stabilized, the better your shots will be.  It is impossible to exaggerate the value of a steady position.

Once you are set in a good steady position, begin aiming. You should already have an idea about your target. Once you begin aiming, you will be using one eye, so it will cause eye strain and become difficult to gauge the full picture. Sometimes, at this point you will need to break your concentration, open both eyes and reassess your target. If you spend too long aiming, everything gets blurry and all you’re going to want to do is squeeze off the shot and hope it does something. Do not do that.  That doesn’t just a waste a bullet it wastes a comfortable and steady position. Be calm and let your vision clear. Do not think of everything that is going to happen when you squeeze that trigger, just focus on choosing the right target and the right spot.

Breathing is the most undervalued fundamental in marksmanship. As you breath, your aim shifts. Everything about you changes as you breath. If you try to hold your breath and your breathing pattern changes, it becomes even harder to figure out whether the target is moving or if it is just your sights that are bobbing up and down. Calm yourself and watch the way things move up and down. You don’t need to stop the movement, you just need to steady it and get used to it. Learn the regular pattern of when things look better and when things look worse. No matter how excited you get and how fast your heart may beat, focus on breathing at the same pace. When you hear that first pop, your heart may stop, but focus on breathing the same way; your heart will catch up. The keys to breathing properly never change: slow, calm, expected, uniform, deep, full breaths.

As you lay there, unexpected undetected and having acquired your target, the final step is to squeeze the trigger. It is important that you do not pull the trigger. You need to slowly squeeze the trigger until the hammer falls. Some people say you should be surprised when the hammer falls and gunpowder explodes an inch from your eye to launch a piece of metal into another living and breathing soul, but that’s the wrong way to say it. Don’t be surprised. Be relieved. Everything has a trigger pull weight. This is the amount of force that is needed to fire the weapon. If you simply apply more force than is necessary as quickly as possible some of that energy will be used to pull the weapon to the side. For that matter, if you apply any force quickly, that will happen. This is why we don’t use the word pull for the trigger. You squeeze the trigger. You slowly increase the pressure you apply until there is a sudden release. When that pressure releases, the hammer will fly forward, hit the firing pin into the primer on the rear of the cartridge. The primer will explode, compressing and igniting the gunpowder in the jacket. The bullet will detach from the cartridge and fly towards your target while the weapon prepares to do it all again.

The appropriate feeling is relief. If you are surprised, it means you didn’t know what was going to happen. At this point, you should know what’s going to happen. You should have a pretty good idea of where that bullet is going to hit, even if it is a miss. You should not be surprised or excited. You should not have felt anticipation or anxiety when you were squeezing that trigger. Everything should be moving according to plan until that bullet leaves your barrel. If that bullet leaves your barrel and it wasn’t all planned out and executed pretty well, you should not be touching that weapon.

Once the bullet leaves your barrel, move on. Perhaps you hit your target. Perhaps you missed. Open both eyes and assess the situation. Acquire a new target if you must. Re-engage the same target if you must. If not, move on or wait out whatever situation follows.

These fundamentals are valuable in job seeking. Establish a steady position by getting your education and past experience strung together in a way that makes sense. If you are lacking in either area, that is the first thing you must work on. Once that is established, select a target and take aim. Prepare your resume for that position and focus it with an appropriate cover letter. Once that is set, focus on breathing. Do not get excited or discouraged. Breath and wait for the proper moment. In interviews, answer questions with a slow trigger squeeze. Make sure you know everything that happened up until the words leave your mouth. Be relieved and not surprised when the answer tumbles out. No anxiety or anticipation. Be prepared to engage that target again or choose another one.

These same fundamentals are priceless when it comes to love. Get your life in order. Be in a position where you are comfortable and supported. Remember all your training in identifying targets. Select carefully. Know your target. Know exactly where you want to hit. Breathe. If your heart races or stops, just focus on breathing regularly. Squeeze the trigger. Do not pull too quickly. Apply force gently until the pressure is released. Once the bullet leaves the barrel, accept that it is out of your hands and scan for another target or engage the same one again.

These are the fundamentals of life.

Thank you, Drill Sergeant!


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