When The Uniform Comes Off, Reignite the Fire

By John Toth – No Barriers Soldiers Director

When my son Emerson was born, we named him after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the noted 19th century naturalist, scholar, and thinker. Shortly after I arrived at No Barriers, I learned that the organization shared a love of one of my favorite Emerson quotes:

“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside you.”

To me, it speaks to the inner strength we all possess, a strength that we sometimes struggle to access. The strength to overcome, to persevere, to drive on when things get tough. When we’re in the military we have Soldiers to lead, a mission to accomplish and friends who depend on us. These things give us purpose and make it easy to tap into that strength when things are tough.

But veterans sometimes forget that strength, remembering instead the pain caused by seen and unseen wounds, the disappointment when some potential job opportunity falls through, or the isolation that comes from transitioning from the military to civilian culture.

We often lack the spark that unleashes that strength.

I was once in a place where I lost the strength to continue. It was in the desert phase of Ranger School in Dugway, Utah. We’d been in the field for a week, eating one meal and sleeping two hours a day.

The Ranger Instructors told us we were going back to the base for a shower, change of clothes, a hot meal, and indoor planning session. We were stoked, ready for a small break from the ongoing stress of Ranger School.MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

But, when we got back to the barracks, we were told to change into a clean set of BDUs and get back on the truck. I was crushed. No hot chow. No warm shower. No break from the wind and heat. In my mind, I had built up the break, convinced myself I needed it to survive, and losing that opportunity took me to the brink of quitting.

Fortunately for me, we were left alone for a few minutes while we waited for the trucks to refuel. As I sat on my ruck sack, head in hands, my Ranger buddy put his arm around my shoulder and quietly reminded me where I was from (the 82nd Airborne Division) and it was time to suck it up and drive on.

That one quiet act was enough to reignite the fires inside. I ate an oatmeal cookie bar from my MRE, drank some water, slung my ruck up onto the deuce and a half, and drove on with the mission. I graduated a couple weeks later.

Often, it only takes a small act, something special to remind us of who we are, where we come from, and what lies within us.

As we announce the No Barriers Soldiers program line-up for 2015, look for an opportunity to join one of our excursions — we know you’ll find your spark.