I’ll never forget the first time I took down an enemy. I’d been running surveying the terrain for days, and my tracking mentor taught me every inch of territory I was in and how to navigate. I’d set up a secure perimeter, and I knew when I had hostiles in my territory.
It was just after dawn when I knew things were about to go down. As a sniper, you need to know how to balance patience with action; how to wait for the perfect moment when the wind, the sun and even the movement of your target are all in line and right.
I saw my chance, I took it, and I made my first kill.
I was about 12 years old, and that squirrel never knew what hit him.
That’s how I grew up. It was a small town in California where the days were long, I knew everyone by first name, and the woods were my best friends.
Things were different back then. There was no Internet, we didn’t have cell phones, and after school we didn’t play video games or watch TV for hours…. we headed out into the woods and played. Today there are millions of folks who log onto “role playing fantasy games”, and that’s totally cool. But when I was a kid, the forest was my Internet, and me and my friends spent our days letting our imaginations go wild in the real world.
Those were really great times, and I was blessed to have them.
From the time I was just a kid, I knew I wanted to be out there in the world. When I was real little, that meant getting out of the house and playing with other kids. Football, baseball, running through the woods. Hunting, fishing, swimming in nature… it was all part of the game.
When I got a bit older, I was given some of the best lessons on scouting and navigation by one of the most amazing teachers a guy could ever hope for—my step-mom.
That’s right, you heard it here first. The person who taught me how to navigate and read a map to determine my position was my step-mother.
As I went into my teenage years, two things became real clear to me:
- Getting out there meant more than just getting out of the house. It mean getting out of my town and seeing the world.
- I knew I was a warrior at heart, and that joining the services was the best way for me to see all the world had to offer.
Now before I go any further, let me explain what I mean by this word, “warrior”. Let me start with what it is NOT. A warrior is NOT someone who:
- Is dumb or violent by nature
- Beats people up
- Doesn’t know how to use words to solve problems
- Shoots first and asks questions later
“To me, a warrior is someone who believes in the just and takes action to defend what is good.”
George Washington was a warrior. Abraham Lincoln was a warrior. Martin Luther King was a warrior. As an American, I enjoy the freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. As a soldier, I took an oath to defend all that’s written in its pages.
I’m not trying to be cheesy, and I’m not about to turn this into a political ad. But I believe that all people are created equal, and to me a warrior is someone who believes that to be true and backs it up by his or her actions.
That little kid I knew back in school who stood up for his younger sister even when he knew he might get clobbered by the bully? He was a warrior. All those thousands of volunteers who provide help to the homeless? Those are warriors, too.
So before I go any further, let me say it again: a warrior is someone who believes in the just and takes action to defend what is good.
A simpler way to explain it is that a warrior protects, and that’s what I do. I protect.
I protect my family. I protect those I care for. I protect my fellow Americans, and I protect those who are in need of protection. It’s not just “what I do”, but it’s who I am.
I’ve been like that ever since I was little, which is why I knew I wanted to join the armed forces since I was a kid. Back then, I had one simple dream: I wanted to be a real operator. Now, I didn’t know what that meant back then; I know now, but as a kid, living the warrior life style had only one logical conclusion.
“I, Jim Erwin, knew I wanted to be a Marine.”
Ok, so if you know me, you know I was a US Army Ranger, and this isn’t about who’s bigger, badder, or anything like that. So how’d I change course?
I was probably around 16 or 17 years old when I met an older guy in my town. He wasn’t old, just older than me, and he’d been a Ranger in Vietnam. He kind of took me under his wing and shared with me some of his experiences.
A few years ago, the Army launched a new slogan of “being an Army of one”. That didn’t exist back when I was a teenager, but that’s what I wanted to be.
The idea of being a Ranger, part of a tiny, tactical team with all the latest gear, out at the edge of a conflict, running into harm’s way to change the course of a battle and protect others…. I knew it was for me.
I knew it was for me the same way firemen know that they want to run INTO a fire when others are running OUT of the fire.
I don’t know… maybe there was a part of me that remembered life as a kid, running through the woods with a small group of friends, play fighting or hunting, but this idea that I could be decked out in stealth-like gear, with night vision equipment and the most advanced comm equipment…. It just felt right.
You ever see any of the Iron Man movies? Even if you didn’t, you’ve probably seen the commercials. This bad boy character who puts on this amazing piece of gear and is able to chase down bad guys and change the course of a conflict.
In my mind, when I became a Ranger, I was becoming a guy like Iron Man, but for real. Not just me, either… all my fellow Rangers.
With our training, our belief in protection, our inner warrior spirit and the most cutting edge gear, we could enter any situation and come out on top.
Nothing is ever going to beat that unique combination of training, self-discipline and personal belief when it comes to forging a solid warrior. It takes more than that to make a good soldier, and even more to make a good Ranger, but when you’re jumping out of a plane, swimming through a swamp or in a hole in a dessert, you’re only as good as the gear you’ve got.
The first and most important piece of gear in my kit is the muscle I got between my ears. Decades of training have taught me to listen to my brain and balance hard data with gut intuition. Of course, there really is no such thing as an “army of one”, so the next piece of “gear” that I count on are the warriors I’ve got with me.
It doesn’t matter which part of the armed forces you’re from, or which part you’re war fighting with…. The truth is what when you’re in harm’s way, you need to trust the people you’re doing the good deed with.
That might sound a bit dramatic, but if you’ve never been in the armed forces, think about what I just said for a minute. Think of all the people you trust, how much you trust them and how long it might have taken you to earn that trust.
I hope you’ve never truly been in harm's way, but imagine stretching that trust to that level.
Now imagine that you’ve got bad guys shooting at you, your comms are down, and some guys in a vehicle that looks like yours just came to help. Maybe you’ve never met them before, but you know those guys have your back, and when they say move, you run.
That’s trust…So maybe my brain and the warriors I am running the badlands with aren’t technically gear, but I had to start at the top and talk about what I trust when it comes to living the warrior lifestyle and being in the business of protection.
When it comes to the actual gear in your kit, I guess it falls into your offense and defense gear. The former is all about your weapons, your comms and stuff like that. The latter is all about the kit you’ve got on you, and you’ve got to trust that stuff almost as much as you trust the guys who serve alongside you.
No sane person would willingly jump out of a perfectly good airplane to land in a combat zone. Of course, I never said a warrior was a sane person. But joking aside, as much as I trust that a fellow warrior packed that chute right, I trust that the folks who made that chute have my back just as much as the men and women in the dirt with me.
A lot of stuff has changed since I was that 16 or 17 year old kid who understood he really wanted to become a US Army Ranger. I’ve seen some really amazing things. I’ve seen the world. I’ve met some of the most amazing human beings I could ever imagine.
And in that time, a lot of new tech has come on the scene to change the way that warrior soldiers are able to defend and protect. Technology has driven the tactics and gear we use!!!
But no matter what changes come, no matter what new tech comes down the line, and no matter what terrain or arena I might be in, I know there are two things that are constant:
I trust the guys on my left and right because I know they have my back, and I trust Arc’teryx LEAF gear, because I know it’s rock solid gear that’s never going to let me down.
I don’t care what the situation is, if I’ve got my boys by my side and my Arc gear on my back, I’m winning before the mission even starts!