Yesterday, my best friend and longtime roommate, who I met at IAW (the ancestor of SLS) in 1999, reminded me of why we did crazy things like uniform drills and cut congo bar into 7 equal pieces and delivered laundry through a hail of flak from the upperclass cadets and woke up early to do PT. Paul (a different Paul than I have previously posted about, one who is happily alive) took command of his troop last week. Three days later, Paul was flying as the right seat pilot-in-command of his aircraft with his newest, greenest warrant officer PI in the left seat as the gunner. Halfway through the mission, they experienced a catastrophic failure of the hydraulic system. Paul was faced with a daunting task: limp his wounded aircraft at 7000' MSL through 11000' MSL mountains, across indian country, to the nearest safe landing area. His left-seater was, by virtue of his inexperience, quite scared and not functioning at his full capacity. What's a man to do in that situation? Paul did exactly what was expected of him. He commanded. He assumed the flight lead position. He re-distributed duties within the flight. He kept his left-seater calm. He navigated through forbidding terrain. With no hydraulics, the controls require constant heavy inputs which exhaust the arms, as the rotor must be manipulated without the aid of 25,000 psi of hydraulic pressure. But his arms were up to the task, because as an officer he takes PT seriously. He made those constant control inputs and maintained his instrument cross-check. He managed his radios and kept scanning his airspace and the ground around him, because even when crippled he is still a scout pilot. He can still deliver deadly blows to the enemy when his back is against the wall. A radio and sharp eyes is the deadliest weapon system of all. Moments like that are when everything you learn in your odd 47-month journey--the good, the bad, and the really ugly--come rushing back and help you save your own life and the lives of your men. In those tense seconds when you cut the pie under the glare of your squad leader while your squad nervously twitches, or you align the condiments while your table comm screams "HURRY! UUUUUP!!" you are laying the foundation for your future as a leader. Those seemingly endless waves of stress of impossible perfect standards, replicated day in and day out, will in time allow you to achieve a form of mental clarity in times of great duress. And when those times of great duress come upon you--and they will--you will be like those great quarterbacks who feel the game slow down for them at the exact second they must make the critical decision, to see the openings, to make the play. But you will be playing in a much bigger ballgame. But as it does for men on the gridiron, time will dilate for you as well. You will be thinking a second ahead of events and not behind them. You will not hear a clatter of drivel in your headset. You will hear four radio nets, each feeding you information of varying levels of importance. You will prioritize this information and decide what it means to you. You will parse the whole situation in this way, racking and stacking the problems before you and generating the best solutions you can. You will react calmly to the worried intonations of your copilot. You will have the confidence and stamina to make decisions. Not every decision you will make will be right. West Point will not make you a superhero. You will make mistake after mistake, because you are a well-trained human being and you are not perfect. But you will have the tools and the confidence to know that you can survive under stress. You can tune out the noise and tune in to your smarts. You will be able to lead yourself, which is step one to leading others. If you learn your lessons well, if you eschew the bitterness and jaded views that many of your classmates will assume during their journeys, you will find yourself prepared in the unforgiving moment. There will be those among you who are cynics, who scoff at the lessons you're taught. They will scoff at what you learn and the reasons you are learning them. But as GEN Schwarzkopf said, "when the going gets tough and their country needs them, they're not going to be there. But you will." And you may even end the day with a shower of sparks on the runway.