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10 things soldiers know that civilians don't

Dress for success and listen to the gray hairs

Soldiers know the extra effort pays off. Photo credit: U.S. Army

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Robert Fulghum wrote a witty book for us, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. That's funny, and true, too. Play fair. Don't hit people. Clean up your own mess. Goldfish and hamsters die, and so do we.

Yep, you learn a lot when you go to kindiegarten, but how about a more advanced book to complete the set? Let's call it, And Everything Else I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Afghanistan. Here are 10 things combat soldiers learn that civilians don't.

If you eat better today, and exercise today, you feel better today. Soldiers think of food as fuel, not as recreation. Bonus knowledge: The effect adds up. The fifth day in a row that you drink enough clean water, and get enough protein, and steer clear of sugar and goo, on that day you are ready to get some work done. A soldier eats to power up, and that's what happens.

The sleep of a working man is sweet, whether he eats little or much. Most civilians haven't learned that it is possible to catch a power nap standing up. Soldiers attack a luxurious five hours of sleep. They also are well aware that being sleep-deprived is a lot like being drunk. They don't come into work on Monday and brag about lost sleep as though it's a good thing.  

There's another killer lesson here, about 10 degrees off to the left: Sometimes the best day of the month is the day you do absolutely nothing. A 15-year-old kid who's gone through all his video games? That kid might think being bored is a fate worse than death. But a man who works for a living knows that a chance to relax is worth something.

A good friend is worth a lot more than money. There have been a few soldiers who picked up a rifle, kept ahold of it during incoming ... and returned fire because they were jazzed about the good ‘ole Red, White and Blue. But there have been a lot more soldiers who hung on to that rifle because of the man to the left of him. Most of the jaw-dropping Medal of Honor-type of acts that you ever read about occurred because a soldier's buddy needed him. If you've got a good friend, you treat him like one.

Half-baked is not half done. It is important to do any activity with wholeheartedness - not only to be careful that it is done right, but also to make sure that it is done right. When a soldier fills up the tires on his or her car, she does it with resolve.  It's part of being a grownup.

Respect starts with appearance. A civilian may sneer at the idea that polished shoes make any difference in a job interview. The man who has been through Basic Training understands that when you look the part, you act the part. An ironed shirt isn't to impress the ladies; it's the starting point for situational awareness.

You work out the first 50 minutes so you can work out the last 10 minutes. Some Americans don't know their limits because they've never really been there. But in that cornball Rocky movie, Sly got one thing right: "Going in there that one more round, when you don't think you can, that's what makes all the difference in your life!" By the way, that particular actor gets discount pancakes at Denny's and still looks like a 35-year-old MMA fighter. He's done those extra push-ups, give him that.

There is nothing embarrassing about getting help. Army tasks are team activities. In the corporate world, also, it's not who is right - it's whether it's done right. Jerry Angelo, general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2012, spoke about that time in any NFL organization when the coach "outgrows" his GM and starts getting "married" to the players the coach selected. "Once the egos take hold, it's no longer about being right; it's about who's right," Angelo said. "And any time it's about ‘who is right' as opposed to ‘getting it right,' it's the beginning of the end."

The gray hair is often worn on a head of honor. As the saying goes, there is nothing new in war - only things we haven't learned yet. The old gunnery sergeant may sound like he's from a Clint Eastwood movie, but in the U.S. Army, you listen to the judgment of guys 20 years older than you. At first, it's because you have to. Later on, it's because you saw their advice save your bacon a few times.

"In the final choice, a soldier's pack is not so heavy as a prisoner's chains." - Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

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