#105: Objective Secure: Green Beret Nick Lavery On Achieving Success One Small Milestone At A Time

Friday June 30, 2023

Objective Secure” doesn’t mean the mission is complete; it means one milestone has been unlocked and it’s time to prepare for the next one. Whether you’re a Green Beret or just trying to navigate life, your mission is going to be achieved by securing one objective after another along your path to achieve your goals. 

To close out day one of 2023 Sandlot Jax & GORUCK Games, Fran Racioppi is joined by Green Beret Nick Lavery; the first above the knee amputee to return to combat on a Special Forces Team and the author of Objective Secure. In this  sunset discussion Nick shares his perspective on persistence in the face of failure and success, and why periods of pain and discomfort are opportunities to excel. 

Nick comes to grips with the decisions he made balancing rapport with complacency that resulted in the insider attack in which he lost his leg when an Afghan partner opened fire on his team. He shares his recovery story and how the small goals he set for himself along created the path to his return to full combat duty; something no other Green Beret had been able to achieve. And he shares why we need our own personal versions of “the dungeon;” the place we go to focus and put in the hard work to achieve our goals. 

Get your copy of Objective Secure and learn more about Nick Lavery on the web and on social mediaSubscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media. Watch the full video version on YouTube.

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Objective Secure: Green Beret Nick Lavery On Achieving Success One Small Milestone At A Time

Nick, welcome to The Jedburgh Podcast.

Thanks for having me.

This is an honor in a lot of different ways but most importantly, I got to start with the fact that I ran into the guy that I met in the bar years ago who I couldn’t remember his name and I knew his story. I drove down here eighteen hours straight from Connecticut towing this thing. About halfway through your book, I’m like, “I know this fucking guy.” We met and you told me your story. It was way before I started the show. I never forgot it as a third group and fifth group operator for you and tenth group for me. I’m not going to hold those things against you. You’re a lot bigger than me. You are, number one, the biggest guy who’s ever been in this truck.TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

We’re making it work, though.

You have made it work. You’re tremendously flexible.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

You’re also the first above-the-knee amputee to return to duty status to a Special Forces team, which is truly commendable. I say that not only as a brother in arms in the Special Forces but for all of America. I speak on that on our behalf. You’re a true warrior. We’re going to get into the story because not only are you a Special Forces operator but you’re also from Boston. I’m giving you that shot. You got a better accent than me. I didn’t get the accent. Sometimes I’m like, “What the fuck? Why didn’t I get the accent?”

It depends, regional and there’s a lot that goes into it.

A couple of miles can make a big difference. I grew up in Boston and went into this. There’s not a lot of us.

It’s a small community.

I want to ask you why. Why go? Being from Boston, you don’t hear many much of it. Why say, “I got to go serve?”

The slightly longer answer is I was interested in the military at a young age and I started looking at it when I was in high school. I skipped school one day and met with a Marine Corps recruiter. It was my sophomore year of high school. I lacked direction. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. He’s like, “For one, stop skipping school. Get your diploma. Come back and we’ll get you in.” I had a general game plan. The only thing that stopped that from happening was I got recruited to play football in college. I went to college because of that at UMass.

The real answer to your question is a sophomore in college, nineteen years old. I came back on my way to classes because they were all canceled for an unknown reason and turned on the television and the towers were on fire. I can remember watching Americans make the choice between burning alive in a building or jumping out of it as it was taking place in real-time right in front of me. The amount of anger that began coursing through my veins was quite powerful. My biggest challenge was, “Do I stay in school and finish this degree or do I get out and enlist?” That’s ultimately the catalyst that drove the decision to come in.

A few miles down the road, there was a junior in college, Fran Racioppi, who watched the same thing that morning at 9/11. I wanted to be Tom Brokaw. I’m like, “I’m going to be a journalist and a reporter,” and faced with the decision, “Do I go to Idaho, Iowa or Minnesota and be a weatherman and a traffic reporter or am I going to go seek vengeance on those who did us harm?” Meanwhile, there are guys riding horses with long hair saving the world. The choice was simple. You got to go do that.

It’s a calling that touched a lot of us at that time. You and I are in that same boat.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green BeretYou can go to the 18X program, which is a program that lets you go directly into special operations. You still got to go through the selection and Q course. I had to serve my time in the infantry. I was in the 4th ID and then made the transition over. Talk a bit about your experience at selection.

The reason why I asked you that is because you have a concept that you talked about in Objective Secure that resonated with me. It’s a huge part of the leadership programs that I run because you talk about the pain and the physical degradation that your body goes through when you’re training for selection. I want you to talk about the broader context of what that means. I bring it up because you talk about the concept that you can’t let everybody and the instructors see that pain.

You look out and see these people who are big, strong and fit. They’re hobbling to the toilet and between events. You put in your mind, “I’m in pain. My feet hurt. My muscles hurt. This sucks but I won’t be that guy who’s limping over there.” Talk about that experience and what that means in the broader context of our mindset as special operations.

I went into selection extremely confident going in. I knew I would do well. I trained hard for it. I was a college athlete. I lived and breathed preparation for that moment in time for months and months. When I got there, I didn’t know exactly what to expect but I knew it was going to be the most difficult challenge I had faced yet in my life. I don’t know. I felt like I couldn’t let this discomfort that we’re all feeling consume me to the point where it began to affect my performance, which began with it affecting my mentality and mindset. I saw these moments of pain, discomfort and suffering as moments to excel. It was like those that can take this pain are the ones that make it.

[bctt tweet=”Those who can take the pain are the ones who make it.” username=”talentwargroup”]

This was at least my mentality at the time. I still believe that considerably. It’s those that can take this pain to the face into the feet, heart, soul and mind. Those are the guys that they’re looking for. I may not be the fastest or strongest person out here. I may not be able to do the most pull-ups or push-ups but I can lean into some discomfort. It was in that space that I decided it would be where I would separate myself from the masses. When I would see guys struggling, it’s a chance for me to do the opposite of that and set myself apart.

Special operations and Green Berets, we got to make the distinction because I’m sure there’s some SEALs or something running around there. They’re swimming in the water. Army Special Forces and Green Berets have a different mindset. You talk about the fact that Special Forces seize the opportunity and approach problems differently. Every moment is an opportunity. You sum that up here. When we develop our performance mindset, how do you train that? How do you get someone to understand that? We’re talking about selection but when people build companies, they’re looking for the same thing. They have to assess talent and say, “I want to bring someone who has this mindset in.” How do you train that to get somebody to think like that?

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“I just saw these moments of pain and discomfort and suffering as moments to excel.”

I am of the opinion that what you described is considerably more of a skill than it is a talent. We’ll separate the two real quick. Talent is organic to us from a very early age. Inherent skill and God-given gifts could be defined as talents, whereas skill is only earned through thousands of hours of hammering down on a particular craft.

What you’re describing, in my opinion, is much more skill than talent. This took me a bit to learn and grow into. While some may have talents, character traits and personality traits from nature, nurture or both that enable them to excel in those areas, it’s a skill. It’s like shooting free throws and being an accurate marksman. You need deliberate reps and purposeful practice. Going through the motions isn’t going to get it done.

This begins to focus on training and preparation with both a strategy in place and the moment, having that focus of being dialed into what you’re doing and knowing the intent behind it, knowing the why and how this particular exercise I’m doing or this task is connected through a series of a string of other tasks and events, which lead to me developing the skill of that performance and growth mindset. It’s through deliberate training and purposeful reps.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“Skill is only earned through thousands of hours of hammering down on a particular craft.”

It’s starting with that mission, which begins with your intent and mission, how we kick off all of our things. That’s all you need. With a good mission and intent, your team leader can walk away and doesn’t have to say or do a single thing beyond that. Have that clearly defined with a high degree of clarity, knowing what that is and then putting the pieces together to make that real.

The mission for you was to get into the Special Forces and get to a team. You succeed in that. You go to the third group and spend a couple of tours in Afghanistan. In 2012, you get wounded twice. Talk about those experiences for a second. Those are injuries that you sustain that most people take the trip home. You didn’t.

No. It was suggested by some doctors. I was unwilling to accept that suggestion. Fortunately, I had some amazing leadership at the higher levels that supported my need to stay where I was at. In the first injury, I took some shrapnel to the back of my shoulder. It sounds worse than it was. There’s a hole in your body that wasn’t there before. With some gauze and a pressure dressing, you’re good to go. With the amount of adrenaline that’s pumping through your body when you’re in that gunfight, tissues and RPGs are going off like full-on ambush. It was nothing. I plugged it up and kept going. No big deal.

Six or so weeks after that was when I was wounded for the second time. I took an AK-47 round to the face. It also sounds worse than it was. A scratch. That may sound like I’m portraying this tough guy machismo thing but it’s important to keep in mind that during that particular event, six of my friends were in an IED that decimated a vehicle. Three of them were fighting for their lives right in front of me and I’m dealing with a scratch on my face. It looked ugly. It bled a lot. It wasn’t anything that a doc couldn’t put back together in fifteen minutes.

After I was wounded that second time, it was suggested that I head home. Not from the wounds but like, “Is this guy’s mentality going to be good enough to go back into that fight or do we owe it to him like he’s done enough this trip? Let’s get him home and get him taken care of him.” It was also unacceptable to me. That set the stage for the third time I was wounded, where it was much more significant. It’s important to bring up the first two times because I had been conditioned to be wounded in action, get put back together relatively quickly, be out of the game for 4 or 5 days, maybe a week and then be put right back to work. My mind was conditioned to be able to take that and then get back to business.

Talk about the third time. It’s very interesting in your story of the third time because you were involved in what we call the green-on-blue attack. There are a lot of driving factors that create these scenarios. Talk about March 2013. What was going on? You were writ large with our relationship with our partner force and then ultimately, the situation you were in.

We had been partnered up with the Afghan Special Forces detachment. That was our primary partner force. There were twelve guys. They’re modeled the same way that we are, same MOS and everything. They lived with us. We did all of our business together. We had an amazing relationship with those guys. On some missions, we would bring in members of the conventional units like the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police and Afghan local police. March 11th, 2013 was one of those days. We developed an SOP to keep the majority of those troops away from us if they were going to meet us at our compound because we were in a vulnerable position. We’re all grouped.

Did you live with them? In Iraq, we lived with the commanders. Four hundred of them and us. We’re on the same base. There’s one wall with a cipher lock separating it.

We lived with our AASF team, not with these conventional guys. When we would meet them at our house, the unit would stay outside and the leadership would commit. We’d brief them on what we were doing. They’d go tell their guys what we were doing and then we’d roll. We did that dozens of times. On this particular day, on March 11th, 2013, leadership comes in a Ford Ranger pickup truck. It drives in. I was an 18 Bravo. Face defense is part of our job. Immediately, this guy jumps out at me as a violation of our SOP. I’m at a decision point. Do I address this head-on and err on the side of security or do I wait and take a more diplomatic approach? I’ll talk to my team leader and he’ll talk to his commander.

He’ll send it back down the chain of command like this is the protocol and go that route. I decide to wait and we’ll get done with the work. I’ll talk to my team sergeant or team leader and we’ll go that route. That was the decision that I made. That’s a decision that I have to live with for the rest of my life. I’ll add to this here because of you and your readers. It’s easy to look back and say, “How could you not address that right there? How could you be so lackadaisical and complacent?” That was a fair question. Complacency played a role and that happens. No one’s immune to complacency. It’s amazing what the human mind, brain and body can become conditioned to. When you see the wrong thing happen hundreds of times and there’s no negative effect, you can become complacent.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“When you see the wrong thing happen hundreds of times and there’s no negative effect, you can become complacent.”

It’s dangerous. It’s a slippery slope. It can happen to any of us. That did play a role but also Green Berets, we are in the relationship business. We do the cool guys’ stuff. We kick down doors, shoot bad guys in the face, jump out of helicopters and all the things. We are in the relationship business. That relationship is based predominantly on rapport. It’s a very fragile thing that can come unglued very quickly. These decision points that we find ourselves in, hundreds of times over the course of a six-month rotation aren’t quite so simple. It’s not black and white. You cannot constantly be hyper-secure conscious because you’ll destroy the relationship and then you have reached mission failure.

If they don’t trust you, they don’t see you as one of them. They don’t embrace you and you can’t get anywhere.

Mission failure. Catastrophic loss of rapport is the term we use. You have fucking failed. You have to make these decisions on the fly sometimes dozens and dozens of times a day. I was at that crossroads. I erred on the side of the relationship and the consequence of that was a member of the Afghan National Police Force jumped up on the back of that truck that had a PKM mounted to it and opened fire on us from about 30 feet away.

I’ll give the wave tops and you can dive in as much as you want. 12 US casualties, another 10 or 11 Afghan casualties and 3 US service members were killed. Another nine of us were wounded, myself included. Most of the damage to me was to my right leg. I took an estimated five rounds from that PKM and it ripped my right leg to shreds. From that point began the fight for my life.

You got to come to grips with this at some point. You talked about accepting the decision you got to live with for the rest of your life. You talked a lot about the other side of that because people will ask the question, “How does this happen? The Afghan, why would they do this to us?” Through your mental processing and healing that you have to go through at the back end of this, you’ve come to an understanding of why would someone be motivated to do this. The Taliban has put people. We saw it in Iraq. We’ve seen it all over the world in very difficult situations. Talk a for a minute about your perspective on the guy who did this to you.

This was an epiphany and a realization that happened once I was at the hospital and I was off of enough drugs to comprehend some information. My teammates had already come home. They visited me at the hospital. Our fox, his first name’s Adam, told me what they had learned. This was a commonly used tactic where, in this case, the Taliban walked into the home of a guy that they knew had access to us and said, “Here’s the deal. You have two options. Option A is you perform this attack for us and you will be killed. Option B is we’ll brutalize your entire family in front of you and then slaughter them and you. Either way, you are dead. If you choose Option B, your family will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.”

What makes this tactic successful is they follow through on that. They will take care of those families. They built up a history of credibility to do this. Even though at the time of me learning about this, I didn’t have the family I have now. I could still empathize with that guy’s position. A dirt farmer and you got nine guys with guns in your home and you are presented with these two choices. I would do anything to protect my family. I would go to some extremes to do that.

I was able to put myself in that guy’s shoes. This is in the hospital in Walter Reed. I’m still going through surgeries and I’m angry. There were a lot of rages and betrayals. It hurts. When that information was presented to me, I was like, “I get it. There are no hard feelings. This is the cost of the business that we chose to come into. You paid a price. I paid a price. You made a decision. I’ve made some decisions.” I was able to relinquish a lot of that rage and anger, which I’m grateful for because it allowed me to channel my focus in a positive direction.

That positive direction becomes, “How do I survive?” How do you find your way back to a Special Forces team? Action is on. I call actions on the objective. After you were shot with multiple tourniquets, you saved your life in a lot of ways. You talk about preparation. The tagline of the show is, “How you prepare today determines success tomorrow.” Medical training is something we all go through. You were a Bravo and a weapon sergeant. I was an Alpha. I was an officer.

We’re not medics or 18 Deltas. We know one thing well because we train it the most. Put a tourniquet on it. Stop those bleeding. You got to do that multiple times. It’s funny because we train a lot. On other people, we train less on ourselves. Talk about that training and how even at that moment, when your body’s out of whack and everything’s changed, you got to make a decision to save your life.

I give the credit to our medics, both in terms of the training that they put us through prior to deploying on that mission, the training we received during that deployment and the real-world events that we were in where we had to do medical training and medical interventions on our guys because a lot of guys were getting banged up. I had been prepped very well. What you want training to do is to automate a lot of these processes.

Even though once I realized, which was essentially immediately, that my femoral artery had been cut and that I’m going to die, there was still work to do. You still have options. You have tools in your kit bag to employ. Even in what seems like an inevitable end state, there’s still work to do. There’s always something you can do. My training enabled me to do that. If one tourniquet is on and the bleeding doesn’t stop, add another tourniquet. Keep adding tourniquets until it stops.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“There’s still work to do. There’s always something you can do.”

1 of 2 things is going to happen. You’re either going to pinch off the blood to get it to stop or be out of blood. Either way, the bleeding will stop. Either you stop it or it stops itself because you’re empty. Somewhat unfortunate for me was with the size of my legs, the tourniquets themselves wouldn’t do it so I had to go to my last ditch effort and that was to apply an internal pressure dressing with some gauze. I grabbed some gauze, balled it up, loosened the tourniquet and rammed it up inside the highest wound that I had, feeling for the femoral, the pulse. I got lucky because I nailed it. I pressed down, fed the gauze in and secured the tourniquet on top of that. Ultimately, that’s what saved my life.

It is an incredible story. I listened to that section twice. You think about the preparation and the challenge but also the never quit attitude. The rest of your career is in jeopardy. I want to transition to the book here and I’m going to back into your recovery story because it’s important. You’re an author so we’re going to make fun of you about being an author.

Finally, we have a Green Beret writing a good book going out there. There are too many Navy SEAL bullshit books out there. We got Green Beret writing a real survival story. Your life is defined by objective secure, a term we know in the military. Define objective secure and what it means in general. As you sit at this crossroads of what’s the rest of your life going to be, with this concept, you formalize it later but that’s what’s in your head, objective secure.

Objective secure is a term we use most frequently in DA operations and big raids. You break down an objective into different sectors. As you go in, you are clearing through sector Alpha and sectors 1,2 and 3 are secure, until you reach the point of objective secure. That means you’ve cleared through the objective. There are no known threats left. It gives you a place to reconsolidate, cross-load ammo and establish comms. It’s a milestone within the overall operation.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“It’s focusing on that 25 meter target knowing it’s in line with the 300 meter target.”

It’s not the end of the operation but it’s a significant point within the operation. Objective secure in terms of the book and an overall philosophy can be applied to anything. I use this in the book in terms of life itself, goal achievement and mission success, regardless of what that is, personal life, business life, hobbies or passions.

The way we reach mission success, much like us on the teams, is by reaching one objective secure after another. It’s nothing more than identifying what the long-range mission is and then breaking that down into a series of objectives that are more easily identifiable. They’re closer to you within time and space. They’re easier to manage and digest. It’s focusing on that 25-meter target, knowing it’s in line with hitting the 300-meter target.

[bctt tweet=”The way we reach mission success is by securing one objective after another.” username=”talentwargroup”]

In that context, you spent a year at Walter Reed and all these objectives are laid in front of you. You got to learn how to walk. You know when you got to recover. You go through 30 surgeries. You got to learn how to walk all these milestones. Talk about the mindset. You are laying there in bed. Your family was supportive. How are you thinking about the next six months, year and in a lot of ways, the rest of your life?

It was daunting at first because the decision was made from the time I was in the intensive care unit at Walter Reed. I’m going back to the team and combat. Why? I’ll give you all three. On the periphery, it’s stubbornness and competitiveness, which most of us have. As much as I love to win and need to win, I hate to lose more. There is a difference.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“It’s focusing on that 25 meter target knowing it’s in line with the 300 meter target.”

The idea of anyone dictating my future but me was unacceptable. It didn’t sit well with me. Deeper than that is the passion I have for this business. I fell in love with this industry. What initially was going to be a short-term thing is I come in, serve my five-year contract, kick some ass, get some payback for 9/11, get out and figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life. That was the game plan. Once I started doing it, I fell in love with it.

It’s the greatest job and people in the world. I love what I do. There’s an internal passion for it. A layer deeper than that is the sense of purpose I have behind what we do. You can define purpose by doing something that creates an impact on others, both internally via passion and then externally via purpose. This is who I am and what I do. That’s the why. More importantly, it’s also rooted in the how. I was able to weaponize my why to use it to answer the how. That became the problem and unknown equation.

I’ve already determined what so I got to figure out how. My why is so strong that it enables the how. More specifically, on the backside of failure and getting it wrong, pain, fear and dealing with self-doubt in the external criticism, no one is thinking what I set my sights on was possible or even practical. That clarity within my why, the passion and purpose that are buried within that is what I was able to focus on to get me past all those hurdles that presented themselves every single day.

What’d the road look like?

The road was fluid. It’s probably the best way to say it. It is typically the case when you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before.

There’s no plan. You were the first to say, “I’m going back.”

More accurately, I was the first to make it back to that. There were guys before me. As the third group, we suffered some heavy losses and tremendous casualties because we owned Afghanistan. A lot of amputees were around. The guys were attempting to do the same thing. A lot of guys made it pretty close and guys whom I learned from but there’s no playbook to follow. It was fluid and iterative. After spending a year at the hospital, I return to my unit. I tell them immediately, “Group command team battalion company, I’m going back to a team.” It was the day one of me getting back to Fort Bragg.

How long was that?

It took a year.

A year to get back into a group and say, “Let’s develop this path.”

I’m a year out from injury. I got a lot left to learn. I’m still walking with a gimp into the group commander’s office with all of these advisors, battalion command team and company command and saying, “I’m going back to a team and you’re going to put me back into Afghanistan.” They did their best to keep a straight face.

Having conversations with these guys years later, they’re like, “We thought you were out of your mind but we wanted to be supportive. We felt like you earned an opportunity to pursue that. None of us thought that that would be real and we would get to a decision point on this.” I made it clear. They were fortunate to give me the job I asked for as a combative instructor, which was important.

You talk about your time as a combative instructor. As an amputee, it was hard enough with two legs.

It is. That was part of why I wanted to do it. I grew up doing combat sports, wrestling, boxing and MMA. It was a great fit for me. I loved the sport but it was extremely physical. It was going to push me way outside my comfort zone. That is the space I knew I needed to live in permanently until I made this vision real. I was going to live in what I referred to as a dungeon. That’s the way I envisioned it. I talk about it in the book. I put myself in a dungeon.

What is a dungeon?

A dungeon is a place that is full of pain, fear, discomfort and suffering. That’s where I’m going to live. I’m going to allow myself to come out of that long enough to get a breath of fresh air, rest and recover and go right back in. I’m going to live there because this is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m going to have to become wildly comfortable with all of these aspects of what I consider to be that dungeon space. I lived it working as an instructor. My med board finally gets completed. I make it clear to the chain of command that I’m ready to give it a shot.

I remember too that it’s important to quantify. The med board is designed to get you out, not to keep you in and return you. That’s all the things you get if you leave.

We call it an MEB, which stands for Medical Evaluation Board. I refer to it as the Military Eviction Board. In their defense, most of the soldiers that they see want to get out. They’re also conditioned, programmed and designed to enable that. They’re not bad people. They’re not malicious. They’re doing their job and they’re serving their community. I come in out of the left field with one leg saying, “I’m staying in.” They’re like, “I don’t think that’s an option for you”. I’m like, “We’re going to make it an option.” I had to dig in and refused to say no. I refused to accept no.

Once I got past all that, I was able to stay in the regimen and maintain my MOS. I’ve been working as an instructor. I made it clear to my leadership. I said, “What’s it going to take to get me back on the team?” It began as simple as, “Go do an APFT or Army Physical Fitness Test.” They haphazardly said, “Go do this thing,” assuming that I would fail one of the events. I go knock that out and come back good to go.

They said, “Go do a UBRR,” or Upper Body Round Robin, which is another physical assessment we have, a program of record in the Army. I go do that and come back. People are starting to look around a little bit. They said, “Go do a 12-mile ruck,” which is another standard Army assessment and test. I go do that and come back.

I had a conversation about this with Marc Eckard, who retired as the USASOC Sergeant Major. He was the third group CSM at the time. We talked about this years later. After I finished that ruck, the entire group command team, battalion command teams and a handful of other senior leaders in the third group all got together in a meeting.TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

They said, “This Nick guy is not going away. We need to come up with a legitimate plan here on what we would want him to do because we’re haphazardly telling him to do stuff. There’s no game plan.” They busted out the whiteboard and started writing things on it. Different things. A lot of it was physical but it also went into the realm of proficiency evaluations. They sent me back over to the Bravo committee and ran me through a series of Bravo tests.

They’re like, “Can you do your job as a Bravo?” Light weapons, heavy weapons, crew-serves, rockets and the whole thing. They made a condensed little pipeline for me to go through. It was like 4 or 5 days. Also, cognitive assessments and psychological assessments. At this point, the way I was training and living, people legitimately thought I was out of my mind. They were like, “We may need to get this guy’s mental wellness legitimately and clinically checked because he may be delusional, psychopathic or something.”

You applied everything to this process like your diet and workout. Everything was programmed with this vision in mind.

Every minute of my day was put there on purpose all towards one thing. It’s in Objective Secure. I put an example of what a single day looked like.

The seven meals. People got to read the book to understand the level of detail that you went through.

Every task and every minute was on there on purpose. I executed that as close to perfect as possible every day. A couple of psych screenings are part of that pipeline as well. The psych comes back and goes, “He’s no crazier than he was with two legs. I don’t know what to tell you. He’s good in my lane.” At the end of what ended up being a 12-week phase of time where I was doing anywhere from 2 to 3, sometimes 4 assessments a week, the third group threw the kitchen sink at me.

USASOC was involved. They had some command oversight. At the end of what ended up being twelve weeks, I passed my final physical evaluation, which is a cool story in itself. I’ll tell it real quick. Marc Eckard, who was the CSM at the time, him and my buddy Chuck Ritter, who you may remember, took a round through his hand and he was trying to earn a spot back on the team as well. The third group created an assessment specifically for wounded guys to get back onto the teams because we had so many guys that were wounded.

The day before I took my test, at the time it was called the Return to Duty test, Marc Eckard, CSM, took the test alongside Chuck as a battle buddy. I walk into the gym that morning. It was the day before I’m taking my test and they were both laid out on the turf, exhausted. Marc Eckard is an able-bodied stud. I say, “Major, how are you doing?” He’s like, “I got done taking this thing and it kicked the shit out of me. You’re taking this tomorrow?” I’m like, “Yeah, I am.” He’s like, “I’ll be here. Good luck.” You could see the look on his face like, “There’s no way you’re going to do this. I barely did it myself and I have all my limbs.”

The next day, I do it and knock it out. I get done. I was on the verge of passing out like the peripheral lights are starting to fade. I’m on the way to go see the wizard. Marc Eckard walks up to me. I’m standing there trying to look like a badass like I could do it again if I needed to. He walks up to me and goes, “Nick, you know I took this myself yesterday. If I didn’t see with my eyes what you did, I would never believe that that was possible.” My whole team is there. There are 70 people following me through this whole test. I look at them and say, “I appreciate that but what else do you need me to do?”TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

It is belligerent talking to the group CSM as an E7 or E6 baby at the time. My team’s laughing their asses off. He smirks. He looks over at the group commander and was like, “Sergeant Major, this is a manning decision. This is your decision to make. I don’t know how we’re going to tell this dude no after what we put him through, twelve weeks of tests, assessments and all this stuff.” Major Eckard looked at me and said, “You’ll have your orders on Monday.” That was it.

How’d you feel?

It was amazing to be back in that team room on the same ODA I was on when I was wounded. That celebration was incredibly short-lived. We were talking for five minutes with some high-fives and hugs because these guys were already past their PMT. They’re set to go back into Afghanistan five weeks later. It was a short celebration because it was time to focus and get to work.

There’s an important concept in special operations. Professional athletes go through it too. I’ve talked to a number of them about it. You talk about making it through selection and the draft, making it on the team. Julius Thomas was a two-time pro-ball. I talked about this and here you are. You’ve passed this assessment. You’re back on the team. In elite organizations, that’s just the start.

You hit the standard to make it to the table so you got to live that standard. Talk about the importance of organizations creating that standard and then the mindset that you have to have. You’re like, “I made it great but on day one, the work starts. Everything that got me here, that was great. I learned a lot but it doesn’t matter anymore.”

It’s a great concept. In my book, Objective Secure, the mentality aspect, which is the first section, uses the warrior ethos as a framework. The third one is, “I will never quit.” That translates to me into a single word and that’s persistence. The obvious understanding of what that is is continuing to move forward in the face of adversity. However, persistence also applies to continuing to move forward in the face of milestones and success.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“Persistence also applies with continuing to move forward in the face of milestones; in the face of success”

It’s how fast you can zero in on the next objective, the next mountain to climb and get going. We see this a lot, maybe sometimes on the teams, where guys reach the top of that mountain, graduating from the Q course and they put that little green hat on their head. For most, it’s the highest, steepest and rockiest mountain they’ve ever climbed their entire life. At the time that I went to the selection, the likelihood of making it to be a Green Beret was 9%. That was the statistical likelihood. They reached the top of that mountain, put that green hat on and feel great about themselves.

It happens on a Friday and then on Monday, they show up to their team row. They knock on that door. They’re nervous but they’re still flying pretty high because they’re a Green Beret. They’re the baddest motherfucker on the planet. They walk in that team room and realize quickly one way or another that you are at the bottom of an entirely different mountain and it’s even steeper, windier, colder and hotter than the one you climbed.

Some have difficulty accepting that. They’re still riding that same high of having earned that Green Beret. The ones that excel and become great operators and great value assets to that team are the ones that can realize, “I’m at the bottom of a whole new mountain and it’s time to stop climbing. I’ve been given a basic foundation of what it means to be a Green Beret. Now is where the work starts to learn how to do the job for real.”

The same thing applied to me when I came back to the team as a one-legged guy. It was a milestone. I made it back. It hadn’t happened before. High fives, spray a couple of beers on each other, hug it out, great. You are at the bottom of an entirely new mountain that’s going to be ten times more difficult than the one you summited. You need to place all of your energy and focus into beginning that climb.

You went back to Afghanistan. Talk about the mental aspect of that, stepping back on the plane, getting off and looking around. What’s going through your head?

I had this vision earlier on in my recovery process of this glorifying moment of getting back off that bird with my feet back down on Afghan dirt and with my arms in the air saying, “I’m back. You should have killed me when you had the chance. I’m back and you’re going to pay.” I had that moment. It was great but much like getting back to the team, it was incredibly short-lived.

It needed to be because although I had trained like an insane person for two years to get back to that exact place in time, I realized very quickly that I had countless gaps in my game as a team guy, things that I didn’t even think about in my training. It’s simple things like getting in and out of a vehicle. These are things that you do without thinking with two legs.

That thing is 6 feet off the ground.

You scamper up and you’re in. Military vehicles are not built for convenience or comfort.

What do you mean? This is the most comfortable vehicle we have.

Case in point. These are purpose-built machines. The first time I went to go do that, I had been in Afghanistan for about three and a half hours and I was like, “I don’t even know how I’m going to do this. How am I going to get myself into the driver’s seat or the passenger seat?” I started creating a list of all these gaps and weak points that I had in my tactical game. My employment within operations was a crawl, walk and run because it still was new. It was game time.

I was inserted into operations gradually and then once my game came up to speed, come to the end of that trip, I was another team guy. What I did was leverage every ounce of “downtime” that we had to begin training on all these gaps and this list that I had created. It’s the new objectives, multiple and dozens. As with anything else, it takes reps and purposeful practice to clean those gaps up.

I want to talk about this concept that you bring up of the acceptance of average and what happens when mediocre becomes your ceiling. A lot of people would have been fine probably with you going back to Afghanistan and sitting in the operation center. They would’ve said, “He did it. He’s back on the team. That was phenomenal.” However, that would’ve been an average and mediocre ceiling. Talk about what happens in our mindset when we make mediocre of the ceiling, accept the average in our life and how we have to break out of that.

There’s a great story that I referenced in the book called The Elephant in the Rope. It’s the zookeeper and there’s an elephant there. A pedestrian walked by and there’s this 3-ton creature that has a tiny little rope tied around one of its legs that’s attached to a tiny little stake in the ground. That’s what’s keeping the elephant in place.TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

The guy walks up to the zookeeper and says, “Why doesn’t the elephant rip that thing out of the ground? It’s strong enough to do so.” The zookeeper says, “We used the same stake in the same rope from the time that the elephant is a baby. He struggles, fights and pulls. He can’t break free. He becomes conditioned to this rope and this stake will keep him where he is.” That becomes the standard and the ceiling. Even though the elephant continues to grow strong enough to break free, it doesn’t. It’s a self-imposed limitation based on conditioning.

Humans are not much different in a lot of ways. There may not be a stake in a rope but it becomes very easy for us to justify that mediocrity is our ceiling. A lot of that’s done based on cell preservation. We’re particularly protecting our pride and ego because you continue to extend into that realm of the unknown and where failure is almost certain. You fail and fail. It begins to hurt our pride and ego emotionally. The connection between us emotionally and physically is wildly intimate. Negative emotions and thoughts can down-regulate hormones to make you physically sick and vice versa. Those two things are intertwined.

Our body is designed to protect us. Our brain wants to protect us. It will make these justifications incredibly convincing to where it doesn’t feel like an excuse. It feels like this is what’s expected. What’s in my best interest is to remain within this comfort zone space that mediocre is my ceiling and that’s okay. You can further justify it with a sense of nobility oftentimes when it comes to our families. This is where our families can become almost dangerous to us. As long as my family is taken care of, I’m okay.

They commit to this noble life, which is to be respected living in misery from 9:00 to 5:00, 5 days a week for a 36-hour distraction to go do it again and again. We convince ourselves like, “This is in the best interest of me and my family. This is my ceiling.” It takes a unique approach. I’ll say special because we use Special Forces but it means unique.

It’s special and unique but it’s not special that it only exists to certain individuals that are given this gift from birth. That’s not the case. These are options for all of us. You have to be willing to take that risk knowing that failure is inevitable at times. Be willing to take that shot at your pride and use it as a tool to get better.

You talked about failure. Why do we need failure? Why does failure have to hurt?

Failure has to hurt because the pain is the catalyst for progress. For some, that pain can be the catalyst for, “I’m never trying that again because it hurt too much emotionally.” For some that choose to wield it as an opportunity and the recognition that the wisdom is located in getting it wrong, that’s how we get better.

[bctt tweet=”Failure has to hurt because pain is the catalyst for progress.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I’ve been a jiu-jitsu practitioner for a long time. If I walk in as a 2-stripe purple belt and I spend my entire training session for 3 hours sparring with guys that walked in off the street on day 1, chances are I’m going to mop the floor with all these people. I may leave that training session feeling good about myself, like I’m the biggest badass on the planet but did I get better that day? Probably not so much.

It’s when you train as people better than you that kick your ass, which hurts potentially physically but more so emotionally. That pain for high performers and those that are striving for success and greatness and victory in winning use that pain to then examine what went wrong. Extract that wisdom and knowledge, ram that back into the system and then do that again.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“The wisdom is located in getting it wrong.”

John Maxwell has a quote. He says, “Fail early, fail often but always fail forward.” That’s what that breaks down to. Continue to get it wrong. Accept the fact that it’s going to be uncomfortable because it has to be. It has to be an authentic failure. It can’t be just pretend. You have to go in expecting to win and then you don’t, which hurts. That pain is the drive to find the knowledge to then go again and again.

We talked about being a Green Beret and Special Forces are the greatest job in the world. I said the greatest people in the world. You talked about the need to surround yourself in these times of growth and always with people who support you, who are of high character and who want to also push themselves. Why are the people we surround ourselves with so important? I say that because the number one in special operations’ truth and value is people are more important.

For one, we’re human beings and social creatures. Some are more extroverted. Some are more introverted. Part of what makes a human being unique is how important the social dynamic is to us and our wellness. We’re designed to operate in packs and be surrounded by other people. This self-made concept, which I can appreciate means to many putting in the work and grinding when no one is there to pay attention. Late nights, early mornings. Self-made through that lens is 1,000% necessary.

With the idea of being self-made, you will lose. If you think you’re going to put your FTW hoodie on and block out everybody and you’re like, “I’m going to do everything on my own,” you will lose. The guys that can accept the fact that they’ve got gaps and weaknesses, which takes some humility and then deliberately seek out people to surround themselves with that can make up for that will beat you.

You may lose 1 fight or 2 but the overall war, the guy with the team’s going to win. Those whom we choose to surround ourselves with have an incredible impact on what we think, feel, do and how we progress. There’s an expression that you are the average of the five that you spend the most time with, whether you look at that monetarily, athletic performance or intelligence.

The 5 people you surround yourself with all have IQs of 8 million. You’re going to be the average of that because that’s who is influencing you. It’s the same with money and athletic ability. Go and find those individuals. In the world, it could not be any easier. There was a time when your community and team were solely predicated on your geographic location. The internet and social media have made the world a small place.

You can have mentors and allies that you’ve never met in three-dimensional form ever in your life. Get off your ass and go find them. Take a look at the last five people that you’ve texted or hung out with an honest assessment. “Are these individuals making me better or are they energy drainers?” They’re like, “Birds of the same feather flock together.” If you hang out with losers, you will become a loser. Go find people that are ambitious in driving towards something and create those allies, not necessarily towards the same mission but towards something. Importantly enough, people that are better than you in things.

If you run a 100-meter sprint with 9 other guys that are all faster than you, you may lose 9 out of 10 times but your time is going to get faster. Being around them is going to force you to dig in a little bit deeper. Be deliberate and go find them. Don’t expect them to show up. Hunt them down and surround yourself with people that are getting after it towards something.

In the book, you go through all your whole process for this. There’s a seven-step process that you lay out. You bring back the warrior ethos, which I thought was awesome because I haven’t thought about the warrior ethos in quite a long time. That was the last time I thought about some of those concepts. You’re tying it into personal and mental growth. I encourage everybody to go check this out. Read Objective Secure and find a way to incorporate that into you every day. I was so motivated after listening to it because it’s a simple concept.

This is simple stuff. Spoiler alert, nothing in Objective Secure is revolutionary. This is all stuff that most people are already familiar with. The goal is to explain it in a way and through vignettes that can create an impact and a spark for people to begin to dial in toward concepts they’re already familiar with. Green Berets are complex problem solvers. That’s in our job description. Complex problems require simple solutions. A series of simple solutions where you break it down becomes quite basic with the willingness to execute those things. Disciplined execution with consistency is all it takes. A quote that I love is, “Success is nothing more than the sum of small efforts performed daily.” That’s it.

[bctt tweet=”Success is nothing more than the sum of small efforts performed daily.” username=”talentwargroup”]

How you prepare today will determine success tomorrow. What’s the next objective?

I’ve left the team, which is a difficult transition for us all. I am company operations warrant in the fifth group. I’m drinking a lot more coffee. I’m staring at computer screens a lot more often. It’s a job that I swore up and down I would hate. I said I’m going to hate every job I have post-team time. I was wrong. It’s wildly fulfilling. Although the intimacy with the boys, you lose that. Your span of influence broadens as you move the echelon. The next objective is to get better at my job in uniform. I got a lot to learn.

It gives me a chance to continue to re-look at my leadership philosophies, methodologies and tools because I have more humans that I can influence. That’s not something to take lightly. I have a lot of work to do in military service. Second, I’m in a very blessed position where I struggle with transitioning out of the military for a lot of understandable reasons. I’ve been fortunate enough to identify what my next purpose is beyond military service. I have a chance to be living that. Part of that is right here and me and you do this thing.

TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

“Success is nothing more than the sum of small efforts performed daily.”

What I was doing here, I still see it as a life of service. It’s done through slightly different mechanisms. I begin making those mistakes. I’m surrounding myself with good people that are passionate, visionaries and hard workers as I embark on this new road as an entrepreneur. I’ll use the term public figure, for lack of a better one. It’s an odd place to be.

You and I both believe in the quiet professional mentality. We believe in it. That’s how we are successful and conduct business. It’s taken me years to reframe what that means to me. There’s a difference between being a quiet professional and a silent professional. We’ve lived many years of amazing history. If the lessons learned through blood, sweat, tears and treasure are lost, that would be a tragedy.

I’m putting myself out there, letting myself be vulnerable. I question myself with this process and journey daily remaining rooted in my integrity, professionalism and gratitude for this regiment. I know I represent it every single day, whether I’m wearing the uniform or not. It is what I rely on to keep me in what I feel is a good place despite criticism that comes my way, which happens. That’s the next mission that I’m working towards. There’s a whole series of objectives that exist between that. It’s a fun time and a fun ride. We’re getting warmed up here.

I have no doubt that if someone will create the path and forge that and succeed, it’s going to be you. As we close out, the Jedburghs in World War II, and you have heard of them before, had to do three things. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate, another three concepts from basic training. It’s very simple.

Those three things are habits and foundations. Anyone who applies the foundations and habits to the highest level doesn’t have to focus on thinking about them anymore because they become their routine and process. They can focus their attention on more complex challenges that come their way. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

Every day is a strong word. We don’t live in a world of certainties and life happens. I’ll give you three things that I do 99.9% of the time. I’ll leave a little room for what if. The first is physical training. I could go on a tangent for days about the value of that. More so than liking the way you look naked. Although that is important and provides legitimate, quantifiable, statistical value in actual progress.

Jerry Rice says it best. “Look good, feel good, play good.” When you feel confident with the way you look, that leads to actual effects. Physical training is part of that. Getting in a workout daily is something that’s part of my lifestyle. Journaling is something that’s come on board with more deliberate intentionality over the last few years. While there’s a therapeutic value that comes with that, for me, I like the analysis that I get from that. I’m able to look back 1 month, 2 months or 6 months and see where I was at and what was going on.TJP - E105 Objective Secure: Nick Lavery Author of Objective Secure, Green Beret

I pick up on trends. If you use it that way and you’re honest about it, it’s good data. Journaling, physical training and then at a minimum, communicating to my family how much they mean to me and how much I love them. Oftentimes, that’s not done face to face. My wife and I travel quite a bit. My family is at the core of my how and why. They are what drives me to want to be better every day. Ensuring that daily, this is one that I rarely miss at a minimum, telling my wife and my boys how much they mean to me.

Physical training, journaling and communicating to your family every day that you love them. Nick, it has been an honor. We closed down Sandlot JAX. We’re the only ones here. We have the first 2/3s of our conversation with the band playing in the background, which I thought was super fitting for this conversation. There is no one here. It’s getting dark. I appreciate you closing out the day with us here. You’re an inspiration. We always think about other SF guys and we want to be proud of their achievements but we talked about an organization built of warriors that you want to surround yourself with all day long because it makes you better.

I read your book. I felt better. I sat here with you, I feel better about myself. I look at what you’ve done and this embodies the greatness of all those who’ve dawned the Green Beret, all those who serve the regiment and all those who have made this country what we are. As we fight so many battles domestically here at home and abroad, the more people who read your story and the more people who are influenced by what you have to offer will only make themselves and their country better.

You’re right there next to me. This is a project you got going on. I’ve done a lot of shows. Never have I done more in the back truck in 1944, World War II. This is epic. Your concept and what you talk about are phenomenal. Also, your passion and what you’re doing for the regimen but at large, it is something special. I wish you the best of luck. I appreciate you having me on. Stay on that grind because this is important stuff.

You’re welcome back anytime, Nick.


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