Fritz Sleigher

Fritz is a 22 year Marine Corps Veteran. He was an infantryman, Scout Sniper, intelligence collector, special operations instructor and special operations intelligence collector. In this episode we talk about a piece Fritz wrote as a Facebook thought, and go over transitioning from military to civilian life, PTSD, traumatic brain injury, listening to your body when it comes to physical activity/physical training, some funny stories, Fritz’s ambassadorship with Operation Healing Forces, and much more.

The following started out as a thought Fritz Sleigher had one and become the subject of the May 14th, 2019 episode of the Wellness for Vets podcast.  Nothing has been changed from the author’s original Facebook post.

The Shadow: Where ego and personality goes wrong

I do not study psychology. I do not read Freud or Jung or Nietzsche, but I get it. What I am very good at is observation, introspection, and believing in the ‘51% Rule’ – that means mean something. This is a quick piece about leaving the military and truly, fully transitioning as a civilian without the hang-ups or clichés that are often present, or at least presented in some way.

This is a thought piece. I’d like to hear what you have to say too…

To provide some backdrop: I joined the Marines on my 17th birthday. I was a Marine for 22 years, meaning the 51% Rule runs in favor my ‘military being’ than the rest; including my childhood and, well, now. I believe there is a lot missed at recruitment/selection. Recruitment is largely metric based: Does the candidate meet the physical and legal requirements and, oh yeah, is there a shimmer of aptitude? I joined the Marines for the adventure – it looked insanely fun. Some join for the benefits, some as way to get out of where they are. Many altruists join to protect ‘our way of life’.

I see the problem lying at the crossroads of the altruists and those individuals within that group that have a personality equivalent of an unsalted potato chip. A lot of people are lost as kids, don’t know who they are, or are pretty bland (like unsalted potato chips). I was more like Jalapeno Cheddar 3D Doritos at 17; physically fit, academically accomplished, a bit of an adrenaline junkie, and musically talented. I joined the Marines because it fit my personality, not because I was missing something. Believe it or not, I turned down a full ride scholarship to the University of Colorado/Colorado Springs. There was no way I could do life without a healthy dose of supervision in those days. (Do I still??) I also joined pre-9/11, meaning my motivation for joining was a bit different than those after 9/11. All I wanted to do was cool shit. I didn’t even know I was going to make a regular paycheck! Benefits? What are those??

Back to the unsalted potato chip altruistic warrior and protector of Democracy.

Look, if that what DEFINES you, then get ready for a very long life of emptiness – kind of like Uncle Rico throwing footballs in a field or Al Bundy talking about HS football while selling ladies footwear. You’ll never get it back. It ends. It all ends. You can contract for a while, grow out the beard, explore yourself, etc. At the end of the day, it will end and you either take a running leap off of the cliff with a hang glider (your actual personality) or just fall straight down (depending on your developed ‘personality/ego’ throughout a career as a hard ass military dude). Typically, the latter is ill advised.

I mean, if you want to stay the same person while you were in + a beard, then you do you. You may find a niche market that will allow you to essentially stay the same person for life. I just hope there is some introspection from time to time.

So here I am, almost 23 years later and feel like I’m doing pretty damn good considering the adult-upbringing in about as an extreme environment as it can get. And that environment is the perfect example of an echo chamber, where collaborative confirmation bias (in every facet of life) is actually celebrated. It’s kind of embarrassing looking back on it. Then the ego creeps in. Once you hone the confirmation bias and are accepted by the group, then you start perfecting day-to-day tasks. The great trick nobody acknowledges is that life in the military gets to be pretty checklist-ish and the better you get, the less you have to reference the checklist. Ego drives individuals into some ‘summit-fever’ situations where there’s a point of no return and you just chew what you bit off.

A few examples:

Pull Ups (USMC Specific). Ok, look, not everyone is born to do 23 dead hang pull ups. Most of us have to hack away at them every day to try and ‘max’ that PFT event. I bet I’ve done tens of thousands of pull ups in my life. Overworking -because of my ferocious ego- for a ‘perfect score’ over a career. Problem is, my damn elbows and shoulders hurt. For life. Point of no return. I wonder how I’d feel now if I just shot for 1st Class PFTs my entire career (instead of the 300). And no one tells you to chill; it’s pure ego all-around in the Echo Chamber. You’re either a stud (300 PFT) or not. Period. And that is an insanely immature and stupid attitude. Now copy/paste that onto all of the other facets of military life. No work/life balance, pushing to satisfy a huge ego that will IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS. One note about that, retirement is like graduating from a military course. You’ll maybe stay in touch with one or two friends you met, but largely – no one cares once you graduate (or retire in this case). Time to fall back on the ones you love out of uniform or find new friends locally…… think about that for a second.

A career in the military isn’t a sprint, but we treat it as such – especially in the circles I ran in.

Then there is ‘Identity Mismanagement’: When the Ego fuels your current life circumstance but isn’t prepared for the future. This is the hardest part of getting back into civilian life. Who are you? Really? Who are you before you joined? What are some good things to hold on to? What are some bad things to dump, fast? What hobbies/interests can you explore and learn that isn’t going to get published in the next tactical bathroom magazine? The military isn’t everything. It’s a chapter in the book of life. Deployments are the paragraphs. That’s it.

So to wrap this rant up: Take care of yourself. Not the guy/gal in uniform. In six months I’m magically less-opinionated, happier, healthier, and relaxed.

One minor correction – If you’re in it to win it, then keep going. Go be a General or SgtMaj or CWO5 or whatever. Perfect the Echo Chamber and do 30 years – earn that 75% pension! But remember, points of no return.

-Fritz

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Author: James Conner , USMC (Ret.)

I am a 20 year United States Marine Corps veteran. I spent 10 years as an infantryman participating in many overseas deployments to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Currently living in Ireland, where I am enrolled as a student at the University of Limerick getting my degree in Exercise Science. Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist,  Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach.