The New Year is the time we all commit to eating less and working out more. We commit to improving our fitness and health. For some, it lasts all year. For many a few months, maybe a few weeks, and for others – just a few days.
To talk about fitness and goals in 2022, host Fran Racioppi asked Founder of 18A Fitness, and fellow Green Beret, Kevin Edgerton to join him on this New Year’s episode to reminisce about their glory days as Green Berets, discuss a renewed commitment to fitness as the clock strikes January, and to share what it takes to try out for, and become, one of nation’s most precious assets – a Special Operations Warrior.
Kevin served 26 years in the US Army as both enlisted and as an officer. He developed the human performance training programs for Army Special Forces Groups and the Air Force Special Operations Air Wings. He has since retired and founded 18A Fitness, an app-based, customized training platform to prepare any warrior for the grueling selection courses of the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALS, Marine Raiders or Air Force Special Operations Air Wings.
It’s like we always say…How You Prepare Today, Determines Success Tomorrow. Happy New Year!
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Sharpen The Edge – 18A Fitness Founder Kevin Edgerton
The end of 2021 is finally here. It has been a few years since our lives were turned upside down from COVID. A lot of industries bounced back in 2021 but many industries and many people still struggle to figure out what’s next. All of us, no matter what we do, where we live, or who we are, we have all been forced to think about who and what we want to be. New Year is inevitably that time each year in which we question our past and we think about our future.
The good news is that only we get to decide who and what we want to be. They say success and performance are not about where you came from but where you are going, and the past is done, and it doesn’t matter. Our ability to perform at the highest levels at our best is directly related to how we focus on the future.
New Year is the time in which we all commit to things like eating less and working out more or at least we try. We commit to improving our fitness, health, and sleep. For some, it lasts all year. For many, a few months or maybe a few weeks. For others, just a few days. To think about fitness and goals in 2022, I asked Kevin Edgerton to join me in this episode. We reminisce about our past lives as Green Berets and discuss a renewed commitment to fitness as the clock strikes on January 1st, 2022.
We share what it takes to try out for and become one of our nation’s most precious assets, a Special Operations Warrior. Kevin served 26 years in the US Army as both enlisted and an officer. We met at Officer Candidate School, where I feared him more than any of the instructors. Kevin developed the human performance training programs for Special Forces Groups, and he led the strength and conditioning programs used by the Air Force to prepare airmen for the selection of special operations.
He since retired and founded 18A Fitness, an app-based customized training platform to train and prepare any warrior for the grueling selection courses of the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Navy SEALs, Marine Raiders or Air Force Special Operations Wing. He focuses on results and cares about what you are going to do next. We share that bond. As we finish the year, let’s first learn from both the good and the bad of the last 365 days, then let’s focus on what it takes to become the best version of ourselves in 2022. It’s like we always say, “How you prepare today determines success tomorrow.” Thanks for joining us on this journey this 2021. Happy New Year.
Kevin, welcome to the show.
Thanks. It’s nice to see you again. It has been a while.
It has been a while. We have reconnected over the last several months. This, for me, is a unique and special episode. 1) This is going to be our New Year’s Resolutions episode, so at the end of this, I’m going to ask you what your New Year’s Resolution is. You need to start thinking about that now. 2) This episode is with one of my oldest friends and one of the first people that, when I entered the Army, brought me under their wing and said, “Come here. You have no idea what the hell you are doing. You keep opening your mouth. It’s not always right but let me show you the way.” We shared so many, sometimes unnecessarily, painful days together in the early days or you are middle to later career days in the military.
You have been a huge supporter of the show since we launched this. You came on with 18A Fitness, your company that you started a couple of years ago. We are going to talk all about it. You came on as a sponsor, and I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful to be re-partnering with you. As we talk about leadership in this show, you have been somebody that I looked up to as a leader.
It was peer leadership at the time that we first met but I woke up every day, and I thought to myself, “I cannot piss this guy off. I cannot do anything that upsets him. I need to be like him and emulate him because he sets the standard.” To spend that time with here so many years later and to still have the friendship that we have, I truly thank you, and I thank you for joining me here in this episode.You’ve got to come up with your why. Click To Tweet
I appreciate that. You still know I would choke out 99.9% of everybody in OCS.
We went to OCS together, and that was crazy. That was 2004. We met in OCS. You had been prior service, and you were transitioning over. I was young, fresh out of basic training. I was not an officer at that point yet because I was still at what they called a candidate. We were the ascots, and we’ve got thrown into this OCS class. It was nine weeks of basic training. I was in college before that. There were about 17 or 19 of us who had come out of college and everybody else was prior service. We were what they called the shake and bake, and then there were the elder statesmen like you who looked at us and said, “You guys have no idea what you are doing.”
I don’t know at times how you guys dealt with us. I want to start with 18A Fitness, though. We are going to get into your long tooth military career a little bit later. You developed 18A Fitness as a platform for aspiring Special Operators, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, MARSOC Raiders, Rangers, and Air Force to find tailored programs for each of these assessments and selection courses.
Fitness and a high level of fitness are so critical when you go to these selection courses. You say, “18A Fitness isn’t just personal training. We make warriors. We prepare men and women to endure the rigors of special operations training or other high-performance environments.” Can you talk about 18A Fitness, the training, and the theory behind it?
On November 26th, 2021, was 34 years that I have been a part of DOD. About a few years ago, when I was working with GORUCK, and I was a strength coach simultaneously for the Air Force, I was like, “I can put my hands on more people if I start 18A Fitness.” I started with paper XL spreadsheets and put out the word through the pipeline and on social media.When I started, I had a handful of people that started but the philosophy was to get these guys ready. At that time, I had a couple of guys that were getting ready for the GORUCK selection, which, if you don’t know, is 48 hours of probably the worst hell thing that you could ever imagine. If you ever watched that, it’s pretty brutal.
I don’t know because I don’t want to do it.
I watch it every year, and I’m like, “This is insane. I would never do that.” It’s not how our selection is but it’s unique. They call it the hardest endurance event in the world, which, if you see it, it’s insane. There are standards to get to those things, and it’s a PT test. You’ve got to run 5 miles in 40 minutes and do so many pushups and sit-ups to get in.
I have guys that reach out to me like, “I want to do a selection.” I’m like, “Let’s test from the beginning where you are at.” Some of them are 48 minutes in 5 miles. I’m like, “We’ve got some work to do here,” so I developed a plan. I’ve got some good friends that when I was working for the Air Force that is good runners. I’ve got an old coach. He’s a swimmer that was in the ‘76 Olympics. You can ask them for help to help develop what you have been doing over these years to get to where you are at or how you can get these guys to where they are at. You pick their brain, and you put it all together.
When I was with the Air Force, I probably did 30 different certifications to figure out what was best for these guys. My top ones are mobility and breathing. Those two are probably the most critical things, and you learn, especially when you become older like me, that mobility is probably the biggest key to longevity to not just being an operator but to a way of life. We had a philosophy that when I become a grandparent, I want to be able to pick up my grandkids and still play with them.
Look at Tom Brady. It’s all about mobility and flexibility, and he’s the number one Quarterback in the league this 2021.
It’s pretty insane. We will go into the CrossFit journey back in ’05 when I was in Iraq and before CrossFit blew up to what it is now. When I went to my first certification, there were less than ten affiliates in the world. When I was at OCS, I started to become a personal trainer in ’98, so fitness has been a part of my life.
That has been something that you have gained certification for the better part of the last couple of years. To quantify that, you have a personal trainer certification. You have developed CrossFit programs for multiple special forces groups, including our alma mater, 10th Special Forces Group, and also 1st Special Forces Group. You are certified strength and conditioning specialists, an Olympic weightlifting coach, a powerlifting coach, a licensed massage therapist, a fascial stretch therapy specialist, and a keen stretch specialist.
There are so many certifications in this world because that has always been a part of you and something that you have wanted to do. This passion for fitness and human performance did start early on. We will talk about certainly through your career in the Military and Special Operations but why jump in into this need and desire to help yourself and people gain this high level of physical fitness?
The biggest thing is I was 21 years old. I was at home on leave. My dad wanted to start working out. At the time, he was 48 years old. It was in an April timeframe, and he had stopped smoking at the beginning of the year. He started smoking when he was thirteen. Everybody in their 40s, 50s and 60s smoked. The smoking thing stopped in the late ‘80s to where everybody smoked. We went to a facility where my cousin was the manager at. It’s called Amity 41 Sports Complex. My dad and I were working out.
At that time, I had been in Germany and came home and transitioning. At the gym, we were working out. I run him through a normal old-school push and pull workout. He liked Racquetball, and then we went and played Racquetball. My cousin came in and joined us while we were playing. We then walked up to the locker room to change to go home.My dad grabbed my arm, and he’s like, “Go get your cousin.” I’m like, “Shit,” so I sprint. I knew something was wrong. I said to my cousin, “Something is wrong with my dad,” and he ran by the front desk and was like, “Call 911. My uncle is having a heart attack.” We ran upstairs, and the ambulance took what it seemed like forever but my dad had a triple bypass. That was the kickoff of why the fitness to where I am now. It was because of that moment.Once you meet it, you know you can do it. Click To Tweet
We spoke for a second about these regimented programs like, “Let’s do bench and buys. Let’s get on there and do lats,” but a lot of what you are focused on then and now, and throughout your career in fitness and personal development has been more about functional fitness. I think about the days at the 10th Special Forces group and the development of what we call the THOR3 program working with NSCA.
Everything was about functional fitness. How do I have movement? How do I have these things that you mentioned like mobility, breathing, heart rate variability, strength, stamina, cardiovascular strength, and also mental training? We will talk about that as well. All these programs that you are putting together for the different selection events are all customized. How does that work?
First, you’ve got the desired end state. You know what the desired end state is. You are not going to have the MARSOC, the SEALs, the AFS, or the Air Force doing SF selection because we know SF selection is more rucking than anything. You are carrying heavy stuff over a long distance for 21 days, whereas the SEALs, MARSOC, and the Air Force are going to swim. You’ve got to know what their desired end state is and then put a program together that fits that scope so they can pass that with ease.
Let’s talk about mental stress. One of the reasons why physical fitness is so important is because the more physically fit you are, the longer that burn is or the longer it takes for you to get to a fatigue level where you start to become mentally taxed. Although you are being thrown challenges where you have to critically think and have to problem-solve, all of the downward spirals, as they call it, get exacerbated when your body is in physical pain. It is when your legs and back hurt, and then you add into it being cold, tired, wet and hungry.
All of a sudden, if you lack physical strength, now, that’s all you are focused on. When all I’m focused on is my physical condition and how bad I feel, then now, mentally and cognitively, I can’t focus on the task at hand. I can’t problem solve and find a resolution. Can you talk about that and your experience in working with operators in these different fields in the Army, the Navy, and Marines? How do they look at the physical versus the mental aspects, and then how do you train to create that longer burn before somebody is mentally taxed?
It’s all about the programming. The first workout that they do is my Pushup from Hell workout. On paper, if you see the pushup workout, it’s twelve different pushup movements. That’s not only physical but that’s a mental thing. After the sixth different movement, they are like, “How am I going to finish this?” What I want them to do is think about how they are going to get to the end of that.
It’s like that tax thing. If you tax their body, you have to think through that process of how you are going to finish it, and then what you are doing. When the guys hit me back, they were like, “That was so tough.” I would be like, “I know but what did you do? What can you do to be better the next time when you see that workout?”
Also, what are you thinking about at the moment? If I think back to selection or ranger school and these various schools and courses I went to, I always remember looking at people and seeing mentally broken folks. When they are walking to the bathroom, they are limping and slumped over with their heads down, and I thought about those guys. Some of them were bigger, stronger, and smarter than me. I was like, “That guy is broken but not only is he broken, he is showing everybody,” and you are in this selection event where they say you are always being assessed, and people don’t realize that.
It is in any organization. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the military. I talk about this with the corporations that I work with. Leaders are always assessing their teams. Teams are always assessing their leaders. When you come in, and you are showing this weakness or defeat, even though you are not in a specific event or on the carpet at that moment, people are still watching, and in yourself, you are breathing this attitude.You have been very vocal in a lot of the programs that you build about quitting, and you are like, “Don’t let the quit in. There is no option to quit. There is no optionality here at all to have this discussion.” Can you talk about that? When you have to force yourself to suppress those emotions and feelings and rise above them and channel that energy, why is that so important?
I don’t know if I told you this back when we first met but I didn’t make it to selection my first time. I’ve got medically dropped because of the metatarsals. My feet had Grade III stress fractures on all ten toes, and because I came from the 1st Cav, it was a heavy-neck unit. I thought I was rucking with the right stuff. I was on APC. I was a combat engineer at that time.When I trained up, I trained up with what I thought was the right way. I went out and bought what I call a Cadillac rucksack. It has a frame built in it, and I can put 80 pounds in it. I was walking, and I was like, “I’m good,” and then I walked on sidewalks the whole time. When you get to the selection, there are no sidewalks there. It’s all sand.
If you find a sidewalk, you are vastly lost, and you are not going to be here tomorrow because you have failed.
You are outside of the box. The doc was like, “You can continue and mess yourself up, or I will med drop you, and you can come back in a year.” I asked him to pinpoint me, and I was like, “What would you do?” He’s like, “I would come back in a year.” I was like, “That’s what I will do,” so you go back, and you reassess yourself like, “I trained up wrong.” I traded in my ALICE pack. I went to the Army surplus store and was like, “I will give you this, and I want this old school ALICE pack and two coût canteens.” That guy was like “Done,” because he came out ahead exponentially.
That’s the equivalent of the cost of five ALICE packs.
You go back and reassess it. I didn’t walk on a concrete thing anymore. Every time I went and trained, I found trails and uneven terrain. I was at Fort Hood at the time in Texas. Once you find that you can do something and that high, you are like, “I can do that.”
That’s what I thought about you when I met you. I was like, “If he can do it, I can do this.”Give yourself enough rope to succeed and to basically show that you can actually do anything if you want to. Click To Tweet
It’s the same. Everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time. You’ve got to come up with your why. Why do you want to do this? You know it’s going to hurt but once you do that and you feel it, then you can do it at any moment.
The why is important, and you brought it up, so we are going to go there. You said that your why, your life calling was to be a Special Forces Operator. You said that you put, “One hundred ten percent into all your athletic pursuits like baseball, football, wrestling, soccer or virtually any athletic activity that I could get my hands on. When I joined the US Army, it was no different. I set the highest expectations for my time there and was determined to exceed them.
My first goal was to become a US Army Special Forces Soldier, also known as Green Beret, then become an officer and leader in the same organization,” and you did that. When you came into the Army, you said you were in 1st Cav. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Why did you come into the Army? Why did you make that choice in the first place? Once you were there and you were in this heavy mech unit, you realized that, “I think I can do more.”
I joined in 1987. I was eighteen right out of high school and didn’t have a direction. At the time when I was a senior in high school, I wasn’t joining the military. I didn’t know what my path was going to be. I grew up in a lovely place called Hammond, Indiana. I value what it bought to me as a person. It’s different than most places. It’s in-between the Southside of Chicago and Gary, Indiana. I don’t know if you know where that could be.
Gary is a lovely place, and Southside Chicago is even a nicer, lovely place. It bought some diversity in how I was raised. The struggle is really real there. The steel mills were shutting down, and there was nowhere to go. My dad was in the Marine Corps prior to Vietnam. I told my dad, “The moment they start recruiting, I’m going to join a Corps.” He’s like, “The fuck you are.”
My dad told me to join the Air Force or the Coast Guard. That was his recommendation. In retrospect, he may have been right.
He’s like, “You are going to come back from all the other branches and see which one gives you the best bang for your buck.” Air Force wouldn’t even see me because my ABSAV scores at the time were so hideous, and I wasn’t going to ride on no ship for six months at a time because he told me the horror stories when he was in a Corps about it. I came in and was doing my job, and it’s like, “What else is out there?” I was a combat engineer. I was like, “There’s got to be something better than this heavy mechanized APC thing,” so you start looking for things that are going to tax and challenge you more.
You find Special Forces, and it’s like, “That’s it.” You put that on the calendar. It’s like, “I’m going to try this. I’m going to put everything into it that I can,” and they worked out. It wasn’t easy. It was challenging but once you meet it, you know you can do it. You know that I went through the Q Course twice because you’ve got to do it as an echo and alpha. When I went back through the second time as an alpha, I was like, “I’m going to murder this fucking thing.”
You knew what to expect.
Exactly, and I was older, too. I was ten years senior to everybody else, even the officers but I was like, “I’m going to murder all of you. It doesn’t matter.” I was also the third in my class physically.
You spent your time in 1st Cav, and then you went into Special Forces. You were a Communications Sergeant in Special Operations, and then you decided, “I’m going to go to OCS,” because the goal is to go then lead soldiers. This was in the 2003 or 2004 timeframe when we met, and then you became a Special Forces Officer where now you are commanding a team. You and I were peers at that time going back to the group. Talk about the difference in the organization.
In the first half of your career as an enlisted operator and you were a Communication Sergeant on the teams, the world was a different place. This was pre 9/11. This was in the ‘90s. We were lobbying a whole bunch of cruise missiles, and as George Bush famously said after 9/11, “I don’t want to launch a whole bunch of cruise missiles into a tent in the middle of nowhere. We’ve got to take action,” and now, it’s post-9/11, and everyone is ready to kick someone’s ass. At times, it doesn’t even matter who’s going to get their ass kicked but someone is getting their ass kicked and where they are to do it, and Special Forces led that charge. Can you talk about the difference in the organization and these total polar opposites of your career in these two timeframes?
Pre-9/11, that’s when I was enlisted as a regular Army. Post 9/11, I was at the Echo course when the second plane hit. I watched that live at Bryant Hall at the CQ desk. I was going through language school, and I had a couple more months until I’ve finally got at the dawn of my Beret and got my tab. We’ve got put on break when the first one hit. We all went down to the CQ to see what was going on, and it was there on TV. I remember when that second plane hit. I looked at the brass crowd of all the future Special Forces guys, and I was like, “This shit got real.”Prior to that, I was in Bosnia, and I have seen SF dudes running around with their caps back up, sunglasses on, and hands in their pockets. I was like, “That’s what the fuck I want to be. I want to be that cool guy,” and then when you see that second plane hit, you are like, “It got real.” It changed the whole dynamics of what I was going to do. Everybody is like, “It’s time to pull them big boy pants up and buckle them down. It’s game on now because you fucked with the wrong goddamn country.”
Chris Miller talked about that in episode 25. In our 9/11 episode, we had a former Secretary of Defense, Chris Miller, and he was a company commander in Special Forces on 9/11. He talks about that same thing being there when the planes hit, and then everybody looking at each other saying, “The cool days are over. We are at work now. We are at war,” and he talks about how they knew instantly what this meant for that organization.
I knew it instantly when it happened. I was still an enlisted guy, and I finished up and went on teams in 1st Group. Again, you see the scene and an officer, and you are like, “He’s no smarter than I am. Physically wise, I know he can’t fucking touch me with a 10-foot pole, so I’m going to do it.”
We met at OCS. We went through that, and we had some interesting times there.
You are two weeks short. It was sixteen weeks.
For me, I didn’t know any better. I was like, “We’ve got to get at this thing. They want me to fold my shirt in a 4-inch square but the shirt doesn’t even fold into a 4-inch square. It’s too big. It doesn’t work like that,” and then they come in and they are like, “It’s 4.2 inches,” and they trash all your stuff, and you are redoing it again. It instilled discipline, though, don’t you think?
When we had those big inspections, I came through everybody’s wall locker and inspected everybody’s thing to make sure it was right. I was helping all of you guys out. That was my job. I remember the very last inspection that we did when the Colonel came in. We had stayed up all night buffing the floors. Everything was perfect. He comes in in those camouflage jackets or whatever jacket it was.
It was before the Gore-Tex.
It was the old school. It was great. He reached up and grabbed the pocket, and it scrunched. They made a noise, and I was like, “Shoot.” He opened it up and pulled out this wrapper, and it’s a protein bar wrapper. He’s like, “Where did this come from?” I was thinking, and was like, “When did I have that protein bar?” I was like, “I was on a JCET in Nepal,” and he was like, “Okay,” and kept on moving. I was like, “Great answer,” but I was also thinking like, “I failed. I’m going to get it recycled. I don’t want to do the sixteen weeks again.” He was like, “Great answer,” and kept on moving and going. I was like, “Thank goodness.”
You were like, “This is not contraband. I swear.”
It wasn’t. I was processing, and then I was like, “We were in the field.” I’ve got that thing but the first thing that came out of my mouth is I was in Nepal and on a JCET when I went to the Nepalese mountaineering course, and we were up in Annapurna, in Jomsom. Talking about pressure in your head doing a mountaineering course was amazing. This is off-topic. Have you seen the one of the Nepalese Sherpa who was a Gurkha, and then he did the fourteen peaks?
Another Green Beret brought this to my attention and said, “You have to interview this guy.” He’s up on one of the tabs on my computer now because I have to figure out how to get to this guy. I’ve got to get him on the show, and we’ve got to talk about this.War brings out the ugliest thing. Click To Tweet
Physiologically-wise, I don’t know how he did it. In 6 months and 6 days, he climbed the fourteen highest peaks in the world. That’s unbelievable. It’s baffling to me. He got tested too, and the guy that’s testing him was like, “His numbers are outrageous.” That’s a whole other level.
I want to talk to him, and I want to talk to Alex Honnold, the free solo guy. I’m throwing this out there. If any reader can get me to either of these guys, hit me up on Instagram or LinkedIn. Shoot me a message. If you can connect me, I owe you big.
We’ve got off and told mountaineering things. I was on a mountain team.
So was I.
I was in Nepal twice. We did base camp as a team, and I was a team leader. That was the coolest fucking thing. You land in Lukla, the most dangerous airport in the world, and it’s on a cliff. We disembarked, and 116 came down off of it. These guys were the party team. We were going up, and we stopped at Namche Bazaar. They were like, “You guys are the same kind of guys,” and we were like, “We don’t drink.”
I should mention that in the last couple of months, Mike Sarraille, the Founder of Talent War Group and the author of The Talent War, did that jump. He did a big fundraiser supporting our partner, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and raised over $500,000 to support Special Operations Warrior Foundation who focuses on the families and children of our fallen Special Operators and Medal of Honor recipients, providing them education for their life, regardless of how old they are, all the way through college. It’s a great organization. I’m a part of Talent War Group, and they are our partner here on the show. They went out there and Mike did that jump. The pictures are awesome. If anybody hasn’t seen those yet, you’ve got to go see those.
Also, that’s the cool thing about Special Operations, especially with a couple of years in the global war on terror. Everybody is like, “You only went to Iraq and Afghanistan.” What we forget is that it is just for Special Forces. It’s a very small part of what we do. Our teams are so dynamic. We were both on-mountain teams. I’ve got to work with countries all over the world on mountaineering. We weren’t deployed. We were doing mountaineering to the point at which people were saying, “You need to be home more,” and it’s like, “We need to train.”
These are critical skills. Everybody was ski instructor certified or avalanche certified, and whether it was the winter when we were doing cold-weather training or it was the summer when we were doing climbing. It’s awesome to do all these things. There are so many different opportunities being in Special Operations but it comes down to the character. It’s something that we talk about all the time on the show. It’s fitting to bring it in here because fitness is a core component.
You can’t scuba dive, you can’t mountaineer, you can’t jump out of airplanes, and you can’t be combat effective in the way that we have seen it broadcasted on television. Jumping out of planes, running into houses or hanging off of helicopters, you can’t do that unless you are physically fit but in all of these organizations, whether that be Green Berets, Rangers, MARSOCs, SEALs or Air Force, we have mentioned them a few times that skill matters, fitness matters but character matters more.
In The Talent War, we talk about it in every episode. Rich Diviney who’s a former Navy SEAL who wrote the book called The Attributes. They talk about the 25 attributes that primarily the Navy SEALs use. He’s going to be on our first episode in 2022. We are going to talk to Rich, and we are going to bring him in, and we are going to expand the nine that we have talked about and we are going to start talking about 25. He says there are 35 or 40 but he has narrowed it down to 25, so I’m looking forward to having that conversation.
It really is the character that defines someone’s ability to succeed, and then ultimately, when they make it through these selection courses, are they going to succeed? Every organization, the ones we have named here, use the same set of attributes or character traits but they focus and weigh some differently than others.
For example, the Green Berets focus on integrity, courage, perseverance, personal responsibility, professionalism, adaptability, team ability, and capability but for the SEALs, it’s all about physical courage, moral courage, humility, creativity, team ability and resiliency. Some of them are the same but there are others that are brought in because you are asked to do different things. In your career in Special Forces, you worked with people from all different branches.
It’s one of the coolest parts about being in Special Operations, unlike the regular Army. You get to interact with the other service members at such a deep, fundamental level. When you look at being a Green Beret yourself working with those from the other organizations, and then you think about these different character traits, can you maybe spend a couple of minutes giving your perspective on what makes a great Greet Beret versus a Ranger versus a MARSOC operator or an Air Force PJ versus a Navy SEAL? Your perspective is valuable here.
My number one that you hit is integrity, especially when you are the leader. When you are a team leader, your integrity has to be the utmost in anything that you do. There was one time I was in Nepal, and my commander questioned my integrity. He found out immediately when he did that that I turned on.
Did the conversation go south?
It went south really quick, and he realized that he had actually questioned it.
If you are a person of integrity, it’s insulting when somebody questions your integrity.
He knew that I had murder in my eyes when he did that, and he was like, “That’s not what I meant.” I was like, “You better expand upon that,” and he’s like, “You were late.” I was like, “I’m sorry. We have been on a seven-month deployment. We did four JCETs back-to-back with JCETs exercise and two of them in between that, and you pulled my team from being offered 30 days to come into this JCET to appease you to get all ODAs from your company here to make your bullets look better.”
He didn’t like that too much when you put somebody on the spot or blow them off a little bit but he had questioned my integrity, and I don’t take that lightly because coming back from an enlisted to an officer, I protect my guys as much as I could. We were running. It was nonstop when you are a team leader, and when you question integrity, it’s not a good thing.
Integrity is one of those that is weighted high for all Special Operations regardless of service.
I was in the Philippines, and one of my controllers, who I’ve luckily got to work with again, his integrity was questioned in HOLO. I didn’t know it at the time because I was the XO. They removed him because they didn’t believe what he had said. He flew up for 24 hours, and he was back but he’s in control. That’s what he does and an Army officer questioned it. I wasn’t there at that time.
They gave him the boot, and he had to go up to Zambo for a moment. When you hear the backstory on it, you are like, “Dang it,” but then to run back into somebody who’s into it like a sister service and another special operation guide later in your career after I retired, it was pretty unique to expand upon everything. I just hate it when your integrity is questioned.
What is the difference between Green Beret versus a Navy SEAL? It’s important because so many people come to me, and they will be like, “Is a Green Beret like a Navy SEAL?” I have to look and say, “No.” They are like, “What do you mean?”
The difference as far as the attributes go is really close. You can’t divide that because we’ve all got a drive that’s beyond other people or the normal person. It’s about your drive, and you have to be able to overcome those things. For us, if you are not on a scuba team, you are not getting in the water. For the last few years, I was working close to the water with the Air Force, and then I did pre-dive as well when I was enlisted, and that sucked but that water is a humbling experience.Getting in the water, doing breath holds, bobs, and traveling, until you do that, it’s so unique. Their physical ability to overcome that, calm their mind, and know that they have enough oxygen is unique. One of those things is like, “I should have done it,” then what I keep on kicking myself in the butt about is that you don’t realize that you still have air in your body.What you put in your body is what you’re going to get out of it. Click To Tweet
That’s why physical courage is so high up on their list. I look at the difference between these organizations and there are different mission sets. People come to me all the time, and they were like, “I want to go into the military. I want to be in special operations. I don’t know what to do.” My advice to them is always, “You’ve got to do your research and think about what mission do you want to do and where,” and then that helps to then drive that decision process.
The SEALs are phenomenal in the water. That’s where they live. They are a great direct-action force. Direct action means we go on to an enemy target, we kick down the doors, we conduct hostage rescue, and we eliminate the threat. They are phenomenal at those types of waterborne operations and boarding ships. Think about Captain Phillips. I was talking about that with a couple of my SEAL friends. It was a perfectly executed SEAL mission.
They skydived onto a Navy destroyer, and then through the use of snipers, they eliminated three pirates and then recovered the hostage being Captain Phillips, but then you look at the Green Berets, and you say, “What are the Green Berets? Do they conduct what we call unconventional warfare?” They go into occupied countries, whether that be through an occupying power or a government that is not friendly, and then our entire mission there is to overthrow that government or that occupying force.Post-9/11, with the Taliban supporting Al Qaeda and occupying Afghanistan when we went in there with a limited number of special operations of Green Berets, we defeated the Taliban very quickly with the power of the US Air Force, and we removed that occupying power. We can argue all day long what happened but that was a perfectly executed Green Beret mission as well as equipping and arming foreign Armies in Southeast Asia and throughout Africa. Those are great special operations missions, of which you have been a part of so many of those.
My clients up at 18A Fitness will come to me, and they were like, “I did a bit of research. I had signed up for the SF 1, TACP, combat controller or change as a SEAL.” I’m like, “Great.” I will go in there and change our program because it’s different, and I’m trying to prepare them for success when you switch that button. You have to find out what you want to do. After I finished the 18A course there back at Fort Bragg, I went to Okinawa and got a call from the XO of one of the companies there.
He’s like, “We are going to keep you there a little bit longer so you can go to a school.” I was like, “I don’t want to go to that school because if I wanted to do that mission, I would have gone and tried out for the big boys,” and he was baffled. I was like, “I want to go do U-Dub.” He’s like, “Really?” I was like, “Yes.” He’s like, “We are at war.” I was like, “I don’t give a shit. I want to do unconventional warfare. I want to work by, with, and through people, and not put my guys in as much harm. It’s their nation. They need to do it. That’s what our mission is. It’s not DA. It is one of our components of it but our main mission is unconventional warfare.” I’ve got to do it in the Philippines.
Every country is different.
If you weren’t in Afghanistan at the beginning, you tried to do it but it wasn’t to the extent of when they first went in.
I remember being in Nigeria in 2014 when the 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. America went crazy. Michelle Obama was posting signs on social media like, “We have to help these people,” so they deployed a couple of us down there. It was us, the British Special Operations and French Special Operations. We are sitting with the Nigerians, and the Nigerians are like, “We don’t have a problem with Boko Haram,” and it’s like, “The rest of the world thinks you do.”
It’s so dynamic and then in that meeting, you realize, “I thought I came down here to a welcoming environment where they were going to say, ‘Give us money, equipment and guys. Put them on the ground and train our people. We will help fight Boko Haram,’ to, ‘We don’t have a problem. We don’t want your money. We don’t want your people here. We don’t want anything to do with you,’” and then having to figure out, “How do we get them to understand that this is a problem?” Then you have to start building that relationship, trust, unity, and then convince them that there is a problem but they’ve got to be affected. You can’t make them do it.
If they don’t want to do it, they are not going to do it.
All people, regardless of the industry that they are in are shaped by both good and bad leaders that they serve under. They say that we learn more from the bad leaders than we do from the good leaders. I would say that we probably learn an equal amount from each. It’s just when we see bad leadership, we immediately recognize it as bad leadership, and then we say, “I can’t do those couple of things that this person does,” or sometimes, maybe it’s a lot of things that somebody does. When we recognize good leadership, we often don’t realize it’s great leadership until later on, and then, later on, we are put in situations and we think, “I reacted in this situation because I was influenced by this leader however long ago, and now, I have emulated that.”You had a 26-year career in the military. You said 35 years across the Department of Defense. You were enlisted, an officer, and a Department of Defense civilian. You worked for a lot of leaders. When we met in Officer Candidate School, I would say that we were under the command of one of the worst leaders that I have seen in my career, whether it was in the military, before the military or post-military. I don’t think that I have ever been exposed to the worst leader than the person who led there.
I don’t even remember his name because he was so bad.
It’s almost like naming a terrorist. They have no name. They need to be eliminated. I know that the guy was sent to Guam to do a low-level staff positioning after that command. I want to ask you about the best leader and the worst leader you ever worked for, and what do you take away from each one of those.
The best leader that I ever had was Darsie Rogers. He’s 2 or 3 stars now. That’s when I made the switch from enlisted to becoming an officer. I was in the 3rd Battalion 10th group as a Chemical Officer. I’ve got lucky to get back into special operations as being the CHEMO. I just showed my long pad, and it all worked out.
They have been established. We were in Baghdad at the RPC, Royal Palace Complex. I get there, and it’s OIF-3. I walk in and Darsie was like, “Nice to meet you,” and then I was like, “Nice to meet you, sir.” He’s like, “You are going to go work in the Intel shop.” I was like, “Sure.” He’s like, “Our CHEMO can handle the air. Anybody could fucking handle the air but you are going to go work in an S2 to shop because I need you in an S2 shop.” I was like, “Whatever you need, sir.”
I go to an S2 shop, and I’m doing daily reports. I’m in eight hours of grinding. Our S2 guy at that time, I forgot his name, was a phenomenal Intel guy. I’m in there busting my ass. We gave out this report. Every week, we had a meeting, and everybody from the three moons came down to hear our S2 Intel brief because it was that good. He led it the right way.We put it into this report, and then he would dial it down to the easiest level. I have been doing that for 60 to 90 days, and later on, he comes in, and he’s like, “I need you to go and be the senior sort of fellow.” I’m like, “Who am I replacing?” He’s like, “You are going to replace the Colonel.” I was like, “You know I’m just a butter bar.”
That’s four ranks ahead of you.
He’s like, “That doesn’t fucking matter. You’ve got that long pad on you. That says it all.”
The best rank in the Army is a Second Lieutenant. You have some level of minimal authority because you are an officer but nobody expects you to know anything. For me, being a Second Lieutenant was one thing. I didn’t know anything. I’m in the Army for eighteen months, and all of a sudden, I’m an officer and in charge. Everybody looks at you, and they were like, “You know nothing. Sit in the corner and shut up.” Here you are. You have a decade of service and now you are a Second Lieutenant. You are going in and still get to be like, “I don’t know anything.”
He didn’t let me play that card. He’s like, “You are going to set this up for a week. You are going to learn everything you need to know.” The Lieutenant Colonel had to come back and do inventories because he was changing over command. It was only 30 days that I was going to be there but what I’m getting at with Dorsie is he challenged you to do things that were outside the norm. Not too many leaders give you that room to do something that you have never done or don’t expect yourself to do. A good leader gives you that rope, and he’s going to let you die, hang on it or live. I did a pretty good job.
I had to report to a two-star general twice a week to the Rainbow Division Commander and his Chief of Staff every day. The only time I’ve got questioned by the Chief of Staff was because the big boys did an operation at night and we had no idea about it. I had to figure it out. It’s giving enough rope to succeed and showing that you can do anything if you want to.
We will go back to the worst leader. For the worst leader, I had so many. They are the ones that micromanage. They don’t give you the rope to expand mentally or physically. They were like, “This is it. That’s all I want you to do,” and that’s it. I would be like, “If that’s all you want me to do, that’s all I’m going to give you.”
How do we manage up, though? When you have a leader that you identify with like, “This is a bad leader,” and it doesn’t matter if it’s in the military or any organization very rarely, you have a bad leader, do you get to walk into the office and stand up in front of everyone and say, “This person is a terrible leader. Here’s what we’re going to do?” You’ve got to manage that. You still have to go to work. You still have to figure this out, so when you identify that you have this bad leader, how do you then motivate yourself, keep the team together, motivate around you, and still try to find a way to be successful?
It’s hard. There’s always somebody up above me but I’m still a leader of other men. I tell them to be focused on the mission. I’m like, “Our mission is this. Don’t think about what he can affect. Focus on our mission and what we can affect as our team. We can’t worry about what’s happening up and out. That’s my job. Let me worry about what’s going up and out. Down and in, we can manage that. Worry about what’s down in and in. I will worry about what’s up and out.”
That’s such a great point. The mission is what binds and brings everybody together. It’s what unifies them. It’s understanding the vision. In the military, we call it the Commander’s Intent. They call it a five-paragraph OP order. You had this whole thing but the only thing that mattered was what’s the mission statement and the commander’s intent. If I have those two things, then I can be successful. I will figure it out. Nothing else matters. When you are confronted with these leaders who are less than stellar, then can you find that mission? Can you be grounded in that mission, and then unify everyone around that?
From where I was at, I had no idea what the mission, the intent or the desired end state was. It was never bought out. I always asked about it because you know how many MDMP processes we have gone through and how many OP orders we created as a captain. You are like, “I need something. I need a tangible thing. I need to know what our mission is and the commander’s intent,” and I can never pull it out where I was at. That’s one of the reasons why I left.
I had other subordinates under me at the time. I was like, “I don’t know what this is. Do you?” The people that were lower than me were like, “I don’t know what to do.” We are all spinning our wheels here, and then I would ask my leader, and they are like, “I don’t know what it is.” I even went up higher, and he’s like, “You are right. I do need to come up with a mission and an intent.”
I’m like, “Yes, so everybody can work off.” There’s a reason why the military was created. It’s the unity of this mission, intent, and desired end state. It’s pretty simple. If you do all these things, it makes the unit so much more cohesive but if you don’t have a mission and the desired end state or intent, you can’t do anything with that.
That was the driving force behind you saying, “I’m going to exit Department of Defense Service in whatever capacity. I’m going to go out and build my own thing, and that thing is going to be 18A Fitness.” This is a cool story for you because you are not a software engineer. You don’t know about app design, and here you are. You have this idea of, “I can create this fitness app that people can use.”
Since 2020, you have seen significant growth in the company at an exponential rate. We talked about where we have come from as a military and as special operations. Your app, your vision, and your mission as you see it now is to prepare that next generation of special operators or of folks who are going to go out there, answer our nation’s call at the most elite level, and protect us well into the future.
We are entering this post-global war on terror period, were historically after a large conflict like World War II Vietnam or Korea, and we see the military drops to what we call below the fold for people who still read newspapers. It’s folded in half and the important stuff are on the top, and the bottom side is all the unimportant stuff.
The really unimportant stuff goes to page two but it’s not going to be front and center for the foreseeable future, which means that inevitably, there’s less focus on things like recruiting. From the force, there will be but it won’t be front and center in terms of getting people into the force. We run a volunteer force across our entire military now so we are relying on people having a desire to jump into these types of roles.
We really need smart people of the highest caliber to jump into the military because these leaders will set the vision for so much of the future to come. Much of what you are doing is almost supporting that recruiting effort because you are building these soldiers and giving them a platform to succeed. How do we keep the focus on them over the course of the next several years? How do we drive that next generation of talented leaders to join the military, adopt what special operations are bringing to the world and the country in terms of the protection of our nation, get them out there, and do great things like we were able to do in our careers?
There’s not always going to be war and I was fortunate enough to be in the military prior to major conflicts. What I tell the guys is like, “You’ve got the best opportunity now. You get to be a really cool guy and you get to go affect so many more people when you go train with your partner host nations. You get to show the world of who we are.” Just because we were at war, we weren’t seen as the greatest people in the world because war brings out the ugliest in you.”
Now that it’s post-war, they should be able to bring the best out of Americans, and then I only want the best that’s going to be in special operations to lead that charge because without them, people that volunteer into this force, we have to instill in them that it’s okay. You might mess up but it’s okay. We want you to succeed. You don’t have to be at the fold. You can be right there. You are still at the tip of the spirit because if it turns on, you are ready. You’ve got to think that just because there isn’t a war now, you are ready to go if another 9/11 happens.
At 9:00 AM on September 11th, 2001, our country was not at war. By 10:00, we were at war for many years and we have not yet identified who that new enemy is. That’s a conversation we have had a few times with General McChrystal, with former Secretary Chris Miller, and with General Carrelli, a former Army Vice Chief. There’s an undefined enemy out there who seeks to do us harm, and our charge now is to not rest on our laurels and say, “Everything is fine,” because we can wake up one day, and it cannot be very quick.
As we close out, the Jedburghs had to do three things every day to win and be successful. They had to be able to shoot, move and communicate. If they did these three core foundational tasks with excellence and a high degree of proficiency every day when other challenges came their way similar to physical fitness as we talked about, they could focus their effort on those other tasks. They didn’t have to worry about executing their core competencies well. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for your success?
When I wake up, the first thing I do is ten-minute mobility. I take every joint through a full range of motion, and I do about 5 to 7 minutes of breathing techniques by Wim Hof. He’s a unique individual himself. I then eat relatively healthy. I’m not saying that I measure my food. I don’t do any of that but I eat relatively healthy. I try not to eat fast food as much. The only thing that I do out of McDonald’s is the French fries.
My wife and I would drive through and are like, “We would like two orders of large fries, please.” Think about what you are putting into your body because what you put into your body is what you are going to get out of it. Lastly, what I want to bring up is move. You have to move. We are in such a stagnant environment now with all the social media and everything that’s on our phones. We just sit still.
I couldn’t even believe my wife put me on a timer because I was on the phone. She asked me a question, and three minutes went by, and the alarm went off, and then I answered the question after it. I was so mad at myself for being so focused on the doggone device that I threw it in the glove box. Now that I’m cognizant of it, that’s going to be one of those things that’s like, “I’m going to put the doggone device away for two hours out the day and focus on myself.”
When you put the device in the glove box, how long did it take for the anxiety to set in that you didn’t have the device?
I went running. I’ve got to go and do something.
1) Mobility and breathing. 2) Eat well. 3) You’ve got to move. I love those three. They are so important and fitting for what you are doing. We talked about the nine characteristics of elite performance. We threw out in our next episode about the 25 attributes. We talk about the character being a defining factor in identifying somebody’s likelihood for success, and then eventually, their success when they enter special operations or any organization.
I take these attributes and these character traits, and I think about my guests and give them one. For you, I look at effective intelligence. I see effective intelligence across your entire brand, across the entire program that you are building, across my experience of meeting you, becoming your friend, and spending so much time together through our careers but effective intelligence is the ability to take the aggregate experiences of our past. All of the things we have been through, we learn from them, and then apply them to our future decisions, the way that we present ourselves, and conduct ourselves. We lead organizations and others. You have been so effective in that.
You were so instrumental and important to me, and the other young guys who came in straight out of college. Those were formidable times that we will never forget. We had a cadre, and they were okay. You set the standard, and you set the standard for all of us. We continue to see that now. We saw that through our careers. I’m almost coming up on six years being out.
I still think about the lessons that you taught us, the example that you set for what excellence was, and showed us that even though we were young officers, going into the infantry, to field artillery and armor that if we want it to be elite because you all came out of special operations, that this was the standard that had to be set.
I attribute so much of my success and my ability to get through the first couple of years and then enter into Special Forces, be selected, and serve for nine years to everything that I learned from you and those other guys, so I thank you for that. I thank you for your partnership. I thank you much for jumping in and supporting the show and continuing to spread the message that we are spreading. I’m so honored to sit here with you, and I look forward to a great 2022. What’s your New Year’s resolution?
I hate making New Year’s resolutions.
That’s why I’m asking because everybody hates New Year’s resolutions.
I guess it’s to grow my brand, 18A Fitness out there more. I want to be up there known as one of the elite premiers that are getting guys ready for special operations. I have what it takes. I have shown it, done it, and proved it multiple times. That’s the difference between other strength coaches and other programs out there. You’ve got strength coaches that they might have worked with special operations, and now, they’ve got a company, and they are there but they didn’t live the life, and I lived the life to the fullest. I have both enlisted as an officer, and I am challenging myself more as a strength coach. I want to help the future generation as much as I can to defend this country. It’s my why, so my kids and my grandkids didn’t have to go to war.
We may very well be there and have achieved that why. Mine is to get fit, and it’s going to follow this program on 18A Fitness. Thanks so much for joining me. It’s about the why we can’t quit, got to get out there and do. Let’s prepare for that next generation. We owe it to ourselves and the future. We will see you in 2022.
Thanks for having me. It has been an honor.
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About Kevin Edgerton
As long as I can remember, I have mentally and physically challenged myself. Training for my life’s calling as both a Special Forces Operator and Strength and Conditioning Coach began at the age of five by putting 110% into all my athletic pursuits: baseball, football, wrestling, soccer—virtually any athletic activity I could get my hands on. When I joined the U.S. Army, it was no different. I set the highest expectations for my time there and was determined to exceed them. My first goal was to become a U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier, also known as a Green Beret, then become an Officer and leader in the same organization.