Doing something you are scared to do changes you. You are not the same after that. I can’t explain what the change is. Maybe it’s different for each person. But acting in the face of fear has a morphing effect.

In January 1991, my Combat Engineer company was a mile inside Iraq. We had been poised near the border, waiting for the attack order. Once it was given, we crossed at an unguarded location. The plan was to drive north through barren country, then turn east and hit the Iraqi army on their blind side.

The U.S. military had faked a buildup toward Iraq’s east and convinced them the attack would come from that direction. We hoped they wouldn’t be looking for us to come through the western desert.

A mile into Iraq, we halted for a pre-battle check to make sure all vehicles and equipment were prepared for the long drive and the surprise attack. A five-ton dump truck pulled out of line and parked off by itself. A sergeant ran over to see what the problem was.

He found the driver in tears. The guy was a private, just out of high school. He had joined the Army to be a truck driver, had gone to basic training and to driving school. He then found himself assigned to a combat unit shipping out for Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield. Now Shield had turned into Storm and there he was, someplace he’d never imagined, in a combat zone, headed for trouble.

The kid was shaking and sobbing. “I can’t do it,” he said over and over.


The sergeant didn’t yell at him, the way sergeants tend to do.

He didn’t say, “Listen, private. Stop being a sissy. You’re a disgrace to the Army. You get this truck back into formation or I’m going to kick your skinny butt.”

No, the sergeant didn’t say anything like that. He spoke kindly and reasoned with the kid.

“We are all scared. Most of us have never been in combat. It’s okay to be scared. But you can’t stay here. You can’t. It’s too dangerous. A single truck will be an easy target.

“You will be safer coming with the company. It’s okay to be scared. But you need to pull your truck back into line.”

“I can’t.”


“You can. Take some deep breaths. I’ll sit here with you as you pull back into formation. You’re going to be okay.”

And the kid did it. His nose running and his hands shaking, he put the truck in gear and pulled back into line, rejoining the convoy. And when we moved, he moved with us.

When the fighting was over, I thought about the kid and wondered how facing his fear had changed him. This was easier than thinking about myself and my fears.

When we remember our past, we remember with present-tense feelings, so it’s hard to know how the way we felt then differs from how we feel now. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that facing our fears changes us for the better.

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