By Cecil Johnson
Knight Ridder Newspapers
In July 1965, Robert Turner sat on the edge of a dike overlooking a stinking rice paddy in Vietnam, so hungry, exhausted, homesick and scared that he thought about giving up.
"I was thinking how much I wanted out of there, how much I wanted away from that place. Feeling sorry for myself, I silently said: 'I'm quitting. This is too tough, and I don't like it. I'm hanging up my jockstrap."'
But Turner didn't quit. In "No Excuse Leadership: Lessons From the U.S. Army's Elite Rangers," successful businessman and military veteran Brace E. Barber reveals what brought that young adviser to a South Vietnamese battalion through that ordeal and enabled him to complete two tours in Vietnam. Ultimately, Barber points out, Turner would achieve legendary status as Col. Robert "Tex" Turner, the head of West Point's military instruction department.
Barber lets Turner tell his own story of what pulled him through Vietnam. Turner says he interpreted a shooting star as a sign from God telling him to look to his past for strength to carry on. He recalls high school football, the ordeals of monasterylike life at West Point and then Ranger school.
"I spent eight …; weeks of pure hell doing all kinds of weird things and then went out and did my duty in the military. I thought, 'You know, ever since I got into the military, everything has been pretty easy compared to what I'd done to get there."'
He says the meteor streaked across the sky to remind him that, unlike in Ranger school, he got to eat every day and sleep most of the night.
"When you're in combat, it's not like in the movies. You are not in combat full-time. You can get a lot of sleep. Combat has been described as days of boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror," Turner says.
He says he endured Vietnam because he had been in a worse place, Ranger school. That is why Turner became such a strong advocate of Ranger training for all officers: "There are two kinds of officers, those who are Ranger qualified, and those with excuses why they are not."
That gave Barber the title of his book. But Barber applies the lesson outside a military context: "Grasp the simplicity and power of No Excuses, and you have guaranteed success. 'Well, what's it gonna be? Wealthy, or excuse? Well, what's it gonna be? Healthy, or excuse? Well, what's it gonna be? A good parent, or excuse? Well, what's it gonna be? A good friend, or excuse? Well, what's it gonna be? A good employee, or excuse? Well, what's it gonna be? A good leader, or excuse?"'
Business leadership is the main theme of Barber's book. He endeavors to show how the virtues instilled through relentless pressure at Ranger school, pressure that tests physical, mental and emotional limits, is preparation for successful leadership in any field.
Rangers, Barber writes, are persistent, focused, driven, instinctual, honest, selfless, confident, dutiful and determined and devotes a chapter to each of those qualities and more. Those qualities reflect Ranger school graduates' experiences and help lead to success in the military and other endeavors. Turner's chapter, for example, is about humility. He shows how he learned to listen to others to get through Ranger school and how that has made him an effective leader.
Persistence is highlighted in Barber's own story. He credits the persistence he developed in Ranger school with helping him persevere through many ups and downs before founding successful consulting companies, the Tax Recovery Group and The Tax Firm.
Barber's story of his ordeal in Ranger school is entertaining and inspiring. It is the kind of stuff that veterans like to talk about at reunions.
The worm pit
One of the toughest things Barber and the others had to endure was the "worm pit," an obstacle course that included pull-ups, crawling under barbed wire, a horizontal ladder, a low-crawl pit and a rope climb, each with a foot of muddy, ice-cold water underneath.
Everyone eventually fell in the water, but no one quit. They kept going because it was expected, and the only alternative was to leave.
"None of us had a choice in the matter, and none had it better than the other. The worm pit was the first major indoctrination exercise into the Ranger mentality," Barber writes.
Barber describes his struggle in the worm pit after letting go of the pull-up bar and falling facedown in the water: "I kicked with almost panic energy, sucking in more water than air, and scooping sand into my pants with my belt. 'Push-push-push,' I thought. 'The end is getting closer. Push-push-push.' I must have looked like a frog moving through the water -- very little style, but a definite goal."
Barber suggests there are worm pits in everyone's circumstances, and struggling through them to reach your goal might take months or years. He reflects on his struggles to succeed in business: "I was a styleless frog bound for a small success, which I did achieve that day. This type of mind-set relates directly to my early efforts at making money. I didn't care what I looked like; I had a goal."
Because Ranger school is not an option for most aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs, Barber suggests a thorough reading of his book as a good place to start training for greater success.