Navy SEAL inspires Rotarians
Posted By Josh Nelson
Jason Kuhn’s failures led him to perform heroic acts for the United States of America and all of humankind.
Born in Gallatin in 1980, Kuhn shared his gripping life story with the Gallatin Rotary Club at their weekly meeting on Thursday.
It is a tale made for movies, but the events were real. Kuhn’s life is one from which we can all learn and be inspired. His is a story about about life and death; talent and character; love and commitment, and how they all intertwine into finding a purpose and creating a legacy.
“I failed at baseball,” he said near the beginning of his presentation. “I was okay in high school – I was good enough to get a scholarship (at MTSU)…but I got really good when I was in college and I was on my way to play professional baseball when I developed what is known as ‘performance anxiety.’”
In the baseball business, they call it the “yips.” Kuhn could not hit his target when throwing a baseball, and he threw what he described as a “bunch” of wild pitches.
“I threw six in one inning, actually, down at ETSU. That’s an NCAA record that still stands,” he said to much laughter. “That was the last baseball game I played.”
That was in 2001, the year of the greatest terrorist attack on the United States.
“After the World Trade Centers went down, I was looking for a purpose and direction – I missed the brotherhood and bond that I had in college baseball,” Kuhn said. “(The attack) made me mad and I and I wanted to go fight so I decided to join the Navy with the intention of becoming a Navy SEAL and shed the labels of ‘mental weakness’ and everything that was attached to me through my failure (in baseball). ”
And that Kuhn did. Yeah. The guy who could not throw a baseball to his target survived fived days and five nights straight in sometimes cold and wet conditions with just four total hours of sleep during the week to become a Navy SEAL.
“A lot of people say that our training is the most difficult training in the world,” Kuhn said. “I haven’t been through the others, but I know that one was really hard. Our class started with 135 men, and we graduated with 20.”
Kuhn later underwent sniper training and was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and other places.
He used his experiences to talk about mental toughness and the “team first” mindset.
“People often tell you to be ‘mentally tough,’ but they don’t tell you how to be mentally tough,” Kuhn said, adding that a personal story was a good example. “We were in Iraq, and it was the last day of our deployment.
“Right before I was deployed, I had a little girl…so I spent three weeks with her before I was deployed…and it was our last day – in fact, our bosses came in and said, ‘Pack up all your stuff; it’s time for you guys to go home. So, I’m going to take her to Disney World and I’m ready to rock and roll.”
Not so fast.
“They came back and say we have to go back out for one more operation,” Kuhn said.
Their mission was to take out a top Al-Qaida leader in Fallujah.
Kuhn ended up being up pinned down in a fight.
“I remember thinking that the thing I do next is going to determine whether I live or die,” he said. “I also remember thinking that it’s the only thing I have control over.
“In any kind of competitve environment – and that’s what combat is – there are all kinds of circumstances that are unfair, that are outside of our control (and) that are frustrating, and we tend to focus on those things.
“Emotion doesn’t have to dictate the next action,” Kuhn said. “I needed to focus on what I could affect. What do I need to do right now to win the fight in front of me.
“It is really easy to go down a ‘victimhood’ path and feel sorry for yourself – I didn’t have the amount of guys I would normally have, we were supposed to be home, I was supposed to be at Disney World in four days and not getting gassed up here in Fallujah.
“It is easy to let those kinds of circumstances justify self-pity. The thing to understand is that it is normal, but it provides no value; self-pity is an absolutely worthless emotion.
“You need to shift your focus into two things: what do I need to do to win this fight, regardless of how I feel, and then shift your focus into the people around you – your teammates.”
Kuhn then made an important distinction between values and ability.
“We do not ever sacrifice character for talent,” he said. “Ideally, you want both…but talent is worthless when it drops it’s gun and leaves you behind.”
He then transitioned to the “team first” approach.
“It’s not our job to ‘get’ through a situation, but to ‘lead each other’ through a situation,” said Kuhn, who later added, “We either work against each other, with each other, or for each other – and teams that work for each other are elite.”
He recounted a situation in which he saw a helicopter crash into a ship as they tried to take it down.
“Some of the pieces of the helicopter were hitting me – like small pieces of glass,” Kuhn said. “I made my way up the crash site and saw my buddy; he had managed to take a few steps away from the helicopter…he had completely broken his hips in half in three places…and he was laying on his back. He was our most experienced medic.
“I said, ‘how do we fix you? He starts looking at the other guys and telling us how to fix them, so we start applying treatment and aid to the other guys and as we get close to getting done, he says, ‘Hey, guys, I think I have internal bleeding (to an artery) in my legs and I think I’m going to bleed out here in about 20 minutes.”
He was rushed to a hospital and is still alive today.
“He knew he was on ‘the clock,’ Kuhn said. “Selflessness was a trait he had made innate in his character.”
And if he had died?
“That’s what people are going to remember about you – your legacy – who were you in difficult moments.”
Note #1: This is probably the longest write-up of a speaker presentation I have ever done and it is really just a snippet of the full presentation – you really need to listen to whole thing at the link below.
Note #2: When you do listen to it – and I hope you do – there are several applause portions; do not assume it’s done until the recording is done.