There are a plethora of skill sets that when put together make one a suitable soldier of fortune. What I aim to bring to light are a few that many people would never think of as necessary to that mission. Of course, this is all my opinion (as usual) but I’ll be sticking to my guns here; I’m going try and avoid the obvious ones like marksmanship, fire team tactics, land navigation, medical, etc. This would be an easy out and quite frankly you’d look at me like, “No shit!” There are some really useful and I dare say necessary skills out there that never enter an individuals mind, especially when it comes to the life of a soldier.

Cooking – Everyone should know how to cook, you can’t live on hot pockets your whole life. This skill becomes a huge asset when you’re stuck in a third world shit hole, enjoying its limited cuisine on a daily basis. For one thing, having a proper meal during times like that is a huge morale booster and knowing how to throw some readily available ingredients together in a pinch can reward you with a breath of fresh air to your weary psyche. Second, offering to cook for your comrades is not only a morale booster of a meal for all, it gives you good standing among the ranks as well as develops unit cohesion with a group of fighters you may not share a country with, much less a language. It may not be a tactical advantage but knowing how to cook is also a sure fire way to score points with the opposite sex, this is most certainly relevant to the lifestyle.

A typical meal in the Peshmerga
A family meal abroad

Driving a Manual – This is one of those things that always surprises me; the number of people I meet who can’t drive a stick shift or ride a motorcycle baffles me. Sure it’s difficult to learn but once you got it, you’re good. This is rather relevant to the third world because the most common vehicles in it posses a manual transmission (Toyota Hiluxes and Land cruisers are everywhere in the middle east). You never know when you’ll have to make a hasty egress in a vehicle that’s not your own but maybe, more importantly, would be having to operate a manual transmission under normal circumstances. I could list a million and one “what ifs” but we’d be here all night; it’s a good skill, trust me.

Both are stick shift combat vehicles

Specialized Skill – This can be anything from mechanics to welding or language, a random skill that may not seem relevant but can prove incredibly useful in the long run. Remember, war is only 10% fighting, so all those gunfighter skills are great but what can you contribute to the remainder that warrants your housing and rations? Repairing a down generator, vehicle, computer, air conditioning unit, etc, can be a lifesaver during operations or R&R. Bringing something unique to the table that makes you technically inclined in some fashion gives you cool guy points with your hosts but may also come in handy when in a tight spot, you never know.

APC engine, probably a maintenance nightmare

People Skills – I would group this in with a lot of things, for starters cultural sensitivity. I may not be Muslim but many of my cohorts are and I think it’s important to learn their customs and traditions. First, they respect me a hell of a lot more for not being an ignorant infidel and second, it strengthens our bonds through a mutual acceptance of our differences. An outgoing personality or at the very least approach to people you meet will take you far; it diffuses tension and people will like you from the get-go. If you acquire some basic language skills for the region, they will go hand in hand, enabling you to form relationships and develop contacts that may benefit you in the future. Another positive that comes out of this is the sharing of skills and training with each other. Remember, this lifestyle requires you to interact and work with people of all different creeds and walks of life so you have to be able to integrate for the stay.

A night out with chai and friends

Patience – A virtue worth having, war is boredom, and knowing how to wait out the slow times is key to longevity. Of course knowing how to keep yourself busy is also good and will fill the void but in the long run, you have to be able to wait for the action. Too many guys show up to there first rodeo thinking they’re going to be running and gunning non-stop. When they realize the truth they often become discouraged and leave only to miss an offensive or engagement shortly thereafter; seen this happen a few times. Wait it out and seize opportunities when they arise.

Fighting boredom

Getting Switched On – Combat is often spontaneous and as a freelancer, you’re often getting spun up to go fight at a moments notice. Knowing how to turn your combat brain on and off at will is a must. For starters you can’t be in “go mode” 24/7, it will burn you out and keeps you from performing when you need to. Maybe most importantly this will keep you mentally stable especially when the fighting is over and you have to switch off, hypervigilance is great but not when you’re trying to kick back with some homies sipping chai and watching a movie. Control your mind and you own the world. As always adapt, improvise, and overcome.


*Originally published on SOFREP