If this can motivate, help, or inspire just one person, it’s served its purpose.

It could always be worse.

This is a picture that I’ve held onto for personal reasons and will continue to hold onto for many years. Whenever things seem to be a little tough, I refer back to my time in service as a Ranger, and especially the moment this picture was taken.

This picture was captured immediately after my recon/sniper team of six men was pinned down for hours against an enemy sniper, surrounded in a 360° ambush. Three of our men had been shot while pinned down in a small ravine; one was only a couple of feet away from me and another inches away—close enough to hear the round impact his upper chest and feel the warm spray of blood smack my face.

When you see the water-soaked uniforms my spotter and I are wearing in this photo, that isn’t just water, it’s mixed with the blood from two of our men—one, Cpl. Ben Kopp, who ultimately died of his wounds and is currently recovering in a place we cannot see.

We all fought hard that day. The majority of the guys had bullet holes in their uniforms. I dream every night and think every day what else I could have done to change the outcome on my end. Call it survivor’s guilt or whatever, but it’s something…something that I consciously choose to take with me until it’s my time to recover under the dirt.

I frequently dream at night of telling my spotter, “P, I got less than a mag,” and him informing me that he had to pick and choose targets with less than 10 rounds of .300 Win. Mag. left. I can still feel his fist bump when we thought we were done. We popped smoke and bounded from the small hole we were in, back to a rescue element, our backs to the incoming fire. I can hear him saying, “Let’s do it, bro!”

Those are the moments I look back to when things don’t go as planned, I feel stressed out, etc. I try to adopt the mindset we all had on that day. Sure, things sucked: We hadn’t slept in five days, had eaten little food, were surrounded, guys were being shot and dying, and yes, I was scared and had made peace with whatever was going to happen. But a Ranger never gives up until his last breath. And after his last breath, he sucks one more from his enemy. No matter how bad things are, take the situation for what it is at that moment; adjust, adapt, and overcome. It could always be worse.