First and foremost, if you’ve spent more than a decade in service, you have a certain amount of street cred with me. Officer or enlisted, odds are very good that you have been around and at least seen the ramifications of good leadership, bad leadership, and the effects of combat. I’m not saying you’ve been to combat, as for some jobs, that’s less of a guarantee and more of a question of time and place. So, Col. Ellen Haring of the U.S. Army, for your experience, your higher education, and your service, you have a little leeway with me. I will thoroughly listen to your argument that the Marine Infantry Officer’s Course (IOC) asks too much in terms of humping weight, but you don’t have an open door to be illogical.

The military, especially the infantry, runs on cold, hard math. If a Marine can’t hack it in his current billet, he or she is relocated (fired). If a particular Marine is a better shot than their peers, he or she will go on to advanced marksmanship training, or a designated marksman course when it comes down the pike. It is a meritocracy in the strictest sense.

I found myself on the receiving end of that meritocracy when I wished to join a sniper platoon. For 96 hours I ran a lot, slept a little, ate a little, had little warmth, and carried a lot of weight. Twenty of us started, and three finished. Meritocracy in action, we were given a kind word by the battalion commander: “You guys are the hardest dicks out here today.” Of those three, one went on to sniper school and passed. It was not me. He was a good deal shorter than me and skinny, but could still carry the 90+ pound rucks necessary for missions.

That ruck rose up to 120 pounds from time to time when we had longer missions to conduct, requiring more supplies. I remember having to lie on my back and strap into it, then roll over and do a push-up to start getting up. Those weren’t the best days, but we did all right. When called for, we brought a SASR (Special Applications Scoped Rifle) along…broken down in a pack. That puts the weight right around 150 pounds, on uneven terrain—not the gravel roads taken during IOC.