When you’re learning how to hold your own in combat, there are all sorts of things you need to know. The practical skills come to mind first — how to shoot, how to change magazines and reload, how to react to contact, how to operate various military vehicles, how to conduct effective first aid — the list goes on. Then come the more abstract skills that lend themselves to learning the physical things — discipline, perseverance, loyalty, fostering trust, earning respect — these are all qualities that are required if a good warrior wants to become excellent at the physical tasks that need to be done.

But there is one skill that comes before them all: the ability to learn. It sounds obvious, but it’s a skill that many lack.

The military forces this ability upon you — if you go into the Army and act like you know anything, you’re liable to get knocked down a few pegs. You don’t have a choice, because if you don’t learn the necessary skills and tasks, then people will die and it will be your fault. It’s that simple. It sounds dramatic, because it is.

Learning to learn is a process everyone in the military goes through, but it is not exclusive to military circles. Veterans are just lucky enough to, at some point in their lives, have had someone force them to sit down and learn something new whether they liked it or not. Many parents do this too, but not everyone is so lucky. And many veterans even have a hard time transferring this skill into civilian life.