I’m a Navy Seal—Here’s How Single-Mindedness Saved My Life
In free fall, Commander Mark Divine didn't rack his brain for a solution. Instead, he let his mind go blank, and this "front-sight focus" ended up keeping him alive.
The Voorhes for Reader's Digest
In the pitch black, the sound of the helicopter’s rotor blades was deafening. The jumpmaster gave us the thumbs-up as the light turned green. I leaped out into the dark. The static line did its job and pulled my main chute from its rig. I counted one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three, and looked up to check the canopy. Whew. Everything looked A-OK.
Ahead in the darkness, I could see the vague outline of my teammate Chris’s canopy. Something was wrong. I took a closer look—yep, he was coming toward me. Standard operating procedure for potential midair collisions is for both jumpers to pull their right toggles, thereby moving them away from each other. I turned right. Chris turned left and collided with me.
My canopy collapsed into a wobbly sheet. I began plummeting to the earth, picking up speed. I had about eight seconds remaining in my 26-year-old life. Here’s another breathtaking story about a skydive gone wrong.
My mind slowed. My breathing slowed. Time even slowed. Each second seemed like a minute as I moved through the malfunction checklist: Pull on riser to try to reinflate canopy (nothing). Pull on reserve chute cord, punch the bag and rip the reserve out, and throw it as hard as possible into the wind (no good—the reserve shot up and waffled a bit around the main). I’m screwed. I took a deep breath and shook the risers of the canopy again. Ticktock. Six seconds to impact. My mind was clear and silent, watching, waiting for results. I felt no fear, no panic. I was not aware of the past or the future, just the “now.”
Suddenly the chute caught some air, and then I hit the ground like a ton of bricks. The canopy had only partially inflated, but it was enough to slow me down for a survivable landing. I waited a moment and took a deep breath to confirm I was still alive. Amazingly unscathed, I got up, dusted myself off, and marched off to find Chris so I could deck him.
What stuck with me most from this experience was how my Navy SEAL training kicked in, allowing me to perform under extremely stressful conditions. Things felt almost mystical as my mind slowed down and allowed a larger intelligence and calmness to flow through me. I know I would’ve died if I’d tried to think my way out. Learn some simple things everyone can do to support veterans.
Though most people will never face the risk of plummeting to earth in a compromised parachute jump, we all have challenges to overcome. I use the term “front-sight focus” to describe the incredible concentration and single-mindedness SEALs tap into when pursuing a target, whether they’re aiming a weapon at a terrorist, planning a raid, or methodically working through a mess when things go wrong. Front-sight focus refers to a shooter gazing intently at the front sight on his or her weapon after lining it up with a target. When you do this, you remain aware of your surroundings and have your ultimate objective in your mind, but your attention narrows down to that piece of metal just a few inches in front of you.
Without front-sight focus in your life, you’re bound to get derailed, potentially killing any chance of your operating at the highest level possible. With it, you’ll easily distinguish high-value targets from low-hanging fruit and maintain total confidence as you move through life amid any amount of turbulence. Next, read about more secrets America’s troops wish you knew.
The Voorhes for Reader's DigestBuy a copy of the newly updated and expanded The Way of the SEAL.