If you take prepping seriously, you’ve probably stored up quite the array of supplies—or are at least working diligently at it. You may have even downloaded the Excel spreadsheet found on Survival Blog, and if you’re like me, you might have been slightly overwhelmed at first, at the number of things that are necessary in order to really become self-sufficient in the case of a SHTF scenario. For those of us who are actively preparing for whatever may come, prepping is a never-ending exercise in gathering, training and building. In between all of these prepping activities, however, sometimes we forget that one of the single most important supplies in our “arsenal” is an intangible thing. Morale, otherwise known as positive attitude, can mean the difference between life and death—whether you have 2 days’ worth of food or two years of it.
Morale is so critical that the military spends an incredible amount of time and money training troops to understand its necessity and teaching them how to maintain it even in the most dismal of situations. Major Alexander Cox, in a monograph published by the Army’s Command and General Staff College in 1995, explained that morale and unit cohesion are “the intangible entity that bonds men together and motivates them to push themselves to the last ounce of their strength or ability.” In the worst case scenario, that type of motivation can be the last deciding factor in victory or defeat, whether the situation is a battlefield or just keeping your family focused on surviving from day to day when everything is crashing down around you.
So what exactly is morale? It seems to be a fairly elusive concept that is often oversimplified or even given trite, clichéd meanings. I polled several co-workers of mine, for instance, and asked them how they would define the word, and I received a plethora of varying responses. “Just staying in a good mood,” said one. Another stated that morale was “something you have in the military.” Oddly enough, when I asked my boss, a former medevac chopper pilot in Vietnam, he gave me the best answer yet. “Morale,” he said, “is the absolute belief, way down in your gut, that you will survive by any means necessary, for yourself and for the man next to you.”
This sounds noble and courageous and lofty, but how does this translate to the average citizen in a SHTF situation? How does one impart this to the members of their family and/or group? More importantly, how does one cultivate this within himself? Many prepper articles about morale offer games to play, or little distractions to engage in to keep the mind busy. While these are all helpful, the truth is that morale building starts long before SHTF, and it is far more than just stashing a deck of cards in your bugout bag. Morale is a mindset, a combination of core belief system, emotional health, training, and focus—and one member of the group without it can jeopardize everyone else.
The Marine Corps is often held up as the standard of esprit de corps, or the spirit of the unit. What makes a Marine so different from other servicemen and women? Certainly any member of the Armed Forces contributes something, but the mindset of a Marine is wholly different from the rest. This is because Marines are not only taught to fight and kill, but they are taught the history of their beloved Corps. They are taught about the spirit of those who came before and they have a pride instilled in them that spurs them on in situations that would break the average man. They are part of a legacy, if you will, and every one of them believes forever after in the values and the standards of their Corps. “Ex-Marine” is not something they say [as some even chafe at “former Marine”] , for they are Marines until the day they die. Every piece of a Marine’s uniform is a symbol of a battle, a hard-earned day of reckoning—right down to the red “blood stripe” down the side of their dress trousers. Everything has a meaning, and no recruit leaves boot camp without understanding the stories and the pride behind them. They cultivate a mindset, and that training becomes the foundation for their endeavors both in and out of uniform, for the rest of their lives.
“So what?” you might answer. “How does that help me here in my home, with my family, facing the whole End of the World As We Know It?” Trust me when I tell you that you have far more in common with the United States Marines than you think—or at least, you should.
For those of us who call ourselves patriots, who love our nation and believe in the Constitution, prepping is not just setting up food stores in case of economic collapse. It is not just putting escape plans in place in case of fire or tornado or flood. For us, prepping also includes the solemn knowledge that we are in 1775 all over again. Our freedoms are under attack. Our government seeks to subjugate us under a socialist philosophy. Our privacy is non-existent, and if the administration has its way, we will be disarmed very soon. Stripped of our ability to defend ourselves, we will simply be sheep led to the slaughter, with no recourse, no way to save ourselves. This is a sobering realization, for this knowledge brings with it another fact: We may be called upon to defend our freedoms in our streets, perhaps even in our homes. The idea of morale, then, takes on a whole new meaning, for suddenly it is not just doing some stretches or playing cards by candlelight to “stay in a good mood.” It is keeping that same frame of mind that allowed Marine Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly to rally his Marines in the darkest hour, screaming, “Come on! Do you want to live forever?” It is the frame of mind that drove American fighting men through the mud and the gore of Iwo Jima, through 30 days of endless fighting. It is the mindset that pushed thousands of wounded and starving Marines to survive Bataan.
For us, morale begins with understanding that we have a history. We are the descendants of Nathan Hale, of Patrick Henry and John Adams. Our ancestors faced this same fight, and in their writings we see not only their humanity and their fear, but we also see their courage, and their steadfast belief in liberty. We see their own willingness to do whatever was necessary to ensure they won this battle; even if they died, they would die free. This, then, is the first step to building morale in your families and neighborhoods—understanding our history, and the legacy that we carry in our blood. We should be teaching our children about our ancestors, and teaching them about who we come from and what was sacrificed on our behalf.
Secondly, morale comes from a core belief system. Are we sheep? Or are we the sons and daughters of liberty? What do you believe in? What is worth fighting for—or dying for? When you’ve asked and answered these questions within yourself, there is a sense of confidence that stems from that self-awareness. People who already know what they believe and how far they are willing to go in defense of that belief have a certain peace because the internal struggle about these things is no longer necessary. They are free to move to action. Corporal Jason Dunham did not have to stop and think about what he believed when the insurgent he was guarding attacked him and his men, dropping a live grenade on the ground. Dunham did not need to stop and think about whether it was his job to protect his men, or whether he loved them enough to give himself for them. He already knew the answers to these questions, and so he acted, shielding the grenade with his helmet—and his body. He died eight days later…but his men are alive because of him, because he did not need to question his core beliefs during crisis.
There is a misconception that those who are willing to fight for liberty do not value life, or that they are eager for war. This could not be further from the truth. It is because we do value these things that we choose our path. Please understand—I am not advocating that we all rush out and find a way to die for each other. On the contrary: we are learning and preparing to survive. But in order to survive, we must be willing to do what is necessary within the parameters of our moral code and belief system. We only truly believe that which we are willing and able to defend.
Training is another critical piece of the morale puzzle. Firefighters train constantly so that when they are inside an inferno, their mind can stay clear. When you train, morale becomes easier to maintain because you have already prepared for the situation you find yourself in. When you learn mental discipline, you can steel your mind against the emotions that we all possess, and get the job done. We put flashlights and candles in strategic areas so that when the lights go out, we don’t have to hunt around for light. We load rounds into magazines so that when we need them, they are already prepared. In the same way, we must practice mental discipline so that when we are tested, we can remain strong—and keep the positive attitude that is so necessary.
Those of us who believe in the founding principles of this nation, who understand the purpose and the cost of liberty, know we have a target on our backs. We have no illusions about what is coming. But we prepare. We learn. We teach. We persevere. Because morale, at its core, is survival.