Soldier And Educator On Resiliency
Chip Rankin is an educator and a soldier in the Army National Guard. During his career as an educator and a soldier he's mentored students and soldiers who were struggling with various issues. Unfortunately, some of those students and soldiers were lost to suicide.
One of the things Chip has found to help those who are struggling has been the individual's resiliency and not getting caught up in what he calls "mind traps".
Chip talks about the resiliency training that the Army offers, which helps soldiers shift towards a more resilient mindset. Chip encourages others to "hunt the good" no matter how small that good might be.
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Scott DeLuzio: 00:00 Hey everybody, this is the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting veterans after they get out of the military. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: Hey everyone, thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast today. My guest is Chip Rankin. Chip served 27 years in the U.S. Army and has worked as an educator for about 21 years. Over the course of his career, Chip has lost several students and also soldiers to suicide. He's found some commonalities with all of these individuals in which I'm hoping to dig into a little bit with this episode. So, Chip, welcome to the show. And why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Chip Rankin: 00:43 Well, first of all, thanks for having me today. And a little bit about myself. I grew up in central Minnesota. I got an undergrad at the University of Minnesota and I was a teacher for roughly eight years. I joined the guard, the Army National Guard, when I was a college student to help pay college debt and deployed in 2005 to 2007 to Iraq. When I returned, I entered the education administration world as an assistant principal and then a principal later on. Subsequently, I got deployed again from 2011 to 2012 to Afghanistan. And when I got home, I dabbled into becoming a superintendent. I'm entering my third year as a superintendent and approaching my 27th year in the Army and have a pending deployment coming up in the Spring of 2020 to the Horn of Africa. So, it's me in a nutshell, married and four kids.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:47 Oh, wow. Okay. Interesting. That's a long career in the both in the military and in education. So, thank you for all of that public service because that's all great stuff. And now, stepping into the superintendent role, I have to mention, it's probably a big change of pace for you, as well.
Chip Rankin: Yeah, it's interesting.
Scott DeLuzio: Earlier when we were talking offline, going back and forth with some emails you had mentioned to me that you seem to have found a common issue amongst the soldiers and the students that you've lost to suicide. That issue that you mentioned was resiliency. Would you mind going into that topic a little bit more?
Chip Rankin: 02:38 You know one of the things the military has done since I've come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the last 5 to 7 years, we lose the lives of 22 service members a day to suicide as they've really stressed resiliency training. I have resiliency trainers in my organization. Currently, I serve as a commander for second battalion, 135th Infantry out of Mankato, Minnesota. We have just shy of about a thousand soldiers. There are requirements annually to complete a certain number of hours in resiliency training. And rightfully so, the military is deeply concerned about the number of suicides in our organization. In the parallel life being a principal, we always talk about what are the barriers to student achievement and student success and why don’t 100% of kids graduate high school? And why do we see issues of suicide, depression, and chemical use? And it's interesting as you watch a few Ted Talks and a common denominator is a level of grit, a level of resiliency and it's very interesting that in two different worlds, two different settings, you find a common denominator.
Scott DeLuzio: 03:56 Yeah, absolutely. And so, you talked a little bit about this resiliency training in the military. What does some of that training look like? What are some of the things that you do in that type of training?
Chip Rankin: 04:09 It was developed by an organization that put together a number of videos. They call a lot of vignettes, settings, hunting the good. A lot of it is how you approach things versus how things approach you. A lot of it is just self-awareness and how you approach problem solving and how you approach each day. What the training looks like is, just say we took a four-hour block of instruction, it would be a combination of PowerPoints and videos. The instructors have to get certified. They serve the unit level down to the smallest unit, which might be a squad, which might be about 12 soldiers but to as high as a company, which might be 135 and they'll pick key topics. It's not just around resiliency but what they do is they work to skills of coping through difficult situations that might paralyze an individual. For example, let's just talk finances. There are some people that their finances cause depression, divorce, and they just talk to you through skills and how to get through that so you don't have to go through those experiences.
Scott DeLuzio: 05:35 Okay. That makes a lot of sense that the military would do something like this to help the soldiers get through some of this stuff and build that resiliency because a lot of what you do in the military especially being Infantry, I was also Infantry, so a lot of the stuff that you do requires some degree of resiliency. I gave a presentation at a conference about a year and a half ago or so talking to other entrepreneurs about the lessons that I learned in the military that I've been able to apply to my own business. Hopefully with the idea of helping other entrepreneurs to be able to apply some of that stuff to their own business. One of the topics that I discussed was that the concept of Embrace the Suck, which if anyone is not familiar who might be listening with that phrase, it's a common phrase in the military and it's sort of tongue in cheek a little bit.
Scott DeLuzio: 06:37 We use that to either accept or appreciate something that's either difficult or unpleasant, something that you might have to do, whether it's a long ruck march or whatever it happens to be. It's just that thing that concept of embracing the suck to get through that difficult thing because whatever that thing is that you're doing is ultimately unavoidable. You still have to do it. Just because it sucks, doesn't mean that you can just stop doing it or whatever. So, it's unavoidable for whatever that forward progress or momentum to take place. So anyways, I gave an example of a farmer who might be growing a bamboo tree, for example. I picked a bamboo tree for a specific reason.
Scott DeLuzio: 07:29 I know it sounds like it's a sort of off the wall but if you know anything about bamboo trees, the seed that's first planted for the bamboo tree needs to be watered almost daily before that seed breaks ground. That little sapling or whatever you want to call it, breaks ground almost five years later from the time that it was first planted. It has to be some sort of dedication and even a little bit of faith to be able to tend to a plant for five years. You don't even know really if it took root or not at that point. Once when the tree does break through the ground, it can grow about 80 to 90 feet in just a little over a month
Scott DeLuzio: 08:13 up out of the ground. So, at that point, the growth seems almost effortless. In reality, it required years of weeding and watering and everything else that goes into it in order for that tree to even get to the point where it broke ground and that now, to me, that's the suck that we talked about there. It makes it so that some people might view other people and say, “Oh, it looks like they're an overnight success or they're doing this thing effortlessly” whether it's a physical exercise or in schools, “Oh, someone just gets this math problem really easily. And I must be dumb because I don't get it.” Which is probably not the case.
Scott DeLuzio: 08:59 And in many cases, it's just a matter of that other person put in the work to get to that point where they understand it at a better level. I can imagine that in some cases, especially with the students that you are dealing with on a day to day basis, that they may have some level of self-doubt or things like that where they're seeing other people who are acing tests and they may just feel down on themselves because it seems like no matter what they do, they're not able to achieve that same level of success. But what you are saying is that resiliencies are something that sort of seems like it might help them get to that point.
Chip Rankin: 09:48 Part of the resiliency training is avoiding thinking traps. All that really means is, if you boil it all down, is that you can't think, “well, Oh, I have to go to work today. It's going to be so miserable. It's going to still be horrible and I have to deal with this. Can I deal with this?” Well, if you start thinking about what's going to happen to you versus the possibilities of what you could make happen today, thinking traps and it'd be no different than a student coming to work and say, “Oh my gosh, I've got to go to biology today. Well, that sinking trap because of maybe one negative experience, you think that every experience is going to be negative. And if you've already approached it that way and then it's probably going to happen, that's going to be negative.
Chip Rankin: 10:30 And it's just getting out of that mindset. And I think that there comes a point that maybe it's your point of view. Is it really that sucky? I think for me as a kid, I grew up on a dairy farm, cleaning barns with a pitchfork but there were no Bobcat's or bailing hay and you were so giddy because you got a penny a bail. And now that you're an adult where they really kind of took advantage of me there. But at the time a penny was a big deal. Now as a kid, I was excited but if I was an adult, I'm probably not doing it for a penny a bail. Now, that's 25 years ago. But you get my point. It's all about your perspective.
Scott DeLuzio: 11:10 Yeah, it is. And actually, that brings up another point regarding the resiliency and the effort that it might take somebody to just push through. There's something that I've read about a while ago I think it was actually kind of this idea, it was created by a Navy Seal. It's a rule that he came up with called the 40% rule. The 40% number isn't like a scientifically calculated or proven number or anything like that, it's just like a ballpark estimate. But for what we're talking about, it's actually a good estimate.
Scott DeLuzio: 11:51 What the 40% rule says that when you're doing something that's difficult there will come a time when your mind says you're done. Whether it's a physical activity, lifting weights or running a long distance or even a mental activity where you're studying or you're taking a test or some fact that there's going to come a time when your mind is just like, “I quit. I'm done.” So, no matter what the task is that you will eventually come to a point where you just want to quit. It's that point where most of us will just quit on whatever that thing is. At that point, we've only really done about 40% of what we're capable of doing. Now imagine if that bamboo farmer that I was talking about earlier quit after the second year, the tree that he was planting wouldn't stand a chance.
Scott DeLuzio: 12:41 That's the mindset that elite soldiers like Navy Seals and Rangers and things like that have and why they're capable of doing things that are seemingly like superhuman. They're able to hold their breath for a super long time and run for a long period of time and do all these crazy tasks. I think in knowing that, it can help us push through difficult situations to give a bit more effort. Now this whole 40% rule isn't so much about the individual goals or tasks of maybe a test or going into work or whatever. But it's the mindset that's required to push past that 40% and have the perseverance that it takes to keep on going. In my opinion, it's more important than whatever that individual task that they're doing is, it sort of builds character and makes you into the type of person that will ultimately be successful. So, it's an interesting thing that you're talking about in terms of how all that works in the classroom and stuff too.
Chip Rankin: 13:53 Yeah, absolutely. I think I look like this. I'm pretty much a homegrown Minnesota guy most of my life and getting deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of people think how horrible that could be. I personally think it was a life changing event. Yes. Not just the fact that you're deployed in a combat theater but getting a chance to see how another population lives and the daily grind of their life. And, we get upset. We get upset if our favorite cup of coffee is not available at our favorite convenience store. There are no convenience stores located there. We got upset last week when the power went out on our school for about an hour and a half. But if you went back in the last five years of our school, say the power went out 20 times in five years, it was probably off for less than two hours.
Chip Rankin: 14:51 And when you get deployed, you realize that these people in an entire country might only get two hours of power the entire week and you may not have it for a month, but their lives continue on. And so, if you sat there and dwelled on it, now people are like, “well that's pretty foolish because you live in an industrialist country and there are expectationa. But I guess it comes from the next thing I would talk about what to me, it's all about perspective management. You know, if your perspective is that it needs to be X, Y, and Z, then it can really be crushed when it's not X, Y, and Z and it's ABC. But I guess it's all based on experience. I'll go back what to you said, embrace the suck. So, the power's off for two hours. It's Fall, it's Minnesota, it's beautiful. Go outside, you'll be just fine. The world's not coming to an end.
Scott DeLuzio: 15:44 A really good point is that the perspective I think is something that people need to really
Scott DeLuzio: 15:53 focus on their perspective a little bit in terms of not focusing on the negatives so much and realize that there is a way through it. I suppose whatever their situation might be, especially like you're talking about, like your favorite type of coffee is not available or something. It's like, that's totally not the end of the world at this point. You can definitely carry on with your day. Get a different flavor or different brand or whatever it is and just move on. So, have you seen strategies throughout your career with the different coping mechanisms to change people's perspectives on certain things?
Chip Rankin: 16:50 You know, I always tell people when they come to school like, “Hey, so school or the Army, how are we going to hunt the good stuff today?” I tell people that all the time, like hunt the good cause, the bad's always hunting you. So, to me when you get up in the morning and maybe you're having a tough day, well turn it around immediately. What good can happen and what are you going to search out and how are you going to make that actually happen? I think about it in the same way from a student like, “okay, so it didn't go so well.” To me that comes a point where, okay, your self-regulation, it doesn't mean you allow yourself to get so low. And I talk about all the time. Teenagers with hormones, emotions get really high and they can get really low.
Chip Rankin: 17:33 We get really excited when our favorite football player scores that massive touchdown. But the celebration almost seems to be so high that I feel like sometimes if you get too high then you can also feel too low. So, you don't score for like four games and then you're in an all-time low. So, it's like that self-regulation. And then hunt the good stuff. What good happened today? What good things mean to you? One of the things I asked for students to do is ask them to journal three things that happened good today. And they'll be like, “well, nothing good happened today.
Chip Rankin: 18:08 Nothing good at all. Just trying to challenge them and then it's defining what could be good. Somebody paid you a compliment. Well, that's something good. Then they start to get these mine traps, “well, they didn't probably mean it.” We'll stop reading into it. If they said you look nice, then you look nice. They didn't say, you look nice, but what I really mean is you look horrible but I'm going to say you look nice. Those are mind traps that you just need to get yourself out of. Accept it for what it is, don't read into it and move on. I think too that the most critical thing that I learned too is I had two soldiers dying on December 2, 2006. And you know, up to that point we had had a lot of close calls.
Chip Rankin: 18:57 40, 50 IEDs. We would take consistant small arms fire and guys talk about it, they joke about it, but then ultimately, on December2, something that actually happened. In the military, we have a tradition that when you have a fallen soldier, you will have a memorial ceremony. And so, here I'm in Fallujah Iraq and the whole company that could be available attended and you get all these senior officers and at the time it used to pretty paralyzing. I was their commander I was a captain at the time. And I had about 150 soldiers, 50 Marines and sailors in my unit. I knew almost all of them. I mean, maybe not like they weren't my friends; unfortunately, I was their commander, but I got to know a lot of them.
Chip Rankin: 19:47 And what I got to observe is just the array of emotions that happen, from guys who were paralyzed. It just couldn't go back out again to people that are going to go off in the next five minutes and they're going to get revenge. And then the vast majority are somewhere in the middle. I think it was eye opening just to watch and the direst times how it almost scatters everybody in different directions. And it was interesting watching probably about eight of them out of that nearly 200 soldiers that just seriously took them nearly two weeks before they had been there. We had been to played it. By that time, we'd already been in theater, in Iraq for about nine months. It wasn't something new to them, but it was the first time they had to deal with actually one of their fellow soldiers and some that were from another organization, a different platoon.
Chip Rankin: 20:45 So they knew each other but maybe didn't know each other intimately but it affected them so deeply that it was tough for them. And I guess what I've found the most interesting is working through that to get them back out. But a lot of that resiliency training came into play. And one of the things I find most interesting is at the time it sounded pretty corny, but our chaplain just said, this'll pass too. And he was an older dude. I'm 32, but he's probably in his early fifties but he’d probably witnessed this a few times and he also kept it in perspective. These were not his friends. These were not one of his soldiers but he had obviously been a reservist himself.
Chip Rankin: 21:33 He was Marine Corps, actually a Navy reservists chaplain priest. And it'd probably have been to 50 funerals, maybe 500 funerals, I don't know. Overseeing them and now I look back on it and today it's 2019 and I think it did pass and all those soldiers that did actually have to deal with that. I mean, almost all of them came through it. At the time you would think that they didn't even know if they could get out of bed the next day but because we had a mission and they didn't want to let their friends down especially their friends and their colleagues and their buddies, they got back up and they did it. I think sometimes the part of that resiliency is making a phone call. To me it's like being a jerk and like, all right.
Chip Rankin: 22:21 And in the Army, you don't just lay in your bed. Somebody is going to come in the next morning, if your three minutes late, they're going to change your world immediately and not let you to sink lower. I think the biggest thing I see in this resiliency is those mental games and putting things into perspective. But I also think it's just keep going after your battle buddies and don't let them sink and find those icebergs and get them through it. Because this too shall pass. And you just can't let them stay static. You have to keep moving forward and that's no different for the student, right? There's not a problem that we can't solve together but if you're not aware of a problem, you'll never actually start tackling it. And my experience with this is it's the isolation that will allow individuals, one phone call, one email, I don't know about Snapchat, but my kids sure love it. But you know, one picture might brighten someone's day and it might make him go on another day and then the next one might be another day. And as long as we keep moving forward, everything shall pass with time.
Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. Actually, I had another guest on the show actually the episode has not yet been
Scott DeLuzio: 23:46 released, but it will be I think by the time this episode comes out. It'll have come out. So, I might as well talk about it. But we were talking about always wanting to keep moving. You always want to move forward. Sometimes the movement that you make you may not know what exactly the right decision is in terms of, am I moving in the right direction? Whether it's in business or some decisions in your job or whatever, you may not know if you're actually making the right decision but if you just sit around and don't do anything, you're not really making any progress or any momentum. So, you want to just make a decision and move in some direction.
Scott DeLuzio: 24:35 And that sounds almost like what you're talking about, in terms of not just isolating yourself and sitting there and allowing yourself to get into all those mind traps that you talked about and everything. And you want to keep moving forward and even if it's just a phone call to help move forward in the right direction, that might be all you need. So, you said that a lot of the soldiers after that incident where you lost some soldiers, a lot of the soldiers there were having trouble getting back out into the field. What were some of the things that helped them get back out? Was it really just literally someone going in and saying, “Hey, it's time for your shift or it's time for your turn to do whatever, let's go on patrol or whatever and just forced them out there? Or was there some sort of process that you guys went through?
Chip Rankin: 25:40 Well, one of the things we did do is we started forcing people out of their rooms. I know it sounds pretty simplistic and I don't know if you're an officer NCO me being an officer, I try not to get in a noncommissioned officer business. Those are the direct contacts of soldiers. But we required a mandatory PT every day except for Sunday. Just getting people physically moving. I do believe that there is something about keeping the chemical balance in your body moving. I think it's good to sometimes burn off bad energy; it's just like, sometimes when you clear your mind and challenge your body and move forward. I think that helped a lot. But not allowing people to eat in the rooms and not allowing them to eat by themselves. I know it sounds pretty simplistic, but the military has a way of assigning a battle buddy.
Chip Rankin: 26:33 We would do the same thing in schools. We get a new kid coming in here. You're not really alone your first week. It's already awkward when you're new to a school but we take kids that are leaders, like our student council members at my last school we even had a thing called link crew where we're intentionally putting our top seniors with our incoming freshmen to just ease their way through, knowing that where we identify some tough times and bring them forward and then we'd even do something crazy, like it wasn't real challenging, but mental games you know, it sounded crazy but we would have a little tournament. I don't care if it was cribbage. There's a lot of games like play video games but it took their mind off the awkwardness and it kept him moving, kept them active. And I think it helped a lot.
Scott DeLuzio: 27:17 Right. That's really good. And it actually makes a lot of sense. And through some of the conversations on this podcast that I've had with other people, it sounds like that resonates with other people as well. It wasn't just a random chance that you happened to come across doing this type of stuff. I've talked to one soldier who came back; he had PTSD issues and the best thing for him was just getting outside and moving and being active. That really helped him get through some of his issues and work through some of that stuff. Getting back in touch with nature, going on hikes and kayaking and all sorts of things like that.
Scott DeLuzio: 28:00 Through several of the people that I spoke to “community” is something that really resonated with them. When you're in the military, you have that tight-knit group of people who, especially when you're deployed, replaces your family, not replaces entirely but they act as your family. They're looking out for you and helping you with issues and things like that. You guys all come together in that respect. If you're just isolating yourself, staying in your room or eating by yourself or whatever, you're not getting that benefit of the community. So, I think that's what you did there in terms of essentially forcing people out of their rooms or out of their wherever they were to be involved in that community is probably a great move, in terms of keeping them involved in that community and moving forward in the right direction.
Chip Rankin: 29:02 Yeah, I'd say the same thing even in school. So, you're going to have students that don't want to be involved in everything because, at times they're so nervous about they want just the world and you just don't let them. You don't get a choice in this. And I think it's just like parents. There comes a time where I'm a parent of four kids. My job was not to make you happy. My job was to make you better. And yeah, I want you to be happy but I know sometimes I have to make decisions for you that I know are in your best interests, like the day I had to take my kindergartener to get her flu shot that she is absolutely going to hate but we know what's better for her. It's pretty common sense but sometimes what we do when people are hurting, we want to leave them alone. In fact, that's the opposite of what you want to do.
Scott DeLuzio: 29:48 Yeah, absolutely. Go out for a coffee or something like that, take them somewhere and get them out so, they're not stuck in that rut, wherever they happen to be and definitely don't leave them alone because that's, like you were saying before, that's where those mind traps sort of seep in. You start to have that internal dialogue that is in many cases very, very wrong. You start to believe it and you start to internalize it and believe all of those negative things that you're thinking.
Scott DeLuzio: 30:30 Getting out and being involved with people is definitely a great way to start and
Scott DeLuzio: 30:37 negate all of that? So, I have another question. So, let's say we have someone who's listening and they realize or at least recognize that they're falling into some of these trap that you're talking about. They want to become more resilient. Maybe it's a student, maybe it's a younger teenage or even preteen or something like that or, or even older, maybe it's someone who is in the military. What advice would you give them to be able to start working on building resiliency through whatever processes that they may be going through?
Chip Rankin: 31:23 Know, first of all, I just think that sometimes we need just to acknowledge it. We live in the greatest country in the world and we have so many resources available to us right at our finger tips. If you're a soldier, Military One Source, has people that are on 24/7 waiting for your text, your phone call, your email and these are highly trained people that are looking out for you and that's their sole purpose in life and you've earned that resource, use it. I think a lot of people just don't use it. The second thing is if you're a student, I mean our schools are loaded with people that want to help. And maybe it starts with finding that first person you trust and sharing. And I know it's really hard because you don't want anybody to know about your business.
Chip Rankin: 32:04 But here's the deal. If you want to get better, then you've got to share, if you want to grow. I just think it takes that very first thing, setting that very first goal. And it might be as simple as, “Hey, if I want to lose 10 pounds this week, I don't focus on losing 10 pounds.” But I think what we really talk about is, “okay, today I'm going to go for a walk.” How hard is to go for a walk? It's a beautiful day. Let's get outside, let's go for a walk. And then holding yourself accountable, right? Realtime goals and have a plan going into it. I just think that we're so lucky to live in the United States where the supports are everywhere and people want to help even if you don't have any money.
Chip Rankin: 32:50 There's a lot of people in our churches that are trained to do this very thing. It starts with trusting somebody and finding somebody in your life that you trust. To me what helped me grow my resilience is having a few people that are going to not that's a big downstream. Having a mentor and having a friend, your mentor can be a friend to you, but a mentor is going to tell you things that you probably don't want to hear. A friend is going to tell you stuff that makes you feel good. And if they're good friends, there'll be a mentor to you. Trust them and get some critical feedback. It's hard to hear it but if it helps you grow, then it's worth every bit of it.
Scott DeLuzio: 33:28 Absolutely. I love that whole thing there. That makes a ton of sense and I really hope that that helps some people who are struggling with that resiliency issue and becoming a little bit grittier, if you will. So, it looks like we're coming up on time here. I like to ask the veterans that I have on this show one last question before we wrap things up. You can answer this question however you'd like either with a joke or something maybe more serious. The question is, “is there anything that you wish someone would have told you before you joined the military? Any piece of advice or tips or things like that? “
Chip Rankin: 34:13 I think what I would share with people, I have a 15 year old who is going to turn 16 year in a couple of weeks and he's going to be 17 here in about a year. And he talks to me all the time about joining the military. I think I'd ask them as I turned around and say, so what they should have told me is, do you know what you're about to do? Because people thank you for your service all the time. It's a little awkward, but I think what I'd share with people is
Chip Rankin: 34:45 the reason you're joining is to become a better version of you. And if you let the military to do that, there's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be doubts. And why did I do this? But you know, I think at the end of the day, what people should tell you is that you're going to come out of this better than when you went into it, if you allow that process to happen to you. And to me it all comes back to mindset. I come across a lot of veterans, a lot of people that served, and for those people listening that have served thanks for service. I know you don't like to hear it. I don't like to hear it but the reality is that 1% of our population does it today. And that doesn't mean if you don't serve, there's a lot of things you can do. You don't have to just serve in the military but just trust the process. Stay true to why you joined. And at the end of the day, you're going to be a better version of yourself than when you went in at the time. It was all about me and how I'm going to pay for college for me. And you know, I think that there's easier ways to pay for college than to join the military because you want to become a better person. And if you trust it, it will happen.
Scott DeLuzio: 35:51 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com we're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.
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