“You inevitably manufacture a crisis if you continue to dwell on ‘what-if’s.’ ” — Dustin Jones
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dustin Jones.
Dustin Jones is a Green Beret turned entrepreneur. Veteran advocate for Racing For Heroes, and self-proclaimed outdoors junkie. When he is not training members of the government in specialized skills, you can find him with a fly rod and a backpack exploring the many creeks and streams that run along the continental divide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Absolutely! I’m the oldest in a family of four boys and grew up in Utah. I spent most of my time hunting, fishing, and hiking the mountains that surround Salt Lake City. I was active in Boy Scouts and to the credit of my dear Mother’s prodding, became an Eagle Scout. My family has deep roots in farming, so I spent most of my childhood summers working on farms within central Utah. I was typically involved with mending fences, bucking hay, and would often have to figure out any number of problems that required on-the-spot solutions. Without an instruction guide for such things, I had to constantly learn how to be resourceful because on a typical farm things break, and they break a lot. I was also involved in sports such as wrestling, soccer, track, and football throughout most of my youth.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Today I serve as an Ambassador for Racing For Heroes, an all veteran-owned Non-Profit founded by a former teammate of mine, from my time as a Green Beret.
I can share many, however, the work I am involved in can best be summed up as someone assisting fellow veterans who come back from staring into the abyss for too long. Through a unique blend of fellowship and motorsports, we have seen many of our friends find a renewed purpose in life, enabling them to begin their “next” chapter in life.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
I served as a member of the Special Forces community commonly known as a Green Beret. I am a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, with training as a Sniper, Close Quarters Battle expert, and am a graduate of the Military Free-Fall Parachutist Course. I’ve had the pleasure of serving with some of the finest warriors and human beings that this country has produced in the last several decades. Through long trials and constant training I have learned to seek out the difficult things in life and overcome them through tenacity and grit.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
The stories that come to mind all have the same basic theme; human spirit and laughter IS medicine. I have countless experiences of the true emotional and psychological range that we as human beings are capable of. Let me elaborate a little. You go from laughing at a silly joke of a friend’s child via sat-phone, to taking mortars and rockets the very next instant. Or, Clearing a house in Iraq while receiving fire from the outside, only to watch my teammates turn and run towards the gunfire. We would conduct business, only to make zombie jokes on the way back from the objective.
Another example would be conducting a Free-Fall jump at night under blacked-out drop zone conditions. You have a plan to land within a certain area, but your team ends up getting scattered into the trees and MILES from the intended insertion point, which leads you to MEDEVAC a teammate, only to laugh hysterically about the whole mess three days later. I once had to hug a tree to stay warm after being absolutely bone-chilling cold, thanks to a week’s long unforgiving and non-stop rainstorm. The only sound louder than chattering teeth during that time was the deep belly chuckle of a buddy after asking me “are you really hugging a tree to stay warm?” You gotta find the humor in the chaos.
The key takeaway from all of the scary, traumatizing, and downright bizarre experiences over the years, is to stay positive and find the joke. Laughter is cleansing, and looking for the positive will win the day more times than not.
We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
One story stands out that exemplifies what my definition of a hero is. Many moons ago, we had planned a large-scale raid on a terrorist training facility, there were several objectives spread too far apart for a single team to effectively control that much dirt. Several teams were tasked to support this mission and the individual assignments were soon distributed.
Our mission required a substantial airlift package to get us into and out of such a remote location. Common in the warfighter world, the infil was executed without issue. Individual teams worked their assignments as planned. Then, Murphy decided to cast his vote. During that warm spring day, Mother Nature enveloped the entire mountain in a thick fog, cutting visibility down to only a couple feet. The rain came and quickly turned to sleet, then snow, followed by plummeting temperatures, along with our airlift package’s ability to extract us. We soon found ourselves in Indian Country and about to freeze to death, cold weather gear was nonexistent as we had stuffed bullets and grenades into every spare pouch we had. We anticipated a long and prolonged day of fighting, so there wasn’t room in the packs for jackets. Every ounce was devoted to something that went bang and the only link to help, our Comms gear.
As time kept on ticking, we began receiving small arms fire sporadically at Observation Posts. The enemy knew we were in their backyard and we had zero visibility. This had all the makings of a dramatic Hollywood movie. The only question was, would we freeze to death or be shot by enemy fire? Soon in the distance I heard the radio crackle with a voice from our airlift package requesting an update. They were coming to retrieve the Assault Force!
Minutes passed as the situation was relayed, grim details exchanged about our dire situation. At this point we were freezing, incoming fire was picking up with intensity and frequency, and we had begun intercepting enemy radio transmissions. The enemy was amassing forces and knew exactly where we were. I was beginning to understand how General Custer must have felt.
The call goes out across the Assault net, “all teams link-up at the landing zone, the birds are coming to extract us” what was not relayed was that the pilots were flying blind guided only by communications from a lone controller on the ground relaying corrections based solely on the thump-thump of the rotors and a very faint shadow in the fog. Slowly but surely the aircraft descended through zero visibility conditions onto a point only known by the controller on the ground. Painfully slow the pilot maneuvered the airframe with nothing more than instinct and trust/faith in the near-stranger on the ground giving corrections to the pilot’s course. Descending inches at a time. What an amazing example of trust, faith, and doing the inconvenient and extremely dangerous to benefit others.
By the commonly accepted definition of heroism, this was textbook and was a near-daily experience out there. But my definition of heroism is a little less dramatic, I’ll explain. To me, heroism at its most base level is being consistent at the mundane and inconvenient. I may sound glib in saying that I’ve been surrounded by “heroes” and the brave and dramatic version of courage for much of my life. So I’ve become dulled to heroism that most fawn over. To me, heroes are unsung warriors that packed my parachutes, made sure my ammo for the team’s resupply got on the bird, or was displayed by that person who ran from the mail facility and got our letters from home into the resupply pallet at the very last minute. People who, day in and day out, kept the wheels turning so that the very few of us could focus on warfighting. I only was able to do what I accomplished because so many others kept the whole organization/unit/team together and functioning. Truly selfless and self-aware individuals who owned their profession and were masters of their craft.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
A hero, are those willing to do the mundane and boring consistently for the benefit of others.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?
Absolutely! Every single day of my military career I used critical thinking to solve problems. Commanders and Leaders do not need people to bring up problems. They need solutions. One of the biggest rules we chose to live by was “if you identify a problem, bring a solution with it”. I know of no other place where the stakes are higher than when your life, and the lives of the people you know personally are continually on the line. There was a great deal of emphasis on personal accountability and being a ‘think on your feet player.’
This has since translated to the work I continue to do with the military and our veterans. Inevitably life throws you curveballs, and typically several at a time. This has a tendency to develop a negative feedback loop. Any move you make results in more problems… this can become quite exhausting. So what must take place is a new or improved mindset to realize that the only reason you are encountering problems and challenges is because you are moving forward. Enemy fire only increases as you get closer to the objective.
So having spent so many years in these “intense” environments has taught me to lean into problems as opposed to avoiding them. The truly great things are only ever realized after staggering through immense hardship. Learn to enjoy the curveballs in life, to those with the right mindset. These are just opportunities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My greatest influencers were all the people who told me “you can’t.” All of my detractors and those who had little faith in me. Many of them existed along the way and many still exist in my life. Without them I do not know if the spark I started with in life would have grown into the fire that I carry with me now through life’s obstacles. Out of my own stubborn pride I chose to not believe in the feeble words of someone else who decided that they could not.
I would love to share a story, but they are numerous and I rarely devote much of my time to the down times in life. I will summarize 20 years of experience into one simple sentence. “Other people’s opinion of you, is none of your business”. As Shakespeare once wrote, “to thine own self be true.”
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?
Crisis, by my definition, is when you or someone near you is at risk of losing life, limb, or eyesight. Outside of that, it’s all just called living.
Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?
Well the difficult thing with Crisis’ is that they’re often a surprise. You inevitably manufacture a crisis if you continue to dwell on “what-if’s.” Time to prepare is on a sliding scale in proportion to the level of devastation. The more damage = less time to prepare. As long as you have time to prepare it’s not technically a crisis. Understanding the time relation to a crisis is paramount.The more time you have to prepare allows you to mitigate risk. And once risk is mitigated to the degree that time allows, you have to trust that you have done everything possible. Risk and danger are ever-present in life. Focus on what you can do and go from there.
There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?
Do not Panic. Breath and assess options you can make work and that have the potential to influence positive outcomes. Start by working from out to in and eliminate any time spent on anything that you are unable to influence directly. If you can not Influence it, it is not critical at this moment in time. You are shrinking the circle and eliminating thoughts on things beyond your control. Think of it as “combat meditation”. You take a very grey world and make it black and white as quickly as possible. There’s zero room for a “maybe” you deal only with Yes and no’s. You continue this process and understand that it never ends. You will continue this process for your entire life, and it didn’t just start at the beginning of a crisis. You only were handed problems that you were not used to solving up until the “crisis point” so one could say that crises are just opportunities to become aware.
What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?
Simple, a cool calm mind. Everything in your power should be done to get to this level of thinking. Reduce the noise and confusion in your life and limit how many streams of information you are consuming. Focus only on what is most important to you. Start solving the problems as they relate to your priorities.
When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Pretty much anyone in the Emergency Response/ First Responder/ Armed Forces world. Most of these individuals have an almost alien ability to think on their feet while fluid situations develop. These are men and women who have seen a myriad of situations over a very short period of time. And for the most part have 2–3 times the experience of most of their peers who have worked in other career fields. They have become accustomed to life and death situations and have had to adapt in order to survive in these environments.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Only everyday and life still goes on. I’ve fought my way out of bankruptcy on more than one occasion, most recently in the last 12 months. I fought with Veteran affairs for almost 5 years and finally won. I overcame a health condition that had massive potential to kill me in the last couple of years. I’ve had cutaway parachutes, I’ve torn shoulders, torn muscles, fallen off buildings, and been concussed more times than most NFL players. But I’m still here. As far as I’m concerned, there’s not much that can be thrown in my direction which I’ll be unable to overcome. THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY — if you’re willing to do the work.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Crises not only have the potential to jeopardize and infiltrate your work, but they also threaten your emotional stability and relationships. Based on your military experience, what are 5 steps that someone can take to survive and thrive in these situations? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. Guard your inner-peace like it’s the last drop of water and you’re in the middle of the Sahara desert. Get rid of anything causing you stress, and limit interactions with those who contribute to it.
2. This too shall pass. Just like all the other bad days, you’ve survived all of them and will survive this one as well.
3. Only focus on what you can directly influence/control. Everything else is wasted energy.
4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Get some fresh air, eat good nourishing foods, and find something to do that fills your tank. Even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Don’t rely on others to do this for you. Life is about small victories.
5. Be brutally honest with yourself, no one is coming to save you. But be humble enough to ask for help, don’t expect others to do the work for you.
Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Simply this, be good people. Do not stress about the little things and do not allow others to push their drama onto you. Take time to smile at a stranger, hold a door open, ask how someone’s day is. Pay it forward. Strive to accomplish one good thing daily to benefit others. Remember what may seem small to you may mean the world to someone else.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Honestly I want to know all the Veterans and First Responder and others who every day are striving to leave their impact on this world. The unsung heroes of the world that do not receive the recognition or praise they deserve yet continue doing the work anyway. Those are the types of people I would like to meet. It’s always the underdogs that win the biggest victories.
How can our readers follow you online?
Instagram @dusty.jones_ or @racingforheroes
Or find me on the web www.racingforheroes.org
Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.