Much has been written on the importance of a team for success in life and business. Military schools emphasize the strength that comes from the unit and the potential for failure
that exists when the unit falls apart. As I trained to be a Marine infantry leader for over a year, I was taught how to lead a team and my platoon as a part of a larger team. Everyone understood their place as well as the need to work together toward a common mission. What I learned during combat operations in Iraq, though, is that simply having a team is not enough.

Having the right team is essential to any victory, but winning is about more than just having the right people in the right place. It is about the relationships among team members that go beyond a skill set or proficiency. It is a relationship built over time that allows you to look into the eyes of those on your team and know what they’re
thinking. It’s about understanding when to push and when to pull back because you know how heavy the load can become before the team will begin to fall apart. Winning is not simply about the team; it’s about relationships. A team can win when everything goes according to plan. And when the plan needs to change because the situation has changed, you need more than a team. You need a group of people who understand each other and care for each other and are willing to adjust even though it may be difficult. You need relationships.


It’s impossible to win alone, whether in life or in combat. But many try. We go through life and complain about the trials and the battles and how much we have to carry when in reality, we were never designed to fight these battles alone. We live in a society that loves superheroes and the idea that one person with a special power or an inhuman drive can save the world alone. But that’s not how real life works. And even though we know that real life is not like what we see on the big screen, we let shame or guilt or pride keep us from letting others help us move forward into the life we were created to live.

When I think about the success we had in Iraq, I cannot think about it without thinking of the thousands of people involved in bringing it all together, from those at the highest levels of leadership to the seventeen- and eighteen-year-old service members who had finished high school only months earlier. Success in combat is the result of thousands of pieces all coming together at the right place and the right time. It’s about the relationships between different branches of service (and countries of service, in many cases), different experiences and backgrounds built on a common goal with common objectives.

Relationships that bring different people together for a unified purpose are the key to overcoming incredible difficulty and finding success.


Looking back at the team I had the privilege of being a part of while serving in Iraq both humbles and awes me. The chain of command went way above me, but our division commander was the current Secretary of Defense James Mattis and our regimental commander was the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford! It is incredible to me to even think about that. Our battalion leadership were men of equally incredible character and skill as military leaders and unbelievable mentors. I had then, and still have today, a respect for each one of these men that I’ve had for very few others. And then my own team. I had the privilege of leading the Counter-Mechanized Platoon for two years, which included our time in Iraq. The largest platoon in the battalion (we had 72 Marines and went up to 84 with attachments in Iraq), we were largely independent, which gave us the opportunity to train closely and get to know each other in a way that made communication with very few words possible. This closeness of relationship taught us to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the team and adjust where necessary. This all came together as we navigated the many friction points we experienced as we made our way from Kuwait to Baghdad. We were able to take care of our vehicles and weapons systems all while operating in an extremely difficult environment, successfully completing each mission, and bringing everyone home when it was all over.

I have often said that my time in Iraq is one of the greatest sources of pride in my life, and what made it so were the men with whom I had the honor of serving. I would do it all over again as long as I could do it with the same team. Success is not just about having a team; it is about having the right team. It is about having relationships at every level that make the team better. You’ll know you have the right relationships in your life when your relationships are with those who have stayed when your chances of survival were not very good. Those are the relationships you need to invest in. This is true in combat, and this is true in life. Those who stay when everyone else leaves are the ones who care about you more than they care about your success or failure. Who runs with you toward the enemy? Hang on to them. They will still be there when the dust settles. That is your team. That team is built on real relationships.


I did not understand this when I was a part of this incredible Marine Corps team, but relationships go two ways. This is the difference between simply using someone to get what you want and having a relationship that is mutually beneficial. In the years since I left the Marine Corps I have had the opportunity to connect with many of the men with whom I served and, hopefully, add the same value to their lives that they have to mine. I have learned that the relationships you need in your life are not relationships that end when an event or crisis ends. The relationship may look different as time goes on, but it doesn’t end because we never stop needing each other. A team may dissolve. Relationships last.


We were never meant to live alone, and we are not meant to fight alone. Our success in this life is largely determined by the team we have around us. That team, though, is only as good as the relationships that hold it together. I have a friend who says it this way: “Show me your friends, and I will show you your future.” What a great statement. The people whom you trust and the people who care for you are the people who will help you see obstacles, deal with the enemies that present themselves, experience victory when
victory seems out of reach, and adjust to a world that is forever changing. Get the right team with the right people, held together by authentic relationships, and you will be unstoppable.


• You can’t win alone.

• You don’t just need people; you need the right people.

• Relationships are two-way. You need the people who also need you.


This post is taken from the book, March or Die which I wrote in 2018. You can order a copy here.