Episode 008

On episode eight, we interviewed Josh Apple about what it takes to be a member of a Special Operations Force team. Josh serves in the Air Force as a Combat Controller. Combat controllers are rarely talked about, but they serve a vital role alongside other special operation force teams. These guys are the ones who call in the airstrikes, provide command and control, direct air traffic, and set up airfields, among other things. Josh has been a recipient of both a Bronze Star and a Combat Action Medal. If you like the show, please review us on your podcaster of choice! Feedback, ideas for topics and guest appearances are always welcome at [email protected].

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Transcript of Episode

Episode Eight – Guest Interview Josh Apple

Hudson

Welcome to the Be Daring Life podcast, we’re your hosts Hudson and Rachel and today we’re interviewing Josh Apple. We asked Josh to come today because we have some kids in our community who are interested in careers in the military. Josh is a combat controller, which is a special operator in the Air Force, and he is the recipient of a Bronze Star and combat action medal.

Rachel

Thanks for coming today, Josh.

Josh

Thanks for having me.

Rachel

Alright, so we just were wanting to ask you some questions about your job and how you got to where you are today. Was being in the Air Force, something you always wanted to do?

Josh

I think growing up I always had an appreciation, I think like most young boys, you always love the military and playing with GI Joes and things like that. I can’t say it was always something I wanted to do, but in the back of my mind, I always thought it was an admirable avenue to pursue, and I had a lot of respect for the people that did it.

Rachel

You were older though, when you went into the military.

Josh

I, I was, yeah, I kinda went back on back and forth with it the last couple of years before I joined. And ultimately, we ultimately made that decision to join.

Rachel

Yeah, so were you like the old guy?

Josh

I was. I turned thirty in basic training, most of the guys that were going from my job specifically as a combat controller most of them were between 18 and 22.

Hudson

So what led you to the Air Force over the other branches of the military?

Josh

This was interesting, whenever I finally really started looking into jobs in the military, I knew that I wanted to do, I wanted to challenge myself and I wanted to be involved in special operations, so I started searching out ’cause everybody hears a Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, Navy Seals and I’d never really heard of the Air Force Special Operations programs.

So I had a good friend of mine that I grew up with in church, who is a Green Beret an Army Special Forces a member and I was talking to him about it is his ideas of what he thought was out there and he told me about Air Force, Combat control and told me what a cool job it was. And you got to jump and ride dirt bikes and shoot and you call in air strikes, dive. I was like, man, that sounds pretty cool.

And then I had another friend that was a Seal and he kind of said the same thing, and so I figured if that job would be in such high regard to an Army Special Forces guy, and a Navy Seal that was worth looking into. So I started doing my research and I just thought it was a really cool job because you’re an integrator of air power on the ground. So you’re a ground Special Operator, that integrates with other lead special operations teams, but then also gets to control all the air power. So I just it brought a unique capability to it, so really cool.

Rachel

I have never heard of a combat controller.

Most people haven’t. Tyrice in Transformers, the guy that wore the red-beret. The guy calling in the air strikes. If you’ve ever seen Transformers, that’s about the only movie press that… that we’ve ever gotten.

Hudson

Did you do anything to prepare for joining the Air Force?

Josh

I did – a lot. Obviously being a little bit older, you’re a little more prone to injury. With any special operations program, there’s a lot of physical strain that goes into it. Most of the special operations, what we call pipelines or training iterations to get you to where you’re operational, last about two years, which is true for combat control sometimes a little bit longer.

So I had to do a lot of research. You have to pass a physical stamina test before you even get in, which can consist of running, swimming, pull ups, push-ups and things like that. So, yeah, I had to… had to get go in the pool, I had to get a friend of mine who swam in college, to teach me how to really be able to swim fast enough to make the times, not only that, but to learn the underwater swimming techniques, ’cause you have to develop your breath hold and things like that. Obviously, sometimes they tie your hands and feet and throw you in the pool and you gotta bob up and down in the pool or you have to swim with your hands, feet, tied, which our all techniques that you have to learn, you can’t just throw everything on and think you can do it. So i had to get pretty serius about running and training and just build my endurance so that I could make those standards to get in.

Rachel

Do most people that are wanting to do that…Do most of them train before they even get there?

Josh

Oh, you have to .. you have to train. And that’s why that physical ability, stamina test the recruiter is gonna give that you have to pass that before you can even get a contract to go in and do those jobs.

Rachel

Do they… do you have to know anything like math because you have to figure stuff out, right?

Josh

Yeah, yeah, so you have the ASVAB which is a ubiquitous across the services and it’s just an aptitude test. Testing your reading comprehension math and stuff like that. And so every job in the military, there’s a certain score that you have to make in order to be considered for that job. So yeah, you have to go in and take the ASVAB and then, as long as you make that score, in conjunction with your physical scores, then you’re eligible to get a contract for that job.

Hudons

How long did basic training last?

Josh

Basic training in the Air Force for us is only about eight weeks for us.

Rachel

But you said you trained for two years for the…

We do, correct yeah. So it’s not just basic training it’s called a pipeline for us specifically, you would do your basic training, and then after that we went to what they call the operator’s course. For us, it’s air traffic control school. ’cause that’s one of the core skills that we have to do is be an air traffic controller ’cause that’s one of the core skills that we have to do is be an air traffic controller.

One of our legacy missions or combat controls legacy missions was airfield seizures so you could jump into an airfield, secure that airfield with a group of Rangers or another partner force, and then you actually were on the ground, be able to bring in the air traffic in order to build out that airfield and secure it. For us pipeline is rather long. So, it’s basic training than Air Traffic Control School, which is about, I believe it was on 12-13 weeks. So you do about two or three hours of physical training in the morning, pool workouts, beach runs, all that stuff, and then you have to go through air traffic control school later on in the day. So, it’s a challenging school. Academically, we will lose guys there, physically guys will drop on request or quit.

Oh, I’m sorry I missed it. Immediately after basic training, we have our selection course. So at the time that was a two-week course. And it’s just all physical tests to see …. just working out all day long and getting smoked and tired, and …

Rachel

So how long does a normal day… I know sometimes they just don’t let you sleep and stuff, but how long is a normal?

Josh

There are no normal days. I don’t know, it’s hard to say Yeah, there’s just different events designed for different things.

Hudson

What is the longest time in the day that you have trained? What’s the longest you’ve gone without sleep?

Josh

Down range or in training?

Rachel

In training.

Josh

Oh, I don’t know 36 hours or so. Well, no probably longer than that … a couple days. You’ll sneak stuff here and there.

Rachel

But like you just, you’re so exhausted, you just…

Josh

You’re gonna nod off… Yeah, sure, but as far as… Did you wanna know the whole training pipeline?

Rachel

No

Josh

Schools not takes a long time.

Rachel

I think unless you’re in the thing then you won’t…you can’t relate

Josh

Yeah, yeah, but the big one of basic qualificaitons. You have to go to jump school then you have to go to military free-fall school.

Rachel

That sounds fun.

Josh

Yeah, that was a lot of fun. That is the most fun school, combat divers course…

Hudson

Where you joke or not.

Josh

Military freefall — oh freefall is a blast. Skydiving. I mean you get paid to skydive.

Rachel

How long did that last?

Josh

It’s a month.

Rachel

I wouldn’t think it would be that complicated.

Josh

Well, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Hudson

Yeah pull the ripcord and it breaks!!

Josh

You spend the first week in a wind tunnel. Just learn how to fly your body and things like that, and then to go into your day, individual jumps and then once you can pass that, then you’ve start jumping with all your equipment, and then equipment and oxygen mask, and then weapon you do a build-up. And then you start doing grouping jumps where you jump as a group and try and land a designated drop zone and things like that.

Rachel

So what was the hardest thing that you went through and training?

So there’s an interesting quote. It was day one, after selection, one of the cadre looked at us when we finished the day and he said, Congratulations. That was day one for the next two years.

Hudson

What is a cadre?

Josh

Like an instructor

So he said congratulations that was day one of the next two years. I was like, “Oh man”. And I think you’ll hear most guys say I can never really look back on one or two specific events, although there’s very difficult events, but it’s just the grind, it’s just getting up and doing it every single day.

Rachel

So how do you mentally do that?

Josh

For me, it came down to, I think, a schedule having a routine that you stick with, you get up as a specific time, you set aside so much time to eat, set aside so much time to get where you need to be… and then obviously, the training events, you have no control over that, then when you get done taking the time to recover, stretch, do your ice pack, whatever it may be, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, you normally have to study material for the next day, spend so much time studying, getting in bed at a specific time. I mean it’s…

Rachel

Did you ever have the thought “Oh man, maybe I shouldn’t have picked this.”

Josh

The only time I thought that was actually in basic training believe it or not, and it wasn’t because things were difficult, I expected things to be difficult and hard. I think basic training is obviously there’s a…… and this is just me personally speaking. I don’t speak for the Air Force, or anything, but basic training, it has to be designed for a 18-year-old right out of high school, to maybe teach them some life lessons and some basics that being a little bit older in life, you just kinda expect other people to have. So I think that’s what frustrated me more than anything. So some of the guys get it together, or just in general? Come on, man. This is just basic stuff. Maybe making timelines, like cleaning up after yourselves, checking your uniform, things like that.

Hudson

Starching your shoes

Rachel

Starching your shoes?

Josh

Polishing your boots

I’d say if I had to pick one hardest part. So kind of the big build up for us at combat dive schools is what they call one man competency drills. There is a show, I think its on the Discovery Channel or maybe

Rachel

Where they showed him

Josh

Yeah, yeah, it’s tough. And I think just because you know that a lot of people struggle with it you put extra pressure on yourself and you’re just whenever you’re going through it, you have to really go through your procedures and keep yourself calm, because you start thinking like, “Oh man, I don’t wanna fail this and get washed back or get eliminated because of this.” So when I did it, I don’t feel like it was especially hard, but I prepared a lot for it, so it felt like a big weight off my shoulders when I got it over with. I felt like OK, I think I can make it the rest of the way.

Hudson

Was there anything you weren’t expecting hiring, training, or in general?

Josh

You know, I think a lot of times we make things worse than our mind, than what they are. And you would even see that with guys that quit. It always surprised me because guys would often quit first thing in the morning, and it was because they psyched themselves out overnight. They remembered what they went through in the day and they start thinking like man I don’t know if I can keep doing this, I don’t know if I can keep doing this. And so when you’re in it, you’re just… You’re there with the other guys and you’re going through it and you can stop and feel sorry for yourself, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. So, it almost becomes not worth dealing with but I think a lot of guys make it worse in their mind than it really is because it’s like anything else, it’s a progression. They don’t just immediately start off with the hardest scenarios ever right? They put you in situations that are difficult and test you. And probably gonna make you fail, but then they get you better than better and there’s a progression.

So I can’t say there wasn’t anything I wasn’t expecting, I think I went in with armed with as much knowledge as I could. There were some surprises some days, but…

Rachel

But you can’t divulge those because its a secret. I know the Seals, they have to ring the bell if they are quiting, right? Do you guys do that?

Josh

Yeah, we had an air horn for that.

Hudson

Wake you all up in the morning when you are quitting

Josh

What was that?

Well no, you had to, if you said, “Hey I don’t wanna be here anymore.” They’re like alright ring the horn and tell us that you don’t wanna be here anymore. So I think every school has a little something different. You have a bell, there’s air horns. Yeah, everybody’s got their little thing, but it seems like for most of ours, it was just the air-horn.

Hudson

Do you have any funny stories?

Oh man, let’s come back to the question I’ll keep thinking about it. There’s lots of fun stories but…

Hudson

So what did you learn about yourself? And did it change the way you think about yourself?

Josh

I think it did. I think one of the things that led me to pursue this career field is other friends that I had in similar career fields, they just carried themselves differently. You know they had seen the world in a different way, they had experienced things that most normal people don’t experience or even think about in day-to-day life. And I think it was that X factor that I saw in people that I wanted to not only proved to myself but just be a part of…

Rachel

Would you say it’s like confidence? They have a different confidence, that normal people don’t have .. you can’t shake them.

Josh

Yeah, I think it’s a confidence, and just a self-respect, I guess, is another way that you could say in that as you’re going through the process, you start to see and you hear it all the time. People say like, “Man you’re capable of so much more than you think you you are, and it’s just ’cause we’re creatures of comfort, you know, we like comfort, we don’t like to put ourselves in the grind. So when you submit yourself to the process, you’re basically giving up control of your comfort, you’re saying, Okay I’m gonna submit myself to this process and see what it makes me. Right? And when you do that, you lose the ability to choose what you wanna do. It’s not like, “Well I’m tired now, I’m gonna go home.” You don’t have that option. So as you continue to submit yourself to the process, you begin to learn, wow, I’m capable so much more whenever other people push me and set the standard for me, I will attain it.

Hudson

Did you learn anything about other people that surprised you?

Yeah, I think one of the things I wasn’t expecting was the amount of talented individuals that I would be around. We had guys that were… I’ve been around one guy who was on the Patriots, the NFL Patriots for a little while. We had one guy that was a race car driver. I think those career fields just naturally attract very driven and competent individuals and so I think that was one of the coolest surprises for me as being around these guys that just had these crazy backgrounds and kinda like me decided that they wanted to challenge themselves and see if they could do something. So that was kinda neat. That’s what I was surprised about. I was surprised on some levels of how it seemed, how much some guys didn’t understand what the job entailed. They just thought they’d show up day one and hey – here’s your parachute, her’s your night vision goggles and here’s this and like .. it’s just like call Duty let’s go do it. I think it surprised me that they were not expecting the process that it was… And maybe that’s just ’cause they were young or maybe the recruiter gave them different ideas of what to expect, I don’t know, but I was always surprised with guys were like, Oh this isn’t what I thought it would be like. Oh man, what did you think they where goinna do for you?

Hudson

Did you ever meet anyone famous?

Josh

Did I ever meet anyone famous, through the military?

Hudson

Yeah, while you were training

Josh

Sometimes we have athletes come to some of our training school house, I think LeBron James came to our training school at one time – I didn’t get to meet him. Probably nobody famous in the media, or anything but some generals and things like that, that were cool for me, but other people probably wouldn’t recognize the names.

Hudson

How was this experience made you a better person?

Josh

You know I think especially after you deploy and you see how the rest of the world or certain portions of the world are I think it makes you extremely grateful to live in the United States. I can say that personally. I think that it gives you a different perspective on life in general, and just freedom, overall, what it takes to maintain a free nation. So I think it has made me a better person in a lot of ways. I think that it’s given me a lot of organizational skills, a lot of life skills brought me to a new level of determination, and my personal goals and just made me value what I have all the more.

Rachel

Are you wanting to do this for 20 years or …

Josh

You know, I don’t know, I initially joined for the experience and just see if I could do it and as I rank up and progress up, I’ve got other goals, and things that I’d like to accomplish, I really don’t know. I haven’t made the decision to go to the full twenty.

Hudson

All right so to become a combat control or any special branch in military is there any advice you would give them?

Josh

The first thing is you gotta decide how bad you really want it and what your purpose is for it. If you just wanna say I was a Navy Seal or I was an Army Special Forces guy or whatever, just to add that cool guy accolade, I think that will only carry you so far. You have to make the decision, how bad you really wanna do it. And what is your motivation for doing it? I think a common thread as amongst the guys that I’ve served with, across the Seals, Rangers, Army Special Forces, the Marine Raiders, the most common thread is selflessness, sacrifice and service.

These guys have an idea that they’re willing to give up their lives, if necessary, in pursuit of righteous goals and keeping our nation safe and helping eliminate tyranny, and evil, across the world where they’re asked.

Rachel

So the guys who have that attitude that you are a talking about like I wanna do it because I want people to say I’m cool, they’re not the ones that are gonna stick it out probably. Or they will become more humble and more to become like the guys you’re saying.

Josh

Yeah, the process work. So when I say how bad you really wanna do it, I’m not saying that guys don’t have different motivations for doing it. They can’t be successful. That’s not what I’m saying by any stretch of the imagination.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is, you have to really, really want it, in order to be successful. So that’s the first they need to do. So I would encourage guys to do the research, understand what it is that their job is ’cause there’s a million jobs across the military find something that they feel like they can connect with if they would be passionate about educate yourself that way, and then if there’s physical standards involved running, swimming, whatever it is, try and way exceed the standard, because on your worst day, you wanna be able to meet the standard, if that makes sense. So yeah, get smart on the job, find out if you really wanna do it, and then train like crazy get…

Rachel

So if you really wanna do this, you need to discipline yourself and not be sleeping in and eat potato chips and you need to be exercise and getting up early. And eating healthy, learning new skills.

Josh

Yeah, you know, it’s a… it’s a balance.

It is just like anything else. If you undertook to be a really good ball player or golf or whatever it may be, you have to discipline yourself and you can get a schedule and work on that craft.

It’s not something that’s gonna happen overnight.

And I think a lot of guys just think they’re gonna be able to get out on track or get in a pool and be able to accomplish those things quickly.

So, it’s a degree of tenacity and not scheduling, but just regulating your life in order to accomplish those goals.

Hudson

Do you have any funny stories?

Oh yeah, I’ve got one funny story.

So this was at our air traffic control School, and we were doing some really big workout and I can’t even really remember what it was that I got in trouble for….but the cadre there were some maps where you do sit-ups or something on there and that was one of the workouts as you went through.

He yelled at me and told me, he’s like… you don’t even deserve to be with your team right now, so take your mat out into the middle of the street and just do the sit ups like out there. And, like a good recruit, I did what I was told and so then I take my mat out and I’m just doing set-ups in the middle of the street hoping no cars come by there. And then I think it was a closed road now that I remember, right, who knows?

And then the officer that’s in charge of us sticks his head out and he’s like… what are you doing out there? Why are you doing sit-ups in the middle of road? I’m like, I was told to come out here. He said get back out of here. So I go back in there and then I, I guess, the cadre messed with me. I don’t even remember what I did wrong, but just funny stuff like that they find a way to always keep you on your toes.

Rachel

I bet they have fund doing that at least to a degree

Josh

Yeah they’re pretty professional. There’s a reason behind everything that they do. It’s a science, a science so they’re pretty professional, and I don’t know what the learning objective was, that day. I think it had some one to with accountability. Keep an accountability of your guys every now and then, if you’re walking n formation and you’re supposed to be doing head counts to see how many guys do have… My formation and we lost somebody or anything like that. So I think that was, remember right, that was an early lesson on accountability. Hey, make sure you’re maintaining.

Rachel

And what’s the thing they most try to do – frustrate? Is frustration a big thing that they try to…

Josh

I think you have inherent frustrations, I think obviously keeping you focused and sharp and working through your procedures, even when you’re tired. Obviously endurance is a big one. You’ll strap on close to 100 pounds worth of stuff… And make mile and mile long ruck marches in the heat, long swims, whatever it may be. They really preach organization, squaring away your individual gear. And that’s something to starts very early on. You’re giving a very small amount of gear and you’re expecting to keep it in perfect shape and keep in a certain way and always know where it’s at and things like that.

And obviously that lesson builds so that by the time you’re out maybe operating on your own and you’ve got a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and may be sensitive equipment that you’ve learned that stair-step methodology to maintain your gear and keep everything ready at all times.

Hudson

What’s the longest swim you have been on?

Josh

I don’t know how maybe five kilometers something like that.

Rachel

You were doing triathlons, so weren’t you… Before you joined?

Josh

No, I didn’t really do a nothing official like that. We would challenge ourselves all the time, if we have been running for a while, so we’re like, “Hey let’s go run a half marathon a day, so we just measure it out and ran a half marathon, just to see if we could do it and see what it was like.

Hudson

You’ve given us a lot of great information. I just want to thank you for coming out tonight and being our guest. If you guys want more content from us you can find us on Facebook at Be Daring Life, on our website at BeDaringLife.com. If you want join our podcast, give us a review on ITunes, The more reviews we have, the more visible this podcast is and that helps others find us and the great community we’re building. So remember to go out and Be Daring!.

 

“Do or do not. There is no try.” ―Yoda