How Future Military Members Can Build 'GRIT' for the Journey Ahead

Plebes from the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2025 complete damage control training during Plebe Summer in Annapolis, Maryland.
Midshipmen 4th Class, or plebes, from the United States Naval Academy Class of 2025 complete damage control training during Plebe Summer, a demanding indoctrination period intended to transition the candidates from civilian to military life, in Annapolis, Maryland, July 16, 2021. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dana D. Legg/U.S. Navy photo)

Each year, I am awarded the opportunity to speak to a few thousand ROTC/service academy candidates from around the country. Many of these young men and women are in the application process, and some have been selected to serve their country through these competitive programs. My next presentation will be a short, but hopefully effective speech that drives home many skills needed to be successful on this journey.

We all have heard of the term grit. Well, it is more of a personality trait that is common among those who find their calling and passion to achieve a specific goal. Grit is needed on a long journey to build good habits, consistency and perseverance, regardless of the obstacles and daily challenges.

For this quick presentation, making an acronym out of GRIT may be a concise way to grab the attention of these young Americans with the passion to serve our country. Here are my recommendations for this next year of cadets and midshipmen about to endure four years of training and education: GRIT.


Setting clear, achievable goals is the first step to success. Striving for the minimum standards is not the answer. You may start off with this as a sub-goal in some activities, but performing your best is the mindset you need going into not only the next four years, but also while serving as an officer. Have a plan and make it happen. Stay focused and work hard even, when you are tired and do not feel like it.


Being responsible means taking ownership of your actions and being accountable for the results. For now, you are responsible for your actions, and you will learn to be part of a team with your classmates. You have a responsibility to each other as well. One day, as you learn to lead others, your decisions have consequences (good or bad). You must be responsible, no matter the outcome.


Taking initiative is about being proactive and taking the necessary steps to reach your goals.Take the first step without being told what or how to do it. Having initiative requires independent thinking and acting without waiting for instructions. Our military thrives on initiative; start practicing it now.

An example of taking the initiative was demonstrated in the short story "Message to Garcia," which many in the military and business world are familiar with. The story centers on Lt. Rowan, who is given a mission by U.S. President William McKinley to deliver a message to Gen. Garcia of Cuba.

The lieutenant had to figure out all the details of his journey, including travel, lodging and food, without any guidance in the late 1890s. In short, taking the initiative means having the courage to take the first step and the independent thinking skills to figure out the rest. This important lesson can help you in all aspects of life.

Time Management

Time management is about planning and managing your time effectively in order to get the most out of each day. It's about setting realistic deadlines and meeting them. Whether it is making time to work out, study or fit in all of the activities into a 24-hour time period, the sooner you manage your time well, the better you will become.

Efficiency in everything you do is also key to success, as there is just so much time in a day. Getting things done quickly and correctly the first time will help you check off things to accomplish on the day's to-do list.

Are You Interested in Such a Journey?

If you are considering such a path, think about the physical and mental demands of the programs that interest you. Are you physically capable of meeting the demands of these military preparatory programs? Can you endure the academically and physically challenging tasks? It's important to assess your capabilities so you can set realistic goals and make sure you're ready to tackle what the military and college has to offer.

Next, research the application process. Make sure you understand what documents you need to submit and what tests you need to take. Learn about the timeline and key steps to complete in order to be considered for the program in which you're interested.

If you are too late in your high school years to apply after graduation, that is OK. Do a year in college and reapply. You have until age 22 to join the military service academies.

Aside from the application process, you should also look into the cultural aspects of the military branch you want to serve. Learn about the core values, traditions and expectations of cadets and midshipmen. This will help you understand how to best represent yourself and your institution.

Finally, you should begin to form relationships with those who will be part of your journey. Whether it's your family, mentors or other cadets and midshipmen, having a solid support system will help you stay focused and motivated throughout your training. You can find these online in group chats or on social media.

With the four qualities that comprise GRIT -- goal-oriented, responsible, initiative, time management -- you can excel in academics, athletics and military knowledge, and get an ROTC scholarship or attend a service academy.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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