Episode 5 with Veteran of the Royal Marines - Philip McDougall

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Tell me a little about yourself and what did you do in the military? What was your trade? How long have you served?

I spent my childhood and teens playing in the great outdoors with maps, compasses, traps, dens, and fires. I always had a burning desire to play soldier, like my grandfather who was a Commando during WWII. He led a troop of Commandos onto the beaches of Normandy and wrote a book about it – Swiftly They Struck. The war kicked off in Afghanistan in 2003, and I wanted to be a part of it. Not for the sake of Queen and country, I just really wanted to be a professional soldier and go to war. I joined the beloved Royal Marines Commandos in 2005 at the grand old age of 26, after being a nightclub manager in Bristol.

I look back on the nine months of basic Commando training with only happy memories. I was very well prepared and loved it, mostly. After receiving my green beret, I was drafted to 42 Commando, which is where I managed to remain for the rest of my career, luckily. 42 Commando is one of the three main fighting units within the Corps. To ensure involvement in the action, I joined the heavy weapons branch, who were always in the thick of it. I specialized in machine guns, missiles, and pistols.

I completed two, seven-month frontline tours of duty in Afghanistan, both of which were very lively. Luckily these were before the Taliban fully realized the effectiveness of planting improvised explosive devices everywhere. The vast majority of combat consisted of good old-fashioned firefights, which is the Royal Marines’ bread and butter, so we wiped the floor with them. My weapon of choice was the general purpose machine gun: A little slow to maneuver in close quarters but with slick drills, it’s highly effective at winning firefights.

The two tours included over 14 air assault operations, which involved being dropped by Chinook into bandit country and left there to fend for ourselves for anything from two days to four weeks. The tours also included several long-range vehicle born operations, dug-in defensive operations, observation, and reconnaissance operations and being bombed more times than I care to remember by rockets and mortars. There’s nothing like a cigarette during a mortar attack!

My action-packed career in the Corps ended after just six years when I met my soon-to-be-wife, Casey, while on holiday in NYC.

What was the hardest time of your life? What tools did you use to get through it?

The hardest time of my life was settling into civilian life - trying to build a business as a personal trainer in central London. The first year after leaving the Corps was my hardest working year. I look back on it and just see darkness, anger, and anxiety. I would rather go through Royal Marines recruit training again twice than build a personal training business from scratch in London. My opinion of why service folk struggle so much after leaving is mainly because civilian life is just so much harder. Nobody has your back. You’re not surrounded by all of your best friends, who share the same situation. Monthly beer money won’t just appear in your bank account. Everything costs, a lot, especially in London. Bills, bills, bills and no perceived control over your own life.

People often think that going to war or being in the military is uncontrolled and stressful. On the contrary, dear Watson. A good Marine is well organized and has his shit together, all the time. All admin jobs are completed before going to bed every single day so you can literally wake up and operate, immediately. This is a polar opposite of civilian, self-employed life, where no matter how organized or productive you are, you always go to bed with a mountain of other things to do. A good Marine practices his weapons and combat drills so his brothers can rely on him when the shit hits the fan. Again, a polar opposite from civilian life where nobody has your back and people who call themselves colleagues are mostly just pretending.

The tools I used to overcome this period of darkness were:

    A) Love for my wife – focusing on someone else’s happiness is a huge stress reliever B) Stubbornness to succeed where many fail – 99.9% need not apply to the Royal Marines because that’s the failure rate. I believe the odds are even worse for succeeding as a trainer. C) Exceptionally high standards of work ethic – I didn’t know the first thing about business or marketing (I’m still rather clueless). My business grew organically as my reputation grew. I put 100% effort towards every consultation, program, session and education course. D) Interpersonal skills – You can be the best, most knowledgeable trainer in the world but if you can’t connect with a client, which involves listening to them, you won’t do very well at all.

What are your greatest successes?

Nothing sticks out as a “great” defining success. I guess I’m proud of many little successes over the years: joining the Corps; being regarded as a good Marine and someone to be relied upon; organizing and participating in a charity cycle event; joining the Corps boxing squad with no previous experience and winning a fight; Captaining the Corps ski team; meeting my wife; building a personal training business; bringing many people out of pain and dysfunction as a clinical sports massage therapist; having a positive influence on the lives of many personal training clients; getting over anxiety and anger attacks in London by managing stress triggers; moving to San Diego and meeting great friends here.

Now that you have experienced life a little, what would you tell your 20-year-old self?

Concerning physical training: “Stop defaulting to your strengths. Forget about endurance training and focus on your ability to move well and become stronger. Take up yoga! Lift up really heavy stuff.”

Who is your greatest role model and why?

That’s easy! Rob Blair of the Commando Temple, London.

Rob is another former Bootneck and owns the best strength training facility I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. Rob helped me when I left the Corps by giving me plenty of sound business advice. He was the person I would call if I ever had tough decisions to make in London because I knew I could rely on his practical view. Rob could also be called Mr. Positivity, and in times of weakness I would look him up on social media for a boost. Rob also has the mental resilience, determination, and stubbornness of a Viking warlord – he rehabbed himself back from a dire situation and is now one of the physically and mentally strongest people I know. He officially has the world’s strongest hands and recently ran the Marathon Des Sables. He’s one of the most knowledgeable trainers and rehab specialists and continually deepens his knowledge and skill. He is also the most bullshit-free person I’ve met - he never beats around the bush and always tells you the way it is. Rob Blair is the embodiment of integrity and strength. Man-crush much?

What were the tours that you have been on? Any particular stories that stand out?

Op Herrick 5: 7 months from Sept 2006 – April 2007. Op Herrick 9: Sept 2008 – April 2009. There are so many stories. Enough to write a book about, for sure. The worst Chinook ride of all springs to mind.

The interior of a Chinook helicopter is kinda like the inside of a school bus, but a bit wider and with no seats. It should have long rows of seats stretching from front to back, but those had to be removed for our operations because we were so heavily laden with equipment that we couldn’t sit down anyway. Besides, we may have had to exit in a hurry. You board via a huge ramp at the rear that lifts up halfway, after take-off and remains open throughout the ride. When boarding we always consider our ‘order of march’ which relates to the order by which we need to get back off on the other side. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the last men to board, you get front row seats to an amazing thrill ride as the aircraft whizzes across the desert at low altitude, then sky rockets up out of small arms range when we reach dangerous areas. Everyone else is jam packed like sardines in a tin. You don’t need anything to hold onto because the men surrounding you are holding you up. You couldn’t fall over even if you fainted. Imagine the most packed London Underground ride you’ve ever had. Add 70-100kg of equipment hanging off you. There’s something hard, that’s strapped to the rucksack of the man in front of you and is sticking into your cheek. The bi-pod legs from someone else’s weapon are relentlessly corkscrewing into the side of your leg. Your stupid oversized helmet is being pushed from the side by someone else’s missile so it’s tilting down covering one eye and you can’t readjust it because your arms are trapped. Then as the helicopter meanders along, it’s flight path you all lean like Michael Jackson or shuffle from side-to-side. Seriously, all you can do is laugh. But the laughter is short-lived because it’s so deafeningly loud that your laughter can’t be shared with your brothers in the same situation. We were supposed to wear big chunky ear defenders, but we mostly opted for little disposable earplugs because we had to consider that were flying into battle. We could potentially be dropped off in the thick of it, where having industrial strength ear defenders attached to our heads (under our helmets) would make combat impossible. This was just a very uncomfortable Chinook ride and one of several dozen during this seven-month tour alone. Levels of discomfort varied from very to severely.

It was my first Chinook ride into battle on my virgin tour in September 2006. In addition to all the other equipment, we had to carry two mortar bombs in each hand, which were to be dumped in a pile at the landing site as soon as we alighted at our drop-off area. We had 8.5kgs in each hand, as well as all the rest of the kit, with our weapons hanging on slings around our necks. This was nothing for a few minutes, but holding these bastards for a 40 minute Chinook ride from Camp Bastion to Sangin Forward Operating Base was one of the most mentally grueling situations I can remember. Putting the mortar bombs to rest on the floor was not an option because we were so jam-packed we couldn’t reach the floor. Dropping them was not an option either – I was a Rookie, known as a Sprog – to be seen to give up and lighten my load would’ve made me weak in the eyes of the more experienced Marines and someone not to be relied upon. We landed, and all hell was breaking loose. We were taking incoming mortar bombs, and there were explosions going off all around us. This was my first time in a real combat situation, but as I ran out of the back of the Chinook with explosions ripping up the ground and the sound of automatic machine gun fire deafeningly close, the only thing on every man's mind was the desire put those fucking mortar bombs down. The utter bliss of laying them down in a pile after exiting the helicopter is still a vivid memory. Happy days.

If you had a chance for a "do-over" in life, what would you do differently? Or would you keep everything the same?

It took me until the age of 26 to join the beloved Corps. After six years of fun in the Corps, I found my true academic passion, in the fitness industry. I love the neurological and musculoskeletal systems. I love anatomy and love to palpate it. What would I do differently? Instead of going to university and doing Architecture, I would’ve done something like Osteopathy; then I would’ve joined the Corps much earlier and got on with my life instead of wasting so many years as a fat, unhealthy pub/nightclub manager.

What do you feel most proud of?

Always being honest and loyal to close friends and family.

What do you want your tombstone to say?

I don’t want a tombstone. But if I did have one it would say, “Be grateful”.

Why did you join the military?

I wanted to go to war, be an elite soldier, get paid to play in the woods and kill the enemy.

How do you spend your free time?

Trail running with my French Bulldog (and wife if she can be persuaded). Climbing mountains and spending time in the wilderness. Eating amazing Mexican food – I almost live in Mexico after all. Reading WWII novels or Tolkien style fiction. Hanging out on the floor – I gave up chairs last year. Talking to my family and close friends on the phone.

Who do you admire the most in life and why?

People that live simple lives and are infinitely happy with them, such as simple tribal folk or blue zone habitants. I admire these people because they show me how little you need you need in terms of materials or finances to be truly happy. I also look on these people with an air of jealousy. If it weren’t for my amazing city-loving wife, I would be completely disconnected and live in the wilderness, with my French Bulldog.

What are you most afraid of?

Not being there for a loved one, should they need me.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Standing up a string of personal training clients. I had a whole morning of personal training planned on one Saturday morning in London. A good old Marine chum unexpectedly came to town on the Friday afternoon, so I joined him for a beer. This turned into several beers and soon became a complete obliteration (new word). I woke up at about 10 am without any recollection of the past twelve hours of my life. I had stood up three consecutive personal training clients and had to cancel on the others at short notice. I pride myself on never canceling a booked session, and I’m never late, ever. This was a catastrophe for me, and I still cringe at the thought of it. Was it a good night though? I can’t even remember.

If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life what would it be and why?

I would magically make my wrist better. I initially fractured my right scaphoid, playing rugby in my twenties. I then permanently broke it by diving off a roof to avoid being shot in Afghanistan. Then in 2014 I permanently dislocated the scapholunate joint on the same side, becoming a Krav Maga instructor. It then developed arthritis and cysts in four of the bones. It’s officially f**ked, forever. I can’t put weight on it without pain, so it stops me crawling, doing many calisthenics or most barbell work. I can't-do Krav Maga, boxing or anything at all that involves anything but controlled movement, so no sports either. I’m acutely aware that people have a lot worse injuries than me and I try to live in a state of gratitude for being able to locomote, so make the most of that.

What motivates you to succeed?

This relates to my greatest fear. My motivation to succeed comes from a need to be there for my close friends and family if they need me. Due to the life I’ve chosen, these people are all over the world. I, therefore, need to be financially successful enough to drop everything and jump on a long haul flight to attend to the needs of a loved one, should they require it.

6 episodes available. A new episode about every 15 days averaging 23 mins duration .