Monday, April 27, 2009

Cold Zero: Inside the FBI Hostage Rescue Team--Chris Whitcomb

While going through a hard time, I stumbled across this author. Although promoting his novel Black, I decided to read his memoir Cold Zero also. Whitcomb actually began civil service during the Reagan years, writing speeches for a Republican senator. He recalls that while watching a State of the Union address in Nancy Reagan's box, he wished that instead of writing speeches for these guys, he could do something to protect them so that they could keep doing what they did. The next day, he began a training regimen to prepare him for entry into the FBI. After serving as a special agent in the middle of the nation, he tried for--and won a-- spot on the elite Hostage Rescue Team at the FBI. In this books, he shares his recollections as a sniper at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

To me, the best story is the kind in which a character is altered by the main conflict, and Whitcomb seems truly changed by his experiences during and after Waco. He swaggers through the beginning of the book, but after Waco, his stride bears an obvious limp. I empathized with his feelings of betrayal and his sense of impotence in certain aspects of his ability to serve and protect. Because, although endowed with extraordinary capabilities, in the end his is only one man, simply following the orders of his government.

What left the greatest impression on me was the difficulty of the application--or should I say "elimination"--process. Over and over, the men were given seemingly impossible physical tests in order to gather the most capable and strong for this team, the ones who perform best under duress. (In fact, one exercise resulted in a man falling out of a helicopter into a forest below!)

Here's my question: How does one push beyond normal human limits and achieve super-human feats?


  1. I would say it takes a heck of a lot of discipline! There are amazing people out there who are willing to train and train and push through pain to become the very best at whatever they do. The apostle Paul encouraged his peeps to follow him as he followed Christ. That guy went through quite a training program. It is certainly easy to say we want the super-human abilities it is altogether something else to discipline ourselves to see it come to fruition.

  2. ? was how does "one push beyond normal human limits and achieve super-human feats?"....

    "one" doesn't and can't. It takes a joint effort between ourselves and God and then we can. The closer we draw to God, the more he empowers us to push past what we define as our limit. With God we are limitless. It doesn't mean we won't struggle and feel pain (mentally and physically) but that we can and will with Gods help rise above what we perceived to be our limit.

    This makes me think of the earlier blog you wrote on change. There again, if we are letting God be our power source, change of behavior will happen. But again, not without pain and sacrifice.

    We have to keep in our minds that if God is truly our center, our compass north, then we can and will succeed in his eyes.

    Finally, is this super-human feat God's plan for us?? Or our plan for ourselves?? Therein lies the rate of success.

  3. Penfan and B,
    Thanks for your great comments! I agree that we must do everything in cooperation with the Lord's leading; otherwise, our accomplishments mean nothing.

    On the other hand, I find myself living a mediocre life at times because I don't try hard enough. Or reach far enough. Philippians 3:13b-14 says, "...But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (NIV)

    This verse reminds me of the best of atheletes, Olympians. Just as you mentioned, PenFan, atheletes train many months for the race, day in, day out. Training beyond discomfort. Pushing beyond pain. Then, during the race, the athelete is prepared to give all.

    And here's another thing. I saw a Discovery or NatGeo show where they asked a Navy Seal to sit, wearing swim trunks, in ice cold water. And just to be sure that it was "ice cold," they poured gallons of ice into the tank with him. While he sat motionless for over 30 minutes in the tank, his core body temperature never dropped below normal. Now I call that super-human.

    To some, this might not be "super-human." After all, the Seals train in rough conditions and eventually desensitize themselves to difficult situations. However, this is not a normal reaction to freezing cold conditions; it's just not how our bodies are normally designed to respond.

    Later in that broadcast, all the warriors who'd had their capabilities tested were asked what they thought contributed to their outstanding ability to perform beyond normal human parameters. Each answered that he felt that those who made it to the elite forces were those who didn't simply want to "pass the test" but who wanted to sur-pass the test. In other words, their goal was to not only overcome the challenges they were given but to show that they as warriors were far superior to any challenge they were given.

    Whitcomb also mentions this idea in his book. The men who were there merely trying to pass tests to get on the HRT didn't make it. Only the men who considered the tests a minimum benchmark and intended to go beyond the requirements ulimately made it to the team.

    So, while I agree that in Christ we can do all things, there is still something on my end that I want to capture. Maybe it's an attitude (not only can I beat this thing, but I am much better than this will not define me); maybe it's discipline (I will work hard every day, even when I don't want to or don't have to, so that I'll be ready to meet any challenge); and maybe it's an as yet undefined "something" that combines both of those and adds another component, transforming me from average to super-human.

    How do I make myself do that? What kind of character do they have that I don't? And how do I gain that?