Across all the intersections of who we are, each day’s demands are unique, personal, and frequently, unplannable. If you really think about it, life is both impossible and ridiculous, and more often than not, impossibly ridiculous.
My name is Alexander White. I am a proud Husband and Father, as well as a learned and learning Son, Brother, Uncle, Nephew, and Cousin. With each of those very personal responsibilities, I bridge professional disciplines such as Combat Veteran, Risk Manager, Cyber Security Practitioner, Corporate Executive, Community Activist, and a Forever Student. It doesn’t end there, though, because between the jagged intersections and unavoidable overlaps of our personal and professional worlds lives the non-permanent glue and loose hinges of physical, mental, and spiritual endurance. As I get older, I realize that the organization of how we label our positions, run our lives, and manage our tasks is artificial without a clear understanding of the fact that all open spaces don’t need to be organized, just staged with deliberate preparation and that all messes don’t need to be cleaned, just endured with healthy resiliency.
In combat, I learned very quickly that you don’t get to choose when an engagement happens. That through all the intelligence, technologies, and briefings, the enemy does what the enemy wants when they want to. Oh yeah, the weather does that too, proving that sometimes, the bad guy can be an environmental factor, a setting, a location more than a directly opposing force. The enemy isn’t just about conflict; it is about disruption, fixing, and diversion. Suppose the situation disrupts you so critically that you don’t have the resources, time, or capability to accomplish the mission. In that case, that’s a win for the other side. Suppose you are fixed in an unplanned position with unexpected consequences and unanticipated limitations that keep you away from mission targeting. In that case, that’s a win for the other side. If you are diverted off course from your absolute final end state and mission focus, then that’s a win for the other side. Stress, violence, frustration, and anxiety are just as significant as an injury or casualty. All paralyze, induce fear, and invalidate the mission.
THE BEST MISSION
preparation always involves a relentless focus on resiliency. You can’t have preparedness without resiliency because they are both the fundamental pump and beat of the engine that drives success; the force push and flow cadence of what survivors and heroes are made of, going beyond regular success into that deep, blue, impossible, and ridiculous success—the fulfilling type.
How do we prepare effectively? We rehearse not just what right and perfect looks like, but what wrong and crisis feel like, so failure doesn’t disrupt, fix, or divert us. We practice, visualize, and run as-real-as-it-can-get simulations to build endurance to the adrenaline, sore muscles, sweat-blurred sight pictures looking down the rails of our rifles. Anybody can load a weapon, but a survivor understands how to transition to secondary to create time, space, and ability to adjust when that weapon jams, breaks or is destroyed from an unplanned event. That is resilience, and resilience is in the DNA of every hero you’ve ever read about. Their plans failed, protocols went to chaos, and their bodies were riddled with wounds and injury. Still, the engine kicked on to drive beyond just the preparation.
In a world riddled with prejudice across the intersections of race and gender, I have the undaunting challenge of teaching next generation preparation and resilience to my Half Black Half Korean American children, let alone 2 young women that will have to continually fight for, earn, and validate their self-awareness, self-respect, and self-determination. How do you teach that as a parent? I can answer honestly that “I do not know.” How do you accomplish the impossibly ridiculous? You weld, forge, and catalog tools from your lessons learned as an armory of weapons and shields that your children know they have in their vault, are confident in knowing how to use them, but can also weather the storm without them because they’re armed with problem-solving resilience as their most valuable asset.
My wife and I spend nights talking through the scenarios we experienced in the past and with our children. We inventory them during these spare and rare moments of peace because it is the most important thing we can do as parents. We often wait for an incident or event to spring into action, not realizing we haven’t prepared for the action, or more significantly, ready to be resilient to our preparations failing. We write down what we could have done differently, and then we role play. How could I have supported her in her experience?
What could I have said during her disciplining of our daughter? Of our praising of our son, of our tutoring of them all, of our teaching of values? We walk and talk through deliberate rehearsals until we get it right. Our nighttime study sessions are imperative to our ability to have a repository of phrases, mantras, tools, prepositions, answers, examples, and explanations. We challenge each other in these scenarios so that the first time we see the hardest ones, we’re not caught off guard; we’re ready and confident to engage. My wife and I manage, calibrate, and siphon scenarios and situations that allow them to experience setbacks and failures. When children learn resilience, they can never be considered spoiled, nor will they ever display spoiled tendencies. We even have a challenge in our family and reply every day, where we say, “Always what?” and they reply, “Appreciation before Expectation.”
A great example I’ve personally leveraged is “Stop. Look. Listen. Smell” or “SLLS.” I learned this in the Special Forces Q-Course. When you get to a point or objective, you do SLLS, EVERY TIME. Take in ambient sounds, smells, colors, all while deliberately quieting your mind, body, and emotions.
Let me explain. Before an SLLS action, the critical fact is that you’ve all arrived, as a TEAM, to the same point, forward of your start, but still short of your objective. But you’re tired, your mind is running, you’re emotionally invested in getting to your end state, fast, quick, and in a hurry. This is the most important time to take a tactical pause. Index your assets, inventory your emotions and plan your readiness. Preparation without resilience yields only a plan. Resilience without preparation yields only toughness. Preparation with resilience yields readiness, but you can only effectively do both when you first train yourself to quiet your sensory inputs, internalizing the method and rhythm of battle and movement because it is in the nature of success to be challenged but maintain forward progress, but to also enjoy the benchmarks and progressive wins along the way to mission accomplishment.
This is SLLS.
I taught my oldest Daughter to shoot to protect herself, learn respect for the system (gun) and weapon (shooter), and engage a target. To be effective, she cannot be scared of the sounds and feel of an unnatural device, not organic. She has to find peace in a tactical pause, focus in an in-between breath, and lock on a downrange target. To do this, she has to Stop, Look, Listen, Smell. Then pull the trigger. I’m learning these lessons are more of an analogy to prepare her for life – to breathe in information, exhale intelligence; to think deeply first, pioneer her own decisions, commit decisively, & reset.
Did I mention, I also teach her Taekwondo, and we compete together? All of my children will learn martial arts on their 4th birthday. Yes, all the same analogy, just different battlefields, because life is combat. The most important thing I can teach my children is to lead, survive, reset, and lead again. It’s unnatural to humans to get hit, but natural in life to get knocked down.
Some people call that crazy, others call it extreme; I call it passionate, and as a Dad, there’s nothing I’m more okay with being fanatical about than raising my two daughters and one son to be armed and ready with the knowledge, ability, and decisiveness to live their own lives, blaze their own trails, and build their own worlds. More importantly, they are responsible for serving as sentinels and leaders to share those principles and abilities with those they encounter, not by teaching seminars and workshops, but by living an example.
That’s how I teach them honor. I’ve built a mantra with my children that “Winners inspire themselves; Champions inspire others; Leaders inspire themselves and others.” We strive to be Leaders in every personal and professional role, we have the honor of living and contributing as leaders. This edict lives and is rhythmed into our every day, perhaps sometimes too much in the fashion of the hearts and minds training I’ve become incredibly adept at, but nonetheless more critical now than ever before.
They have to be leaders of their own lives and worlds, in control of their own hearts and minds, prepared for anything, resilient to catastrophe; winners, champions, and leaders, all the same, all the time.
“Mission Complete” for now. ◙
A leading corporate strategist, executive, and advisor, Alexander White’s impressive service and leadership path began with the United States Army. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal, awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service. From 2001–2011 he served as an Officer and Combat Operations Commander with battlefield units throughout the Middle East, leading 25 direct and 100+ supporting troops in several foreign internal defenses, immediate action, and unconventional warfare missions. His distinguished achievements include securing the first free, democratic election in Iraq, leading the drawdown and transition of allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and developing special operations counterinsurgency warfighting capability within the conventional foreign military and coalition forces throughout EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) and Asia.
After leaving the Army, Alex held senior positions with various government services and cybersecurity firms, gaining extensive experience architecting proactive and predictive programs for enterprise risk, technology governance, and data protection; developing enterprise-wide cyber risk management strategies. He currently leads cyber advisory services for consulting firm Prescient. Alex built world-class programs for commercial organizations with leading cyber organizations, firms, research labs, and think tanks and held senior positions with a variety of government services. In key leadership roles with the Department of Defense, he served as Chief Risk Officer in the Defense Logistics Agency’s Office of the CISO and as Chief Strategy Officer in the Enterprise Technology Management division. From mid-sized companies and enterprise organizations to family offices and executive concierge clients, Alex has led transformational efforts with several Fortune 100 and Global 100 clients. Serving as an external CEO, COO, CIO, and CISO trusted advisor to Boards and C-Suite leadership teams, and executive consultant supporting experienced capital investment firm merger and acquisition projects, his extensive experience provides the agility for organizations to maneuver in the digital era to mitigate critical risk points and take advantage of emerging opportunities.
He has architected successful corporate, business operations, technology optimization, and privacy risk programs for global manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, and financial services organizations, pioneering traditional and innovative practices of addressing the ever-changing signature of cyber risk. His true passion lies in self-activation activism, a philosophy for leveraging independent research of art, math, knowledge, data, and fitness to power innovation that solves world problems critical to people and their communities.
His activism work has led to service and breakthroughs in veterans’ and families’ PTSD support, warfighter skills and transition assistance, pandemic poverty-homelessness resolutions, progressive education initiatives, business community engine efforts, and diversity solutions worldwide.
Alex is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and is an Olympic Taekwondo competitor, currently ranked fourth in the United States to compete in the 2020/2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan as the Heavyweight fighter and member of the USA Taekwondo National Team.