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The U.S. Navy SEALs are among the most courageous men on earth. Their secret: mental conditioning. Learn their secrets and you, too, can conquer any fear
At precisely 9:21 p.m., the marine sitting beside me at the Baghdad LZ, the helipad inside the Green Zone, stands and strides toward the bomb shelter. His gait is brisk but not panicked. I follow, fumbling with my helmet.
A nanosecond earlier, we'd heard the muffled ka-whompf that announced the launch of a Russian-made Katyusha rocket.
Overhead, the keening hiss of the projectile intensifies before terminating with a deafening and, to me, terrifying explosion just as we reach the tunnel-like concrete shelter.
"Jesus," somebody says as the scrum of bodies -- marines, soldiers, airmen -- crushes inside.
Whether from the piled humanity or the rocket's concussion (doubtful, since I learned later that the shell landed hundreds of yards away), the lenses of my glasses pop from their frames. I grope around the dark dirt floor with the flat of my hand. Someone not far down the row shines a penlight. "Grab that light, will ya?" I say to the marine next to me.
He is a broad, blond sergeant named Bill Cullen from the First Battalion of the Fourth Marines. He is 26, from Walton, Kentucky, and wears a tan, fire-resistant, U.S. Marine-issue flight suit. He grabs the flashlight.
"Shine it in my face," I say. He hesitates. I take off my wire frames. "It's an experiment. Just do it, please."
In the dark of the shelter my face illuminates; a score of eyes turn toward me.
"What do you see?" I ask. "What's it look like? The color."
"Pale," someone says.
There's a snicker. "Yeah, real white." More laughter.
Sergeant Cullen agrees. "Pretty ashen, I would say."
I take the flashlight and shine it in Cullen's face. It's nearly crimson, a much darker shade than the desert tan he's acquired during his unit's nearly completed 6-month tour. "What's this supposed to mean?" he asks.
Over the sound of the air-raid siren, I explain: I'm a reporter for Men's Health, traveling from Baghdad to Fallujah to embed with the Navy SEALs camped outside that central Iraqi city. One of the purposes of my assignment, I say, is to acquire some knowledge of the physiology of fear and stress -- in this extreme case, the behavior of men struggling to overcome their innate instinct for self-preservation when other men are trying to kill them. Science stuff in a war zone.
"Fight over flight. Running toward the sound of gunfire."
I point to my face and explain: This is an example of what's called vasoconstriction, and I have no control over it. The blood pumps from my heart through my arteries, but as my fear-induced heart rate rises, nonessential blood vessels automatically constrict. The capillaries drain. My brain is signaling my body, "Alert!" and stopping the superfluous blood vessels in my face from dilating. My brain needs to ration the oxygen in my blood to send elsewhere -- to protect vital organs or into the muscles of my legs so I can run away......