From serving with the Green Berets in Afghanistan to receiving the 2009 Gen. Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award, U.S. Army Major Erhan Bedestani ’98 has an impressive record.
A strong believer in pushing one’s personal limits, Bedestani's has a physical and mental toughness that was developed through his training in the military arena. To this day, he carries it throughout his everyday life and emphasizes its importance to the people around him. However, there was one moment — a breaking point — where he had thought he had reached his limit. Turns out, it was only the start of something new.
Bedestani attended Johns Hopkins University and participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. This program his first experience with any military training. Soon afterward, he attended U.S. Ranger School.
“U.S. Ranger School is like an advanced degree for an officer in the sense that it really forces them to put all of their initial training and leadership to the test in an environment that is stressful,” Bedestani explains.
He adds that everyone in the school takes turns being a leader by motivating a small unit of about 35 people to accomplish a mission. However, the soldiers in the unit are all sleep and food deprived.
The leader does a lot of “planning, executing, and recovering missions,” Bedestani describes. He also says there are three stages of Ranger School training. You start at Fort Benning, Georgia, then go into the mountains along the Appalachian Trail in Dahlonega, Georgia, and finish at the Florida Phase.
“What you learn at this school is to motivate and provide purpose to already motivated people. But when you start taking away food and sleep, even the most motivated group of people requires a significant amount of (additional) energy and leadership,” Bedestani says.
Bedestani recounts a personal anecdote from the second phase of training in Dahlonega. After completing a mission, he recalls: “It’s miserable. It’s raining, it had snowed earlier, and everybody’s really tired. And then they changed the leadership for the next mission and I was like, please don't pick me. And boom, they call my roster number.
“So here I am, my motivation is low and I have to lead my group to our campsite for the night, and we get lost. It's miserable. I lose complete control of the unit. Everybody is sleeping when they shouldn’t be. All the fundamental aspects of the leadership control that I should be doing, I'm not doing. I'm just exhausted myself,” Bedestani relates.
“I wake up the next morning,” he continues, “and my knee is really stiff. I had been nursing a knee injury on my left side for a day or two.” He went to see the medics and they diagnosed him with cellulitis, a serious skin infection that can be life-threatening if not treated aggressively.
As a result, Bedestani was stationed in the infirmary for two days. The next thing he knows, his military instructor comes in to announce, “The doctor says you’re good to go. You need to head out there.”
Bedestani replies, “Sergeant, my knee is really weak. I don't know if I can put a 50-plus pound rucksack on my back and walk through the mountains.”
The instructor gave him two choices: either go back out there and train, or sign a paper saying he was quitting voluntarily. Bedestani says, “I didn’t know what to do. So I signed the paperwork. I was read a riot act that went like, ‘You are voluntarily withdrawing from the course. You will never be welcome to come back to Ranger School again. We do not accept quitters.’”
But the story doesn’t end there. Bedestani goes on: “There's a soldier, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) who had been in the army for about 25 years. He’s driving me back to Fort Benning so I can hand back my equipment. We strike up a conversation. I learn that this guy fought in Panama and Grenada. He was a Ranger and had a lot of credibility within the community. He says, ‘You seem like a really nice guy and a really great officer. I would have loved to serve for somebody like you. What happened out there?’ And I told him the story.”
Not only did the NCO give Bedestani a much-needed lift, but there were long-term benefits as well.
“I go back to the barracks the next morning as I'm preparing to leave. I get informed that Colonel Chin, who was in charge of the entire Ranger training program, wants to see me. And he says, ‘It has been brought to my attention that you sustained an injury to your knee while you were at Ranger School. I had my brigade surgeon look at your medical packet. You should have been offered the opportunity to medically recoup and join the next class. You are ordered to grab all of your equipment and go back to Dahlonega immediately. You will return to the Ranger training program and immediately start with the next class.”
Given a complete reboot, Bedestani went back to grab his equipment. “The class I was in had already wrapped up. So I joined the next class, and I graduated three months later.
“I didn’t know this at the time,” he explains, “but the NCO who drove me around had served for Colonel Chin in Grenada. And he went on his own accord to talk to [Chin] to give me another chance.
“So, I had gone from being a quitter to having an opportunity to revalidate myself, but the only reason that happened was because of that moment and that person,” Bedestani says.
Graduating from Ranger School “allowed me to progress eventually to Special Forces, which then provided the opportunity to excel there and bring me additional opportunities. But in the very early stages of my professional development, this moment was a very critical piece and really set the tone for being able to prove to myself that I'm not a quitter. I think it expanded my limits because I tasted the bitterness that comes from saying you're a quitter. That has fueled me significantly.”
Currently, Bedestani works in the U.S. State Department Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Bureau, with a focus on European Conventional Arms Control. But he’s still learning his limits and always expanding them incrementally.
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