Posted at 12 p.m., Oct. 10, 2013

Kasey M. Orr

Kasey M. Orr

CODE: words we live by

By Kasey M. Orr

Everyone needs a code.

I was so tired. We all were. Not just tired, but physically and mentally exhausted. It was 4 a.m., and in full battle gear, M-16s over our heads, my entire basic training troop ran in a huge circle around the armory and headquarters tents in the field outpost on the last training mission before graduation.


The drill sergeant’s voice rang over the sound of 150 sets of trudging feet, clanking gear and labored breath; over the sound of the rain spattering and drenching every inch of us. We began reciting the Soldier’s Creed for what had to be—in my fatigued memory—the 4 millionth time. We had been doing this for hours. The whole creed is important, but what they were trying to hammer into us were four of its lines, known as the Warrior Ethos.

During those moments, it became our whole existence. And with 150 voices, our creed shook the air of that long, long night:

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

Everyone needs something to live by, a code to help him make decisions he feels right, something set in stone that exists outside of and above himself, so when he falters, it does not falter with him but gives him something solid to hold onto and to pull himself right again.

There isn't just one code in the world. Christianity follows the Ten Commandments; Buddhists meditate the Four Truths and Eightfold Path; Boy Scouts of America recite an Oath, Law and Motto.

Hell, even recovering addicts cling to prayers and phrases to help them last day to day. None of them is "right" or "wrong.”

Most people make their own codes without thinking. They don't have words stitched on a pillow or written in a sacred text, only the deals they make with themselves not to repeat certain mistakes.

I’ve realized, recently, there are times when a person needs a new code for a new part of his life. The Warrior Ethos will always be burned into my bones, but I have been looking for one with a little less dried blood on it.

Strong-hearted, tough people

I spent the summer in Douglas, and for those of you who are new to Wyoming, it’s when you really live in the less densely populated parts of the state you get to see the heart of its culture. Many families across this big square state at the end of the plains are made up of strong-hearted, tough people the likes of whom you've never met. The best way I've ever heard the general social culture of Wyoming described is by the "rugged individualism" of its people. Everyone I met values his freedom and independence to live the lives he feels he’s meant to in peace.

I covered sports for the newspaper there, the Douglas Budget, and that included the rodeos and other events at the Wyoming State Fairgrounds. It's a strange range of sports to cover because few of the athletes have egos. When I asked to interview, they are polite, call you "sir" and are tricky to get a good quote from because they won't brag about themselves. They will often say they had fun, or they tried their best and hope to do better next time, but that is very often the most I could get out of them.

At first I didn't understand thought of it as something that just made my job harder.

Then, as I was walking through the fairgrounds one day I came across a large sort of monument, a great big list, placed in the middle of the judging and livestock area.

Across the top it bore the words: The Code of the West.

I stood there, and I read the "ten commandments" of the culture around which I'd grown up and never understood. It was simple, straightforward, practical, useful and honest, just like many of the people whom I would come to meet that summer. Just like the heart of the people who live by this code tend to be, Its rules were as follows:

The Code of the West

1. Live each day with courage.

2. Take pride in your work.

3. Always finish what you start.

4. Do what has to be done.

5. Be tough, but fair.

6. When you make a promise, keep it.

7. Ride for the brand.

8. Talk less, say more.

9. Remember that some things aren't for sale.

10. Know where to draw the line.

Everyone must find his or her own code. Make sure it is one that will make you who you want to be, not just who you are now.

Then, once you've found it, burn it into your heart and never, ever let yourself forget it, nor bend and twist its meanings to fit your fancy.

Make it the iron core of your life, and you will be just as strong as every bit of it, as strong as a whole troop of cavalry soldiers shouting it in a cold, long night.

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