Two men and woman huddled together hugging
Liz Nemeth

The Power of ‘I Got Your Six’ and How It Applies to Our Country Today

This article was produced in partnership with Pendleton Whisky 

“I got your six” is a phrase that’s been around for more than a century. It was first coined by American fighter pilots in World War I.

Soldiers used clock positioning to inform direction. For example, twelve o’clock is straight in front of you and six o’clock is right behind you. So, when a WWI fighter pilot said, “I got your six,” it meant, “I got your back.” Enemy pilots would try to get behind your tail and shoot you down, but you trusted your wingman to protect your “six.”

As a former recon marine and retired US Navy SEAL Officer, I have many stories of amazing men and women who have picked me up, covered for me, and protected my “six.” I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them—but one story in particular stands out.

It was September 29, 2006 (Saint Michael’s Day), during the Battle of Ramadi. It was one of the most violent battles of the Iraq War, and I was in command of a 12-man element comprising four Navy SEALs and eight Iraqi scouts. The mission was to provide sniper overwatch support for the famed 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment—the same unit from the HBO series Band of Brothers—as they cleared a highly contested district of the city. We snuck into the enemy-held district during the middle of the night and set up sniper positions on the third-story roof of a prominent building. When the sun rose, we were engaged in sporadic gunfights with Al Qaeda insurgents that remained throughout the day.

About mid-day, Navy SEAL Michael Monsoor, known as “Mikey” by our entire SEAL Platoon, assumed security. A SEAL was located three feet to his left, and I was three feet to his right. An enemy combatant utilized cover and concealment to sneak close enough to our position, then hurled a grenade onto the roof. The grenade barely cleared the lip of the wall, striking Mikey in the chest before settling on the ground. Mikey yelled, “Grenade!” and without hesitation jumped on it to absorb the blast. The other SEAL and I were wounded from shrapnel to the legs, but we survived because of Mikey.

This is the most selfless act anyone can do. Mikey was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest award for selfless valor above and beyond the call of duty. Mikey’s story will soon be told in a book, due to be released this fall.

I consider myself lucky to have experienced this bond—this concept. No matter the circumstances or how bad things got, I knew my tribe always had my six. At the same time, we understood that this was a sacred pact of trust. I would never ask my comrades to break the law or violate their integrity to cover my six. It would defy the meaning of those words.

“I got your six” also means holding your brothers and sisters accountable when you see them violating the ethics and principles we hold dear. That doesn’t mean reporting them to a higher power, but taking a morally courageous action to confront them and provide corrective action to ensure it never happens again.

This notion was the foundation upon which our trust and camaraderie was built, further forged by shared adversity—going to hell and back with one another. This is one of the most powerful unifying principles for top-tier teams, regardless of profession or industry.

Of course, the idea of having one’s back is not solely reserved for military members and the profession of arms. In a non-war environment, this phrase can be used to comfort our fellow man: No matter what happens, I am here to support you. You can trust me. You have my loyalty.

As we approach Independence Day, we should remember and embrace the great many things that unite us as Americans. More than just a phrase, “I’ve got your six” represents an unbreakable bond with our fellow man, whether it be a family member, friend, co-worker, or even a stranger. Most importantly, it reminds us to treat one another with respect and a sense of loyalty, regardless of our personal backgrounds or beliefs.

Look around. There are countless examples of everyday acts of selflessness—a bystander pulling someone out of a burning car, a community rallying around essential workers during COVID-19, anonymous and plentiful donations to help a family that lost everything to a fire.

“I’ve got your six” can be integrated into everyone’s life. It starts with building genuine, trustworthy relationships and reminding yourself that it’s not all about you. Instead, it’s about selflessly caring for the well-being of others.

Building trust within our tribes and the greater American tribe will give us purpose beyond measure.

I’ve got your six, how about you?

Man's hand holding Pendleton Whiskey bottle outdoors over grass
Liz Nemeth

Introducing Pendleton Whisky’s ‘We’ve Got Your 6’ Limited Military Edition Bottle:

In partnership with the Bob Woodruff Foundation, Pendleton Whisky released its fourth-annual, limited-edition military appreciation bottle to honor veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Pendleton Whisky has pledged to donate $100,000 and a portion of proceeds to support the Bob Woodruff Foundation to help create healthy, positive futures for our service members, veterans, and their families.

I am proud to endorse Pendleton’s ‘We’ve Got Your 6’ Limited Edition Military Edition Bottle, which represents the military motto I hold dear to this day. Whiskey was the go-to libation for my units. Toast to a fallen comrade: shot of whiskey. Introduce a new team member: shot of whiskey. Wish farewell to a teammate: shot of whiskey. To this day, I take a shot of whiskey on every anniversary of a fallen teammate.

Now, I’ll make it Pendleton.

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