A podcast about life, the universe and anthropology produced by David Boarder Giles, Timothy Neale, Cameo Dalley, Mythily Meher and Matt Barlow. Each episode features an anthropologist or two in conversation, discussing anthropology and what it has to tell us in the twenty-first century. This podcast is made in partnership with the American Anthropological Association and with support from the Faculty of Arts & Education at Deakin University.
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Command Master Chief (SEAL) Britt Slabinski, was awarded the nation's highest honor for his heroic action fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
On May 24, 2018 Navy SEAL Command Master Chief Britt Slabinski was invited to the White House and presented with the Medal of Honor. He was awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions in 2002 when he led his team on a daring rescue mission to save their teammate who was wounded behind enemy lines. In this episode, Command Master Chief Slabinski talks about the importance of team mentality when facing adversity and what service means to him.
DF: Thank you for sharing some of your time with us for one. That’s, that means a lot I think to have your perspective voice in on the podcast, so thank you for sharing some of your time with us to start with.
BS: Certainly, happy to be here.
DF: For people that might not know you, if you could just briefly introduce yourself and tell us your history with the Navy. I know it’s not brief but…
BS: Certainly, so I am Britt Slabinski. I am a retired Command Master Chief, served 26 years mostly all of that in the SEAL teams and mostly all East Coast teams. Went through with BUDS class 164, graduated with that in January 1990, and then served with SEAL Team Four for a few years and then served to, with Naval Special Warfare Development Group and served at group two as a Command Master Chief and then retired from Naval Special Warfare Command. In March of 2002, deployed to Afghanistan January 2002, but in March of that year, conducted an operation called Operation Anaconda, where I led a seven-man reconnaissance team onto a snow covered 11,000-foot mountain peak to conduct over-watch operations, reconnaissance operations. During that operation, one of my teammates, upon landing our helicopter landing on top of the mountain, we received heavy RPG, rocket propelled grenade fire, machine gun fire. Damaged the helicopter badly, and one of my teammates was ejected from the aircraft. Teammate’s name was Neil Roberts. So, my helicopter crash-landed in a valley, and I made the decision to launch an immediate rescue mission with my remaining team members back up to the mountain, up against superior numbers, heavily armed enemy force. And for those actions during that day, I was awarded the Medal of Honor.
DF: And I understand that just happened recently as far as receiving the award. Is that correct?
BS: I did. It happened May 24th at a ceremony, at the White House presented, presented to me not too long ago. (DF: Oh wow, so just, yeah not too long ago at all.) Yeah, not too long ago at all.
DF: That must have been pretty, that must have been a pretty amazing experience.
BS: It was. It’s still very surreal, and I don’t think surreal is the right word for it (DF: Yeah, right?), but it is still very, very surreal, amazing experience indeed, but…
DF: Yeah, yeah, tough to wrap your mind around I’m sure. So, let’s rewind back to joining the Navy. What or who inspired you to do that?
BS: So, I think like most youth, graduating from high school, I’m trying to figure out want do I want to do with my life, and from an early age on, I was involved in Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts was the kind of foundation of my life, and I became an Eagle Scout, and from what I learned in scouting, that really became the foundation of my life, Boy Scout oath, Boy Scout law, those things are what I made decisions from. They were vitally important to me growing up and still are to this day. My father was also a UDT guy, so he was in Naval Special Warfare really back in the early days. He went through one of the beginning classes of it, class 13 back in the (DF: Wow, that’s interesting) early 1950s (DF: Wow). So, when I was around 13, 14 years old, my dad took me to a SEAL reunion where he introduced me to some of his teammates. And from that moment on, I thought, “Wow, he’s introduced me to this other family that he had,” and I thought, “This looks like something very interesting that I want to do.” Very difficult job, difficult selection process for the job, but very crucial, important work on behalf of the nation. So, retiring from high school, I made the decision that I wanted to do something that was more important for me to do. I wanted to contribute. I wanted to serve my nation, and for me, that was joining the Navy and then applying to go to the SEAL program.
DF: Did you know what you wanted to do with the SEALs whenever you first joined? I know, at that point, there might not have been nearly as much media coverage about what the teams even did, but did you have an idea of kind of what you wanted to do with the Teams?
BS: I certainly did, because my dad introduced me to it. I’m from North Hampton, Massachusetts, so western Massachusetts, so as you can imagine there wasn’t a big presence (DF: Right) of military there, so I would not have known of the SEALs probably let alone even the Navy other than my father introducing me to it, so really happy to have this opportunity to get this message out to (DF: Yeah, other people in the same predicament, right.)…There are other people there and just to help them focus, “Hey, what do you want to do with your life.”
DF: Right, right, right, kind of set off on the right path. What did you do in the SEAL teams as your specialty?
BS: Coming through SEAL training, you’re trained in various different things. Maybe when you get to your SEAL team, everyone’s trained up in a lot of basic things. Everyone’s a combat diver, you do land warfare, you do parachute jumping, as the name fits: sea, air and land (DF: Right, right). You do all the specialties, all the special warfare tactics that go with that. Later on in my career, I specialized more in being sniper trainings, sniper instructor, but overall, the main thing that I’d say that I did is I was a leader first, first and foremost, above all the other specialties, I was, I was the leader, the one making decisions and executing those decisions.
DF: You mentioned being a sniper trainer. Is that what you said a second ago? Instructor? (BS: Instructor) Okay, that’s a place where the SEALs do get a lot of recognition. What separates the best Navy snipers from other precision rifle teams in the world?
BS: I don’t know if there’s a real distinction behind them. I think going to sniper school, there are a lot of great shooters, a lot of great rifle shooters. Most if not all SEALs I think are expert shooters, so everyone has a capability (DF: Right) to go through the sniper training. What you get out of that training, though, is you’re just going to think differently. You’re going to look at targets differently. You get planning on it, you get strategic thought processes, strategic in the sense that how you are going to go about going against a target, so in an operational sense, how am I going to go do this, and you get leadership skills out of it cause mostly the sniper guys, you’re solo in a lot of things, or you got one partner with you, and you’re going to go out and do certain operations. So, instead of having a larger team, you’re a much, much smaller team, so that’s really what you learn, how to operate across the whole battle space just you and your, and your shooting partner to accomplish a mission.
DF: Well, you did say that sometimes you’re solo. I mean I’ve obviously never been to sniper training or any precision rifle schools, but I think that is pretty common that there’s a team there, but the solo aspect I think is definitely a little bit different, you know….
BS: Certainly, you’re never really alone. In the team environment, you’re never really alone, and you have support. You have your teammates that are going to be close by but what you also learn at sniper school is a lot of times, it’s just you, and you have to rely on you and what you bring internally to that problem set, and sniper school really helped hone that down, to you’re the one making all those decisions, and that was invaluable to me.
DF: What’s something that you might have wished you knew before you entered the Navy? I think things have changed considerably since you entered the Navy. Does anything stick out in your mind?
BS: You know, with 20/20 hindsight looking back, I’m sure there’s any number of things I wish I would’ve known (DF: Right, right). At the moment, wherever I was, I was learning everything I possibly could. I was reading all the books, looking at everything, talking to everybody that I could possibly talk to about what I was getting into. So, at the moment, which, you know, was 30-something years ago, I felt I was as most prepared as I could. Of course, from what you see on the outside, and when you really get to the program, (DF: Yeah, things, things change, yeah) it, it usually is completely different, of course, cause there’s be a lot of hype and a lot of publicity to it, but when you get to actually, it’s like, “Whoa, this is totally different than what I thought that it was,” all, in a good way, of course, certainly much harder because then it all becomes, it all becomes just very real, and your commitment really takes more of a tangible form to, “Okay, here I am. Here’s a decision you made and you’re going forward with it.”
DF: Do you think that most SEALs have a calling for that kind of sense of purpose that you’re talking about people coming into whenever they arrive on the teams?
BS: I believe so because given the nature of the training, the training’s really intense. There’s some 75, 80% people that come into the training, all of them thinking they have what it takes, don’t get through for one reason or another, and the process is going to weed that out of you. There are no shortcuts to BUD/S training, Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training. There are no hacks for it. The process is, you go there, and you perform better than you did the day before, and you, you just don’t simply meet the minimum standards. You need to excel those standards. Excel those standards are not only what the program sets for you but what you set for yourself internally, about you internally growing and moving forward every day.
DF: Yeah, I think that does make a lot of sense, that your own internal calling, or however you phrase that, is I think what pulls people to the teams and then to wherever they end up in the teams, whether it’s they continue on and be…
BS: It is a calling about, it’s about service, service above, above one’s self, service to complete strangers, to your fellow countrymen. Those people that are going to walk by you on the street, and look at you and not even think twice about you not knowing what you’re doing for them on a day-to-day basis and really being okay with it. (DF: Right, right) It’s okay that you don’t know. It is a, a much higher calling of service.
DF: So, we spoke with Ed Byers a few weeks ago, and I asked him a question that I think is maybe appropriate to talk to you about, too. I’ve learned a lot about the camaraderie and the mechanics of being on the SEAL Teams in terms of what is required of them, and there’s also the external impression that you’re talking about. People have an impression of what these guys do and who they are and what they’re about, but it contrasts a lot because I think there’s a disconnection there, people realize, or people believe that these are individuals or super, you know, super human individuals, but really they’re so much more focused on the team, and that is what really is defining, you know, the idea of the SEAL Teams and all the people that are operating there. They put the Teams above themself, right? Are there parts in training or whenever you’re on deployment that you rely more on yourself, or does that change, and is that ability to change back and forth between the two you think allow you to be successful Navy SEAL or Special Warfare operator?
BS: So both SEAL and SWCC operators, really any Special Operator, the first person you have to lead. If you look at, what you see from the SEALs and the SWCC is you see this big tactical side. You see the guys in the boats, the big guns, the fancy electronics, the state-of-the-art equipment that those guys, the really industry-leading equipment that they’re using as SWCCs and the same thing that the SEAL Teams, and then you see the MS, the big burly guys doing all this (DF: Right) dangerous and crazy stuff. That’s really a small percentage of what the things that we do. You also don’t see, the, the human side of what they do. They’re husbands, they’re fathers, they are your Little League coaches, they’re your neighbor next door out there cutting their grass, there’s still that, that human element there to it as well. And then, the level of commitment that it also takes is, you know, we kind of called it mastering the switch, the switch being, you’re at home, you got to throw the switch in one direction, “I got to be Dad. I got to deal with everything at home,” and then you got to throw the switch, and you’re going to go to work, and then you have to take on this immense responsibility that it is to be in these organizations of doing what the nation is asking of them. And when you’re in that mode, that is the priority. Your priority then isn’t your family life. It is taking care of that much broader picture, and then the families are at home still bearing that immense weight as well at home. They’re not out doing that job, physically but emotionally they’re still there doing it, and then they have to bear the burdens at home as well, too, so immense challenging task for those family members as well. So, we call it how can you be very good at mastering that switch, and you have to be very good at it as well when you’re out doing your job because there will be one moment when you have to have a, what we call a very kinetic response and then switch right away into a very human response cause maybe the situation warrants something other than this kinetic side, and very often, that’s the case. A person that can switch back and forth to being exactly what the situation requires. I think that in a way separates us from what a lot of other organizations do.
DF: I kind of had a feeling that is a unique challenge that only certain people are really able to do effectively, consistently and well because that’s obviously required in your job, making that switch fast is part of the process.
BS: So, it’s, that’s what I really separates the SEAL and SWCC training so, from other training that’s out there. It’s not necessarily the physical, the physical piece is really, that’s going to come pretty easy, and I know it’ll come easy to most. It’s that internal piece that’s going to be much more difficult, and when you are stressed, when you are in a very difficult situation, you are uncomfortable, you’re exhausted beyond compare, and to be able to make those intellectual, critical thinking tasks and make them accurately, that is what this training is really going to prepare you to do. I believe that’s what separates us, this training, from other training, is it’s training that mental acuity in our people.
DF: I kind of define part of that as the grit. I think that’s maybe the working side of that switch, right. Um, talk a little bit about how you’ve developed that in your life or if that’s even possible to develop. It’s something that you’re born with.
BS: So, that’s the “Great Man” question, right, is the poor person born into the situation, or does the situation make the person, and I think it becomes a little bit of both. There’s an art, and then there’s the science piece of both things. Or there’s an emotion and a logic piece to all of it. You need absolute both of those things to move forward, and it’s a logic piece, which is cold, hard facts, then there’s the emotion piece, which is your life experiences and things that you’ve been through. Both of those things you need to move forward to make the right decisions in life, not just in our role but in any life.
DF: Right, I think that, yeah, I think that is like foundational, right, what you’re saying.
BS: It is foundational. For me, that foundational piece came from scouting. Scouting was that Boy Scout oath, that Boy Scout law and the other adult leaders that I was around. And so I think those programs, you know, Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, those things are very, very important to our, to our youth cause it just gives you some foundation…(DF: And challenges you, too.) It does challenge you. At a young age, here you’re going to take our youth, you’re going to put your sights on a, on a long goal, a long task. Going to take several, several years, four and five, maybe six years to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, and you’re young, and you’re making a commitment there, so at an early age, you’re getting used to responsibilities, thinking through things, making a commitment and (DF: You’re following through) following through. So, you’re getting that grit, you’re getting that resilience, and there’s a lot of difficult tasks, and a lot of things are placed on those, those young kids in order to complete those tasks. And it really, it is just a primer the way I looked at it. Scouting for me is just a primer for citizenship, I wouldn’t have traded that for anything.
DF: That’s huge. I don’t think many, enough people are involved in those types of organizations, not necessarily them specifically, but from a young age, especially I think in today’s climate that challenging your kids with potentially dangerous things, you know, giving your kid a pocket knife when they’re six years old or wherever the age is, you know what I mean, stuff like that is kind of almost sounds outdated to a lot of people, which I think is really kind of naïve to think that…
BS: Those things are at the very core of the very fabric of who we are as a nation. You know, the pocket knife stuff, they’re out there. Let’s teach the kid how are you going to use this thing so you don’t cut yourself, (DF: Yeah, safely, right yeah) right, or an axe, basic things I look at Boy Scouts, aside from the character it develops. Fire starting, you know, first aid and tying knots, right, that’s the…if you look at a Boy Scout and say, here, here’s someone that, hey, that, that kid that’s over there standing in that Boy Scout uniform, ten years old, he could save your life. He knows how to do CPR, he can stop you from bleeding, that kid could absolutely save your life cause of training that he’s been through, so.
DF: And his mind knowing that he can just even taking any action what stops a lot of people I would imagine, you know?
BS: So, that then becomes, he can look at the situation and go, “I need to intervene there,” right. “I see something going on. I have the courage in me to do something, and I have the skills to go and do something,” and that’s all when you see in a ten year old boy, standing there. And the same goes for Girl Scouts as well, too. So, you have, Girl Scouts do the exact same thing that Boy Scouts are going to do, you know, we don’t look at our youth as being, “Oh, that kid, what can that kid do?” That kid could do a whole lot, let me tell you.
DF: Yeah, I think the responsibility piece is really huge because I think kind of giving people that permission to take responsibility and ownership at a young age, that is something that people don’t realize that maybe they can even do, that they’re allowed to do, and then it’s kind of getting them off, jump start almost.
BS: Yes, and the accountability, right. That you’re accountable for your actions. We don’t have a lot.
DF: Right, right. If you never became a SEAL, what kind of could you see yourself doing other than that in your life? Maybe as a kid did you have any other ambitions?
BS: Looking back on it, now, really I can’t see myself ever doing anything else, (DF: Right) back to that (DF: Yeah, yeah, yeah) great man theory, is a person born or not. Like any youth, yeah, I had my dreams, yeah okay, you want to be a fireman, (DF: Right) or you want to go be a jet fighter pilot, or you want to go be architect or do an engineering. And you sort through all those things, and you have to go through that process to saying, “Okay, what do I want?” right, kind of the why is it true of each of these things, and then you kind of say, “Okay, this one right here looks the most appealing to me. I’m feeling this one is right for me, and it’s the right thing to do,” and that’s kind of where I was at. I made that decision that, “Hey, the Navy is the right place for me to go,” and, yeah a very difficult life, but I have not looked back once.
DF: Yeah, I kind of expected that answer, but I figured I would have to ask anyway, (BS: Sure) just to see if you might give us a little gem, like, you know, you wanted to be a race car driver or something like that (BS: Yeah), like your hidden hobby.
BS: No ballet dancer.
DF: No ballet dancing? You never know. I mean, I’ve met people across the board with the Navy SEALs…I’m sure you could do it, I’m sure. It’s like there’s not much you guys can’t do.
BS; I don’t know how I’d look in tights…I can fox trot though…
DF: Can we talk a little bit about fear and getting over fear? What are your best strategies for getting over fear?
BS: So, fear is very common, very common reaction, and it’s normal. Everybody feels fear. Everyone is afraid. Everybody does. If there’s a SEAL that’s out there, there’s a SWCC guy out there that’s going to say, “Look, I’m, right, I’m fearless,” then run away from that person. True courage, and I think there’s several quotes out there, one of them I think comes from a fictional, John Wayne, “True courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway,” right. That’s, “Look, I’m scared, right, I embrace it. I got no, like I’m not going to hide it, yeah. I’m scared to go do this. But what I’m getting ready to do absolutely needs to be done right now.”
True courage comes from being scared and doing the thing that you’re about ready to do anyway. Knowing you recognized the risk, you know there could be a very terrible outcome, but you’re going to go do it anyway cause the outcome if you don’t do something would be much worse, so recognizing there’s a situation there, recognizing you can have an impact, a positive impact on what’s going on there and then making the decision to go and doing it. And the strategies that you’re going to have are going to come from the core of who you are as a person. The things you believe in, the things in your life that you will do, the things in your life that you know you will not do and then living them, so, yeah, it’s…
DF: Identifying I think some of those belief systems I think or, but the priorities I think is what gets in the way of now hearing you say that because if there’s no sense of urgency, then, “I’m not going to do it. I’m scared.” There’s no need to do it, right, or if it’s something that’s more personal, you need to have that definition for yourself of what you’re willing to do, what you’re willing not to, what your goals are to be able to say, “I’m going to have to push through this.” Do you think that’s kind of a big part of it?
BS: For SEAL training, for the SWCC training, it is a big part of it because although you’re going through it as a group, you’re going to have a group of teammates that are around you going through SEAL training, but what the training is going to do is it’s going to is it’ll break down that team a little bit, but it’ll, it really is going to get down to the core of who you are as a person. All those little things, there’s only so much that team effort is going to get you through, but remember, a team is built up of a lot of individual (DF: Right), great efforts, and you take those individual, great efforts and put them all together, and those together, they go off, and they do great things. If you have people there just doing mediocre, meeting the minimum standards, that’s not really a team, certainly not a high performing team (DF: Right), which is the ones that we have. So, those people are just meeting the minimum standards. Those are the ones we simply don’t want around, the people that are exceeding those standards. So, you absolutely need to have someone that’s going to dig deep inside them and say, “Okay, this is the way that we’re going to go,” or, “I’m not giving in. I’m not going to quit today. My body’s hurt, I’m in pain, so is the person right next to me, and the thing we’re doing right now is really worthy of doing, and we’re going to go do this.”
DF: Yeah, I think that’s something that people don’t realize about the Teams, is that there’s lots of different personality types, but what really connects them in the core, you know that the other person at that stage, when you guys are finally put together, like we’re on the same page. Do you think that’s accurate?
BS: So, it is accurate. So, being likeminded, yes, we’ve all been through the same experiences, that we’ve all been through the same trainings. We’re likeminded is that we’re very, I don’t want to say singularly focused, but we’re very committed (DF: Right) to, to this action, what we’re doing. We have a term that, hey, it’s, we’re all in in this, and that term’s used very freely today, but no one really understands what, what this really means, is that I’m all in. I’m here with you right now, 100%...I’m here with you (DF: Yeah, with your life, not just…on paper, yeah, right), my life. My life, what equals my life is not just my heartbeat, right, it’s my soul, it’s my heart, it’s my dreams, it’s my family’s hopes and dreams and all the things that they can become, all the next birthdays, all the, all the events, those are all the things that we are going to give up, willing to give up for you, go to see my kids, go get married, you know just experience that living, and not existing. I’m going to give all that up for you, right, my fellow citizens, and that’s, that’s really, that’s what’s at risk here. When we say, “All in,” like I am, I’m all in on doing this to protect my fellow citizens.
DF: I understand that you spoke with a BUD/S class earlier today. What was that experience like? What did you talk to them about?
BS: So, spoke with BUD/S class 332. They are about a week out from Hell Week, so they just finished Hell Week, and I think there was about 90 of them in there and amazing experience. I haven’t spoken to a BUD/S class, been that close to a BUD/S class since I myself (DF: Yeah, right) was there, so it was really almost another surreal moment for me. I’m standing there in front of them all, (DF: Yeah) and I can really picture myself in their seat, you know, and like, “Wow, I’ve been right there.” So, I talked to them a little bit about my experiences going through Hell Week and the things that I remembered, and you know, I told them, I said, “You know, this is just a primer. You just went through Hell Week. You’ve not arrived. You’re not done yet. You got a long road ahead of you.” But just like I mentioned earlier, Hell Week is just a little primer for you to get tapped into the resources within you that you’re going to need to go forward with the rest of your career. So, yeah, you’re going to be sleep deprived, you’re going to be in pain, you know, discomfort, you’re going to be hungry, you’re going to be angry, you’re going to be sad, you’re going to have all those things, but guess what? Inside all of that, you still have to function and how best you do it, and that’s what I told them. This is really what the purpose of all this is here. You’re doing a lot of things maybe you don’t make any sense of. Maybe by Thursday, you don’t remember the things you’re doing, but this is the purpose of it, to tap into you, the internal piece of you, of who you are to say, “Yeah, I can get through all this stuff, and I can get my teammate through all of this stuff, and he’s going to get me through all of this stuff.”
DF: Give them a little bit of a reality check a little bit, kind of…
BS: Just get a little reality check, say that, and I mentioned to them, yeah we have that logo that you mentioned in the beginning of this podcast. It says, “The only easy day was yesterday.” Well, I believe words have meaning. Each word has a definition, and they’re put together in a certain way to get a way, a certain emotion. Everyone has different definitions to certain words. To me, “The only easy day was yesterday,” and this is what I told the class, I said “I don’t care what you did yesterday.” I told them, “You may have saved the President of the United States life yesterday. Great, go down, you get two minutes, get over it, you did a good job. What are you going to do for me today?” right, “What are you going to do to top it?” So, that’s what I told them. I said, “Hey, you pat yourselves on the back. You get two minutes to get over it, and then focus on what the next task is ahead.” So, those are the things that I told them… “Congratulations on getting through Hell Week, (DF: Right) but also my condolences, right, cause it’s going to get much harder.”
DF: It never stops. I mean even look at your career now, taking a change that, unforeseen, you know, and you’re still developing, you’re still looking for, I think that’s important to kind of recognize.
BS: And still serving, (DF: Right), cause that’s right for me. A career for the SEAL and the SWCC, it progressively, it’s going to get harder and harder and harder. The jobs and the tasks they’re going to put on you, they’re progressively going to get harder. They’re going to get more intense. That’s the career path that our people that go through.
DF: I’d like to touch a little bit on adversity, and I think we, kind of defined part of what enables you and I think most people to be able to push through that, and that’s having a direct understanding of the purpose for why you’re in that position to begin with and having the vision to continue on. Are there any other aspects that you can add to that in terms of overcoming adversity? Any personal anecdotes or anything like?
BS: So, I have several. The best one that I can give you, so the night in question where I received the, the Medal of Honor, the actions for. So, you know, my helicopter was shot down, my teammate had fallen out, so I had a downed helicopter sitting in front of me. I made the decision that I’m going to take care of the problem in front of the downed helicopter, we got all those, that aircrew, got us all to a safe location, a secure, safe location. It was from that spot that I had a decision to make, you know the weight of command, I was a Ground Force Commander, and the responsibility on our commanders that are on the ground is incredible. Its national strategic level commitments that are on those people going forward is sitting on their shoulders, so I had a decision to make. It’s in that decision, it’s in those, those moments when no matter what teammates are around you, right, that leader has to bear that responsibility. And you’re going to feel absolutely alone, and in that moment, I did feel alone, although I had my teammates around me, I had aircrew around me, I felt absolutely alone with the critical decision I was going to make, and the decision for me to make was, “Do I go now back to the mountaintop against superior enemy numbers. They have heavier caliber firepower than I do. I am not outfitted. I don’t have the equipment to do an assault,” I was outfitted to do a different mission, “and if I go now, there’s a chance that I could rescue my teammate, or I could wait three, four hours for more reinforcements to come, and that is the sure thing that I will go to the mountaintop, but it probably most likely be a recovery.” Fully knowing if I go now, the chances of me, myself perishing I thought were 100%. I thought it was 100% of me losing more of my teammates. And at that moment, that piece that came back to me is what I learned as a youth, and those were the opening lines of the Boy Scout oath. The opening lines are, “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty. On my honor, do my best to do my duty. On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty.” That echoed in my head as I’m sorting through all the tactical scenario of what I’m going to do. It’s then that I started listening to it about the third time, I was like, “Wow, okay. I’ve not done my best, and I’m going to go do this,” so that’s when I briefed my team and said, “Hey, we’re going back, and we’re going to go do this.”
So, can’t stress to the listeners enough how important it is, the core of who you are, whatever it is that you believe in. That’s vitally important for you to keep going forward. How do you make decisions? What do you believe in? And can the problems you experience, if you throw them against whatever it is that you believe in, whatever ethos, whatever creed, whatever it is you belong, those things at the very core, Boy Scout oath, all that stuff, they’re just a tool for you to use, to make decisions when decisions are difficult to come by. That’s really at the basis of what they are, right. I got a bad problem right here, difficult decision to make, I’m going to take that problem, I’m going to throw it against whatever I believe in. For me, it was the Boy Scout oath. For the SEAL/SWCC, it’s the SEAL and the SWCC Creed. You can take whatever problem you got, you’re going to throw it up against it, and if it sticks to it? Guess what, I’m going to go do it. If it bounces off of it, hey maybe I probably shouldn’t go do what I’m getting ready to do.
That’s what I look at those things at their core. They’re tools for you to make a decision, and they’re not just for when you’re in uniform. They’re for your personal life as well. If you don’t know what you believe in, if you don’t know what your core ethos is, if you don’t have one personally, then, hey, here’s the SEAL one. Here’s the SWCC one. What that came from, it started in around 2000ish, 2002, 2003 or somewhere around there. They came from our entire lineage from the first day down in Fort Pierce when the first Frogmen were made till this present day. Every word in there, every phrase is fact. It happened in one form or another. So, it is a bit ideal, but it is a factual thing that all stems from something that happened, and we put it down in writing, say, “This is, this is who we are. This is what we believe in, this is how we will conduct ourselves.” That is what those ethos’ are there for.
DF: In kind of stepping forward into the future after than event, what aspects in your personal life did you rely on to gain that strength again to kind of push through in your personal life?
BS: So certainly after the event, when we came back off the mountain, immediately coming off the mountain, which was some 20 hours later, I walked into our command and control center, you know, and I was, this is the point where I can finally, I can like, “Woo,” I can breathe (DF: Breathe, right.) a little bit. And I walked into our command space, and I just felt like I’m just exhausted, and I just felt like, “Wow, that was some pretty intense stuff that we just went through.” I really didn’t feel like I could move and go forward, and I’m standing in our command space, and I still had all my gear on, and this is when the teamwork stuff comes in. So, my teammate was there in the room, recognized in me that I was, I looked defeated, and I was defeated. I felt defeated at this point. (DF: Right) And a teammate who is a high -ranking member of the community now, saw this in me. Great, he didn’t say anything to me, he just came up to me, this is the definition of teammate comes in for me. He came up to me, and he just embraced me, didn’t say anything, and he just, just simple human gesture coming up to me, right, and embracing me and just telling me in this very brotherly way to say, “Look, it’s going to be okay, right, but get yourself straight, right, cause I need you,” and that’s basically what he was telling me, right, and then he let me go, and I go back to my tent, and that’s exactly just what I needed. So there’ll be times, there will be times when, “Oh, man, I just can’t, I can’t take another step forward.” That’s when those teammates are going to go, “Hey, look, I’m here for you, right. We can do this together,” so that was the immediate aftermath of that, and then moving forward, certainly still, those core aspects that they’ve just got to remain. There’s going to be difficult times. You have to always go back on who that is, who you were, what you believe in, and they will carry you through.
DF: How would you suggest candidates take care of their mental and emotional wellbeing whenever they’re really pushing themselves, or even people that are deployed?
BS: So, everyone is different. Everyone goes through, experiences things different. What might be stressful to me is not as stressful to someone else, (DF: Right) so everyone’s going to be in a different situation. What I’d say in general, if you’ve made the decision that this is the path that you want to go down, whether it be SEAL, whether it be SWCC, you think through it all completely to say, “Why am I going to go do this? Do I just want a, a want a little piece of that image, or do I, do I really want to go out, and I want to serve at the highest possible levels with some of the best citizens that our country could produce?” If the answer is yes to that, then go for it all in. And the other piece, the mental piece, once you’ve made that core decision, and your reasons are sound, everything else is going to come easier to you. You’re going to be able to pull from that because my reasons for being here are sound. The training process, the pipeline, all that stuff is just going to pick you apart. Maybe you came in for one other reason because you bought into the image, you hit the training process, and you’re like, “Oh, my God. This is really terrible. (DF: Yeah, things change, right.) What am I doing here? Worst decision of my life,” and then you just hold on just a little bit longer, and then you hold on a little bit longer. You go one more day, one more day. And you’re like, “Oh, this really is what I want to do.”
So, the initial thing I would say is, make the decision for why are you into this, why do you want to do this, and if you’re in, then you’re in. Don’t give up on it. And if you’re in it, and you’re having those thoughts, just wait another minute, right. And go back to your core reasons of why are you here, why do you really want to do this. Take a look to your left, take a look to your right and say, “Okay, this is, this is the reason why I’m here.”
For me, I look at our flag a little differently than a lot of people, and I, we use this analogy for many years, I pass it on to you guys. So, it can be very difficult at times, you know, certainly a lot of things, a lot of stressful environments that we go through. If you look at our flag, a lot of people look at our flag. They see the red, the white and the blue. The red symbolizes, you know, the blood and sacrifice that generations have given for their country (DF: Right), the white, you know, innocence, purity, you know, many other definitions, the blue in the field is for justice. So that’s kind of how I look at it. Those things are very readily apparent when you look at the flag, but the real core of our flag when you look at it is the thread that holds it all together, something that no one, no one ever pays any attention to, right, and that thread passes in and out of all of that stuff, and you never see it. And you see the flag standing out through a hurricane. And the ends may be a little frazzled, a little torn, but the flag is still all together. All that we are as Americans is all tied up in that flag, and that thread is the only thing that’s holding it all together. That thread is us. That’s how I look at it. It’s that thread. I’m going to get battered, I’m going to get bruised, I’m going to get beat up, but I know who I am. I know the things I will do, I know the things I will not do, I know my character’s intact, this is what I’m going to do, and I’m going to hold strong, and that’s what I see as our community. We’re the thread that’s going to just hold everything together, no matter what it is you’re going to throw against me.
DF: Thank you so much for sitting with us and spending some time with us. I know you’ve got your own life and a lot of other things that you got to do in your life so appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.
BS: Very happy to be here. Thanks for the privilege.