In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man.
My Trident is a symbol of honor and heritage. Bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before, it embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect. By wearing the Trident I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege that I must earn every day. My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own. I serve with honor on and off the battlefield. The ability to control my emotions and my actions, regardless of circumstance, sets me apart from other men. Uncompromising integrity is my standard. My character and honor are steadfast. My word is my bond.
We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations. I will never quit. I persevere and thrive on adversity. My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my teammates and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.
We demand discipline. We expect innovation. The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me – my technical skill, tactical proficiency, and attention to detail. My training is never complete. We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country. The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend. Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed. I will not fail.
Introduction by Bill Rose: This is another one of my favorite moments of the entire Clinic. Believe me: if I had to do it all over again, or even if I could have done it, I would have done it, but I wasn’t man enough to do it. I wanted to be a Navy SEAL in the worst way. Just not man enough to do it. But I can tell you how proud I am of that part of our military and what they do and what they mean to all of our lives. To have our next speaker here to talk about how being a Navy SEAL may transition into our particular occupation is just so exciting. One of the new SEALs who has gone through the program (and I was hoping he might be here today is) one of our great swimmers, Larson Jensen. When I had the opportunity to coach Larson and to see him transition all the way into a Navy SEAL is probably, in my mind an even greater thing, than his Olympic success. So, without further ado, please listen to and admire the person you’re going to hear. He started at 17 years old, the youngest SEAL ever, and he spent 30 years as a Navy SEAL. He recently retired (and how he can be retired at 47 I’ll never know), but the fact is that he has now retired; his current job also is to be a mentor for the Navy SEALs and what they do on a daily basis. Here he is: Luis Lastra.
Luis Lastra: First of all, following Coach Rose is perfect. The presentation he just gave in leads in perfectly to what I’m about to talk about, and, actually, listening to some of his presentation brought back some fond memories. One of them is a about 10-year-old boy growing up here in Orange County I was on a swim club called Santa Ana Valley Aquatics. We used to come up here and compete with the Mission Viejo Nadadores, who at the time, were by far the premiere swim club, and had a the new pool.
A lot of the AAU meets happened up here. I hadn’t thought about this for a bunch of years, but when Coach Rose brought up the name “Nadadores,” I started thinking about my swim roots back then and the adversity we went through. I remember my coach back then, and I’m not going to mention his name in order to protect him here, but we’re talking about 1973-1975. I remember the coach had a technique that was pretty interesting. He demanded we keep swimming, doing the drills, not holding on to the side of the pool at times, and he had a way of warning us. He’d yell: “Hey, don’t do it again, keep swimming as I’ve told you.”
He had a little technique that was outstanding for back in the day. I don’t advocate it today, obviously. But he had a wooden paddle about that big [he demonstrates] with vented holes in it all up and down the paddle. If he told you to continue to swim more than once, then: you got to get out of the pool; you got to get into the starting position in your wet Speedo; and you got to start swimming again, but the paddle will assist you in your entry. And believe me you would not stop swimming again. That technique, when I think about that now, is pretty absurd for this day and age — but I’ve got to tell you that it probably helped me in my adversity, and in my dealings in BUDs during the SEAL training, when I reached there, because I was able to say: “O.K. not a big deal.” I knew not to stop swimming again. So I figured I’d lay it in with that.
Larson, let me apologize for Larson Jensen. I wanted to drag him here today with me. Actually drag him in here — probably cold, wet and sandy too. But Larson’s done a great job. He actually had a mission-related thing that he’s doing right now and that took priority, so I couldn’t get him here today. But I do want to thank the swimming community for giving us somebody like him. In the United States, a lot of sports teams, colleges, and high schools have bred these men and have given them to the SEAL teams. I just want to thank our country.
So a quick introduction: I’ve spent 30 years in the SEAL teams. As Coach Rose mentioned, I came in at 17; I never had the intention of probably joining the military while growing up. It was something that at 17 I decided to do here at the recruiter’s office. I wasn’t even sure what service I would join and just happened to walk into the Navy Recruiting Office. And when I walked into the Navy Recruiting Office, they handed me a manual with all the different ratings of the Navy and they said: “You’ve got to pick one of these.” I remember going through that manual. All the way at the end of this manual was a picture of a guy on the beach blowing up [things], demolition, with shorts way too small for him and I was like: “Oh that looks kind of pretty neat.”
I grew up around the water and the ocean. I’d like to do this. [I thought]. Right off the bat, they started telling me: “Well, this is a super small percentage of the Navy.” Now you’ve got to put yourself back in that area with me. I was 17 years old, maybe I weighed, maybe 130 pounds. I was a little kid and I was telling the recruiters: “I’d like to do this.” All I got was pretty much negative feedback from them,[saying]: “You’re too small; we don’t think you can make it.” Stuff like that. That stuff back then, even with my personality, made me want it even worse. When somebody told me I couldn’t, I was biting down, and in my head I was saying: “I’m going to prove you all wrong and I’m going to do this.”
So that [making the SEALs] became my immediate goal at that age. [I started] putting all the training into it, all stuff that I started doing on my own in order to be able to pass the screening test. Long story short: about a year later I was graduating BUDs and coming into the SEAL teams. One of the big things for me; that negative, I guess you could say, self talk that was put into my head about you’re too small… I use that with the guys nowadays to get them to understand at the beginning of training. Even though I have 200 plus guys in the room, there’s no reason that if a 130 pound, 17-year-old can get through training, they can’t get through training.
The only problem is that, as I see it and I see it all the time, is that we can see the adversity level, and we can see the physical level of these guys. What they can handle physically. We can take them to another level when it comes to that, but as far as mentally, and what’s in their heart, I can’t be a judge on that. There’s no way I could walk around that room with 200 guys and start picking, saying: “He’ll make it; he’ll make it; he won’t.” I’ve seen high level athletes, I mean Olympic level athletes, end up coming to training, and being stellar when it came to physical stuff, but then deciding that they didn’t want it, and then quitting when it got real miserable, [when there was a] lack of sleep, [and when they were] cold, wet and sandy.
And then I’ve seen the small, high school kid, basically your nerd in school who decided and put into his mind that he was going to make it — and he succeeded. So when Coach Rose talks about he would have liked to have done that… Yeah, I’m going to beg to differ. He could have probably made it through. Anybody in this room has a potential at one time of making it through. It’s just a matter of, is it really in your heart. That’s what I try to get across to these guys when they check in for the SEAL training.
I’m now pretty much a dad daily to about 300 plus guys, including all the students who are coming out of boot camp, getting ready to class up. The officers within the class, the students who have been rolled back and are waiting to re-class up, those who have had injuries or problems during the program and need to re-class up. [I am] also with the staff, with the instructors, just in an advisory way, just being around them, talking to them, getting them to open up, getting them to understand that even with my background, I’m just as human as they are. I had mentors along the way which made me the person I am today and I’ve got to give all that credit back to those folks. [It is also important] that that they understand that someday some of them will be in my shoes.
So that they understand it, I put a challenge to them: “Before you know it,” [I say] “ 20, 30 years from now, some of you guys in this classroom are going to be in my shoes. I want you to be able to say that we [the students] took the SEAL teams from the time we joined to now, and the level’s just increased and increased. We keep making it better in every way.” I challenge them that [when the day comes] that they’re up in my shoes to be able to turn around and say themselves, that they’ve taken it to another level.
Up on the screen you see our trident, our SEAL trident. That’s our insignia. The insignia stands for sea, air and land. The breakdown of the insignia is the sea portion is the trident which relates back to Neptune the pitchfork. The air piece is the eagle. The flintlock pistol refers to land and the anchor refers to the navy aspect of it. So that’s our SEAL insignia which folks are pretty familiar with. You’ve been seeing it on the news a lot lately in the last few months. But that’s the breakdown of the insignia and that’s where the name comes from: “Sea, Air and Land or the acronym SEAL.”
Earning your trident everyday, building the complete warrior is what we’re after. Not building the stereotype that sometimes you see on the news: the guy that can get on target, get it done, take care of the bad guy. There is a lot more to it than that. The guys we need as SEALs have to be able to—and I’ll be a bit brash on here and realistic — have to be able to put a bullet in somebody’s head, a bad guy’s head, turn around and be able to put a suit on and go into an embassy, or come home and coach little league. That’s what we’re after in how we build these guys. Not just a guy that can do the mission on target and get that done, but then turn around and he’s a train wreck at home.
To try to build the [warrior we want], we use tools like an understanding of your loyalty priorities. Why we’re allowed to put a bullet in the head of that bad guy? What entitles us or allows us to do that? The Constitution, our country, just wars, rules of engagement. All those loyalties are your priorities: loyalty to the Constitution, to the rules within our navy, to the rules within naval special warfare, to the rules within our SEAL teams and our COs rules and intentions.
In combat, we have rules of engagement which fall in there somewhere. Obviously,[there is loyalty to] your platoon and your teammate. We talk a lot about your team mate and your swim buddy. What’s very important to get our guys to understand is that there is a point where there could be a forfeiture of loyalty to somebody, say like your swim buddy. If your swim buddy is doing something wrong. or against the policies, or Constitution, he has to understand that there’s a point where there’s a forfeiture of loyalty. He has to make sure that he either corrects it or let’s the leadership know for all the right reasons.
And that’s a tough thing to do for some of the guys. Loyalty to your swim buddy [is stressed] so much in BUDs — that you have to be loyal to your swim buddy, take care of him, make sure he’s doing things right. But there’s also—we have problems just like Coach Rose was mentioning in your community — and hey I think it’s just in general and life with some of our young men and women sometimes … and we need to understand it. If being negatively mentored into a directions by your buddy, or “Hey try this” and it’s wrong, there is a point when you’ve got to bring that up so that we don’t poison the entire community.
We’ve had incidences throughout the years where guys have done great stuff on the battlefront. All the great stuff you see on the news. But we have also had guys go astray with from everything from, name it, alcohol, drugs, and things like that that we’ve had to deal with. Throughout my career I’ve seen it — coming in in 1982 where the drinking of alcohol was just part of the activities, I guess you could say, in the SEAL teams. But you still needed to be able to accomplish your mission, do what you’re supposed to do. There was a lot of that around, so understanding where you go with that and not getting yourself in trouble was very important. Which is what I tell these guys nowadays.
I personally understand that we are not building — no offense — choir boys. Yes, they’re Navy SEALs so they’ve got to get this stuff done. I understand that. I’m not going to stand up there and preach to them: “Just don’t drink.” Because I know that they’re going to go out and have some beers. And they’re going to go out and look for young ladies to date. (That’s not exactly how I say it when I’m in the room with them but I’m trying to keep myself together up here, all right?) So — I know they’re going to do those things. What I try to advocate to these guys on a lot of things is proper planning. Prior planning, thinking about it; being smart about your approach; putting those tools in place; not getting yourselves in trouble.
So we start trying to build that from the very beginning. We put “Concern for Self” at the very bottom. It goes on up from there. I threw a loyalty chart up there so you guys can see some of the things that I use, some of the tools I use when I’m teaching these guys.
Trust versus performance… some of the stuff I’ve already talked about. Obviously at the top right hand corner, we want the guy to be a high performer with a high amount of trust. That’s our ultimate build right there. We understand we can’t always have that.
We’d rather settle for a medium performer with high trust than a high performer with medium trust.
Trust is winning out is what we’re trying to get across to these guys. It does us no good to have a high performer with low trust — somebody who we constantly have to keep tabs on, who we can’t turn loose in an embassy or wherever deal with village elders or families or things like that because he is a “liberty risk” as we like to say in the Navy. We also can’t afford to have guys, who if alcohol is around, get over and above what he should….Things like that. Do we completely not have that within the SEAL teams? No, I mean we still have some guys, and we’re still trying to wean them. We are going to weed them out, change their perceptions. We’re trying to build these guys as complete warriors.
These are some of the things we try to get across to the guys at the beginning of training and all the way through the 15th-month pipeline. Training starts with basic orientation. Actually I take it back one step further. For the enlisted guys, training starts at boot camp. They go through a standard Navy boot camp of eight weeks. From there they go to SEAL prep which is eight weeks long. From SEAL prep they come here to Coronado and they begin basic orientation, another three weeks.
In basic orientation, we’re trying to check the tools that they’ve got to make sure that they’re ready to start training. From there, they begin first phase of training. Each phase is about seven weeks long. First Phase is probably the most popular phase with the stuff you see in the media and on the Discovery Channel and stuff like that. That is where they really get thrown adversity right off the bat. That is our selection phase. That is where Hell Week occurs, the one week where they don’t get to sleep, where they’re basically going the whole time. They’re cold, wet and sandy the entire week. So that happens in First Phase.
In Second Phase, is the dive phase and that’s where we teach them a lot about diving, and dive physics; it is mentally challenging. The physical stuff still continues throughout. Third Phase is land warfare; a lot of demolition technique, shooting, and still, like I said, the physical stuff is always there throughout training. The adversity level is still kept up but not to the point of first phase. From graduation of BUD/S after the three phases (should I say their mid-graduation point), they go into SEAL qualification training for the rest of that 15-month period. That’s all about advanced skills, free fall training, language school, things like that.
At the end of 15 months, that’s when they actually earn their trident and become a SEALs and go to one of those SEAL teams. So that’s pretty much what our training encompasses.
Our SEAL Ethos: In 2005, with some of the issues we had as a community, we decided we needed to put some things on paper. We needed to put our beliefs on paper. What do we believe in as a community. We didn’t want it to come from the most senior admiral down to us on “this is what you guys believe in,” so what we did was we got a large group of guys and we met out at San Clemente Island. We built our SEALs Ethos on things that we believe as a community. We could all agree on that these are the things we want to build in our guys to the level we want them. These are the things that we should rally around.
This has been a great tool since 2005. I use it in training, and I’m going to use it today almost the same way I use it with them, so that you guys will understand how we tie this in. First of all, I tell these guys when they come to training (like I said I have over 200 of these guy and out of that 200 we are probably lucky to graduate 50) that I understand that some of them are great gentlemen, which they are. To come to the SEAL teams, whether they make it or not, is very honorable. I understand the program is not going to be for some of them and they’re going to move on.
In my mind what I truly care about is even if you take the word “SEAL” out of this thing, still, as a person, all these virtues within this Ethos apply. And that’s what I try to instill in these guys from the beginning: understanding the virtues within the Ethos as a man. “Honor, courage, commitment, humility…” Every paragraph has got a couple of them. The first paragraph: “In times of war and uncertainty, there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our nation’s call.” The loyalty chart: our nation’s call. Why we’re allowed to do what we do: our nation’s call.
It’s because our nation has said, “Yes, we’re going to war.” And these are the rules that we’re going to follow when we go to war. [he continues]: “A common man with the uncommon desire to succeed, forged by adversity, we stand alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and to protect their way of life. I am that man.” Understanding why we do it. And then the last statement on there: “I am that man.” I challenge them with that every day, and I ask them to challenge themselves with that for their entire career and throughout life. Are you really? Are you performing at that level, because if you are, great, but if you’re not you better get yourself on check.
My trident is a symbol of honor and heritage bestowed upon me by the heroes that have gone before. [My trident] embodies the trust of those I have sworn to protect by wearing the trident. I accept the responsibility of my chosen profession and way of life. It is a privilege I must earn every day. The trident, which you saw at the beginning, is our symbol. Earning that trident everyday by your performance in every aspect of life with what you do at home with your family is very important. I challenge them to take it beyond the SEAL teams, take it all the way, as I like to put it, to the day they put their foot in the box, their body in the grave. Live by those values and virtues. Set those goals and challenge yourself throughout life.
[He continues to read] “My loyalty to country and team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans. Always ready to defend those that are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazard to my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.” Understanding humility, we do not advertise the nature of our work. Sometimes it is a little upsetting to me when I see ex-SEALs in the media talking about events that have occurred and giving their opinions about them — not that they are saying bad things, but it’s just not who we’re supposed to be.
“Placing the welfare and security of others before my own:” Absolutely. our guys are great about doing that. I have yet to see any SEAL who, when the adversity level kicked up, didn’t engage or do what they had to do. I try to get them from the beginning to understand what they’re signing up for, in a very frank way of understanding [for example] that I may be on target and my buddy might get shot next to me. I cannot get overwhelmed or overcome by event. I have to do what needs to be done whether it’s to put down suppressive fire and do what I need to do to accomplish our mission. Having the ability to keep all that in check is tough. Much easier said than done, believe me. I mean, we’re all humans. We have to be able to even re-engage and turn around and even get back in the Humvee hours later possibly and perform another operation. Our guys are great about doing that.
[He continues to read]: “I serve with honor on and off the battlefield.” I’m going to stop on that one right there. The “on the battlefield” part… our guys have that wired, truly and for the most part. The “off the battlefield” part we have to work at constantly, making sure that the values and virtues and all that are applied. The “on the battlefield” part entails understanding just wars, rules of engagement, understanding that you are a warrior, the code of the warrior, what that is. The best warriors do have a heart.
And when you’re in countries, and dealing with families and things like that, [you] understand that those values still apply. You’ve got to be a warrior, but you’ve got to have a heart, and you’ve got to deal with people fairly — which is tough nowadays because sometimes the enemy that we’re fighting doesn’t wear a uniform. The way I explain it to a lot of the guys is this: I ask them, and I point at one guy, and I say: “Look at it this way. If I came to your country, and you and your family supported me for coming to your country to get rid of a dictator or whatever you didn’t believe in, and I was doing all the right things, but by accident, I killed you, would your family be upset? How many members of your family would now possibly have a change of opinion of what our mission was there?”
We are getting guys to understand that, and having a heart, and that it’s not just about getting on target, and getting at it, and using terms like “dehumanizing the enemy” or referring to the enemy as “savages” and things like that. We are there for the right reason. We are trying to build a country, so we can give it back to them, so we can come out.
I’ve been asked by very liberal college professors and people who are friends of mine about my beliefs of the war. Personally, the only thing I could tell you folks is this much. To me, my guys, our guys, our boys, to me…one death is not worth that whole part of the world. That’s just my opinion, but it leads into this, and I do believe this and the reason why (and you’re probably [saying to yourself] “then, how do you get over there and do what you got to do?). We have kept it out of our country.
Other than 911 and some small attacks, we have kept our malls from starting to blow up. We are meeting them on their playing field and doing what we have to. That’s how I can justify what we’re doing. But I do care about the people in those countries though. And the boys. To me, every time we lose one it hits me right here especially because a lot of times, I’ve gotten to work with them, I’ve gotten to train them. I’ve taken guys that I saw go through SEAL training and have gone to war with them. And saw them doing what they had to do on the battlefront. So it’s very near to me every time we lose one of our guys. But the on and off the battlefield, going back to that…, definitely trying to get the guys to understand those things. I know I’ve strayed off a little bit. Sorry folks.
[He reads again]: “The ability to control my emotions and my actions regardless of the circumstances sets me apart from other men.” Just talked about that, as far as if my buddy got shot next to me. How do I deal with that? Do what I have to do. Uncompromising integrity is my standard, driving that everyday to the guys.
[reads again]. “My character and honor are steadfast, my word is my bond. My word is my bond.” I get into that. There was a time, and I still believe that that time is still in our country, where you should be able to shake somebody’s hand, look him in the eye, tell him you’re going to do something and stick to your promise or your word. Sometimes now when I put it to them I go: “Whoa. Let me ask you this: if you decided that you needed a loan, and you sign on the bottom line that would pay back that money, is that your word? Is this your bond?” And the guys usually answer: “Yes, master chief.” And then I say: “Well, is that happening all the time, or do we have people deciding that they’re going to sign on the bottom line and then they want to get bailed out?” The guys understand it. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it is what I’m getting at. I understand different situations and all that. Things like that happen, but the bottom line is: if you say you’re going to do something, do it and hold to that. I’m trying to get that across to these young men. And they’re great about it. I mean they understand that you got to continue to drive that point.
I like to use an analogy about a SEAL and how our guys are. A SEAL to me is like a fish that I’m fighting, and that fish is as strong as heck, and it keeps pulling the line on me, and I keep reeling that guy in. I am constantly having to reel that fish in. I may never land one of our guys completely on a lot of this stuff, but I’m going to keep reeling and trying to until either my line breaks or I die. That’s basically what are guys are. We constantly got to keep ourselves [in check] — and it’s not only our guys. As Coach Rose was talking about situations, it’s the people in our country. We got to keep ourselves in check. Constantly check ourselves: are we living to that level?
I tell the guys: “Hey, I’m not going to put myself up on this big pedestal, guys. I’m just trying to work at being this Ethos every day. I do make my mistakes and you guys will also make your mistakes, but learn from them. Learn from them and move on. Not to embarrass you, but letting others know what your mistakes were so they understand how your course corrected and how you arose from that negative situation is very important.” [He reads from the Ethos again]; “My character and honor are steadfast, my word is my bond.” I know we’ve just talked on that also, folks.
[He continues to read] “We expect to lead and be led. In the absence of orders, I will take charge, lead my teammates and accomplish the mission. I lead by example in all situations.” Expecting to lead and be led. In the military, you have rank and structure. I ask the class this all the time. I say: “Let me see a show of hands. How many leaders do I have in this room?” And usually I get half the folks putting up their hand. I saw somebody bring a hand up there, good job [laughter]. Truly everybody—I want to see everybody’s hand go up. Like I told the guys: “If there’s two of you in a room in any situation, one of you guys has to take charge.” If you’re both like, “What do we do?” Somebody better take charge.
Somebody better lead, pick it up. We drive that pretty hard to our guys. To lead, open your mouth. It’s good and bad, believe me. Even in platoons, I have had some very opinionated young guys, and sometimes it gets overboard where they’re feeding me their opinions. I’m taking them all in because a lot of young guys have taught me a lot of things. But then it gets to the level sometimes where it’s like: “all right lock it up.” So understanding that you got to take charge in lack of leadership situations is very important.
[quoting the Ethos]: “I will never quit.” Easier said than done. I ask the guys at the beginning of every BUDs class with 200 of them in that room: “How many of you guys told somebody in your family or friend or whatever that you will not quit BUDs training?” Every hand goes up in the room. “Okay, great,” I say. I see that every class but it never ceases to amaze me that three weeks from now when you start First Phase, I will see in that first week of training between 10 and 30 helmets on the line that have quit. So much easier said than done. Like I tell them, like I said earlier: “Is it in your heart? We’ll find out.” And they’re nodding their heads, “Yes it is master chief.” Worst of all [is when someone says] “I’ve been wanting it my entire life,” and then you throw a couple of hours of adversity at them where they’re cold and wet, and the next thing somebody’s quitting on you. So it’s just you never know, but that’s what we’re trying to instill in these guys.
[quoting the Ethos] “I persevere and thrive in adversity.” I’ve been talking about that all morning. [more from the Ethos]: “My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down, I will get back up every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to protect my team mates and to accomplish the mission. I am never out of the fight.” Never being out of the fight doesn’t always mean fighting. It’s winning the battle or winning the actual war not the battle type approach that they have to understand. Sometimes directly fighting something is not a win situation.
Sometimes I use a scenario of being in a bar say down here in Pacific Beach. Say you guys are in there and somebody wants to start something with you. They’re looking at you, and it’s gone to that point where they’re instigating. What are you going to do? Are we going to go ahead and start a fight and let this take us over and get into trouble and bring down our community? Are we going to figure a way to get out of there and get out of the situation? So I get them to understand that sometimes fighting isn’t the best approach to winning the actual fight.
We demand discipline; we expect innovation. We want our guys to be thinkers. We demand discipline — and that’s the fish I‘ve got to constantly be reeling in: discipline. Like I said earlier, our guys are—they got to get at it. We want them to be warriors, but it’s constantly keeping them in check, keeping the discipline in place because we need to have that…like Coach Rose was talking about uniforms. The SEAL team’s world is a bit more slack on uniforms than the regular armed services, but we still need to be in a certain uniform, clean shaven at times. I know overseas sometimes we have to grow beards and things like that, but understanding for that [specific] situation a beard applies, but when you’re out of that, you instantly take that thing off because you’re not going to fit in.
Constantly keeping the guys in check. One of the ways I explain that to them is to ask them why they wear camouflage? “To blend in, master chief.” Absolutely. S,o if you’re going to go into an Embassy, how do you blend in? Put a suit on, cut your hair; or if you’re going to go into an army messing facility where all the soldiers have their pants, blouse, and name tags, you don’t go in there in your field camis looking like heck, setting a bad example. So that’s something that we deal with everyday on the uniform side of it. The thing about our guys is they’re free thinkers in a lot of ways, but that fish: if you let it start rolling on you, it will just keep taking line on you and that line will end up around your neck if you’re a leader.
The minute you back off a little bit on the standard for the uniform (and they’re really good about ganging up, playing mom against pop and all that good stuff), the minute you start coming off of that standard, because let’s say we’re in the dessert, or on an island and they ask: “Sir, why do we need to shave this morning, we’re on an island, we’re in the middle of a desert, it doesn’t make sense? The minute that OIC says: “You’re right, guys, that’s cool” then the next thing not only are the beards growing but they’re in the wrong uniform, they’re in a civilian t-shirt, they got a baseball cap flipped backwards, the CO decides to drive out there, we’re all in a world of crap.
So– we to get them to understand that and keep them in check because that’s just the way we are. It’s never quite enough when we start bringing down the standard. I guess if any lesson learned is to be learned from that, it is: set your standards and stick to them. A lot of leadership stuff that I’ve studied from coaches, great coaches like Lou Holtz (and this was one of his big ones) say: Never compromise your standards. The lives of my team mates and the success of our mission depend on me, my tactical skill, my tactical proficiency, my attention to detail. My training is never complete.
Attention to detail and all of those things, we derive in training. Our training is based on [such discipline] that even the way they wear their life jacket, and even though they’re in and out of the water, their shirts are immediately tucked in and all their buttons are certain ways. Constantly attention to detail, because we’re checking them to see if they’re picking up the small things. Are they’re looking around at each other to help each out? It’s not just about I’m ready to go so I’m good. It’s about I’m ready to go and now I am looking around at my bodies or helping that guy who might be a little weaker than they are.
Or in situations where we ramp up the adversity, we see the strong guys sometimes come off and we see some of the weaker guys come up. It depends on the level when you—everybody has those moments of weakness. Understanding that is when you rally around each other as a team. I think that applies to stuff that you guys do everyday as a team. Coaching swimmers who have had set backs. What do we do? Do we get upset about the setbacks? Do we let them take us down? Or do we refocus, recourse, correct, set another goal and get at it? My training is never complete. That is something I tell the guys all the time.
The reason I know what I know, or have gotten good at whatever I’ve gotten good at is my ability to sometimes just shut the heck up, listen, take it in, not be full of myself, go to the outside, find those subject matter experts, listen to them. You can massage and take it from there, but that’s how you get better. It’s constantly being open-minded, being able to learn, always realizing that even though you may have met your goal, you never really meet your goal. You just set another one and move on. Very important. I tell the guys all the time that even though I’ve had a 30‑year SEAL career I’m setting the example to them daily.
I can’t preach any of this stuff that I’m talking about up here if I’m not living by it myself. I’ll throw my credit report right in front of every student. They can look at it or whatever. They can learn from my mistakes, whether it’s family-related, whatever. It’s being open to them. Learning from each other’s mistakes is very important.
Relationships. This is kind of a little bit off track but you guys will probably like this one. You guys have probably heard of the mental coaching stuff, the sports psychology, the big four, which are goal setting, visualization, arousal control and self talk, those four things. We apply those during training, but when I’m talking to the big four to these young guys, they’re like: “What?” The Big Four of relationships. And they’re still looking at me, 200 of these guys sitting around. I go: “Okay, that means the girlfriend.” Be noted, that all we have is guys in the SEAL teams at the moment but the girlfriend, the fiancée which is two, the wife and then the wife with kids, which is four and each of those being another step and on each one of those steps you have to basically make sure both of you are on the same sheet of music. You both have common goals or even if the goals aren’t common they at least both understand each other’s goals. Obviously with the girlfriend, you may not be alike in whatever and it gets to that point where it’s time to find a new girlfriend or whatever. Got it. No problem there. Unless you get her pregnant. Then you move in to step number 4; you take the short cut.
The next level would be the fiancée. Now you’ve been around this girlfriend for awhile and you’re thinking this girl is really squared away …I want to stay with her… we have things in common… thinking about making her my fiancée and the next step. This is just more of you really have to understand each other. You really got to understand each other, and understand if you want to be a SEAL for an entire career, she better know about it, and she better be good with that. Or if you roger up to hey I’m only doing one more deployment and then I’m getting out and going to school. If you’ve set that and agreed on that, great, that’s fine too, but you both have to understand each other.
Even doing a deployment during that timeframe I think is very important, so that she understands that you will be gone for six months or greater at a time, and she understands and she can deal with that. I’d rather one of our guys find when he’s overseas that his fiancée is in tracking or heading in wrong directions than end up being married.
The next step is being married, very important. Having common beliefs, desires and understanding each other, you’re taking it to the third step. Even with the fiancée, you could still move away from each other because it just wasn’t right. When you move into the marriage piece now, that’s a little bit more difficult. Now with your matrimony, I tis very important that everything that you put into place now that you both have the same common desires, supporting each other and all that great stuff. I tell the guys all the time that if you don’t have things in common you’re going to basically do nothing but attract lawyers. So the guys have to understand it.
The third step is when you decide to bring kids into the equation. Now when we talk about that loyalty pyramid on self, for country, your family and kids fit up here some where. You have to understand that and before you take a selfish approach to being a SEAL or your mission comes first type thing. Now you have a wife and kids in the equation, and you better make sure that they are taken care of on the home front before you deploy because if they start having problems on the home front while you’re deployed, you’re not going to be able to do mission correctly.
So at each one of those steps, I get these guys to try to understand that they’re taking it to another level. It goes back to prior planning on everything we do. From having your gear ready in the morning, to going to a bar and going to have some drinks, and having that designated driver or many things along that line. It goes right back to that. Being transparent about it, like I said, I have 30 years in the navy. My job came first, I deployed when I had to. I got married a few times. I never had kids, kids are great. My blessing I just didn’t have them because of my career and I got great nieces and nephews and everything but I’ve learned and I make sure I get that across to them not because I want them to understand about my Jerry Springer lifestyle but I want them to understand that hey it could happen to you.
Please learn from some of my mistakes. Some of the things I’m telling you apply. I’m married now; my wife is here today. She is my critic. When I found my wife, we had a lot of things in common, physical, activities, things that I like. I like to be physical, and I like to go out and do things, and I wanted somebody who did that. Unfortunately, for a few girls before my current wife, they ended up being tortured, I guess. The guys used to say: “Well, Master Chief, yeah they’re all really nice looking girls, but they all seem to leave you.” And I would say: “Yeah guys but they can’t say they didn’t leave me in the best shape of their life.”
And so my wife now. I was told within three weeks that I had to deploy for a year in the Middle East and I didn’t have much choices on that. I had to do my job. She completely understood, after we had been married for just a year; she took care of everything at home; it was great. It made things so easy in my relationship that now I’m looking back and wondering what I was thinking about on the other ones. But the thing is that you just don’t know. So you got to live and learn, and hopefully some of these guys can learn from my mistakes. I know I got off track a little bit. Sorry, folks.
[From the Ethos]: “We train for war and fight to win. I stand ready to bring the full spectrum of combat power to bear in order to achieve my mission and the goals established by my country.” The goals established by my country means making sure that the guys understand that this is your code as a warrior, the reason why you can do what you do. “Bring in the complete spectrum of combat power.” Got it. Our guys—I don’t have to coach that at all. [He quotes again]: “The execution of my duties will be swift and violent when required yet guided by the very principles that I serve to defend.”
Basically just the principles. Once again, we’re driving those virtues. It’s very important that our guys understand the reasons why they can do things. It is very important that they understand these virtues and codes and what allows them to do what they have to do. We find that, as long as they understand what entitles them or allows them to do it, guys can deal with doing the bad things and the nasty things that they have to do on the battle front and come back and be that guy who can teach little league. I try to get them to understand and I use the example of a sworn police officer. He knows. He goes to the academy; they tell him what the laws are. He does understand that he may have to shoot somebody in the right situation, for all the right reasons, and as long as that police officer does that during a situation for all the right reasons, he can live with himself and should be able to continue to do his job fine and move on.
Our guys: same thing. Our guys, if they do that, can come home and deal with it really pretty well. If you stray from that, as I told them, even on the battle front…if you stray from that and do a heartless act or pull a trigger, you’re still making the call on what you’re doing with that trigger and you may even get away with it. You may get away with it, but you’re never going to get away with it inside your heart. You’re going to have to live with that for the rest of your life and that’s where stuff like PTSD comes in, post traumatic stress disorder.
If you load yourself up with a lot of negative things from the battlefield, you’re going to have a hard time living with yourself and that’s where PTSD a lot of times kicks in. But if they understand why they’re allowed to do these things and they do them for the right reason, they should be able to turn around and live with themselves. They should be able to come home completely and feel comfortable about what then did for their country because of the Constitution. We go right back to the loyalty scale. [From the Ethos]: “Brave men have fought and died building the proud tradition and feared reputation that I am bound to uphold. In the worst of conditions, the legacy of my teammates steadies my resolve and silently guides my every deed
I will not fail just working together as a team [because of] the level of the guys that have fought and died before me. Not only are we’re taking it to that level, got it, but we also take it to another level. Be better than they were; build guys; I will not fail. That’s what we instill in these guys from the beginning of training. No matter what the situation is, you don’t quit, you don’t fail. If you run into a wall (and we as humans in training also understand that there are going to be failures when you didn’t accomplish the time you were going to try to meet or whatever), you refocus; you reset; you course correct and you get at it again. You’ve only failed when you completely quit. So you truly haven’t failed until you decide I am done. I am defeated.
So that was our Ethos. Simple SEAL Code: “Loyalty to country, team and team mate. Serve with honor and integrity on and off the battle field. Ready to lead; ready to follow; never quit; take responsibility for your actions and the actions of your teammate; excel as warriors through discipline and innovation; train for war, fight to win; defeat our nation’s enemies; earn your trident every day.” That’s something that I get these young men to memorize from the beginning of training, and I get them to understand that it’s not a memorization drill. It’s actually understanding what those words mean and living by them. Very important. Use of a code I think is something that you could use in any organization. Use of a simple code of five liners something like it’s kind of hard to memorize our Ethos but the Code gets to the point. I think any organization can put down a code and say: “This is what our beliefs are.”
The best way I think to do it is to rally the troops, your swimmers or whatever, and ask what do you believe in as a group, as a team? They’ll start telling you things and we just write them on a dry erase board. And then you say: “O K, we’re going to pick five of these things, and these five are the ones that we’re going to live by this season.” Then, anytime they get a little squirrely, you could bring those five back up and say: “Remember this one? Are we missing it right there?” I think it works great. I’ve seen some of the Olympic teams and different facets of the Olympic teams apply codes and I think it works very well as a team because they have personal ownership — especially if the guys have built it. If you don’t just deliver it, and if it’s been built by them, it works and it is really easy to do.
Let’s see how much time do I have? Am I over already? Okay, so anyhow, I’m going to hold my ground. I’m going to keep talking, all right? So — when I dealt with the Iraqi counter terrorist forces in 2005, 2006, I used and applied a code. I had 375 guys, Iraqis, with the translator and I tried to build unit integrity and all that type of stuff. The odd target tactic itself was easy — not easy, but that’s what our guys were really good at teaching them. But all the other stuff that I have been talking about today, trying to drive that into a 375-person unit, built up of CIs, Sunnis and Kurds that all had different religious beliefs was a bit tough. One day I was thinking about what I could do, and I thought the SEAL code. “I’ll build them a code,” I said.
So I started writing things down on a piece of paper that I thought might apply to the Iraqi guys. I invited some of the NCOs and said: “So what do you guys think of this? Feel free to change it. I want it to be yours. It’s just an idea I had.” When we started going down, we changed some of them a little bit. The big one that stayed was “religion by choice, united as one.” We all know how tied that whole part of the world is to religion and getting them to understand that no matter what your beliefs are, if the virtues are good within that belief or that religion or that God, you’re good to go and they started, “Yeah, master chief.” Or they used to call me “Sgt. Major Lu.” “Sgt. Major Lu,” yeah you’re right. Yeah okay I got it,” …because they wanted to turn it into united as one under one God and I tried to explain them: “Guys, as long as people are doing good things, you guys can have somewhat different beliefs, but you’re brothers as a unit.”
And, they have gone through a screening process, a small SEAL training type of thing that tied them all in as brothers. And they left that in their code which is still alive in that unit to this stay. That code helped me immensely with that unit on getting the point across and getting these guys to group up and team up. Here it is in English, and I kept it very simple you can see but I did put it on them to go ahead and change some things. The only one I stuck hard on was the religion by choice, united as one.
I wanted the guys to understand that as long as people are doing good things, good virtues I could care less who they pray to. And there it is in Arabic which I still hope it says what I wrote but somebody here could probably go: “Hey, Sgt. Major Lu you know what they wrote on there?” I don’t know, all right. And last but not least guys, here’s a picture of the Iraqis and if you look right down at the middle, one guy’s got his hand on my shoulders, so I’m blending in there with all the other Iraqis.
Teaching our guys is a piece of cake compared to bringing it in to that group of guys. So any time I have problems with our guys nowadays that completely helped me out as far as being able to mentor. I had the language barrier, and the guys used to joke around about how I was going to disappear one of these days and how they’re going to lynch me. I never knew—initially — if my point was getting across through the translator but I got to tell you at the end of my tour there with those guys, they really understood that I cared about them. When they understand that you’re really there and you care about them and want them to succeed as a country, they open up to you. I try to drive that into our guys every day that that’s the best approach to them when they’re overseas and fighting this war.
I did one more thing folks just as an example and I just threw that on there too. The other day, I was sitting down and just wrote some things, but that’s just an example of something that you can go with it as swimmers or as any coach. That’s just an example of how you could possibly tie these codes with whatever you’re doing. Everybody got the pictures of it? [Laughter] And so you guys start to apply this and you open your mails like, wow, where did that come from? But anyhow it’s just an example but you guys I think get the idea of where you know where I’m going with this. That concludes my presentation. Thanks, folks.