The warrior culture of the SEAL teams says “no matter how bad things get, we’ll figure it out.” But when you’re by yourself as a civilian it’s completely different. After 13 years of active duty, I faced divorce and became a single dad. I was forced to leave my dream job four months out from opening coffee shop because it didn’t provide the security I needed as a single dad. Failure is not something SEALs are used to. It got dark real fast—the darkness comes from everything we’ve seen over the years setting in when we’re away from the teams and looking for support from people who haven’t been there, don’t understand, and never will.”
My real transition into civilian life happened over a decade after I’d left the military, when I was let go from a job by a SEAL—one of my brothers. It was the hardest thing I’d experienced, even after all my deployments. Until then, I’d been so busy working that I couldn’t focus on my physical or mental health. Broken down emotionally, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. As a 30-year SEAL veteran, I faced greater hiring challenges than a 10-year veteran. On top of the “normal” discrimination facing SEALs, I battled ageism. In the military, you are part of a meritocracy. You rise within the structure based on your ability to perform consistently. It’s very linear. SFF helps you understand this isn’t the case elsewhere.
My exit from the SEALs was based on school. I finished my undergraduate degree while serving, prepped for GMAT and went right into an MBA from the Teams. If I’ve learned anything from the brotherhood, it’s that SEALs will seize an opportunity and succeed. The problem is, if you ask a team guy what they want to do in the civilian world, most won’t know. The majority have performed phenomenally in many areas. They’re smart and driven, but they’re always training, always deploying. By the nature of the work they aren’t exposed to a lot—no networking, mixers, or leveraging relationships to get a foot in the door. SFF is critical because it understands the mindset of the SEAL and how to line up scholarships and opportunities to help them excel. Few have the resources to get on an educational path—their skills aren’t translated beyond service.
After 15 years in a brotherhood where community, team and service meant everything, I found myself at an incredibly successful investment banking firm where profit trumped purpose. The culture was completely different, but had every intention of being a success. That’s not what happened. I was lost and faced failure. My employer was sympathetic, my family supportive, but I just didn’t belong and couldn’t articulate the challenges. No one could help me. My only option was reenlistment. I was happy and content back in the Teams, until I wasn’t. It wasn’t sustainable. I needed my family and I needed that family to co-exist with a community that could support me the way the brotherhood had.