One SEALs Odyssey

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“Sing, O Goddess, of Achilles’ rage, black and murderous, that cost the Greeks incalculable pain, pitched countless souls of heroes into Hades’ dark, and left their bodies to rot as feasts for dogs and birds, as Zeus’ will was done.”

I can remember it like it was yesterday.  I had only been a graduate assistant strength coach at the University of Hawai’i for two months now but I had seen enough.  Nothing pisses me off more than seeing wasted talent and this kid had no idea what he was wasting.  His stature was by no means intimidating being 5’9″ and about 160lbs, but his levers were designed to move heavy weight, fast, and he was operating at about 60% capacity as far as I could tell.

So one Friday as we were closing the gym I finally couldn’t take anymore.  He was squatting 335lbs for 5 reps and as I was walking up to him, he was unpacking his weights getting ready to leave.  I looked at him and and asked him what he was training for, “To make the football team,” he said.

Are you happy with what you’re doing? I asked.

Uh, kinda.  He said.

Do you want to get stronger and faster?  I asked.

Uh, sure.  He said.

You know you have to capability to power clean over 300lbs right? (This is where things got weird).  He looked at me and snickered trying to figure out if I was fucking with him, I wasn’t.

And this is where our relationship was born.

I can’t mention his name because he is still an active SEAL, but this was my impression of my now very good friend whom we will call Hector.  Why Hector?  Because Hector was a guardian.  A protector.  A tamer of horses, and leader of men.  Hector inspired through his actions, impressing even Achilles whom remarked he was the best he ever fought against.  Well, my friend Hector, was the best PERSON I ever trained.  I recently went to San Diego to visit him.  I haven’t seen him since he left for BUDs and I took this opportunity to sit down and talk with him a little bit about his journey thus far.  Some names are changed and others omitted due to security risks, I hope you understand.

“Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another.”

My friend Hector was born on The Big Island, Hawai’i.  Hawai’i has a very warrior like culture.  Fighting is common place and usually the preferred way to handle disputes.  The authorities aren’t called, and even if they are charges are usually never pressed.    Growing up white in Hawai’i Hector said he unfortunately dealt with racism.  “I don’t understand why people hate other’s for the color of their skin,” he said, “I just can’t wrap my head around it.”  I asked Hector if he feels like growing up in that environment allowed him to develop this warrior mentality he has and he immediately corrected me.

“I don’t have a warrior mentality, I have a protector mentality.  I love protecting people, or helping them stand up for themselves. It all started when I was in second grade and a couple of third graders were picking on my younger brother who was in first grade.  They pushed him down a hill.  I went up there and beat both of them up pretty badly even though they were older than me.  When I got sent home again for fighting, I thought my Mom was going to be pissed, but she instead told me how proud of me she was that I stood up for my brother like that.  That sense of pride I got from my Mom is still carried with me to this day, and it’s a big reason for me doing what I do in the SEALs.”

Hearing him say this connected so many dots for me I nearly blacked out.  In college, Hector was constantly hanging around with people whom I considered to be dorks at first glance.  For instance, he befriended a Chinese student named Shin who could barely speak english and was 5’4″ maybe 125lbs soaking wet.  When I first met him, I was thinking, “What the fuck are you doing with this kid?  He’s not an athlete, he’s not attractive, and he’s not even close to being cool.”  This was me being totally egotistical.

Looking back, I now realize he wasn’t befriending him for his benefit, he befriended Shin for Shin’s benefit.  He was a thousand miles from home and Hector was protecting him.  He showed Shin around campus, took him to the cafe and bought him food, and introduced him to all of his friends.  Besides me, Hector’s friends were always completely opposite from him.  Like I said, you would look at these kids and be unimpressed at first glance.  The thing was, as I got to know these guys, they were amazing people.  They were better PEOPLE than I was at the time, and because they looked up to Hector, they looked up to me as well.  Through this experience I learned integrity.  Someone with integrity always speaks what is in his heart, and for Hector his heart screams out in defense of others.  Not only that, but he is one of very few people that has yet to ever let me down, and I honor him for that.

“No man or woman born, coward or brave, can shun his destiny.”

Hector considers being a SEAL as, “Being at the tip of the spear” when it comes to terrorism in this country.  He had a friend who was a SEAL who died somewhat mysteriously and was a major influence in Hector’s decision to become a SEAL.  “Every time I talked to him he always had great stories to tell me about action and honor and I craved that.  I craved something bigger than myself.  Plus his teammates were always so cool when I hung out with them.  It was like a brotherhood of protectors and I wanted to be a part of that.”  When I asked Hector how he dealt with fear before being a SEAL and now, after his training he said it’s pretty much the same thing.  “It’s fear of being a coward and letting someone else down that keeps me going.  I could never live with myself knowing I could have helped someone else and failed to take action when my number was called.

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Red says, “Some birds aren’t meant to be caged, their feathers are too bright.”  To realize his true potential took a lot of courage for Hector which he honestly lacked when I first met him.  It took a bit of convincing but when I first told him he had the potential to power clean 300lbs he didn’t believe me.  Through proper progression on my part and dedication on his, he eventually did and the timing couldn’t have been better.  Testing was going on for football and Hector was trying out as a walk on.  You had some of the biggest guys on the team lifting 285 – 295lbs, but weighing over 300lbs. Hector completed a lift of 309 lbs at a bodyweight of 175 lbs and shocked the shit out of everyone in the weight room.  Like a proud father, I slipped him a note on his way out:

When I opened my CrossFit gym, he sent that note back to me and asked that I hang it somewhere for everyone to see in hopes that it will bring them inspiration and I did just that.  It now sits at my bedside as a reminder.  Most people want to say you can’t outrun your destiny.  That may be true, but that note is a reminder of how you can achieve destiny through hard work.  Destiny is obtainable for everyone.  It’s a reminder that you can reach your destiny, not that destiny is reaching for you.

“Scepticism is as much the result of knowledge, as knowledge is of scepticism. To be content with what we at present know, is, for the most part, to shut our ears against conviction; since, from the very gradual character of our education, we must continually forget, and emancipate ourselves from, knowledge previously acquired; we must set aside old notions and embrace fresh ones; and, as we learn, we must be daily unlearning something which it has cost us no small labour and anxiety to acquire.”

Hector is a voracious reader.  Waking up one day in his spare bedroom I was marveling at his bookshelf.  Of the maybe hundred books on it, I read about 50 of them myself.  What’s more is back in 2011, before he went off to BUDs, he sent me a copy of Viktor Frankl’s Mans Search For Meaning in which he inscribed, “Bro, read this book, it will blow your mind” on the first page.  Eerily I had just finished that very same book.  I donated my copy to goodwill, and kept his.  That book, Hector said, is his most gifted booked to others and credits it for opening his eyes to his ability to lead other men.  In BUDs they have a saying, “Just get your boots on.”  No matter how tired you are, getting your boots on is your first victory of the day in which you know is going to be hell.  In his book, Frankl writes about how once he could tell someone gave up hope in the concentration camps, they died shortly after.  Getting your boots on is telling your psyche, “Not today you fuck.”

Renowned author Tim Ferriss makes his bed every morning as his small victory.  In Tools of Titans he says, “It takes 30 seconds, but it’s something you can control that gives you a small victory for the day.”  It sounds silly, but if Navy SEALs and best selling authors are doing it, it may be something you want to consider.  Often the most clever things are the simplest and laying right out in the open.  Creating small victories early in the day sets the tone FOR that day.  Will power only carries us so far, while pride will carry most to the end of time.  It’s a sense of “I did that!”  Even though I got the shit beat out of me today I didn’t give up.

Other books Hector recommends everyone reads are:

Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Steven R. Covey

“The sort of words a man says is the sort he hears in return.”

For the first time in our relationship I was able to tell Hector how proud I am of him and his accomplishments.  He’s gone from the scrappy kid with zero confidence, to an officer in the most elite group of warriors this country has to offer.  Talking to him these days is like talking to myself, but instead of me just being the teacher, now I am learning from him as well.  A great leader cultivates other leaders, not mindless followers.  It felt good to be around another leader.

Most people have admiration for Navy SEALs because of what they endure to get there, but once there, are sometimes seen as egotistical meatheads that only have a thirst for blood.  I’ve met some of Hector’s teammates and I’m telling you this is not the case.  These guys need to make life or death decisions in the blink of an eye.  Most people can’t even order their next meal that fast.  Are they always on high alert because of this?  Sure, that’s what they are trained to do.  Does this make them bad people?  I don’t think so.  I just makes them different.  After all, how to you judge someone sent to do something good, by which they may have to use bad (i.e. killing)  means to achieve that good?

Hector is set to deploy soon for a 1-year tour and even though he said he is going to miss his family terribly, he retains a sense of excitement as well.  It’s another opportunity to test his courage, to prove he’s not a coward, and to help someone who can’t help themselves so that somebody, anybody will remember his name.

 

*All quotes taken from Homer’s Illiad.

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