Chad Williams - Becoming a Navy SEAL

Brian Lord: I'm Brian Lord and on the show today, we have author and Navy SEAL Chad Williams as he teaches us how to aim small, miss small, how to earn your trident every day and how he turned a shocking loss into a desire to change the world. So [what] I think is fascinating about Chad Williams is he's somebody- and you'll hear this in his story and it's a long story, you've got to listen to all of it because it's... it's kind of a crazy ending on that. But he is somebody that went from like a student-dropout-type person to someone who could push themselves to the absolute limit. Also, somebody who has a great story of forgiveness and change of heart for something so tragic that happened to someone close to him. And, you know, he's just one of those guys that have really changed who he is through hard work. But he also- he's very humble about it. He shows other people how to do the same thing, even if you're not a Navy SEAL, even if you're just what he calls a common man, a common person, you can do these things. But there's one key thing that I start off with talking to him about that anybody who wants to be a Navy SEAL has to have.


Looking at you or like Jacko Willink or Mark Devine, someone like that, you guys all have the most intimidating stare. Do you stand in a mirror and practice that or where does that come from? [Laughing]


Chad Williams: Never. I don't think that my stare is very intimidating!


Brian Lord: I mean, if you look at the picture- so I know this is great for audio right now, but make sure to go to like the and look up Chad Williams. But the picture we've got on there, like if you're on a military operation, you're like, "I don't care if we've got the high ground and military and numerical superiority, everything else, I'm takin' off if I get that look."


Chad Williams: Sometimes you've got to become a monster to take on the monsters.


Brian Lord: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So. So, Chad, you know, what you guys do is an amazing thing. Can you just kind of set up what it's like being out there as a Navy SEAL?


Chad Williams: Absolutely. I think for most people, they're not aware that SEAL is actually an acronym that stands for our areas of operation: Sea, Air, and Land. And up until the time of bin Laden getting taken out, I think the question was, "What are SEALs doing on land in Pakistan? Is there a puddle they came crawling out of or something?" It's like, no, we operate, you know, on land! To kind of give your listeners an idea of what my team was doing on land on our last deployment, we were given the task in Iraq of hunting down men that make suicide vests and roadside bombs, IEDs. And while we're out there, we're working alongside a group called the ISAF, which is the Iraqi Special Operations Forces. And one of our goals with these guys is to teach them how to fight their own fights. And the best way to do that is actually to go outside the wire and fight side by side with them. And if you could imagine a whole deployment going by pretty good. You know, we bagged and gagged some bad dudes making the world a better place and coming up on the calendar, what looks like just enough time to do maybe one more operation, we decided, you know, let's make this operation a sort of graduation operation for the ISAF. We'll let them plan the whole thing from the ground up and we'll be there with them just in case things go bad. So, they start from scratch hitting the streets. They find this source that tells you about a man that's an Iraqi policeman by day, but at night, come to find out he was one of these bomb makers. So they come up with this whole plan, how they want to approach the house, get in, grab the guy, extract and one of their requests to us is they thought they got shot at more than we did. And they thought the reason why was the color of uniforms. So for anyone listening right now, I've kind of got this dark complexion and when I start growing a little bit of facial hair, their request was that we put on the uniform so that we blend in with them. And I'll tell you what, I really blended in with them and I'm looking around like, "Wow, I look just like one of these guys." So we've got their uniforms on. They're convinced it's just the color of a uniform. In reality, we know it's not the uniform. It's the way we shoot, move and communicate. So as we're getting ready to roll out, I'm behind the 50 caliber machine gun standing up in the Humvee. And for those that don't know, that's a weapon that could really reach out and touch somebody. I've got my night vision goggles on. I'm going over this mental inventories. I'm thinking about how I got my weapon, headspace and time. That means it's ready to go. I know where this guy lives, how we're getting and how we're getting out. In one unique thing I know about this operation that makes it different than every other operation, I know this is the last operation, which also means I know it's a matter of days from now I'm gonna be back home in Huntington Beach, California, surfing in the ocean. Now, the thing that none of us really knew about that night, though, was that we were actually being set up the entire time. I did get thrown the absolute worst circumstances we'd ever been in on this entire deployment as we're getting set up on this ambush and getting engaged now in this gunfight you know, for our lives.


Brian Lord: What's kind of going through your mind as you're setting yourself up- err not seeing yourself up but being set up going through this.


Chad Williams: Yeah, you're not really trying to figure out like "who set us up on this?" you're focused really on the mission right in front of you at that moment. And this is where all the training kicks in. This is where the discipline is, muscle memory. You don't have time to sort these things out in the arena. It's all that prior preparation. And so as SEALs, we're doing what SEALs do best: shoot, move, communicate. And ultimately, it led to, you know, this situation where I'm back home alive and able to speak in front of you right now.


Brian Lord: What kind of put you in that position? Like the very first time? Like, I mean, you, I know you mentioned before that as you're going to that, you're thinking about that... that last mission. You are remembering how you got started as a SEAL.


Chad Williams: Yeah. Just going back to, like, you know, how did I even get on this road to begin with? You know, coming out of high school, going to a local community college, I didn't have a lot of success. I really just wasn't trying. I was failing almost all of my classes. And I realized as I pulling into the parking lot, like, wow, I'm turning into be- turning out to be a loser. The kind of guy that no young man wants to be. Because when you're young, you get told: "Sky's the limit." Do anything you want to do. Be a pro ballplayer, pro skateboarder, whatever you want to do. You can do it. I'm beginning to realize it's time to fish or cut bait. So I'm failing all these classes just because I'm ditching. I'm not showing up. And now it's time to take these finals I didn't study for. I'm just thinking, "How can I turn my life around?" And I'm just brainstorming, sitting there in that school parking lot. And I really just focused in on, "All right. I want to do something big, something great. Join the military. And I don't want to just be a part of the military. I want to be a part of the most elite. I want to go through that most difficult, grueling military training." And that's what I really focused in on, you know, "I want to be a Navy SEAL. Not just that, I want to be one of the guys that's top of the class." And in the SEAL teams, we have a saying "Aim small, miss small." And that's not thinking small. That means you're being very particular. If I'm aiming small at the button of the T-shirt of an enemy, maybe I don't hit the button. But the miss will be small as well. I'm still gonna be on target. And so just kind of going back in and realizing like really focusing in on I'm not just trying to be a SEAL, but trying to be the best in the class. That was really helpful. And so that was my target that I had in mind, but a little crazy. I'm a guy that's like a- basically a dropout, you know. And so I got to let my dad know some bad news and good news, as I put it. Present the bad news about school. The good news, though, "Hey, I'm going to be a Navy SEAL." And of course, he's kind of looking at me and just being the voice of reason, like, "Chad, joining the military. It's not so simple. You know, it's not like things you've done in the past where maybe at school you kind of got over it and you just wanted to leave. If you join the military and then you find out it's not for you, you're in. All right? And so if you don't make it their SEAL training, you'll probably be chipping paint off some boat in Japan." And he was 100 percent correct. But I had the mindset, you know. Yeah, I was not a extraordinary person at the time. I was a pretty ordinary guy. But in the SEAL teams are creed, it says "Common man with uncommon desire to succeed." Those are the ones that make it. And so I had this uncommon desire that just kind of needed to unfurl, make its way out. And so while I was preparing, he was also preparing something else. He had somehow reached out to a Navy SEAL and, you know, he tried to set up this workout. And so I remember, he called me into the house. He says, "Hey, so you want to be a SEAL? I got this workout setup with a Navy SEAL." And my first thought is like, "My dad doesn't know any Navy SEALs? Like what does he got going on here?" And he goes, "No, look." And he shows me the computer screen. There's this little e-mail. And it says, "Can Chad come out and play tomorrow?" And I'm like, "Play??" I'm looking at the screen. I'm looking at my dad saying, "Dad, let's get this straight. You met some guy off the Internet that says he wants to play with me. And you're arranging this right now?" And he's like, "Oh, no, he's a SEAL, Chad." I'm like, "Okay if you want me to, I'll go meet up with the guy-"


Brian Lord: That's a caring father right there. [Laughing]


Chad Williams: Right? And so the backstory that I didn't know about was he actually spent some time on the phone with this SEAL. And he what he told him, he says, "Hey, look, my son wants to be a SEAL, but he has no idea what he's getting himself involved in. And so I'm asking a really big favor right now. Would you be willing to meet up with my son? I'm asking you to crush him. Just bury him. Just beat this desire of being a SEAL out of him." And so after thinking about it for a while, he shot off his reply in the email: "Can Chad come out and play tomorrow?" So off I go. Oceanside, California, meeting up with a Navy SEAL on a beach parking lot. He spots me right away. I'm now Bubba. "All right, Bubba. Come on over here." And this guy's just smashing me down with pull-ups and sit-ups and pushups. Sends me off on a run out into the wetlands. He says he's going to catch up with me while I'm looking over my shoulder. I'm not seeing him around. And I start getting this idea in my mind like maybe, just maybe, I'm too fast for this Navy SEAL to keep up with me on the run and I'm looking over my shoulder. And then just like a scene out of Terminator 2 where the bad guy called the T-1000 can morph into those knife-hands and chase down a moving vehicle. Well, I look over my shoulder and coming down the trail is a T-1000. It is the SEAL with knife hands coming after me and there is nothing I could do to keep that distance. He closes the gap. Catches right up to where I am and I never saw it was coming next. As I'm greeted by his fist just going right into my stomach, I'm impaled, physically assaults me. He drops me to the ground. I've got the wind knocked out of me. This poof of dirt up all around me as we're on this trail out in the middle of the wetlands, nobody around. And you got to remember, the only intel at the time I had was that some guy my dad met off the Internet- I'm thinking this is happening. Child predator right now! [Laughing] You know, he's jumping on top of me, just ragdolling me in the ground, threads of my shirt ripping, that sound and spit flying out of his mouth. It's hitting me in the face as he's just screaming in my face. But then he says these words- and they really had an impact on me. He says, "If you want to be a Navy SEAL, you better stay three paces behind me." Like that's where everything just clicked. It's in gear now. I realize like this is it. If I quit right now, I will forever be a quitter. I just felt like this is the moment that affects the trajectory of the rest of my life. And so I just reaffirm that initial attitude of I will die before I quit. Common man, uncommon desire to succeed. This ended up being one of the most difficult workouts, or I should say beat-down sessions that I ever went through. Looking back, I mean talking even after going through SEAL training, he really gave it to me. They didn't stop right there. He was smashing me down. I'm getting back up going after him. This went on for a handful of miles. And we finally get to a point where he didn't shake me. He's looking at me. He's got this question. He says, "Hey if we would have gone another mile or two, would you have stayed with me?" I told him, "Scott, I'll die before I quit." Well, he completely loosens up, changes his demeanor and goes, "Great, you want to meet up again for another workout tomorrow?" On my mind, I'm kind of thinking, "Are we going to address that flashback that you had back there? Like, what was that?" I didn't understand, like, what that was all about. I find out later. You know, he's contacting my dad, telling him, "Look, I know what you wanted me to do, I gave it a go, but I think your son has what it takes to make it. I'd like to start working with them. And so from that day forward, I had this Navy SEAL, Scott Helvenston, you know, as my mentor and it was no longer a beatdown session. It became more of a building up. He really took me under his wing. He was teaching me what servant leadership is, how they practice it in the SEAL teams. He saw that pride, that arrogance that I had in the beginning. But he's teaching me, you know, I became "Junior." He's like, "Alright Junior. You know, in the SEAL teams, you know, there's no place for that. It's humbly we serve. It's always the team first, your buddy. You know, you come last." And he became this servant leader really in my life. And servant leadership, I mean, all you can say is really good things about it. It creates a dynamic of loyalty. I'm going to cover my buddies back. I don't have to look over my back. He's gonna be covering my back. And we're gonna take on the enemies together. It's none of this backstabbing that goes on in some other places. And so it's loyalty. We fight together. We fight for each other. That's exactly what we practice in the SEAL teams. And so he's teaching me this very early on. But our time is coming to a close because I got a date. It’s set. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to go start training. He took an opportunity as he put it, to go overseas again. And so he takes that. And we're on the phone. Last phone call you know, before he leaves, he says, "Alright, Junior. I'm about to go do this thing." [He's] referring to going to Iraq. And he says, "I just want you to know something I've never told anybody that I've ever trained before." He says, "I know you're gonna make it through SEAL training." And those words, all I could say is that just meant the world to me. Coming from somebody that I respected so much. I mean, that gave me so much more confidence, too. And I'm just not going to let him down. I got a lot to look forward to. And so we say our goodbyes. "Can't wait to see you get back, Scott." So now he's off to Iraq and I'm about to go to boot camp and get this journey started. I'm waking up one day and the television is coming on. And I see a picture of Scott on the screen and it's him smiling. And I'm thinking, "What's Scott doing on TV? He didn't let me know he's gonna be on TV. I thought he's in Iraq." You know, he's been on TV for a lot of different things. You know, on one of them, he was the man to beat the beast on a television program called Man vs Beast, where he raced a chimpanzee through an obstacle course and pulled ahead of the monkey on monkey bars! And so people can Google it! It's true. You know, Navy SEAL vs Chimpanzee. So what is he doing on TV right now? And then I saw in the lower third of the screen Scott's birthdate followed by a dash and it says March 3 1st, 2004. And before I could really translate in my mind the meaning of that, I didn't have to because it cuts to scenes then where you see a vehicle burning in the background, you see our guys and Scott's one of them. It was Scott and three other Americans. You know, they were ambushed, ripped from the vehicles and all these scenes of just angry Iraqi mobs just beating and wailing away, mutilating their bodies and wrapping rope around their legs, dragging them through the streets. He was one of these contractors at Blackwater. Ultimately, they dragged them to the Euphrates River Bridge and string them upside down. And they set their bodies on fire. And then they chant into a camera. They have a message for all of us listening and watching in America. And the message was in Arabic. Fallujah is the graveyard of Americans. It's just a chant over and over. Fallujah's the graveyard of Americans. So needless to say, you know, all the surrounding moments and events around that. I mean, I have no words to describe it. That was one of those things that changes you as a human being and you don't go forward the same person. But, you know, there is a lesson there as well. And it has to do with dealing with adversity. You know, the SEAL teams, we have a way of dealing with adversity. Our creed. The principle that should come out is it's "To be forged." We are forged by adversity. And so the lesson there is that, you know, adversity is going to come our way in life. It's guaranteed. It's imminent. We've faced it and we will face more. You can't become immune to that happening, but you can determine whether or not that adversity will be a wing or a weight. Will it be a weight that sinks you, leaves you knocked down never to get back up again? This adversity causes you just to fail? Or will you be forged by this adversity? Will it be a wing? You find a way to somehow rise. And so when you lose somebody, you know, what are you do you go back to the last conversation that you had with them. You kind of, you know, remember. And I remember Scott saying, "Junior, I know you're gonna make it through SEAL training." And that became my wing in that moment in this adversity. That was how I started to become forged by, you know, dealing with that, that I want to do this now still in honor and memory of my friend Scott, I want to walk in his footsteps. And a big part of me, not going to lie, I wanted revenge at the time, too. So I enter into SEAL training and I was part of BUD/S Class 254. And SEAL training, you know, people can look it up. It's arguably by far the most difficult military training, hands down. The numbers speak for themselves. I mean, as a class of 173 guys that all vow the same thing, "We die before we quit." By graduation day, there's only 13 to that original class number still staying around there. And that graduation day, it was a highlight moment for sure. I remember walking out and looking up in the sky and just thinking, Scott, you and I did this. I had his name right on the inside of my hat. I got the family there. You know, friends, they're seeing that moment where you get the trident, the insignia pinned into your chest. It says you've made it. You know, you're ready to go. You're a SEAL now. And not is this one of the happiest moments of my life, but, you know, you soon after learn and realize that this isn't a one-time thing. It's earn your trident every day. And that's the next principle. It's what we do in the SEAL teams. It's earn your trident every day. You don't just rest on your laurels. You don't, sit on your hands and think, "Well, the tactics that I learned last year are going to get me by next year." Because we're dealing with an enemy that's constantly evolving and becoming more sophisticated, we need to adapt our tactics to that. And that's so true in real life as well. Just the regular world, you know. You know, you're dealing with a consumer that's constantly changing and you need to adapt to that. You've got enemies, you've got competitors that are looking to hit you from the side, take your business. And so you need to be ready for that. You know, on the battlefield, it's life and death. You know, it's a livelihood, you know, out here in the real world. And so I always impress upon people that they need to be earning their trident every day. Have that moment where the awards get passed out, enjoy it, eat it up, take it in. But don't rest there, earn that trident every day, don't be the dinosaur that says "We do it this way because we've always done it this way." Because the dinosaurs run around anymore. And it's not a lack of strength. There was a lack of ability to adapt their surrounding environment. And so you know, I'm on a team now we're earning our trident every day as a team. And fast-forward to this final operation, you know, we're rolling out and I'm ever seen a sign that says Fallujah, Iraq. It says it in Arabic and we passed it before and it never hit me this way, though. I kind of thought, "I wonder if Scott looked at that same sign, you know, that I'm looking at right now before he got set up on that ambush?" And little do we know we're being set up on this ambush. And as we're rolling up to this place and and about to go get this guy, we're leaving on armored vehicles and it's the most vulnerable spot you could be in. It's that moment where you're leaving an armored vehicle and you're making your way through some dead space. Well, that's where everything broke loose, getting shot at from three different directions, taking effective fire. Meaning that rounds are being very effective and in an ambush, the odds are really against you. Right? The next principle that should be pulled out is attitude in a situation like that. Our creed says, you know, that SEAls, we have the ability to control our emotions and actions regardless of circumstances. And that's so important because can you imagine if the assault leader comes over the radio just screaming in panic? You know, all, "We're all going to die? Like every man for himself, get out of here?" Like, no, that'snot what we do in the SEAL teams. But if something like that were to occur, that type of attitude, it would rub off on everybody else. It would cause mass hysteria within the group. Right? Total confusion. Or you think about President Bush during 9/11. You know, when he got the news from Andy Card, like, "Mr. President, America's under attack." We could go back and pinpoint the moment where he got that most devastating news and the way that he was, he's been criticized by some. "Oh look how he's just, he's not showing any emotion, what's wrong with him? Doesn't he care?-".


Brian Lord: And this was when he was at the school in Florida, right? Yeah.


Chad Williams: -Yeah, the school in Florida. And looking back, he explains it perfectly well. He says, "Look, just like every other American, I was welled up with emo- I couldn't believe what was going on. But I'm in a leadership position right now and the cameras are gonna capture the moment, the way that I respond." And so he needed to project something to the rest of our nation. It was a calmness, a coolness. It was like this guy's going to... He's going to get us through this. Could you imagine if he would've just broken down emotionally on camera in front of the whole nation?


Brian Lord: [Laughing]


Chad Williams: It would cause just mass hysteria! And so my assault leader's very calm, cool and collected. "All right, boys, we're getting out of here alive. But I need you to push left."Which tactically speaking meant we're not running away. We're gonna be running through these bullets right now. We're maneuvering on these guys. And that's really a call only a servant leader can make to his guys. He has our loyalty. And so we will fight to the death for him. And I would say really, against all the odds, we're able to kill and drive back the enemy. And ultimately we got to the guy that we're going after. And he was wounded but alive. And I think one of the big differences between I would say us and them over there is that we preserve life wherever possible. You know, sometimes people think that we're over there just to kind of kill them all, let God sort 'em out. Well, you know, if we have an enemy that wants to fight to the death, you know, we'll let God judge our enemies. And we're just happy to arrange the meeting. But if they're no longer a lethal threat to us, like this guy was wounded but alive and he wasn't a threat to us anymore. Now everything changes. And I was actually given the responsibility to be one of the guys that actually hand-carried this guy into our own hospital on our military base to save his life. And for me, I think that was kind of like coming full circle. That was kind of closure because we're operating in the same, you know, province, the same area where Scott was operating when he was ambushed. You know, there was a part of me that wanted revenge. You know, when I was a young guy and I saw those things on TV, obviously I've matured as a SEAL. We preserve life wherever possible. And now I'm getting put into a position, though, that is very tough for me to be one of these guys that carries him into our hospital. And I remember just kind of being so close to him, you know, carrying him face to face with them. I remember just kind of looking back and thinking, "Man, you know, I've kind of come a long way." I don't- I didn't know what kind of person, you know, I would be when, you know, this type of situation came. And I wanted to get him off my hands. I didn't want to, you know, hang out there for too long either. [Laughing] You know, but yeah, that was kind of a full, full closure moment right there. And so we all came back home alive. And I would say it was not just our team's ability to shoot, move and communicate, but just it's the underpinning principles that we live off of some of the principles that I shared. You know, as a team, we aim small, miss small, we are those common men with uncommon desires to succeed, we're servant leaders were looking after the needs, esteem and the needs of others always is greater than our own. That creates that family dynamic. We face adversity, but we're forged by it. We're not going to let that adversity cause us to fail. We're earning that trident every day, constantly looking for ways to innovate, adapt. And then that ability to control emotions and actions regardless of circumstances is so important for a myriad of reasons. But one of the big ones we talked about is just really setting the tone. That tone is very contagious. And then in the worst of conditions, relying upon the legacy of those who have gone before. It's really the big takeaway there. It's just challenging folks. You know, what is it that you would write on the inside of your hat? And so these are things you need to figure out before you enter into the arena. This is the prior preparation that you do so that when you're actually out there, you're able to shoot, move and communicate and do what you do at your highest level.

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Chad Williams: U.S. Navy SEAL. Author. Speaker.

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