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Intro: Senior Chief Omar Ozuna, has spent much of his 25-year career in the Navy as a recruiter. He has seen hundreds of successes and failures in his time working with Special Operations candidates and his words of wisdom are helpful for anyone striving to achieve lofty goals. He discusses the important combination of work, attitude, and humility. He also helps to break down the importance of keeping a vision of your “what” and “why,” while balancing that with 100% focus on the next step in front of you, often in the face of great adversity. After you listen to this one, check out our “Mental Toughness” episode for a closer look.
AG: First of all, we want to thank you for being here. I know this is a really big weekend for you.
OO: Yes it is.
AG: But, thanks for being here. And if you want to start just by giving us a little context of how you got into this world where did you come from how did this all start.
OO: OK. Well I've been in the Navy going on 25 years. I'm originally from South Texas. So, most of my life, my adult life has been in the Navy. I've spent a little time. I started off in the fleet then went into recruiting and then I've also done mainly a lot of focus on special operation recruiting. So, I'm kind of spread out not just solely on one area I kind of have a little bit of everything a kind of smorgasbord of information when people come up to me I can somewhat relate to many different walks of life. One of my tours that I've really enjoyed is being a part of the SEAL/SWCC scout team and really seeing the future generation of frogmen and boat guys coming on board and seeing with the frogmen of the 21st century is going to take them.
AG: And you also have a unique perspective as someone who maybe came in not with any defined skill set for example you said you couldn't swim before you came in? And then...
OO: Yeah that's a good way of putting it. I like how you put that. I joined the Navy didn't tell my mom and dad, came home. Showed the brochure to my mom said, "Mom I'm joining the Navy" and the first words that came out of her mouth was "boy you can't swim." And that's a true statement.
AG: Uh oh.
OO: I did not have any aquatic skills. And of course, my dad told me I was way over my head and I just keep moving forward with it. I would end up going in and going to boot camp and passing, I don't know how I passed my third-class swimmers test. Got selected as a torpedo man out in the fleet started off out there and they were looking for volunteers to be search and rescue swimmers. And lo and behold I was the only one that raised my hand and they asked the same question, "can you swim?" I'm like "well not really but if you teach me I'll do it." I would start training every day for it and then opportunity rose again and I took the shot. They sent me off, I crushed the course, first time every time and nailed everything that was thrown at me, and about 10 weeks later I was doing my first open ocean rescue.
I think that's always a very interesting thing to bring up to anyone that's listening. It's not where you start it's where you end. So, I want to make sure I'm honing on that message right there, that nothing's impossible.
AG: Well and you know that's a common theme in this podcast is that you don't necessarily have to be the high school swim team captain, to even to be a Navy SEAL. It's all about the attitude that you have coming in would you say that's your lesson learned from that?
OO: Wow, either you're reading my notes but you definitely hit it on the head. I do I talk about three attributes when we're looking for ideal candidates, and one of those attributes is definitely attitude. Definitely the attitude portion is huge because if you don't check your attitude your attitude will get checked, most definitely. So, I like how you say that everything is a state of mind if you're not coming in with a humble sense upon you. You often are going to get train wrecked along the way.
AG: And that you know both from watching people come through and your own personal experience I think that gives you a really unique perspective…
OO: It does. A large portion of my career has been in recruiting, and that's what I enjoy about the special operation community: many walks of life. I've seen some of my fellow brethrens with GEDs and some have more degrees than the thermometer. I get that and everything in between. But the diversification of the community is so amazing. All walks of life. That is one of the strengths that makes the Special Operation Community so unique and continue to be extremely powerful.
AG: That's amazing. What drew you to this field do you think?
OO: Well I think the passion...when it comes to the community, I go back to the thing that I talked about that I always admire is the brotherhood, the camaraderie, and I think part of that is just being in the Navy in general. I've always, from being a little boy, I could always remember you know having this sense of service. I wanted to serve something. It's something that I've always wanted to do and plan on doing it when I retire as well.
AG: I just realized we didn't set the stage for where we are. So, let's go back. So, we're here in San Antonio.
OO: Yes, we are.
AG: A little bit different location for us. Can you tell us about what goes on here in San Antonio and why it's a special place for recruiting?
OO: Woooo! Texas a great state, and San Antonio's a great city. Home of the Alamo. I think what's going on here in San Antonio, there's a, it's a family oriented area. It's a great place to raise a family.
In Navy recruiting, we have what are called Naval Special Warfare coordinators and mentors. So, every recruiting district is assigned to look for the best, the brightest, and the talents in the Warrior Challenge Program, which I'm sure you're familiar with. And in that Warrior Challenge program we often try to find our SEAL candidates and our SWCC candidates as well.
AG: Can you just describe it real quick in case someone hasn't listened to previous episodes about the Warrior Challenge.
OO: The Warrior Challenge Program is broken into five categories. And it's a guarantee for you to go to basic training then you're off to prep, preparatory training to whatever specialized school that is. It could be EOD, Air Rescue, or SWCC, or SEAL, or Navy diver.
AG: A lot of special operators come out of Texas, don't they?
OO: If you were to just look at the Dallas area Houston, San Antonio you definitely got a good... I don't know if it's the hunting or what but you know a lot of good, good operators. I would say good, good people come out of here both on the SEAL team and on the SWCC team. Yes ma'am.
AG: What are the misconceptions that are out there today that you would like to address about either recruiting or anything else really in this community that you've had exposure to?
OO: Good question. Well I would I would start by you know these are some things I tried to tell potential, high potential candidates that are looking of joining. One thing is get your facts straight. There's a lot of information out there and not all of it is true and sometimes it was true at a time. But like anything else, the Navy changes. Policy changes so those standards that were once available to us even a decade ago or two decades ago may not be in existence now. Something I always let them know, if it's not written it's not real. I need to make sure that that they see the fine print and they understand what that means and the best source is getting contact with a Navy recruiter and ask the questions and keep asking till you get the answers.
AG: And probably one caveat to that would be if it's not written on an official Navy website it's not real.
OO: Pretty, pretty much. There's a lot of information out there and every now and then we have a major policy change, but the recruiters are educated and trained for that along with our mentors and coordinators to know any hard rudder shifts that we make out messaging wise is known. And a follow up is always your best antidote to that.
AG: Yep, that makes a lot of sense. Are there are any others that come to mind, even if it's just a myth of some sort that you've heard...
OO: Yeah definitely. The myth is, you know I find a lot of people on the fence about should I try out? Do I have what it takes and so on and so forth. If it seems like they're on the treadmill of indecision making and they are going nowhere fast. So, a message that I would like to say to our potential candidates is, see if you qualify. Let the testing up to the instructor staff, to the recruiting staff to see if you meet the merit. There's a lot of steps involved in you becoming a special operator. One of my, Chinese proverb that my father actually wrote to me my first year didn't make a whole lot of sense then but it sure makes sense now. He says a journey of a thousand miles began with a single step, and that was written by Confucius if I'm not mistaken and I really didn't [AG: love that.] I didn't understand where that was going then. And as I have gotten older and I was sharing before is, it's not where you started, it's where you end. And I want that messaging to go out is whatever it is that you're up against, take that one step. There's a thousand more steps you must take, but you ain't going nowhere fast if you're still on that treadmill of indecision.
AG: What do you think holds people back?
OO: For you know, from personal experience, the four-letter word 'fear'.
You're afraid that you will fail, get rejected or, you name it. I think a lot of that it holds... It's not just speaking to Special Operations.
AG: I was just going to say that's all of life.
OO: Yeah, that's all of life, right? That you're just like, what do I do? You know I don't want to do that. So, I try to address that. You know a lot of times and I ask them questions you know what is your what and why? Especially for candidates that want to join. What is that drive that's getting them and why is it important to them. And I keep peeling back that onion because I really want to know, are they really serious about this? This is not something that you dabble in. You know you let me try this and let me try that. It's going to require a lot of you. So, I definitely try to address that at my level. What are the what and whys that are driving you to this point and define those swim lanes right from the cuff. When they've made decisions, this is what they want to do.
AG: Do you think that there are common whats and whys that seem to lead to the path to success or is it across the board?
OO: I think, oh boy that's, that's another great one. With so many books and information out there, there there's some standard stuff I hear among the candidates and they were either they read or heard. And that's true. I believe that's very, very true of them to want to believe that. A lot of it is just the sense of desire. You know a former Master Chief and I don't remember his name but he really honed in something to us that was a long time ago when I was aspiring to be BUD/S student is he said, "have you ever noticed that it says U.S. Navy SEAL" and all of us like of course he says "well it's a pecking order. Is first you serve your country through the United States, then the Navy if given an opportunity if you do graduate you become a SEAL. Don't forget that." And I always like to share that with everyone is like your first steps foremost is you're serving your country. You're going to serve it through the Navy and if given an opportunity you can put any job you want. SEAL, Torpedo Man, Air Rescue, SWCC. It has the same theme in it. Cause you know, this is where I'm at. And don't forget that. And that's to this day 20 some years later, you know, I'm still able to regurgitate that. [AG: Yeah.] Unknown to me at the time.
AG: It's Powerful. [OO: It was very powerful.] So, for people who end up going in the SEAL/SWCC direction do you think there are whats and whys that seem to distinguish them from other, since you've kind of, you've had experience with recruiting for various different jobs, [OO: Oh, for sure, yes.] right? [OO: Yeah, I have.] Are you getting the feeling that there's kind of a what and why to that community that's different? Or you know how would you describe that?
OO: I try to, to describe that as, you know I try to find the sense of purpose of serving. What is it that you've come here to do. You know the only job that you've ever started at the top is obviously digging a hole as they say. You got to start somewhere and...
AG: Wait, explain that metaphor, I think I lost it.
OO: Explain that one? Well the only, the only job you'll ever do, can’t start at the top, you can't walk into any business and say I want to be the CEO, I want to be the marketing director, talent acquisition director. You got to start somewhere. [AG: Yeah] And it's at the bottom.
AG: So the only job that you start at the top is just...
OO: Digging a hole, yes. Do I need to go back on that one?
AG: No, that's good.
OO: So I guess I'm digging myself a hole right now with this bit.
AG: No, no. I just, it went over my head for a second because I was like trying to...
OO: That's okay, my apologies.
AG: So go on about the whats and whys.
OO: The whats and why, and lot of them is, you know, I'm always trying to dig deep in in that sense of what is that you really want and why you want it. I want to make sure that a person that is going to these programs have a sound idea what they want out of life and how to go about accomplishing it.
Whether they see success or failure that's their business. But I would rather have them experience one or the other than never experience it at all and enter the sea of regret. That's not a good place to be. And often the greatest teachers I've ever had are failures. Many tremendous amount of setbacks. But with that I always let them know a lot of setbacks lead you to set ups for the home runs in life. If you come in with an attitude of being known as a finisher, just finish what you started.
AG: Do you think that when you asked that question, you know there's an answer that sets off kind of a green light in your head? You know when you start digging deeper, there's certain answers where you're like, okay, you're going to make it? Or is it really just an individual thing?
OO: It is definitely an individual thing. I mean if somebody's out there that can look at a person to say you know what, you're definitely destined to greatness, you're going to make it. You know there'll be a multibillionaire at this point [AG: Yeah.]. That's what makes this, this community somewhat of a mystery is that only a few are selected and a few are chosen. And you just don't know. You just don't know what's inside of a person. I often say you know some things are meant to be broken and it's in the brokenness that you find that energy where you find that source where you never thought you had it. Never thought you can be a non-swimmer to a swimmer. Never thought that you can be with somebody that has more degrees than a thermometer and just be a South Texas or Utah boy serving with a GED. It's pretty amazing to see such a contrast of individuals. And at the end of the day those individuals are there serving side by side worlds apart from each other but they have that common theme of being the best they believe themselves to be.
AG: I’m just curious what about your job inspires you?
OO: I was just talking about this with my wife. You know as I'm winding down 25 years what inspires me to this day is seeing the young men and women, the look on their faces of coming and being afraid and going into the unknown and coming back and just transforming their lives. Whatever it is that they go after. I hear their dreams, their aspirations, their goals, everything. And in being in this type of environment it makes me feel like a kid again. I'm like, I remember that when I was 19. I remember that at, you know, whatever age. And that always, it seems like it's just a cycle of that. Or when somebody is just not doing well and I'm like, I've been there. I get it. I totally can relate. Not that I'm going to throw him a lifeline all the time but, I understand that I always tell him, I said adversity's good. It's teaching you something. Embrace it. So those little things always invigorates me that I quite frankly, I probably love doing it another 20 years.
AG: When you look back is there, is there something in particular. You know, if I'm a candidate sitting across from you, that you would tell me that you wish you had known on the first day?
OO: Oh yeah you got definitely, besides looking at our website, looking at all the information, the things that I would definitely do is besides getting your information, get yourself a good mentor. Get in contact with people that either have completed or done something that can help you achieve that which you're looking after.
AG: And do you mean that really early on? Like how early can you do something like that?
OO: I say the earlier the better. You know if you're. [AG: Like while you’re thinking about…?] While you're thinking about it [AG: Okay.] you know, you want do you want to throw some counseling out there you know, with many counselors’ success comes with it. You want to hear some feedback and you want to hear, you know, how was your experiences, you know, whether, in the military in general you can start there and then start peeling back because not a lot of people are going to be opened up to that. If you're further up the chain and you've already made a decision, you're in the process and you, this is what you want, our mentors and our coordinators, that's what they're there for. To listen to their stories, to help you in training and develop you and get you where you need to be, that's their job to do that. And they're located in every recruiting district throughout the nation 26 out there. So, there's definitely people out there.
We also have our scouts as well along with our scout team. So, you can definitely lean on that. And the one thing, the last thing, and I kind of chimed in earlier is have a follow up mechanism in your plan. Nothing ever happens unless you follow up and that's where assumptions come into play. Well I assume this and I assume that. You want some feedback on your process. Am I doing the right thing? Is this good? Am I moving in the right direction? If you're not having a feedback mechanism in your goal setting, you really don't know you're doing your honest work and not knowing that you've been doing the wrong work all along. So, I think feedback is very important. A follow up mechanism.
AG: From other people, or is this a self-engrained practice?
OO: Most definitely, I would do both, from yourself and from others, outsiders looking in.
AG: As a sort of piece of advice for building that internally, I think that a lot of people both military and non-military struggle with building systems so that when you're put under stress you're able to have an ingrained feedback [OO: Right.] loop. Do you have any advice on how to build that? How to, you know, create that within yourself?
OO: Well there is a saying that says success leaves clues, and that's true. And I also believe success is intentional. So, things like that you have to be intentional of what you're doing, you got to be focused. Obviously, what you're up against and having the right mental attitude. And why say about the following mechanism is feedback is extremely important because it tells you what you're doing and what you're not doing. Why I say that too is what if a person gave you bad gouge and you did qualify, and then you find out later. I could have been on the teams or could have done this could have done that. But I listened to somebody, tribal knowledge as I call it because back in the day and you never even took the shot. Never gave yourself the one thing most people don't want to do is give themselves an opportunity.
AG: So that means there has to be a pretty important balance of internal checkpoints and trusting external feedback.
OO: Yes definitely. It's, you came on another word and trust you know, I'm kind of going to branch off on that. [AG: Sure] In the community, that you often hear the total man concept. [aka “whole man concept”]
AG: Total man concept?
OO: The total man concept is making sure, you know, not only are you physically sound, mentally sound, but having, being a person of character person of integrity and trust is everything. Trust is absolutely everything. If you can't trust somebody, you know, what good are you. You know, just that at the end of the day, did he, did he not pack the gear. I have no idea. You know and so on and so forth. So, for those things are very, are that one word. That trust is extremely important as well. As far as what you're talking about, what I'm going to tell potential candidates is, can I trust you? Can you do the little things? The little things always lead to the big things and don't go the other way around.
AG: What kinds of little things?
OO: Small things, showing up on time, having your gear ready, have a process of improvement in place. You know, you did only 45 push-ups but were they solid 45 push-ups? Can I inch it to 50 now? Little things like that stem and they, you can use that as small principles that will lead into bigger principles. In doing something a little bit more dangerous, a little bit more high risk, and may potentially even save their lives in the future, if they're not paying attention to detail.
AG: That also goes back to your journey of a thousand miles starts with one step because it sounds like that's an easy piece of advice to give someone who's just trying to figure out, you know, this is something I want to do that I don't know how to get started. [OO: Right.] Sounds like there's a you know it's just paying attention to the very small things it's, you know, it doesn't have to be a lot of push-ups, but they just have to be really well done.
OO: I like how you put the quality and quantity. You know a lot of times we concentrate on, I can do X amount of this and X amount of that, but is it proper? Are you doing it properly? Are you doing it right, you know, or is it sloppy?
But I think with what I try to ingrain in the high potential candidates is I try to give them their vision from day one. Is this what they want and why they really want it, and I need them to ask that every day of themselves.
AG: Every day.
OO: Every day. You got to ask yourself this is this is a total commitment, this ain't a half commitment, this is, it's going to require all of you, not just part of you. And I think from my personal failures is because I wasn't committed, I wasn't focused, I wasn't committed. Why I failed at any, most things is because I wasn't invested in it. So that's the things I try to tell them, this is one of many steps because when you get to prep, game on, when you get to BUD/S and selection phase game on and guess what, you make it through that, you got SQT, game on. Get to the teams, new cat on the block. Game on. [AG: Then it’s life or death.] After that it's a constant proving ground for them.
AG: Well that's, I mean, anyone should strive to live their lives, all in, right?
OO: Yes, they should.
AG: So that's quite a, you can extrapolate that for any career, any life choice I suppose.
OO: Most definitely.
AG: Those are inspiring words to hear for, you know, just every morning getting up and saying, "Why am I doing what I'm doing?". [OO: Right.] You shouldn't forget.
OO: Your what and your why, define it and the more you define it the more you can work towards that you really want.
AG: And would you say the first question that arises is, you know, is it okay if that changes?
OO: Of course. And that's part of the decision making. I think that's part of why you have the process of recruiting and selection and prep and whatnot, is to find out, you know, is this what I really, really want to do?
AG: But maybe you know I'm even saying perhaps you know you want to be a Navy SEAL, for one reason and then as you go through the process it kind of evolves into something else. Is that okay?
OO: I think so. I think a lot of life is about change. You know every day we get older every day we get wiser or dumber. One or the other. You know I seen a lot of old people not so wise. So, and I've also seen a lot of young people that are just phenomenal. The most successful people that I've been around is because they define what they want and why they want it. [AG: Yeah.] And we're clear about it. So, when the storm's adversity would arrive which they always do, they knew they stood on that bedrock knowing this is the reason why I'm here.
AG: Wow that is powerful. [OO: Thank you.] Do you write these things down? Is that how you do it? How do you...?
OO: Yes, I've been journaling since 1999. [AG: Wow!] Not every day but pretty much every day. You really want to walk out after putting the page down saying, my god, I can do this. What have I been doing. I don't have my why defined or my what. And then once you get that you start putting the pieces together and formulating a plan and doing it.
AG: Can you break down the top three most important things someone should know if they're considering a career in special operations?
OO: Top three things that I would consider if you're looking at special operations especially being a new potential applicant, a recruit. I'm going to use the four-letter word 'work'. There's a lot of work involved. And if you're not used to that you better get used to it pretty quickly. I wish there was a microwave bag of success. I'd like to say that and I'll just pop it in and it pops and there it is wah-lah. But everybody that I've seen go through training go recruitment side, especially, it's a lot of work. It's a lot of work of dedication on yourself and you're holding yourself and your teammates accountable at the same time. So that work, having a good work ethic is good. The other one I would say is be trainable. You want to have a training attitude. I've seen a lot of good people that are runners and swimmers and weightlifters, CrossFit, and they do, they do phenomenal out there. They're crushing it. And the one thing I kind of key onto is are they there spending extra time helping those that are not good. [AG: Oh interesting.]
Or are they there taking the time and being just a sounding board and helping those, I'm very keen on that, on the high performers in the water and then, are there allowing themselves to be trained or they're allowing themselves to let their gifts be trickle down to others is also something I key into. And the last thing is having a spirit of humility. There's a saying that the way to the master's chambers is through the servant's quarters. You want to be humble. You do. You definitely want to be humble. That goes a long way not only starting your career in the military but especially in NSW. You may be very smart and talented but you want to make sure you have a sense of humility and don't pretend like you got it all figured out.
AG: That might be surprising to people who have, you know, seen the Hollywood movies and the television shows, that one of the top three most important characteristics is humility.
OO: Right. Definitely having a sense of, again this is my opinion from the ground level of a person who's looking, what are some three things, that's definitely one I would like you to think about, am I humble to this approach.
AG: How do you think someone cultivates humility?
OO: It's hard. [AG: Yeah.] It's hard to, cause you figure you're looking at environment that you got to have a type A personality and you're hugging the board of arrogance. [AG: Right.] Often that is not the word arrogance, but it's confidence in yourself and your abilities in which you can do. But being humble, especially at the ground level is, you want to make sure that you're being receptive to the training that's being provided to you and not making assumptions based on what you read and what you hear. There's a reason why it's called Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training. It's at the basic level, it's teaching you the grass roots of what's special ops is all about and then building from there. They often say it's a crawl, walk, run method, and that's a great approach. You know, if you're looking at, I'm first crawling you know then I'm going to learn the walk and then I'm going to learn to run, the high speed low drag approach to whatever it is. So definitely have the spirit of humility.
AG: Which would be hard for someone who's a, you know, maybe high school track star or [OO: Exactly.] swim captain or someone who's used to being the best.
OO: The thing about the Spec Ops community when you're screening for those, I believe it x-rays your soul. [AG: Oh wow.] So, what I mean by that is any imperfections that may arise and it may, some of them may not even be physical. [AG: Yeah.] It may be a character flaw that you personally may have. You've got to face your, your enemy that devil and wrestle it now.
AG: Wow, I've never heard it described that way. But I get what you're saying. Would you say that's a lot because of the types of environments you're placed in that kind of bring you...
OO: Not necessarily that I'm placed in but I'm speaking in generality for people that are, are on the fence and people that are in the process. You know, what's the program about. It's not just about running, swimming, and shooting and all that other stuff. That's great and all, but we're talking about going deeper. And that's that deep phase you know where that x-ray comes upon you. A good indication's Hell Week. You know, can you, can you not. You know what comes out of that, are you able to move forward with it. You're looking at the right person to make this happen. So, I'd like to let them know, you know, this is something that you may be, you may be putting that fake facade. But at the end of the day it's going to x-ray you, they're going to find out who's who in the zoo, and you get exposed okay. Carry that spirit of humbleness and prepare to work. Let's get after it. Let's go and crush it.
AG: Have you, you've seen a lot of people come through and a lot of people succeed and a lot of people fail. Are there just certain kinds of people that you know can make it?
OO: Many are called and only a few are chosen and it almost sounds like I'm trying to be religious and coming from the Bible. But I think that's also applicable to the special operations community. I always tell the young men and women that are screening for special ops is try to be known as a finisher. Finish what you start and the story that I will share with that is when I was in middle school, I was tasked to run the 3,200-meter race and I said hell I can do it. Let's do it. I wasn't much of an athlete so I went out there and tried to knock it out. The first couple laps, I gave it my all. I was sprinting out there and I noticed everybody was running at a snail's pace. And lo and behold, I realized that 3,200 meters was a long way to go. And it wasn't long before those that I was running against started lapping me and I had to make a decision. The race was over. Everybody had come in and I hadn't finished my course. I was still out in the course running and my track coach was calling he was saying just come on in. And I said "no, I got to finish what I started". It wasn't about me placing at that point it was about me just completing what I said I was going to do. Embarrassed, yes. You know talk about humiliated, definitely. But I went out there and I finished it and I crossed the line and I reflect on that because I want everybody to know that it's not where you start, it's where you end.
Be known as a finisher, whether you see success or failure. It's better than living with regret of the should haves, could haves, would haves, and you can learn a lot. Every sense, everything that you see, any type of failure that comes upon you, it comes with it a seed of greatness if you allow it to teach you. Instead of being bitter and being harsh, well it wasn't meant to be or the staff was against me, take ownership. You own it. You own 100 percent of it and once you start doing that and having that attitude of just doing the small things and finishing up lead to bigger things and that's probably what I want to tell them that, the essence of it to people when you experience failure.
AG: Because it's not just about the act of finishing it's the attitude that I am going to finish this. That's probably a pretty big factor. [OO: There you go, yes.] There's clearly a lot of hurdles as you've mentioned. [OO: Yes.] So first if you want to point out any hurdles you know of that, you know, is important for someone to know coming in, and then you know I have some specific questions about, you know, MEPS in particular. [OO: Okay.] it is kind of the nitty gritty of getting through because they know there's just some things from the outside looking in that might look a little complicated on the website.
OO: I would say, you know, is the swimming a lot of, a lot of people kind of say you know what I cannot do this because they're judging it based on, I can't swim very well. I like to throw that out there, I'm like you know what, give it a shot. You know the staff is outstanding they will show you how to do the proper side stroke. Often people like that don't have any bad habits so it's easy to teach them and they become very fluid in the water.
AG: Almost better maybe than someone who thinks they're good, but has bad habits.
OO: Almost, almost better or give them a fighting chance to qualify. [AG: Yeah.] And you apply that with that four-letter word of putting the work into it. You reap what you sow, you get what you get put into it and success usually accompanies that. You know, I always want to encourage them to try and let the staff help you, cultivate you in where you ultimately want to be.
AG: And then when it comes to some of the more, you know, the clerical part of getting through, do you have advice... So in particular, it seems, like MEPS keeps coming up.
OO: MEPS is a good one because the process, you know, that's something, you know, it's governed, it's not just a Navy thing Army thing, Air Force or Marines. MEPS is the gatekeeper. You know, if the physical doesn't go as planned, you know it's not something we did. It's something that, we have to either get documentation to justify to show that you're eyesight's good or you don't suffer from depth perception or you're not colorblind. So, there's a lot of little things that may stop that hurdle. I also encourage applicants I said you know setbacks are good, it's teaching you something. It's teaching you that what and why. Do I really want this, and why I want it and that one little hurdle? Am I shutting down because oh, it wasn't meant to be. And are you ready to mount up again and move forward? So, I try to spin it around when I see scenarios like that. Not all of them are favorable. And that's part of it and that's OK. You know, I always go back to United States Navy and then whatever job that they're wanting to serve, and kind of remind them the whole purpose of this is you want to serve your country you want to do it in the Navy.
AG: I think the question I'm trying to channel for people that write in, is they just sort of get stuck in that process a lot, where it's not necessarily about them and their medical record or anything [OO: Right.] It's more about just not, the process just stops.
OO: Right. It's, they're the gatekeepers, MEPS. In order for you to even apply. You have to have a good physical, and a good physical with a qualifying ASVAB score in order for your training to begin. Some people do get caught up in that and it's not something we do as recruiters, it's the process. That's something that totally out of my hands and whatever the doctor is asking for we try our best with the help of our applicants to provide the information to see if that's justification to either get an exception a policy or a waiver for them to continue the process.
AG: So it sounds like the best piece of advice is, come back to you, or someone like you or someone that’s been...
OO: Someone in the, getting contact with the coordinators and recruiters and usually that's the recruiters are the ones that are going to get the information saying hey I need history of whatever it is. Everybody's a little bit different. It's a privacy act statement so it's very... [AG: Sure.] It's based on individual circumstances.
AG: But you guys are going to be a little more familiar with how to respond and, yeah.
OO: Yes, we definitely have the guide, the procedures, the people. We know the waiver, so don't, that's another thing just don't think that that's where the line stops. [AG: Yeah.] You know, you want to take that next step and push forward until the answer's no, it's no. And then let the dust settle from there. Reassess.
AG: I think that's what I was kind of getting and it seems like it's important to let them know that they're not on their own at that stage. So, they have [OO: Right.] they have a support system.
OO: They do have a support system and there's people up and down the chain of command trying their very best to get them in favorable conditions for them to either continue training or just to be a part of the Navy altogether.
AG: Do you speak to people at this at the early stages about the actual job itself? Or do you usually focus on, given that your model and your theory is, all you have really to think about is the stuff in front of you.
OO: I am, I would have to say the step in front of you. [AG: Yeah.] It's like starting college and you're thinking of a master's program. That's not, that's not, you'll be overwhelmed. [AG: Yeah.] So, you want to keep the main thing and be focused on, I need to make sure you're 100 percent at that point. Let's move you to this segment. The coordinators, the mentors are going to cultivate you, get you your contract, and then we get you off to prep and prep does the prep. You know learn how to be a sailor first and foremost, and prep takes over at that point. And then you got that other vetting process and so on and so forth. You try to eat that whole elephant in one shot. You know you might gag yourself or psych yourself out altogether.
AG: Yeah, yeah. How do you merge the two? My takeaway from this is that there's the two most important visions to keep in mind, are the big picture umbrella of the what and why, [OO: Right.] and how you're going to get through today.
OO: That's well said, well put.
AG: So how do you merge those two, because those are, I mean is it essentially cutting out the middle part? Is that all what it boils down to?
OO: Not necessarily. You can, like any journey you know, like we talk about taking that one step, you know there's a thousand more steps. But after that one step it's now 999 left and then another one and so on and so forth. So, you kind of set your goal and get yourself slowly in that mindset is, this is ultimately where I want to be but in order for me, I need to concentrate on this and this matter. Master that, I move forward to this and this and always reminding yourself, it's very easy to get distracted in this day and age…you just got to worry about you. Focus on you as the candidate trying to get through. Meantime, you know, have a spirit of humility, have that work ethic. Be a teammate, be a shipmate and willing to help others if need be, because that's what the community's about.
AG: Yeah, I like that lesson in terms of it's really hard to focus in, you know, when you have any career decision to make or any kind of daily grind that you're a part of to decide what to pay attention to. [OO: Right.] You know there's just a lot of options especially now when your, you know, your e-mail's constantly coming in and your texts are constantly coming in. So, the idea that you know step 2 through 999 don't matter, it's really nice, [OO: Right.] it's a nice way to simplify it.
OO: I like how you put that. You know you can be easily inundated with so much information or who do I trust or what do I do. Like any, there, anything you're doing is, it's a step by step. Crawl, walk, run. This is what I'm responsible, this is my area of responsibility, this is what I need to do for me today, and that's it. And then tomorrow will take care of itself. And then the next day. We can really get ourselves wrapped around the axle when we're just trying to take everything in at the same time. And psych yourself out, I know I've psyched myself out many times by thinking I had to do this, this, and this. Just getting here today. You know I had a lot to do.
AG: Well we appreciate it. Well, yeah. The way that translates for me is, you know, you don't have to worry about being an expert in swimming, you don't have to worry about being an expert in weapons. Or if it's, you know, just in regular civilian life, you don't have to worry about being an expert in anything except today.
OO: For the most part. Everything stems on the little things. If you're disciplined on small things, than the big things you'd be ready for. [AG: Yeah.] And so on and so forth. You can't just wake up one morning and say I'm going to the NBA or NFL. There's been a process. The whole thing is a process. Even right down to the food we eat its first a seed, then a plant, then the fruit. So, it's all a process, it's not microwaving or going from zero to 60. And often if you misstep and you do the shortcuts that's when you are exposed with character flaws. If you have sudden success and sudden this and sudden that, because you didn't learn, have that fundamental base truth what is supporting that. And I've seen a lot of things falter because they did not have the foundation from day one and missed a step.
AG: That's really interesting to think about some of the one hit wonders and, you know, quick successes that suddenly just disappear. It's like...
OO: That's my look, on my take on it.
AG: Yeah, yeah. That's a really good way of looking at it. Can you tell me a little bit about what the ethos and the culture are for Special Operations once you're...of course it's going to influence this whole training part of it, but once you're in a community, full-fledged, what does that look like?
OO: You know we touched a little bit about attitude and attitude's everything in the community. Having the right attitude on being focused and ready to crush it under extreme circumstances become very infectious with everybody and be trainable with a good attitude, humbleness. You know a lot of these things are echoing from, from coming in you know being in there. And I said, you know, you don't have your attitude checked you will get checked of any imperfections.
The other one is adversity. It's in our ethos, it talks about the ethos of adversity, both in BUD/S and SEAL training. You are going to be put in through a lot of different types of adversities and stressful situations. And that's the things that I always ask my high potential candidates. What is adversity? In your words, and give me an example of something that you overcame adversity with. Again, I'm trying to get that wheel moving for them to talk about, what is that version of me. I don't know. And so on and so forth trying to go into that second layer we talked about and the last portion is actions. Your actions will always speak louder than your words. I mean, we say that a lot. Be a person of your word and follow through. You heard me say just be a finisher. Finish what you started. Doing the small things will always help you leading to the big things and the details are extremely important, especially if you're pursuing a career in Special Operations. Your word tends to be your bond, your currency.
AG: How do you define adversity?
OO: I define adversity is an undesirable situation that occurs without your consent.
AG: And how do you define what you would consider the proper response to adversity?
OO: Proper response for adversity, you know, the questions I ask myself you know what did I do to make this happen. [AG: Yeah.] You know, was it my fault. Notice I talk about ownership peace. What did I do? Where did I... I try to start with me first and foremost. [AG: Accountability.] Accountability. What can I do to change this? Is there something I need more training, more development, is it me? Lack of follow up, lack of something that I might have missed in the steps of my position, is important. I need to understand that.
The other one, if it's something out of my realm I can only control what I can control at that point. I don't, I try not to let it shut me down. If I didn't do so well on my test today, well tomorrow's a new day. I'll put, I'll start again. I got a fresh start. I can make this happen. I try to stay away from the from the woe is me parties. I know I've thrown grand old parties of feeling sorry for myself with mariachis and cake and little peanuts and cervesas. That's all grand. But I have to get over it. Then I notice and this is, as I became older I realized that the faster I can overcome the situation, things get better faster. So instead of me dwelling on something that I cannot change for the life of me, I have to get over it as quickly as possible and that energy allows me to look at a solution or prevent that from happening again further down the line to someone else or to myself. And then that's how I kind of look at things.
AG: So just to summarize, adversity is a huge part of being in this community right from day one.
OO: It's anything. You know we talk about we always try to put in a special operation but it's from day one from being a part of the Navy being a part of the military you're going to face some kind of adversity, things that you're not used to or accustomed to. You have to learn that art of adapt and overcome in getting over whatever situation that has occurred.
AG: And can you summarize for me or your steps in for facing just the questions you ask yourself, just really quickly?
OO: The question I always ask myself, what did I do to contribute to this. Did I do something? Did I cause this to happen. Did I fail to follow up? The other one is what can I learn from it. A lot of times when we experience trials and tribulations like how you know and keep in mind this coming years of setbacks and in just getting bad deals. I started asking so what can I learn from it what can I possibly learn from this type of adversity that I'm facing, financially, physically, mentally, morally ethically, you can go down the list. And then the other one is in the process of improvement in that is how can I learn and teach it to somebody to make sure that hey this is what happens to me. These are the things I was doing. And that's not the right way to do it. You know, or maybe you have a better take on it than I do. You know give me some insight. I go back to that trainability. You know 10 years in the Navy. Show me, tell me what latest and greatest.
AG: Yeah, those are those are some words of wisdom that really apply across the board. I just want to thank you so much for being here today. It's been so interesting and inspirational to learn from you.
OO: Honor is all mine. Thank you, Angie.