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Navy Seal Guts for Christian Men:
Facing and Annihilating the Enemy Within
About the author
Bert was born and raised in San Francisco, California. He was a pilot and instructor for Trans World Airlines for twenty-six years. During his flying career, he also had a private practice as a licensed professional counselor in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1981, after his third divorce, he began a worldwide spiritual journey. After his return to TWA, Bert attended the New Warrior Training Adventure. He later took early retirement from his airline to become a certiﬁed leader in that organization. From 1992 to 1998, he trained, mentored, and helped heal over 2000 men as a leader in the New Warrior Training Adventure.
After seven years out of the cockpit he went back to work for Netjets as a captain on Citation and Gulfstream corporate jets.
Bert envisioned, formed, and co-led the ﬁrst Living From the Heart Christian Men’s training and subsequent community in Marin County, California, in August 2011.
He’s a writer, a personal life coach for men, and a consultant to groups and organizations. You can reach him at his website: http://www.bottacopywriting.com via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 415-320-9811 Toll-Free: 888-962-3954
Copyright 2012 All rights reserved
Table of Contents
(1) Steve Watkin’s pre-Seal background
(2) Just an average guy?
(3) Discipline, teamwork, and commitment
(4) An unlikely mentor
(5) A mentor and a hero
(6) Humility toward an enemy?
(7) Never assume anything
(9) Connecting with others
(10) Love our way out of our fear of failure
This Ebook is based on an Interview I conducted with Lieutenant Steve Watkins, former Navy Seal.
Steve is the author of Meeting God Behind Enemy Lines. He’s now a Chaplain, and Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserves. Steve was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He became a Navy Seal in 1988 and served over 5 years on Seal Team 5. He participated in Operation Desert Storm and went on to become a sniper, sniper instructor and taught on Seal Team 5’s training team for over one year in the area of counter terrorist operations.
He was honorably discharged from the Navy in 1993. He earned a BA in history with honors from Northern Kentucky University. In 1996 he attended Master Seminary in Los Angeles and earned a Master of Divinity Degree with honors in May 2000.
He’s currently teaching religious studies at Northern Kentucky University, and is a third year PhD candidate in Humanities at University of Louisville. He was also a pastor at Kenton Baptist Church in Kenton, Kentucky from the year 2000 to 2009.
BERT: Steve, thanks for agreeing to do this interview. And thanks for all the men who are going to benefit from your experience.
In picking the kind of men I wanted to interview, I looked for men who I thought would be influential and have integrity with who they are both as men and in their mission in life.
I’ve always been awed by the rigor, courage, and commitment it takes to complete Navy Seal training. I read your book, Meeting God Behind Enemy Lines, and was impressed with how well written the book was and how openly you talked about your experience as a Navy Seal as well as your walk as a man of God.
You’re the kind of guy who has faced and overcome the kind of challenges that men like me question how I would respond to those same challenges. I believe that relating your experience will be extremely valuable to the men who have similar questions in their minds about their courage under fire.
BERT: My background: My passion, talent, and experience is working with men and helping to initiate them into healthy manhood, in a culture that’s forgotten how to do this. And by initiating I mean helping them take their first steps to recognizing, owning, and healing the emotional wounds that, as men, we all carry.
This lack of knowing how our emotional wounds can either sabotage us or bring us more intimate, fulfilling, and deeper relationships, affects everything we do as men. In my work with over three thousand men, both as a past leader of a powerful adult men’s rite of passage called the New Warrior Training Adventure and presently as a life coach and men’s community organizer, I see a lot of men who are confused about their identities. This leads to a man being indecisive as well as second-guessing himself, all of which can derail an otherwise successful life.
I often experience that indecisiveness myself and I see this as not having the love, support and mentoring of a supportive, emotionally available father and other healthy man in my life growing up.
BERT: Steve, would you share your background, your experience, and your perspective on some of the things that might help men who are struggling with what their passion and mission in life is?
Also, describe what your Seal training did to “to initiate you into strong manhood” and how that helped you become a man?
STEVE: That’s a big one.
BERT: Yeah, they get bigger.
(1) Steve Watkin’s pre-Seal background
STEVE: I went through Seal training when I was 19 and I didn’t really know who I was. I don’t know when that personal knowledge is supposed to happen. I’m not a psychologist so I don’t know when it is that you start to know who you are. When is it that you become confident of yourself?
I was just a kid. I guess I wanted to prove something, probably to my dad, but not in a negative way. Our whole family had gone to college. My dad is a research and development chemist, a really bright man. And my mother is a school- teacher. So my parents had expectations that I would go to college.
When I got out of high school I didn’t have any real desire to go to college. I couldn’t sit still so I knew a classroom wouldn’t be a good place to be. I don’t know if it was ADHD or what. I did know that I wanted to annihilate the world and mix that with a little bit of idealism. I thought I could save the world and throw in a little bit of violence at the same time!
Ever since I was a kid I had a dream of being some sort of Special Ops fighter. My friends and I would role-play on doing missions behind enemy lines every time we got together. Were we Green Berets? Were we Marine Force Recon? Then we found out about the Seals. When we started reading about those guys, they became our obsession.
Since I knew that college wouldn’t be a good fit for me, I enlisted in the Navy at 19. I saw a program that guaranteed you would get to go to Seal training if you passed all the psychological, physical and academic screening. It’s pretty rigorous just to get in. But then you have to make it through (BUDS) which is the Seal boot camp.
I was able to get orders to report for Seal training. Then I dropped the bomb on my family at Christmas; that was my present to them.
“Hey I’m going off to be a Navy Seal, or try to anyway.”
I was very aware of how unlikely it would be that I would make it. In fact I had really flirted with going into the Army and going to Ranger school and then going into Special Forces or something that had better odds at making it. I realized that my chances of making it through BUDS were about 20%.
There’s a 75 to 80% attrition rate in Seal training. So I made the decision to do it. I think more than anything a lot of my drive was just to make my dad proud. First he thought it was crazy. He said, “You’re joining the military? What are you doing with your life?” But my dad still talks about the day I graduated from Seal training and how proud he was of me. My parents came out to San Diego with all the pomp and circumstance and they realized what I was doing was very elite.
This was back in the late ‘80’s. People really didn’t know that much about the Seals then. Now everybody has heard of them. Being a Seal was the high point of my career, even bigger than my ministry, and my advanced degrees. To my dad, my being a Seal overshadowed everything else I have done.
But looking back, I realize how immature I was.
(2) Just an average guy?
I wanted to do something that would make my dad proud. I also wanted something that society looked at as me entering manhood; if I could do something like that, I would be a real man! I’ve been on a path to self-discovery ever since. Looking back, I see that much of what I did was just hubris and immaturity.
In some ways Seals are just average guys and in other ways they’re not, because there’s very few of those who attempt the training ever make it through. There’s a lot of mythology behind what makes the Seals the Seals. I discovered that I’m just a very average, 5’8”, 170-pound guy.
That’s typical of most of the guys that made it through, very average; slight build, built like a triathlete. Seal training requires heavy endurance because you’re doing a lot of running, a lot of swimming. So a lot of the big hulking, Rambo types didn’t make it. We had a few that were muscle heads but not very many. Most were average. I started seeing how there’s more to this than just being some superhuman guy. I don’t know if that answered your question or skirted it? But…
BERT: No, it’s good. It leads into the next question.
How has your Seal background helped you be more decisive or to stick with things in your life? Because a lot of guys start stuff, and they quit and they start and stop and quit. How do you overcome the affects of not having healthy men in your life growing up? Or does that even apply to you?
A lot of men have fathers that they consider are good. But in many cases our fathers are absent in our lives. They’re either absent emotionally or they’re sitting in front of a TV or behind a newspaper. Too many of them just haven’t been capable of supporting us and nurturing us and loving us into manhood.
In many cases that affects a man by his being unable to make the kind of solid, intelligent decisions that life requires because he hasn’t had healthy men in his as role models for this kind of behavior.
(3) Discipline, teamwork, and commitment
How did your training, the discipline involved in making it through training and your subsequent military career help you to be more decisive; to stick with stuff, and to overcome the affects of not having healthy men in your life growing up, if in fact that was the case Steve.
STEVE: Boy, another biggie. I think there are certain natural disciplines that you develop going through military training. Not just the Seals but in any military service boot camp. The military is, on one hand pretty rigid and regimented. And it’s also hierarchical. You learn real fast that you are just one part of a big body of people.
And, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. You start to see that the individual doesn’t get far in the military. That’s true in any branch of service and in any capacity; the first thing the military does at boot camp is just beat the individuality out of you.
BERT: I was in the Navy and I went through Navy boot camp so I hear you!
STEVE: Right, so you know. The training instills in you the feeling that I’m being absorbed in some way, into some kind of a bigger family. It’s a brotherhood. I recently saw some guys that I haven’t seen in 20 years and it was like we hadn’t lost a day. Big hugs all around. I’m as close with those guys as I am my wife.
I don’t want that to be misunderstood. My wife and I have our own intimate relationship but there’s something about sleeping in the same room with four guys in combat for 7 months straight and going out and knowing we’ll die for each other that forms a very intimate bond.
I’m not trying to make this sound like this only happens in the Seals. Anybody in combat has experienced this. And it can be a problem later in life because it can be tough trying to return to life as a normal civilian. In my life now, that manifests as my family being more important than me. It’s about us battling our own egos and pride. And I think that pride is the number one problem and sin for most men.
That’s especially true after we turn 30 and beyond. We become proficient at something, a trade, a career, and we feel like we can control things. And then our kids hit adolescence and we realize that we have to unlearn a lot of stuff that we thought we knew.
Another important angle on the discipline is being totally committed to make it through Seal training. I’ve looked at everything else I’ve done in my life and it’s really kind of a blip on the radar compared to that. It’s such a trial.
I’ve spoken to a lot of groups; church groups and others and everybody wants to hear about what the Seal has to say. I started to think real hard about it, after speaking four or five times all over the country and I wondered, “What do I tell just average guys like my neighbors? They didn’t go through Seal training. So what’s my message?”
Is my message, “Well you have to go through Seal training to be a successful man?” That’s not the case at all. If you did have to go through Seal training to be a successful man, there’s going to be a lot of unsuccessful men if you know what I mean?
I wrestle with not making a statement that sounds impossible for the average guy, because I realized a couple times when I spoke, that I didn’t mean anything negative by saying “average guys.” There are average guys who are my heroes. But most men would probably be paralyzed by comparing themselves to “a Navy Seal.”
BERT: In most cases they wouldn’t even come close to making it as a Seal.
(4) An unlikely mentor
STEVE: Right. So I wanted to say, “Yeah you can have some military training and that is going to give you some discipline. And that will hopefully give you a sense of community. But these are things that one could get on their own without having to go into the military. A lot of it is about knowing our expectations of ourselves. Expectations can really cripple and paralyze us if we don’t recognize that we have them and whether they’re realistic or not. Society is always putting these ridiculous sets of expectations on us, especially as men.
BERT: Right. If we’re gearing our expectations towards those around us and comparing ourselves to others, we can get pretty wounded in the process and shrink from whatever task we’re trying to complete.
STEVE: That’s right. One of my heroes and probably one of the strongest men in my life now, other than my father, is my father-in-law. My father has been a good father and I’m fortunate to have him because so many men don’t. But we had problems along the way. We had our own issues but I always knew he loved me. That was the bottom line.
Since I’ve been married, my father-in-law has been a real inspiration for me. He’s a scholar, he’s a historian, and he’s a little guy, skinny and short. I always got along with him from day one.
I met him when I was an undergraduate and we loved talking about military tactics. He was a Civil War scholar so I’m always interested in any kind of guerilla stuff that came out of the Civil War. We became friends and I started to see that he lives a very contented yet simple life. Part of that lifestyle is his psychology and his individual makeup.
But Dr. Rama, my father-in-law, symbolizes strength as a man but not in a way you might think because he’s slight and just a country boy. He’s got a PhD but he’s from Western Kentucky and still has a Western Kentucky accent. When he comes home his big treat is to have a cup of coffee and read the paper with his wife.
They don’t live extravagantly although they’re very well off. They don’t need anything. They’re in very good shape in every respect. He doesn’t take pleasure in glitzy pursuits. His big thing is to go to Bob Evans, which is like a Denny’s kind of restaurant.
He delights in the simple things and in his family. He’s gentle and very patient. And I’ve come to see that actually takes more strength than kicking doors down as a Seal. To just be patient and to listen to others and to keep my temper under control, not get mad.
I’ve discovered a whole inner discipline from him and I look to him and other similar men for guidance. These kinds of guys don’t grow on trees.
He has disarmed most of my expectations. And yet he has a real strength and faith and a solid approach to life. I always get the sense that he’s happy when he’s just living. So he undermines a lot of the cultural expectations that I’ve talked about. This is why, as a former Seal, I’ve learned a lot from him and how to live patiently.
BERT: Beautiful. You might have covered this already but what part of your background as a trained Seal do you consciously draw on in your life? And how does that benefit you? Or do you consciously draw on anything? Or has your training just become part of you?
STEVE: I think my Seal background is more just part of me now. One of the qualities that I saw in all the Seals that I worked with is their high-test scores, necessary to get into the Seals. The military entrance exams are tough because you’re doing dive Physics, dive medicine and trigonometry and you have to score pretty high. There were people who even after passing the aptitude tests, didn’t make it through. It was a sharp group of guys.
BERT: And that was the enlisted group. What about the officers?
STEVE: The enlisted guys were only a few points below the requirements for the officers. But everybody had to pass compression of gasses and physics and lots more.
(5) A mentor and a hero
Another one of my mentors and heroes is a guy named Mike Bailey. I talk about him in the book.
He was my hero. He was a Vietnam era Seal. He had multiple missions behind enemy lines. When I was in the Seals, there weren’t that many guys left over from the Vietnam era. Most of them were retiring but Mike was still around because he was young when he was in Vietnam.
Toward the end of Vietnam he was at the peak of his prime. He’s one of the smartest guys I know, even though all the Seals are smart. But he’s really bright. His brother is a surgeon and his father is an attorney. Mike could have been anything he wanted to be. We still stay in touch and I often go out to Seattle to see him. What I learned from Mike is a real humility toward an enemy.
(6) Humility toward an enemy?
What I mean by that is he taught me not to underestimate anybody. When he was on point or we were going into a fight or into the jungle or on a mission, he was one of the most well respected men. He worked with a German shepherd that he trained. He did stuff way out of the box from what other Seals were doing.
(7) Never assume anything
One thing that rubbed off on me from being around Mike was when I would say, “What would you do in this situation Mike?” He would start to question. He would say, “Well, I don’t know, what’s the situation?” “What’s going on around me?” I saw real quickly that he didn’t have a bullheaded approach to anything in life.
He took complex things and evaluated them as they came. I think one of the reasons many of us get so frustrated is we have a one size fits all kind of mentality when we approach problems rather than having a multi-leveled, analytical set of presuppositions. Things can get really frustrating if you just go through life that way.
Other Seals I worked with taught us to always ask questions and never make assumptions. It was always, “What if?” Or, “What if this happens? And “If that happens what if this happens?” The next thing you know you develop this incredibly critical way of thinking. Because your life is on the line, so you want to make sure you’re covering all the bases.
We have to be open, to ask lots of questions. We have to be very cautious about being absolutely certain about anything because we don’t know everything. We can’t afford to be dogmatic about everything. My approach to life and learning is to be open. Obviously I believe in gravity. I think that’s pretty well established. I can go down a list of things I’m pretty sure of, but there are always gray areas.
In daily life I don’t always know; like when I’m trying to love my wife and raise my daughter I don’t find too many things that are, just check the box, right or wrong, black or white. It’s usually always layered and complex. So, so it helps me to think in that way.
BERT: Yeah. That’s a great answer to the question. That is right on target.
This question might sound a little strange but just answer it however it comes to you.
Have you ever felt superior to other men who haven’t been through the same kind of life challenging experiences like you have? And if you have, how have you dealt with that?
There are no easy questions here Steve, okay?
STEVE: No, I like these, I like good hard questions. Easy questions are boring.
That’s a great question. I guess the best illustration is to tell you a story. It’s about myself and another Seal buddy of mine. We were going through an Army Special Forces school at Ft. Bragg and were doing some pretty advanced training. We had both already been through the Gulf War, we had two platoons under our belts, and we were pretty accomplished as Seals. There was an instructor at this school. I think he was a Green Beret. Most of the instructors were, but I could tell he hadn’t had combat experience, which for a Special Operator it’s kind of like the ultimate rite of passage.
And furthermore he wasn’t a Seal so we always had a little bit of, not contempt, but a little bit of an attitude toward him. One day he said something that was kind of squirrelly and really off base and my friend just blew up and said, “I’m going to go tell him what I think.”
That was the point where we both saw this person for who he was. He had a great skill set and he obviously knew a lot. But he just kind of blew a gasket and said something that was really dumb.
BERT: It might be the difference between him knowing something intellectually and not living it?
STEVE: Right, something like that. In addition to that, his response came from an emotional place, which is usually not good. Usually when my emotions kick in fast and furious and I feel adrenaline flowing I try to keep my mouth shut because whatever is going to come out is probably going to be torqued.
But I said to my buddy, who was about to confront this guy, “He’s getting up there in his career, he hasn’t been in combat and hasn’t had the training we’ve had. What he said probably came from a place of insecurity. And he probably didn’t even know what he was saying, probably didn’t mean anything personal by it. He might have even been speaking from jealousy.”
My friend just stopped and said, “Man I needed that.” “How did you pick up on that?” So I said, “First of all, I didn’t have a real respect for him. He wasn’t a Seal so I’m not going to have the kind of respect for him as I would for a fellow Seal.” I had to remind myself that this guy was doing the best he could, and I had to cut him some slack.
BERT: Thanks. That leads into another question. In my work with men, leading groups and having done therapy with lots of men, I see a general lack of connection between men. I don’t know if you feel that in your world but if you do, how do you go about reducing that distance between men?
(9) Connecting with others
STEVE: Yeah I feel that disconnect but I can’t think of any formula to reduce that distance between men. One thing I do is work hard to try to meet people where they are. Where their interests lie and not to in any way force the issue trying to connect.
I try not to meet people with any kind of agenda. It’s actually hard for me because my neighbors know my background. And my wife is on Facebook so everybody that lives by us knows my background. Some of them are pretty intimidated just talking to me. I’m a pretty intense person but I try to stay as loose as possible around people. I’m always studying, and the times my neighbors see me is when I’m taking breaks from studying or in my garden, taking care of my flowers.
And sometimes I’ll feel this distance, like them thinking, “Who is this recluse?” I feel the distance sometimes so I try to disarm it by reaching out.
One of my neighbors goes to a Catholic church down the road and he’s learning about the history of the Catholic faith. And I said, “Man can I tag along? I’d love to join you and your friends and just learn more.”
Even though I teach church history, I don’t know it all. So I want to learn it from the horse’s mouth, right? So I went along with him and it took some effort and was uncomfortable at first. I’m always working hard to break out of my comfort zone and I’m always trying to understand how other guys tick and just meet them there.
It takes energy and it’s always awkward to break out of my comfort zone. The awkwardness is hard for me to overcome. I’m sure it’s awkward for them too because it’s hard to interact when we’re both feeling awkward. People are the most challenging thing in the world.
BERT: Yeah, you think you know somebody then they come out with something that indicates to you that “Man, I was really wrong about my judgment about that person.” What I’ve learned is to not take anybody at face value because some of the people I thought were wimpy or not very together have turned out to be wonderful mentors and total surprises to me.
Great answers Steve. I’m learning a lot from you. And those men who read this interview on my website will be learning a lot as well.
(10) Love our way out of our fear of failure
BERT: What do you see as the growing edge for modern man? In other words what do guys need in our world to man up to their roles as providers, leaders, role models, mentors? And how would you suggest that they go about getting that?
STEVE: Yeah that’s huge again. A lot of it is self-confidence. I think men get paralyzed and want to go inward and withdraw and just flip on the TV and tune out of everything because they don’t want to fail.
But we can’t grow without failing and getting hurt. This may sound strange, but it’s really about love. I remember this one time I was preaching on John in church, where he says “Love one another.” I mean truly love one another. So I called out one of the men in the congregation who’s a friend of mine and who I knew wouldn’t mind.
I said, “Brian I love you.” And you could see people cringe all over the room.
It’s weird to hear a guy tell another guy he loves him. It was awkward and hard to say it honestly.
BERT: Especially in Kentucky!
STEVE: Yeah, really. Love is so hard because you’ve got to open yourself up like you said earlier. You think you know somebody and then you start loving them and sometimes you find out that they’re not going to love you back. That hurts. We’re going to be let down at times. Even my best friends have let me down. Luckily I have the maturity now to know that they probably didn’t mean to hurt me or let me down.
Or if they did it was just a lapse of understanding, their human frailty. I’m sure I do the same thing. But we can’t stop loving somebody when they disappoint us. We have to be bigger than that. Relationships are hard work and it’s scary to come out and be a lover.
You’re going to get hurt.
BERT: And, if a man doesn’t have a role model for that, if he didn’t see that demonstrated to him growing up, he didn’t feel the affection of that love growing up, it’s like he doesn’t have a formula. He doesn’t know how to express his love. He doesn’t know how to open his heart. Because most men’s longest journey is from their head to their heart. Most of us don’t know how to bridge that gap.
STEVE: It really hurts to think that so many men don’t have that capability. In my case I had a father who has always been married to my mother, and always worked and always provided. That right there is huge, right? It really hurts to think that so many men haven’t had that.
Here’s one thing that I just thought of that has been a help to me. I’m a humanities person so I’m very interdisciplinary; I read the classics and literature; I’m pretty eclectic.
One of the things that helps me in my own fatherhood is to watch movies that are very thoughtful about fathering. Two of my favorite directors are (1) Wes Anderson. He directed a bunch of quirky movies. But the ones I would recommend are The Royal Tenenbaum’s and another is The Life Aquatic. He even did a kid’s version of Fantastic Mr. Fox recently. But those would be good starters.
(2) The Cohen brothers have done some movies. Some of them are weird but they’ve done a couple of movies that are really good. One I saw recently is called A Serious Man. The Royal Tenenbaum’s is a long, dramatic movie. It’s very boring for a lot of people. If you like Michael Bay films you’re going to have to suffer through it. You have to watch it a few times because it’s so layered. I still get stuff out of that movie when I watch it.
When I watch what happens to the family from a messed up father, I get tears in my eyes. He screwed up his whole family because he’s such a thoughtless, selfish moron. He just ruins everybody. And they all stay stuck in their childhood.
Seeing that movie helps me realize the importance and magnitude of my being a father. The movie really show the layers and the tensions of relationships and how powerfully a father can make or break his family’s life.
BERT: You’ve answered some pretty tough questions Steve. Thank you for taking the time to sit through this. We don’t know how people will be touched by this interview but I’ve learned to trust my gut on these things and know that men who are supposed to read this will read it.
STEVE: I’ll think of all the best answers in about an hour from now. When I’m out walking…
BERT: Thanks Steve. God bless you on your journey.
Bert is an author and a retired instructor pilot for TWA. He later flew for Netjets as a captain on Cessna Citation and Gulfstream aircraft.
He’s also a marketing consultant to organizations and groups.
You can reach him at email@example.com or by phone at 415.320.9811 or Toll-Free: 888-962-3954
Bert’s autobiography, Fast Lane to Faith, follows his spiritual journey from the hot rods of his youth on the streets of San Francisco, through his exploits and adventures during the best years of commercial aviation the world has ever known, to the Indian Himalayas and the jungles of the Philippines and beyond.
Botta’s journey brought him face to face with lessons that every man needs to know: how to know God, how to love women—and be loved by them—and how to truly know when you’ve achieved success.
You can download a copy of his new book, Fast Lane to Faith: A Jet Jockey’s Search for Significance, on Fast Lane to Faith or Barnes and Noble.
Or you can call him for a personally signed copy.
Other Interviews for Men on a Quest
You can also find an eBook of his interview with Jeff Mills, a former Christian youth pastor and successful Internet marketer on his website. The title of the eBook is: “God or Money? Can you have both? How a former Christian youth pastor HONORS GOD and MAKES A FORTUNE as an Internet Marketer.
Bert and his wife Janeth live in Sonoma County, California.