Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A chat with Navy SEAL Lt. GARY S

Lieutenant Gary S is a highly decorated 21 year veteran Navy SEAL whose battles were not only fought overseas but also in United States courtrooms. He is also a freelance writer whose current children's book "Never Far Apart" is a heartwarming story that helps children cope with seperation from a military parent. Gary's next project is a book that details his military exploits and quest to gain custody of a son taken away to Israel by his ex wife. It's not often you get to speak to a true American warrior but I did!

MICK: When did you join the Navy?
GARY: I joined back in 1986.
MICK: How were you chosen to become a SEAL?
GARY: I actually wasn't chosen contrary to popular belief. No one is ever invited to become a SEAL. I joined the Navy just for that reason. There were no Navy SEAL movies back then. Most people didn't know what a Navy SEAL was although most had heard of the Navy frogmen, which dated back to World War II. I had heard about it from a friend. I joined and went to boot camp and then went to Navy Corp School, which is where you go to become a medic in the Navy. I then went to field training. At that time, it was considered the toughest training in the world and I'm sure it still is. Everything fell into place after that.
MICK: How long did it take you to train to become a SEAL?
GARY: Initial training was six months. After that, it was another six months of intense training which was also an additional vetting period. You must pass certain tests after that six month period. That is when guys in the team get a chance to see who you really are outside of the rigorous training environment.
MICK: What was it like going into Afghanistan as one of the first military troops after 9/11?
GARY: It was pretty interesting for me. At that point, I had done my first ten years in the military as an enlisted member of the field teams. At around the eleven year period, I actually got a commission. I went to college on my own on my off duty hours. I worked my way up through the ranks of the SEAL teams and ultimately became an officer. 9/11 happened shortly after I became an officer. I had just been relocated by the military from the East Coast to the West Coast. They were looking for young officers to go over there. Initially I was working in our joint operations center and was able to work my way into many operations. I had a lot of passion in me and wanted to go over there after 9/11. My heart bled for the families of people lost in New York.
MICK: When did you first get married?
GARY: I'm divorced from my first wife. I married an Israeli whom I met on my first deployment in the field teams in late 1987. We got married and waited about 10 years before we decided to have a child together. She came with me to California when I was transferred from Virginia. Subsequently, I was told I would be deployed right away. I hadn't bought a home in San Diego yet at that point and had no choice but to put her and him on a flight to Israel to stay with her family until I returned from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, she never came back. If I had realized I had any marital problems back then, obviously I never would have put them on that plane.
MICK: Is that something that happens often in the military?
GARY: It happens a lot more than people realize. Unfortunately for me, there were no laws back then to say what she had done was wrong which was parental child abduction. I was flown to Sacramento, California by Sen. Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside) and Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny (D-San Diego) to testify before the California State Senate. My case was ultimately sent up to Washington DC. It took about six years but it finally resulted in the amending of the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act which protected service members from things like credit card debt and problems with rent. It was more financially orientated. It protected soldiers until they returned from deployment. It was hard to get attention on my case. Back then, there were around 1000 service members that had cases like mine. In my case, they couldn't declare parental child abduction because I was the one who put them on the plane. To this day, I haven't got any formal visitation or custody of my son over in Israel. I fly over there a couple times a year and it's very costly, around eight to ten thousand dollars visiting him. The first six years, my visits entailed sitting next to him in school all day and that was pretty much all the time I got with him. My attorney at the time told me I needed to take a parenting class on base and get a parenting class certificate. If my ex wife ever came back to the United States with him, we would try to go for full custody for a temporary period until it went through the legal system the appropriate way. I actually ended up marrying the teacher of the parenting class! We ended up having four children together in our first four years of marriage!

MICK: Please tell me about your children's book "Never Far Apart".
GARY: After she left with him, I didn't have a lot of communication with him and still don't. He doesn't speak English. Whatever little English he was exposed to kind of faded away. It was difficult over the years to communicate with him when I went to visit him. I really worked hard to maintain that relationship. The book was my way of letting him know that no matter how far away he was, we are never far apart. I've always got him right here in my heart. There's a lullaby in the back of the book called "SS Rock-a bye" which i used to hum to him when I put him to bed at night. For the book, I finally put the words down. This book is actually the first in a series of five. My current wife wants me to write one for all of the children. So now I'm writing books for military children.
MICK: You also have a new book that's almost ready to be published.
GARY: Yes, I'm working on my first book for grownups. It's my memoirs about places I've gone, things I've done in the field teams. It's very different from most field books as it's not specific to any war or conflict. I've been in pretty much everything that's happened in the last 20 years in one way or another. My book pretty much lets other people into the mind of one specific Navy SEAL with my political beliefs and theories of my own. It talks about our way of life in the United States and offers some common sense solutions to a lot of the problems facing the nation now.
MICK: You were a SEAL for 21 years and you are now retired. Is there an age limit to the length of being a SEAL or a mandatory retirement?
GARY: I'm sure there is eventually a limit but I've seen officers stand for over 30 years. Normal retirement can be anywhere between 20 and 30 years. I got out when I did because of all the legal proceedings I was going through here in California, Virginia and Israel. I had three attorneys all working at the same time to help me out. They could only do so much because there were no laws in place back then. I was up through the night talking to attorneys in different time zones and it got to the point where it was impossible to balance my personal life with my military life. I ended up being unable to find any employment in Southern California that paid what I needed. I went back to work in Iraq providing diplomatic protection to the U.S, ambassador Ryan Crocker in my first year of retirement. It was a very interesting period for me. I was still able to serve my country in some capacity.
MICK: The big thing in the news lately is the Team Six of the Navy Seals taking out Osama Bin Laden. What are the different levels of SEALs?
GARY: All of the SEAL teams are a great bunch of guys. Once guys have paid their price of doing a cruise or two, they put you through another rigorous period of training. They are usually a more mature leveled individual over there and that's primarily because they've already traveled the world and made a name for themselves. They take a little more time to think before reacting. The Team Six is considered our best of the best.
MICK: What kind of job are you doing now?

GARY: I work in anti piracy operations basically hunting pirates over off the east coast of Africa, the Indian Ocean and up into the Persian Gulf. I'm getting older now so in this position I'm in now, I wait for them to come to me if they want trouble. I really enjoy the job. I'm gone away a lot and I'm also home a lot. MICK: How is it with the pirates over there? Is it getting any better?

GARY: The U.S. military is stepping up operations over there. Our arms have been tied as we have guys spread out all over in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, etc...We are spread thin in the military. That's why there's a lot of private contracting companies trying to pick up the void and help out where they can. When I was working under the Department of State in Iraq protecting Ambassador Crocker, you would hear among civilian communities and blogging sites horrible bad mouthing of contractors. I always thought it was very interesting that most contractors were guys that had spent at least 10 years in the military or were retired military. The week before they became contractors they were heroes to the country. Then when they become contractors, they were called war mongers and mercenaries which was utterly untrue. I think 45-50% of the wars are in Afghanistan and Iraq were being fought by security contractors of some form. There were guys helping with electrical, plumbing, building structures or behind guns shooting. They are all just as American as they were when they were on active duty. It's all kinds of people, men and women, who love honestly their country and want to contribute after they leave the military. They're not taking money from any foreign government.

MICK: What do see in the future for yourself?

GARY: I'd love to get a normal job here in Southern California and come home to my wife and kids every night. But there's not a whole lot of security work out here that pays what I require with five children and living in Southern California. So I will keep doing what I'm doing. I will keep writing my book and the other children's books. I don't expect that to pay the bills today but maybe it will when I'm 65! I'm also a lyricist and have a lot of children's songs for military children. I've written a lot of country music lyrics.

MICK: Is there anything else you would like to mention?

GARY: Yes, on my current job, we will deliver US aid to Africa with an entire ship full of rice and grain. Most of the time, these people don't even realize that this is from the United States of America. There are people back here who have lost their homes and their jobs and basically getting kicked out in the street. But their tax dollars are going to buy this rice and grain for Africans who need it which is a great thing. The problem is that the grain is usually purchased in some other country. The US government will buy it from places like Russia or Australia, put it on a foreign ship that was built in China and run by Indian and Filipino crews. They will deliver it to the East African Shore countries and the people there don't realize it is coming from the United States because there's no sign or anything. It's all foreign flagged vessels delivering it. You have to wonder how we are winning friends and influencing people when they don't even know it's coming from us. We help out the country we buy the grain from, we help the country that builds the ships, we help out the Indians and Filipino crew members on the ship and we help out the Africans that are getting the grain. We should somehow let these people know that this is coming from the United States of America!

For more information on Gary's book "Never Far Apart":


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