Errol Doebler (@Leader_193) talks about the different jobs he’s done, from selling photocopiers to joining the Navy SEALs and the FBI. He is the founder of “Leader 193,” named after his class at SEAL training. He is also the author of “The Process, Art, and Science of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Confidence and Clarity in Combat, in the Boardroom, and at the Kitchen Table.” He talks to Mark today about his SEAL career and what he’s learned about leadership.
- The leadership of the “mundane” is as important as dynamic leadership—if the mundane isn’t well managed, then dynamism isn’t going to succeed.
- Leadership is primarily about the self-knowledge of a leader.
- No one can live up to expectations unless they know what those expectations are. So you must communicate effectively.
Listen to this episode to understand more about the military and business.
You’ve probably already heard Mark extolling the virtues of the PowerDot to help with recovery. They now have a version 2.0. The PowerDot is an electrical stimulation device that allows you to increase performance, speed up recovery and overall achieve a deeper mind/body connection. Many stim devices can be clumsy and hard to use, but the PowerDot 2.0 achieves simplicity and is very small so you can take it with you when you travel. It is being used by professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, Tour de France among others. It is also used by Special Operator Forces
Listeners to the podcast, can save by using the code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 20% off the regular price of the PowerDot system.
During these times we’re all experiencing unprecedented stress. To help decompress, Mark recommends the BiOptimizer magnesium supplement. Magnesium is a major component of body chemistry and is responsible for many biochemical reactions. So you can supplement with Magnesium Breakthrough, the supplement from BiOptimizer. You can use it for 10% off because you are a listener. Go to https://bioptimizers.com/unbeatable and use the code unbeatable10 at checkout.
Listeners to the podcast, can save by using the code UNBEATABLE at checkout for 20% off the regular price.
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Hey folks. Welcome back to the Unbeatable Mind podcast thanks for joining me today. My name is Mark Divine. I’m your host. Mark Divine from Unbeatable Mind and SEAL fit.
And man, I’m super stoked to talk to another teammate today. So, my favorite podcasts are with former SEALs. And I love to see what they’re doing with their lives, and so today we’ve got a former SEAL, former FBI operative and lots of other things. I’ll give a more detailed intro in a moment – Errol Doebler.
Errol and I crossed paths in the early ‘90s when he was at SEAL team one.
At any rate uh before I start, I just want to say I hope you’re safe, I hope you’re dealing with this COV|ID, and shutdown, and election and riot cycle that we’re in right now. I hope you’re maintaining some sanity. You’re breathing deeply, you’re using your witness process to stay above the fray and not get sucked into the colossal amount of negative energy.
Just remember don’t get caught up in the story. Some of the stuff that’s happening is actually deliberate fomentation of chaos to sway public opinion – especially all the crap you read in social media. So, don’t get sucked up in it.
Maintain an Unbeatable Mind – stay focused, stay above the fray. Focus on what’s most important to you every day, which is your health, your family, and your mission.
Okay. That’s something that Errol Doebler knows a lot about
Errol: Let’s end it there, man. (laughing) Enough said, right? That’s the message…
Mark: Errol, I just read your book – thanks for sending it to me – “The Process, Art, And Science of Leadership.” Super-stoked to talk about that.
You’re a team guy. Did you go through class 193?
Errol: I was. I went to hell week 193 and graduated with 194. And the reason I stay with 193 is because it was one of those classes that puts the hell week and the BUD/S attrition rate to 70%, because it was a winter class – everybody’s got their story – but we started with 200 and we finished hell week with 10.
So, I just like to hold on to that, right? A little later, I ended up graduating with 194, but I stay with 193…
Mark: Yeah, so that’s why you named your company “Leader 193.” I figured that. That’s awesome.
Errol: That’s it, yeah.
Mark: You went to the naval academy. You were a surface warfare officer, before you became a team guy. I want to talk about that. Some of the best officers I met were surf where SWOS.
You became an FBI operative, SWAT team member… and now you’re a leadership consultant. So, you’ve got a lot in common with me, and a lot of unique differences. And, man, I’m super stoked to talk to you.
So, let’s get a sense – I always do this with guests – just about where are you from and what were some of your early influences that led you to decide to become a Navy SEAL. Like how did that come about? I think that’s fascinating.
Errol: Yeah, and everybody’s got a different story. I listen to your podcast, I listen to the other team guy interviews you give, and everybody’s got a different story…
But I’m from Long Island, New York – and even if you didn’t ask me that, everybody from New York just feels like they need to tell you they’re from New York… (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) The world revolves around it.
Errol: (laughing) That’s right. The center of the universe, of course.
And so, I grew up you know on the water, right? We lived right on a canal. The ocean was just a couple miles away – I was on the Great South Bay – blah blah blah.
So, I always had an affinity for the water. But I’ll say that my next-door neighbor – they were a naval academy family. And one day when I was young – heck, I couldn’t have been more than sixth or seventh grade – one of the guys who lived there just came over and dropped off a book about the naval academy.
And it was kind of an advertisement book. You know, it just talked about all different facets of it – it had pictures and everything. And it was cool, and I’m going through it.
Now back then – there’s not a whole lot on the SEAL teams. In the ‘80s, you’ve got to go to the library, the card catalog and maybe you’ll find an article on that thing… or the newspapers come up or whatever it is.
And there was just there a paragraph on this thing called “Navy SEALs.” And they weren’t decked out in cool stuff. They had their unit Ts on and their shirts off and they were just kind of hanging out. They had a little blurb about them and even then, I was like “who are these guys?” Right?
So that kind of stuck in my head. And as I was in high school, I didn’t know where I was going to go to college, right? It just was one of those things. I played athletics and my coach said to me one day “where do you want to go to school?”
And I’m like “well, I don’t know.” I was like “the naval academy.” I don’t know what popped into my head. I assume it was something from back there.
And then once I got into the naval academy, all those memories re-emerged about “who are those guys?” And that’s kind of where it was. So, it wasn’t anything real great or specific – just growing up by the water and thank god somebody came by and brought me that pamphlet. And then just that little paragraph and a bunch of dudes in shorts that are way too short…
Mark: (laughing) Mine was a poster, right? I just stumbled across a navy recruiting station and I saw the poster that said, “be someone special” across the top. That was only a couple years before you – that was 1987 I think that I saw that. And it took me about a year and a half to convince the navy to let me in.
Errol: Yeah, you’ve got an interesting journey for sure. It’s different, right, because you were yeah five or six, seven years in the private sector, right?
Mark: Well actually four – maybe four and a half to five years.
Mark: Well that’s cool. So, you went to the naval academy and then did you try to get a SEAL contract out of the academy? Anything happen?
Errol: Yeah, I sure did. That year… and I don’t know what it’s like now, but there was only like eight to ten billets. And there was like 13 of us right that wanted to go.
And so, we all knew each other, and at the time they had a kind of a formula for who was going to get it. It was based on your pt. score, your interview score, and your class rank. Well I was… and I always talk about it and I’m certainly not proud of it – but I was a lazy student. So, my class rank was terrible.
And I was like, “but I’m okay, because my pt. score, my interview score – I can get in there, right? I can sneak past a few people on this thing. Despite my class rank being where it is.”
And so, we did all that, and I was faring pretty well. And then at the last minute they changed to 100% class rank and that was it. And a couple of guys just decided not to take it. So, I think if there was 10 billets, I was 11.
And so that led me to the surface navy. And at the naval academy you have service selection night, and all the stuff is up on the board for you to pick. Here’s how late I picked, Mark. There’s a big party at service selection night for the seniors, right? They let you drink beer, the whole thing, right? It’s a big round up. They have a band.
I was so late picking, that when I was done picking not only had the party ended – they had already cleaned up and put everything away.
Mark: Just for the listener, help explain the different warfare specialties that you know that they force you to choose from – I mean, these are like major life decisions. And all of a sudden you’re just kind of like going from table to table like “do I want submarines? Or do I want surface warfare? Do I want to fly planes?
Errol: Exactly. So, you’ve got the SEAL teams you can pick from. Marine corps, inside the marine corps. You know, there’s aviation and ground. You’ve got the surface navy, which is ship drivers – you know, flying airplanes or helicopters – you know, flight school. Again, submarines. The supply corps… there’s all sorts of things that you pick from.
Some of them you have to qualify for like the SEALs, right? You’ve got to go through a screening process. And I think to be a pilot, you had to go through some screening to be able to pick that, and so on and so forth…
Mark: Did you have a backup plan? Or were you putting all your eggs in the SEAL basket?
Errol: Yeah, as you can imagine – especially at that age – all my eggs were in the SEAL basket. Which is ridiculous, because I knew the people in front of me were going to take it. So, I was just hoping one of them would bail.
But you talk about life-changing moments, right? Who are the people who roll into your life and make a difference? So, I’m sitting there and I’m just angry. And I’m sure it’s all over my face.
And this navy captain comes over, and he was one of my instructors, and he said, “well what’s wrong?”
So, I told him, right? I was super mad, and he says “all right, so you still want to be a SEAL. It’s a really hard thing to transfer from the surface navy to SEAL.”
He goes pick that ship. And there was a ship called the USS Monongahela. It was an oiler.
So, I’m like “why do I want that ship?”
He goes, “because they are out to sea all the time.”
And I said “sir, did you not hear what I said? I don’t want to be on a ship. I don’t want to be out to sea.”
He goes “no, no, no. You’re missing it.” He goes, “if you are out to sea all the time and you apply yourself, you’re going to get your surface warfare qualifications faster than anybody. And that’s going to be the one thing that’s going to stand out on your resume, because when you try to transfer there’s going to be 15 people just like you, with super resumes. Something’s got to stand out.”
And he was right. It typically takes a surface warfare officer about two years to get their qualification and their pin, right? And it took me like nine months.
And now I had the support of my command, they pushed me along and stuff…
Mark: They knew this was happening. They knew that you wanted to be in the SEALs…
Errol: Yeah, at some point I told them.
And that was another thing, right? A lot of people were like “don’t tell those ship guys. They’ll try to screw you.”
And eventually I was like “I have to tell them. I think I have to tell them.”
Mark: (laughing) Well, you needed their support. They had to fill out the package for you.
Errol: Yeah. And look, if they were going to screw me, there was nothing I was going to… they were going to do it anyway.
And not only did they not screw me – it was the opposite. The commanding officer – his name is commander Dennis – I’ll never forget him. He goes “Errol, as long as people are staying in the navy and want to serve, I’m going to support them.” And he did.
Mark: That’s cool.
Errol: Yeah. So that was it. And that piece of advice… that was the one piece on my resume that was just a little bit different than everybody else’s.
Mark: Is there one or two key things you learned about life or leadership as a crewman on an oiler? Resupplying other combatant warships at sea?
Errol: Yes, and I’m really appreciative that you’re asking these questions, because most people don’t even know what that means, right? It’s nobody’s fault, but only a military person would know “oh surface? You were on a ship.”
And I can tell you that that experience was every bit as enlightening to my leadership journey as anything I’ve ever done.
Now the first thing is, I was on the first ship that had women on it. So back in 1991 women weren’t on ships, so that presented a whole new set of challenges. Especially for a young officer, right?
Now you go out to sea, you’ve got young men and women cooped up. You had to have kind of the “hookup watch” walking around, right? Because boys and girls will be boys and girls, you know?
So, it presented a unique set of challenges.
And then to just kind of figure out who I was and what I was about in a very mundane sense, right? There’s nothing really dynamic about being a surface warfare officer.
But we control the seas. It’s probably one of the most important elements of the military. Those who control the sea – control.
But it’s a slog. Every day, it’s a slog. And it just really taught me that mundane leadership is every bit as important as dynamic leadership. Because the second you started falling off, well it may be mundane…
Mark: But that dynamic will pop up and bite you in the ass.
Errol: Well that’s exactly right. And I can tell you, I was part of a ship collision. And I was at the time the helm safety officer – and that’s just the guy who stands next to the helmsman, because you have two ships right next to each other – just making sure they’re staying between a half degree where they’re supposed to be.
And so, to your point. If you’re not doing leadership right in the mundane, the exciting will bite you in the ass. And that’s about as bad as it gets in the navy – in the surface navy – if you’re not actually having a naval battle. Midway.
And because it was a great group of leaders, because everybody took their job seriously – nobody got hurt. Lots of damage, right? But that was pretty much it.
So that was one of the things: the mundane, the importance of great leadership in the mundane. And I don’t mean that as a derogative explanation, but that’s probably the biggest thing I got out of the surface navy.
And that they’re miscategorized, right? They’re not a bunch of jerks who hate their job. That’s what everybody you know would say before we got there. “I’d never go into you know surface navy.” No, no, no, no. Those are professionals. Absolute professionals to the core.
Mark: Yeah, I spent some time in the “gator navy.” Back in the early ‘90s, they had the SEALs on the gators… you know, the LHSes and the LHDs or whatever… and I found it to be fascinating I mean not all… some of the crew were a little bit bitter… I think that’s because they didn’t want to be on those gator ships. Because they’re basically just transporting marines to do these island-hopping type things.
But some of the coolest and best officers that I’ve met in the navy – I mean, I know there’s a ton of them in the SEALs – but we’re just in that kind of environment – the surface warfare – and also some of the marines on the ship.
I also saw the senior leadership at least in one case, because they were vying to step up to lead a carrier, right? That was kind of the path for like pilots to become carrier cag operators and then, you know, in charge of those.
There was a lot of ego and disinterest in being the co of that particular ship, for that particular tour.
Yeah, so I saw that… we got kind of trampled by the co of the Dubuque we were on, and he didn’t like us SEALs. He thought we were all prima donnas. I mean, it was actually kind of the opposite. It was really interesting.
Errol: You got a lot of that. Look, I have nothing but good things to say about the surface navy… and then there’s that, right? And then there’s that.
Mark: It sounds to me maybe you saw a little bit of that in the FBI. I want to come back to that later. It’s like where you just got some senior leaders who are just all hell bent on their career. And don’t care about the guys.
But then you have some exceptional leaders, who are basically the de facto leaders of the organization. Holding it all together.
Errol: Absolutely. 100%, yeah.
And look, my experience was probably pretty good in the surface navy, because I had some real motivation. I had motivation to do a good job and get off…
Mark: (laughing) To get out, right…
Errol: Yeah. So, I don’t know… maybe I’m stepping on myself there, but you know what I mean.
Mark: Yeah, so you got a package or got accepted to BUD/S. Went into class 193. What was that 1992? ‘93?
Errol: I got there in ’93. And then we classed up in January of ’94. But what I’ll tell you also is – in ’93, they did this thing…
So, we get there… you remember, probably when you were there – because you were there a few years before right? Well you tell the story – they were going to have you sit around for 10 weeks before…
Mark: That’s right, they were. And I said no, no, no, no…
Errol: Yeah. Good for you, right? You jump in to go in the class that’s going tomorrow.
So, we were kind of in that boat. But I think that there were so many of us – they’re like “well, we can’t have…” it’s a disaster, right? You can’t have young men who are itching to be SEALs sitting around for five weeks.
So that’s about what we had, I think… and so what they decided they were going to do they said “hey, we’re going to try something – we’re going to call it ‘selection course.’ we’re going to split half of you to go through selection course, and the other half are just going to do what you would normally do, right? Go kill time somewhere.”
Mark: Like a beta-test to see if you’d be a better candidate.
Errol: Well, I guess. And it was essentially the first three weeks of BUD/S, right? So, we lost you know – I think, like I said, we were about 200, so they took 100 of us – we lost 70 people… (laughing)
Mark: (laughing) That’s brilliant. Start BUD/S three weeks earlier is what they did.
Errol: (laughing) That’s all they did, because we went through and then BUD/S started. Me and the other guys who went through it, who survived, I’m like “those mf-ers.” We just went through the first three weeks of BUD/S, so it made it a little more easy. I was like “all right, I guess. Here we go.”
Mark: Well, they have the new BUD/S prep program – I’m sure you’ve heard of that – up at great lakes. So enlisted guys go through boot camp, and then they go through the BUD/S prep. And it’s stunning how many people don’t make it through BUD/S prep.
So that became kind of another selection point, right? So that maybe 40 or so percent of the guys who go to boot camp make it through bud’s prep. And then go to BUD/S. And then of course from there 70 to 80% don’t make it through BUD/S.
So, it’s ironic, because no matter what they do the stats really haven’t changed. What they do to improve the quality of the candidates that the stats stay right around…
Errol: Are they still very much the same?
Mark: Yeah, pretty much. Yeah, they’ve improved by about five percent since the days that I went through.
Errol: Well, that’s because everybody’s going through your program, right? To get together.
Mark: (laughing) Our candidates – the people who train with SEALFIT – as best as we can determine – it’s not like we’re statisticians – 90% make it through… that’s pretty cool.
But they’re doing the right thing. They’re pretty resilient, they’re mentally tough… they know what’s coming down. They’ve been through the equivalent of hell week, and we train them for combat instead of what the navy does… they train them for the PST. Which is grossly inadequate for what they’re about to endure.
Errol: It certainly is. I don’t know what you would do to test the folks, and the numbers – I don’t know if the numbers for the PST have changed – but the minimums were so low I think it was like eight pull-ups and…
Mark: I think it’s like 10, now. But still, that’s ridiculous. Because if you’re not doing 20, you’re not going to make it through.
Errol: Well, right. That’s the norm. And the 500 meters swim – like you had to do it, I think the cutoff is like 10-12 minutes – I mean, that’s not going to get it done, right? It’s just not going to get it done.
But we digress.
Mark: Yeah, we do.
So, you get through BUD/S – class 194. And then you went to SEAL team four, I think I read in your book?
Errol: Yeah, I went to four.
Mark: And then you operate down in south America?
Errol: Yeah, we did south America and that’s all the FID operations there. We had a couple of guys go hang out with the Colombians for a couple weeks and I think they got a little closer to something real. But then right from there…
Mark: So, for the listener FID is foreign internal defense, and like Errol and I were in the teams during that same time period and there wasn’t a whole lot going on. I mean we had Mogadishu, but that was a pinpoint op that went south.
There was Granada, but that happened a little bit before we got in. We were all pre-9/11 – at least active duty wise. Post-9/11 the teams have been completely transformed. I was fortunate enough to participate a little bit in that. ‘04 and whatnot.
But in the ‘90s – my point is, foreign internal defense, intelligence gathering, some kind of sneaky peaky stuff with the SDV units around the Soviets… but there wasn’t a whole lot going on.
And so that mission was actually really important. Some of us didn’t take it seriously, but there was a lot of value – in my opinion – in going down and developing relations and teaching these foreign nationals – that’s why they called it “foreign internal defense.”
If you took it seriously you developed some really good skills, and then you were positioned. But if you didn’t take it seriously – a lot of guys just got bored and they got out – they’re like “there’s nothing going on.”
Errol: Yeah, that’s exactly right, you know. And it’s just like anything else. The attitude that you went into it with was everything. Because look, south and central America it’s good fun if you want it to be. And if you’re not concentrated on the primary objective for what you’re there for, you’re gonna lose some people just from stupidity.
Mark: Yeah, I saw that with the Philippines and far east Asia… guys going over there and just losing their mind on the alcohol and the free women and stuff…
Errol: Yeah, I agree with you. I enjoyed it a lot and you do learn a lot. And you learn a lot about your own team. You learn a lot about who are the leaders in your group when – once again – something fairly mundane… but who’s stepping up? Who’s leading? Who’s taking it seriously? Who’s trying to impart the knowledge, right?
And all that good stuff. So, I enjoyed SEAL team four a lot.
Mark: You went to team one on the west coast after that. And what I loved about the way you wrote this book, is it reminded me of my experience when I wrote “Staring Down the Wolf.” It’s like I really had to kind of just be honest with everybody about my own screw-ups and saying “you know what? Leadership is a process of becoming whole,” in my opinion, right? And self-awareness – as you said – self-awareness is really the starting point.
And leaders who don’t become self-aware don’t even work on their self-awareness. They become their biggest limiting factor. And they can only operate from the paradigm that they’re within, and that paradigm is going to be eclipsed by their shadow. Their emotional biases and whatever trauma caused them to behave a certain way.
And they show up with that to their team, and their team reacts accordingly. Usually not well, right?
And so tell us about a little bit about how your successes and your failures or, you know… what were your key lessons in terms of how to be a good operator, and also how you grew as a leader through your screw-ups.
Errol: Yeah, so it started at SEAL team four. And again, like you said the ‘90s was quiet. Aside from the things that you’d mentioned.
So, there was a lot of young men like us getting into a little more trouble than they probably should have. And I found myself in the middle of that at SEAL team four at one point. And the commanding officer had decided that it’s time to make an example of somebody. And it should be an officer.
And they called me in, and they said, “you’re on your way out, son.” And I was like “yeah, but…” you know, you’re just stunned, right? It didn’t matter whether I thought it was insignificant or not. It didn’t matter what anybody thought.
The person who mattered thought one thing, and he was going to make an example of somebody. Because this was all going to change. And I was like “I can’t even believe this is happening.”
And then you start to say “well, god-damn it, it’s my own fault then. You did this. If you didn’t do it, you wouldn’t be in this spot.”
And the operations officer comes up to me… and they’re going to make this public… they’re going to get all the east coast SEAL teams out in the square. It’s going to be like the guillotine, right? They’re all going to watch it like this could be you! It was gonna be awful.
And operations officer calls me in, and he goes “go thank the master chief for saving your career. And probably saving a lot of other people’s careers.”
And I said “okay. I will. Can you tell me what happened?”
And he just said, “you know…” and I’ll never forget him. But he had a big southern drawl, and he said “maybe we ought to think about this, because did he really do anything that bad? And is it really anything any of us haven’t done fairly recently? Maybe we’re overreacting.”
And everybody kind of stopped and said “okay, maybe we are.”
And I went and thanked the master chief and he said “okay, but don’t let me down.”
So that’s the first thing, right? You get that chance. Somebody said, “oh my god,” but in the end, I put myself in that position. Nobody else did. I did that.
Mark: But it’s nice to have people who recognize that nobody’s perfect and they’re willing to give you a second chance.
Errol: And again, when you talk about some of the mistakes that start to mold you, this is one of them. That’s one of the biggest ones. Now you’re still a young guy, you’re still processing this whole thing… it’s not until much later, right?
When I left the FBI and started putting together my company… “what do I believe? Can I really sell it? Can I package it? Does it make sense?”
That was one of the things that I thought of, right? And that’s one of the things where I was like “you need to make sure you tell people… you may have a nice-looking resume. But there’s a lot of ugliness in there.”
So that was probably the first thing. At SEAL team one I worked for commander Fitzgerald, probably the best leader that I’ve ever known… so I could go on and on about the things I learned and stole from him, right? But that’s the measure of a great leader, right? “wow, I work for this person. I’m just going to steal everything, because it’s all awesome.”
So those are the couple things… having to leave SEAL team one – I got injured. I was in a bad marriage – which I can go into – and the injuries were severe enough where they said ”you can be medically discharged.”
But I had gotten myself into such a silly place in my personal life – again, I was married, but as young couples do, we find ways to try to hurt each other.
Hers was easy – “give me the number to SEAL team one, please.” And all she had to do was just tell everybody how awful I was. And then I would have to go in on a regular basis say, “that’s not exactly true.”
I came back from the injuries… I’ve got the post-concussion headaches going. I’ve got both arms in casts again – and I mentioned in the book – my dirty little secret, I was abusing those pain meds…
Mark: What happened? What was the injured by the way? Did you fall off a caving ladder or something like that? Ship-boarding?
Errol: Yeah. That’s exactly right. Did you ask some questions? Or like who would have guessed that…?
Mark: I just guessed that. (laughing) I just guessed it.
Errol: (laughing) That’s exactly what happened. So, we were oddly enough in the 1990s, we were on our way – we were on deployment – and we got tasked with an actual operation. A ship to take down. Like “whoo! We got one, right?” That was probably going to be the only thing that we were getting…
So, we had our rehearsal the day before and the seas were really heavy. The sea was angry that day, my friend. And the commanding officer of the ship – so I was part of the battle group, and as you know – you don’t even know who your boss is, right? Is it the co of the ship? Is it the co of the battle group? Is it the ca of the task force? Is it the co of SEAL team one? You don’t even know who you’re…
And so, they said “well, you can’t rehearse today, because we won’t launch you in your ribs because it’s too rough.”
And I said, “no problem.” I said, “if the weather is like this tomorrow, are you going to make us go on the op?”
And he said “well, yeah.”
And I said, “well, you have to let us rehearse then. Come on. What are we doing?”
So, they did reluctantly… and a long story short – I won’t bore you with the details – but normally for the board/search and seizures my boat would go first. And I’d be the third one up the ladder. Whatever it was, right? Whatever it was.
And this was so bad, I’m like “what position wouldn’t I want to be in? I wouldn’t want to be the last one to go, because everybody just wants to get on that ship.”
So, I switched the order… blah-blah-blah… and we had a couple things that went wrong right off the bat where I almost said, “all right, abort.”
Our comms went down and that’s never a good thing, but we had the backup plan for that. Then the comms came back, and I’m like “oh that’s one.”
And then the caving ladder – I get word that the caving ladder broke, right? They tried to throw it up and it snapped. And I go ”abort. Too many things are going wrong, and we need everything to be perfect.”
Chief gets on he’s like “no, no. We got it fixed. Come on I know where you’re going with this. We got it.”
I said “okay.”
So now everybody gets up. I’m the last one to climb up, you’ve got the guy holding the ladder. He gets thrown because a wave throws him. He drops the caving ladder, gets thrown back.
When the boat’s at the height of the wave, the caving ladder hooks on to the cleat. Okay so I’m at the very top, ready to pull myself over.
Boat comes down and just smashes the caving ladder. So, it just disintegrates…
Mark: It got hooked on the cleat of the boat?
Mark: So, it just ripped it apart.
Errol: Just ripped it apart. It actually blew the boots off of my feet, you know… so you talk about things that matter in your life… I’m not even giving you a chance to ask me any questions…
Mark: (laughing) It’s like a good sea story…
Errol: (laughing) That’s exactly what it is. But my teammates were right there to pull me over… I heard it snap and I just knew intuitively like that “oh my god…”
So, I’m reaching to pull myself over… you know, hands are coming over. Down I go.
And it’s the funniest thing, the things you think about… because the first thing I thought about was “you better go out like a leader, because they’re all watching you and this will be a story.” I can’t even believe…
Mark: (laughing) No whining on the way down.
Errol: (laughing) I swear… I said that to myself. I said “just go out like a man. Go out like a leader. Give everybody a good story.”
Mark: Did you drop into the water or on the boat?
Errol: Well, so that’s the next thing that starts to happen, right? Because that probably ended up saving my life, because I just relaxed. They talk about life passing before your eyes – absolutely. To a degree, right?
So, I’m going down and the next thing I think about is “good life.” Right? Lots of bad, lots of mistakes, but you lived life. So, I was almost at peace because what I was sure was going to happen was, I was going to go in between the two boats, and then just get sucked into the prop of the of the big boat.
Mark: That’s a hell of a way to go, by the way.
Errol: It was going to be awful. It was going to be awful, there’s no way around it, right? If you’re that close, you’re just going to get sucked in.
So, I was like “all right, well… I hope this goes fast.” I hit the rib. Now you know there’s only a few places on that rib that you can hit without impaling yourself, right? You’ve got all the antennas; you’ve got the console…
I landed right on the square spot where you lift up the cover for the engine…
Mark: Roger that. How far is the drop by the way?
Errol: It was 30 feet. And so, I hit, and I bounce up. And what happened was my arm was hanging over the side… so that snapped. So, I’m up in the air and I see my arm dangling, but I’m like “oh my god, I’m alive.” I can’t even believe this.
And you hear people talk about training kick in… I’m like “I’ve got a chance here. So, a couple things are going to happen. I’m either going back in the boat which I’ll be okay. I’m going back in between the boat the two boats – which I thought was going to happen anyway which I’m not okay I’m going that’s over. Or I’m going to the other side.
So, don’t die trying to swim because you’re not going to be able to swim. Just die trying to find that co2 life cartridge. I landed right back in the boat it was unbelievable.
So, I had… the arm was what it was. And that’s a whole ‘nother story – but that was the injury.
Mark: So that had a pretty serious concussion from that. And I don’t want to you know spend a ton of time talking about post-traumatic stress, but with what they’re learning now that what happens with that TBI – you know, traumatic brain injury – it causes some serious stuff.
So, if your life started to fall apart after that. And then you get hooked on drugs, that’s a pretty common story, right? So, you can cut yourself some slack… your brain injury probably had a lot to do with that.
Errol: Well, and not only that Mark, but we were doing MOUT training. You know, the urban warfare – going building the building – I can’t remember what MOUT stands for…
So, we were in that in the san Francisco area the facility up there. And we went through, and we were doing it at night – just going through from house to house – and one of the houses didn’t have a floor in it.
Errol: So, I was the second one in, and went straight, and there was no floor. And if you remember back then you wore your floppy hat, you didn’t wear the Kevlar hats. So, I went screaming down.
I’m like “when is this gonna end?” Right? So, I took a 10-foot drop and a header right there, and that was only about two months before this happened. So, I had a couple real serious ones right in a row.
To your point… so you know, and I appreciate that acknowledgement…
Mark: Well, I’ve actually started working with a doctor who wanted me to get checked out. And I didn’t have… any I mean, I had hard parachute falls you know normal stuff, right? But nothing like what you had.
But she said that she’s worked with a lot of SEALs and she doesn’t know a single one – she says she doesn’t think there’s a single one who gets out without some sort of TBI. Just firing the amount of bullets that we fire.
And this goes true for any football player or anybody in the marine corps – if you’re blowing stuff up, you’re knocking doors down, if you’re in combat and if you’re shooting hundreds of thousands of rounds over the course of a career, then you got it. So, you need to deal with it. Because it’s going to manifest later on in life as early onset dementia or something like that.
Errol: Well, yeah. And that you know hopefully that goes to you know… I think most people rather hear you talk your podcast (laughing)… but it does go to the Wim Hof method. That is the natural the natural elixir as it were.
Mark: That’s right. Yeah. That’ll rewire your brain real quick. I want to talk about that in a little while.
But so that torpedoed so to speak or splashed your SEAL career… I had a similar incident where I stayed in reserves but I you know I had a little incident for my own indiscretions. It got blown out of proportion and McRaven who was my co and sea daddy offered to fix everything that had happened. And gave me a second chance.
But I kind of like was tainted a little bit by the organization, and the bureaucracy. And their zero… you’re a robot kind of mentality. Not treating people like human beings.
So, I literally lasted about a year and a half after that incident, and then I was out. Off active duty.
Stayed in reserves. I’m glad I stayed in the reserves, because I had some really cool things that resurrected my career.
But man, you can get the wind sucked out of you real quick by these big bureaucratic organizations.
Errol: Well you can. And that’s what happened in the FBI to me.
And it’s a shame right because first of all I loved being a SEAL, right? I was actually on deployment – we stopped at sdv1 and I had already hooked up my next set of orders. They were gonna allow me to do another platoon. Then they were going to let me be the operations officer and then I was going to try to screen for DEVGRU.
It just wasn’t meant to be, but it hurt. And the point is you hate it when you go out on something other than the terms that you really wanted. And that sounds a little bit like what happened to you.
Mark: Yeah, but it helps shape you as a leader and as a human being, right?
Errol: It does.
Mark: You know, when you have those humility checks and those kicks in the groin. And you then take that as a mechanism for growth, then you can see why it happened and why it’s a good thing. And you turn you know turn the silver lining around so that you can use it for good, right? And eradicate the regrets from it.
Errol: Yeah, well that’s it. That’s the only way. Because it happens to everybody. It’s what do you do with it.
Mark: That’s right. There’s no such thing as perfection – just perfect effort. (laughing) Perfect intention is probably more right.
Errol: Well yeah, I agree. Because perfection is if there’s if it’s out there – I’m looking forward to seeing it. Because I haven’t seen it yet.
Mark: No, me neither. So, you got off you left the teams. You became a photocopy salesman – which I was cracking up, because there’s another similarity – my brother brad was a photocopy salesman and he worked for a former UDT SEAL – or EOD UDT guy – I don’t remember… he claims he was a SEAL, but all his pictures were like EOD type pictures when I visit him so I’m not sure…
But there was a lot of crossover back in the Vietnam days. So maybe he mixed it up.
Errol: Yeah maybe.
Mark: Yeah. But his son is now an O6 in the SEALs. Jeff Schaefer is his name.
Errol: Yeah, I don’t know…
Mark: I can’t remember his first name now. But anyways…
Errol: Copier sales.
Mark: Yeah and this guy was AJ squared away, and you know he ran a really tight ship. And the sales training that they put these guys through… and they all went to dale Carnegie and they had to learn how to you know be spit and polish. And they were go-getters.
And it made me think about the environment you stepped into. Cause you made a comment in your book that was some of the best training that you had. To be a photocopy salesman. (laughing)
Errol: Yeah, man, look I’m telling you… so it was tough, it was a tough transition… and it was a friend of mine I said “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
And he is a great salesman. He said, “go sell copiers.” Well, because he sold copiers, right? And so, he’s like “look, if you work hard, you’re better already than 95% of the people who are doing it. So, you’ll make money.”
He said “plus, they’ll take anybody.” He goes “you apply to the job; you’re going to get the job. Just start.”
And it was the best advice I had gotten to date. So, I went in and regardless of what I expected what I found was even though I didn’t detest the job, but for all the reasons I mentioned the book I ended up loving that job.
Not because we cared about copiers, but because the boss that I had worked for created an environment that was so predictable that it just made it a great place to be. You followed his sales process – and it was a viable sales process – steps one through nine. When you went in to update him, he’d be like “what step are you on?”
Or if you’re having problems in the sale, he’d go “what step did you skip?” And he was always right.
But it was predictable, right? And when you talk about accountability and leadership – well, you can’t hold someone accountable if they don’t know what they’re supposed to be accountable to.
We knew exactly what we were accountable to. All the time from a behavioral standpoint, from a sales standpoint – from the nuts and bolts. It made it awesome.
And it showed me that leadership was alive and well in other places in the world, right? It just was so that was a great experience.
Mark: Leadership is about the people, and not the organization necessarily. Although once you establish that culture – you make this point in your book – that culture then kind of cements itself into the organizational latticework. Then it’s repeatable, right? Beyond the individual. That’s fascinating.
Errol: Yeah and that’s what I think that’s what the SEAL teams represent, right? That culture. It’s a repeatable format, right? There’s things that just seem to happen all the time, regardless of the geopolitical situation, regardless of the conflict – SEALs are doing great things and that’s the culture. Back from 1944 right till yesterday. I’m sure something amazing happened.