“Cleaning the bathroom, and changing the light bulb – It’s bringing the right attitude to it. That’s what they’re really looking for. That’s what the guys who have been there are looking for. And that translates directly down-range.” – Jack Carr
Sheepdog training is learning to deal with a crisis situation so that you can help yourself and others through the situation. Sheepdog training includes situational and self-awareness skills, hand to hand combat and pistol shooting, tactical medicine and quick reaction skills in general. The Sheepdog event is only run once a year and you can find out more about it at sealfit.com/sheepdog.
Jack Carr (jackcarrusa) is known as the best-selling author of the thriller “The Terminal List,” but before coming an author, he led special operations teams as a Team Leader, Platoon Commander, Troop Commander and Task Unit Commander. Jack spent 20 years in Naval Special Warfare and always had two goals in life – to be a SEAL and to write a book. His newest book, “True Believer” is the next out.
- It’s important to know that you’re doing the right thing for yourself at the right time.
- The important process of moving up through ranks to command rather than starting out on top
- How being SEAL for 20 years helped him as a author
Listen to this episode and get a better understanding of how to make a radical career change.
Mark has talked before about the Halo Sport system for neural plasticity. By stimulating specific parts of the brain during activity, it makes you better able to learn new types of movement. As a listener, you are able to use the code DIVINE to get the new, upgraded version for half the regular price. Go to haloneuro.com.
Mark just tried MUD/WTR drink and wants to tell his tribe about it. MUD/WTR is a very healthy alternative to coffee. It actually does a better job of giving you the focus you need, without the jitters or crash. They’re not mad at coffee, just disappointed. Go to their site at mudwtr.com.
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Hey folks. This is Mark Divine with the Unbeatable Mind podcast. Thanks so much for being here with me today. Super appreciate it. And it’s going to be an amazing, amazing conversation with my SEAL teammate, Jack Carr. Novelist and all-around adventurer and extraordinary guy.
Before I get into and introduce him a little bit more, let me remind you that this podcast is available a bunch of different places – so, choose your poison – iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, SoundCloud, markdivine.com. And frankly a review and a rating is really, really helpful. I can’t believe how many podcasts are popping up every day and now like big money’s getting into the game and people are… Some of the big houses are producing… Like publishing houses and whatever they’re producing these big polished podcasts and throwing tons of money at them. So it really helps if you can rate and review our podcast so, other people can find it. I really appreciate that.
And then I often like to plug something that we’re doing in addition to our sponsors and one of the events that SEALFIT has evolved just in the last couple years we call a sheepdog event. Sheepdog training. And this is really like the pinnacle of the training. So the crucible work is really to test your resolve and fortitude and develop mental clarity and resiliency.
But then what do you do like if a crisis hits you and we’ve had situation where people have called me like from Las Vegas said “dude, I was at the Las Vegas shooting and this sheepdog training was money. Because I immediately recognized the threat where everyone else didn’t I was able to take action with my family and get them undercover to safety and then I was able to turn my attention to help others.”
That is an uncommon skill. Navy seals learned that starting and SEAL training but how do you develop that self-awareness? Situational awareness? And ability to focus on your team under an extreme crisis, so, you’re not just cowering, praying. But you’re able to navigate those situations calmly and coolly like a Navy SEAL would.
Well that’s sheepdog training so, we have an event coming up in July down in Texas which will teach you quick reaction drills and shooting and maneuvering and working with a team and even field trauma. So you could triage yourself or others if you had a real serious accident.
It’s a really extraordinary training. So check it out at SEALFIT.com.
All right so, Jack Carr. He’s a SEAL teammate of mine, but what’s really cool about Jack is he’s just a really cool, like, passionate author and I say that we’re gonna learn from him. But he’s wanted to be an author for as long as he wanted to be a SEAL. Probably longer.
And so, now he’s making that happen. So first he made the SEAL part happen, now he’s making the author part happen. His first bestseller was called “The Terminal List.” published by Simon & Schuster. And now he just told me he’s working on his third book. And we’ll learn about the second one which will be due out soon.
Jack, though spent 20 years as a team guy so, he’s been there, done that. So when he writes he’s not guessing at the operations. In fact he has to run all his books through Nav Spec war and the DOD and get their blessing. And they don’t always let him publish what he wants to publish, which tells you that he’s on the mark.
At any rate, Jack, thanks for being here today. Super-cool to have you as my guest.
Jack Carr. Thank you so, much for having me. I’ve been excited for this one, so, it’s great to talk to a fellow team guy.
Mark: Yeah, I love it too. It’s so, cool when team guys get out and do interesting things that aren’t just like going back downrange with Blackwater or something like that.
Jack: Yeah. I was always excited when guys would get out and go on and do something interesting. Something exciting. They were successful. Oftentimes there’s a little jealousy from guys that are in the teams I saw when I was in. But I was always up for helping guys whether they wanted to stay in the teams I was wanted to help… If they’re a good guy, help them achieve their goals in the teams. Or if they were getting out, gonna do everything I possibly could give them a great recommendation or introduce them to the right people, whatever it may be.
Mark: Right. We were talking about this a little while ago before we started but you spent 20 years in the teams, I spent 20 years like and a day. Literally.
Jack: Yeah. 20 and a wake up, I call it.
Mark: But that time just felt like it flew by. And a lot of folks… You started as enlisted and then you became an officer, but so, you probably came in the team’s around 18, right? Or what age were you so?
Jack: Yeah I came and enlisted because I watched all those Vietnam movies in the ’80s and inevitably they had that brand new officer with the butter bars that would show up just out of OCS or just out of one of the academies and not know anything. Show up in Vietnam and make the guys that had been there for a while, that knew what they were doing get haircuts and shave and start saluting. And then of course the first thing he does this lead those guys right into an ambush.
So those movies came out at a very formative time in my life and I didn’t want to be that guy. So I wanted to come in enlisted and wanted to be a sniper and I knew that typically officers aren’t snipers. And I wanted to establish a reputation, learn the trade. Essentially start in the mailroom and work my way up. So that’s what I did. Came in enlisted and then decided to go to OCS about six and a half years into it.
Mark: Right. That’s interesting – that’s what we recommend a lot of people who come to our SEALFIT training, because a lot of guys I mean 60 or more percent of guys going through SEAL training have a college degree or even were in the workforce. But then they say “hey, I want to become an officer.” and we say “okay, well, doing that right out of the chute a) is difficult from a statistical standpoint, because as you know, most of them come from ROTC or Naval Academy. I happened to go through OCS straight out of the chute, and to be honest I would have been a better operator and a better leader had I gone your path. And I acknowledge that, you know what I mean? In retrospect.
So it’s a really good way to go. You want to be a SEAL, be a SEAL. Right? Don’t worry about whether you’re an officer, enlisted, or the money, or the career. First be a SEAL. And then later on worry about the career.
Jack: Right, yeah. This is one of those things that I never worried about the money, I never worried about… I never even thought of it as a “career,” quote-unquote. I think there’s a reason they call it the “profession of arms” not the not the “career of arms.” but I would have paid to have done this job. So much fun and I was exactly where I where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing throughout that entire 20 years. So I feel extremely fortunate to have been afforded that opportunity and to have worked with so, many great guys.
And then also I recognize that I’m very fortunate to have moved on into something else that I love doing.
Mark: Right. With all of your faculties. No post-traumatic stress, I imagine. No limbs missing, I mean, you and I are lucky ones.
Jack: Yeah, I escaped relatively unscathed. And I think about that every single day. And it helps keep things in the proper perspective, I think.
Mark: Yeah, I agree with that. So it looks from my show notes that you actually kind of settled upon the seals pretty early in life. I mean, I didn’t even know about them until I was like 21.
Jack: Okay. Yeah, I found out very, very early. And a lot of that came from… Well I always knew I was gonna join the military – essentially from the time I could think. And that’s because I grew up around… My grandfather was killed in World War two. He was a corsair pilot, which was those planes… The Goldwings… They made Pappy Boyington
Mark: Yeah, “Ba-Ba Blacksheep.”
Jack: Yeah, made popular in the late ’70s by Robert Conrad’s series. So I grew up around the silk maps they used to give aviators back then, so, that if they hit the water they wouldn’t disintegrate like paper would. His medals. Old black-and-white pictures of his squadron. That sort of thing.
So I just knew that I was going to go into the military. It was just… There was never a question of that. The question was what was I going to do in the military? And also very early on, I found out what seals were.
Because my mom was a librarian and back in late ’70s early ’80s we only had about four channels on TV. And during commercials from football on Sundays my dad would look at his watch and give me two minutes to run up to the TV – because I was a remote control back then – and flip it to whatever movie was playing opposite the football game. And then it was usually a war movie of some sort. And usually it was World War two.
But I could watch that for two minutes, cause I didn’t really care about the football, and then two minutes were up, I’d run back up and switch it back to football. And wait for that next commercial.
And one of those movies that was playing was old black-and-white film called “The Frogmen” which you’re probably familiar with.
Jack: And it was the part where they’re climbing up over the beach and attaching explosives to obstacles in advance of a conventional force-landing. And I asked my dad “hey, who are these guys?” because they looked look pretty cool and he said those are frogmen – which was the name of the movie – great job dad. So I said what are frogmen? And he said ask your mother.
So my mom was a librarian. I went and asked her and she took that as an opportunity to take me down to the local library and teach me about research. And we looked into frogmen. Found out about UDT. Found out about seals. And back then there was hardly anything written about the teams.
Mark: I read every book that was out there. You could do it.
Jack: You couldn’t possibly do it today. Back then there’s a couple mentions in a book, a couple mentions in a magazine article or two, but that was about it. But I remember taking away from that is that SEAL training is the toughest ever devised by a modern military and – this is the most elite fighting – one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. So those two were the only two things I needed to know and they had me from a very early age and that was that was age 7. So from age 7 on I wanted to test myself. See if I could make it into the teams. And I wanted to serve my country in combat. So that was I was on that path and very early date early on.
Mark: It’s interesting… The training I do, a lot of people kind of like spark that passion for excellence and to be kind of an elite shape and master themselves and it’s like all new to them. And you found that at 7 years old. I mean that was… That’s rare. I mean speaks to how the power of kind of like one’s character, what you bring into the world can really drive your future actions.
And so, you had that passion for excellence and passion to be the best and do the hardest, the most severe training that a warrior can find at a young age.
Jack: That’s it. The recruiters had a very easy job with me. By the time I got to enlist I think I knew more about the SEAL Teams and the path to get there than the recruiters did. Actually I know I did.
Mark: That does not surprise me. That was not dissimilar with my experience. I had to convince my recruiters to let me even apply. Because they’re like “you don’t want to be one of those guys.” cause they didn’t know anything about them.
Jack: Exactly. “That’s the only reason I’m in this office right now.” educate them. I’m sure it’s better now, but back then I had to educate them on it was called the Dive Fair program back then… And looking back it was kind of a scam because what it did – you signed up for six years and it gave you… They guaranteed you the opportunity to try out for the teams in boot camp. I know when you get there if you sign up for four you can try… Anybody can try out in boot camp. But you don’t know that. Especially back then in 1996 no one knew that.
Mark: That’s hilarious.
Jack: All I wanted was the shot to try out. So that was what I was focused on. Just give me that shot to try out, that’s all I need.
BUD/S and starting with the seals
So tell us about… Everyone loves to hear about training and BUD/S and they’ve heard enough about mine – so, what was your BUD/S class and what were some of your biggest adventures and learnings from SEAL training.
Jack: Yeah so, it was class 212 and so, I showed up in January of ’97. So yeah boot camp, intelligence school – because you had to have that MOS that rating right back then – that a school. And then came right into BUD/S in January ’97.
And the swimming was a lot more difficult than I thought it was gonna be. Growing up close to the water, I swam and all that. But that combat recovery stroke – back then, we didn’t really get any instruction on it. They just said to “do it” and then kicked you in the water.
Now we give a lot of instruction as you know. Now they get the instruction in after boot camp. They come to Coronado and they get more instruction there. And they really work with you to try to get you to do it.
Mark: Well, now they actually have the BUD/S prep, which is after… So you go to boot camp where you’re in your own their own little battalion of SEAL candidates, so, they get the training there. And then they go to BUD/S prep – they get more training. Then they go to pre-training at BUD/S and they get more training.
Mark: (laughing) I don’t know how anyone fails. It’s like “c’mon.”
Jack: I know. But as you know the numbers have remained fairly steady as far as people that made it through. So the be a “fitter quitter” part seems to hold true, which I think is amazing and I think also it shows how important that the mental aspect is to all of this. Whether it’s SEAL training or in life. Just to have all that extra training and have the numbers remain fairly similar or exactly the same as they did before we put all that money into training guys ahead of time to prepare them as well as anyone could possibly be prepared for BUD/S. And to have those numbers remain the same as far as attrition is astounding. It really says a lot, I think.
But yeah, so, the swims I think I went from the first swim in the in the bay with combat recovery stroke – I think I was third to last. So I was like “oh my goodness.” and no problem with the running, of course, or anything like that. But then so, I struggled with swims that first phase, but then somebody who had been a water polo player in college took me aside. Took me out in the ocean behind the barracks there and spent about a half hour with me just teaching me the stroke.
And after that I moved up to… I think my best was like third. So from third to last, to third. So after that I never had a problem with the swims.
But yeah, that was probably struggled with the most. But great experience and looking back on it, really all you need to do is show up at the right place at the right time with the right gear and put out and don’t quit. Keep a good attitude.
Mark: You make it sound so, simple, yeah.
Jack: (laughing) looking back, it kind of is.
Mark: Yeah, it is. In a sense in terms of if you can find that simplicity, then it gets navigable right? It’s your world then. Everything’s relative. So that when you’re in there – when you’re in those situations that is 100% your world and nothing is more important than that next push-up, that next sit-up, that next rope climb, that next obstacle course.
And the consequences of failing are almost two too much even contemplate. So I went in with that attitude of “hey I’m either gonna make it through this training, or I’m gonna die. Because I’ve been telling people I’m gonna make it through this training since seven years old, so, I can’t show my face back home – especially to high school friends – if I don’t make it through.” so, that was an incentive as well.
Mark: Yeah just so, that… This is Unbeatable Mind Podcast – so, sometimes I want to point things out to the listeners that kind of align with our training. One is Jack’s talking about having a micro-focus. He’s not thinking about oh I got to do endless push-ups… And the instructors never told you how many you had to do right, Jack?
Jack: Right. Always one more.
Mark: You’re like, “oh crap. Forever is a long time to be doing push-ups, you know what I mean?” so, you just do one at a time, right? And keep that micro-focus one evolution to another, one meal to the next. But then probably the most… The least understood and the most powerful of the mental toughness techniques… And you said it second was the consequence management. Really having such a strong “why” that failure literally is not an option, because the pain is so, high associated with failure. And you’re “why” was so, high because you’d been wanting to be a military guy and live the kind of generational ethos that your family had. And you’d been planning for this and training for it since you were seven years old.
And so, failure truly was not an option. They’d have to kill you to get you out of there, right? Jack: That was my mindset and that’s how I looked at it and some people say… Talking about if they’ll they go “hey, meal to meal.”
Even that was too long right I think. Evolution to evolution. So I didn’t necessarily do it one push up to the next push-up, I did it one evolution to the next. But I definitely didn’t do it meal to meal, or day to day, or week to week. It was evolution to evolution.
Mark: And what was your mindset and your internal dialogue as you were navigating the more challenging aspects of BUD/S? Like preparing for a swim you’re thinking like “I can’t come in last.”
Jack: Right. So what I always thought about was how much harder other people had it before. So I thought about the guys going over the beach in Normandy. I thought about the guys on the trail in Vietnam waiting to ambush VC coming down the trail. And the technology that they had available versus what we have available today. So really I thought about people that had that… Shackleton… I thought about that cause I’d read Shackleton the summer before when I was in Alaska and reading about how those guys wintered over in Antarctica and survived. And the entire team survived. Incredible story of leadership and survival. There’s another story called “The Long Walk” that I read up in Alaska as well. That’s amazing.
Mark: Yeah. These guys walk from Siberia down to India, right?
Jack: Over the Himalaya. And dropped down into India. But incredible stories of survival that kind of put it in perspective. That make my two nautical mile ocean swim or three mile beach run or whatever it was going to be – kind of kept that in perspective. So I thought about those guys that had gone before and how much more difficult they had it than I did on this next swim coming up. So I try to keep things in their proper perspective.
Mark: Yeah, perspective is critical. And we call that “it could always be worse,” principle right no matter what shit you’re in, it could always be worse, so, keep that in mind.
Jack: I never liked using that, because it’s always true…
Mark: Right. You don’t lead with that one. You pull that one out as you’re kind of like… That’s a secret weapon in your back pocket…
So then after BUD/S you went to SEAL Team 5. And so, tell us about your actual career as a war fighter and as a leader. And what were some of the highlights and lessons learned there?
Jack: Yeah, so, came in – showed up in October ’97 – team 5. And worried that my uniform was not put together correctly as I crossed that quarterdeck for the first time. Went in to see my XO at the time somebody you know – Tom Dietz he was the XO at the time. Great guy. Welcomed me to the teams and it was still ’90s back then, so, it was… What we all thought was that as soon as we got to the teams we were gonna get these pagers. And they’re gonna open up this box and there’s gonna be all this great gear. And then we’re gonna be at Danny’s drinking one night when I get this call when I go off and yeah we go save the princess, comeback. And that’s what we all thought.
Instead I showed up and “hey, new guy. Go paint that wall. Change that light bulb. Clean the bathroom.” so, it was new guy stuff. And that’s humbling of course and you do it and you want to be the best guy at changing that light bulb. The best guy at painting that wall. You wanted the bathroom the cleanest it’s ever been. You just want to be the best new guy you can possibly be. And be a sponge and learn from those guys that had come before.
There were a couple Vietnam guys around. There was one guy who had been in Mogadishu years earlier that was at the team at the time. One guy that been in Panama on the airfield. So those guys I sought those guys out and really tried not to pester them, but try to be around enough and gain their trust enough where they would go open up to me about what they’d experienced so, I could take those lessons learned and apply them going forward.
But that was the teams in the in the ’90s. And then hopped into my first Platoon after SEAL tactical training they called it at the time… Now it’s SEAL qualification training. Then hopped into my first platoon and that was a pre-September eleventh platoon, so, I was off to Okinawa and Philippines and Australia and Korea and do all those things that we did back in the day. And then back to Sniper school. Freefall school.
And then into the second platoon. And that’s the one where two weeks into that deployment is when September 11th happened. So that’s when everything shifted. And we were deployed at the time – we were in Guam – and I think it was about midnight in Guam and all the phones started going off up and down the hall. And we didn’t have TVs in our room back then, so, we went down to the basement of the barracks where there was one TV and we watched the Twin Towers fall on television.
Mark: And you guys knew then…
Jack: Oh yeah. It was an interesting time. And I was the Intel guy so, I’d been studying al-Qaeda, I’d been studying bin Laden and most other people in the platoon hadn’t. So it was into briefs and getting ready, getting us as educated as we could possibly be on the threat on September 12th. And then off we went to the Middle East.
Mark: Did you deploy from Guam to the Middle East? Or did you come back and redeploy?
Jack: We did. We palletized me and one other guy did a PSD, so, a protective detail for some of the senior guys in pacific theater of operations as they went around to talk to our allies. Came back from that and all the gear was palletized and off we went in the C-17 to the Middle East.
Didn’t go right to Afghanistan. Team three – as you know – did that. But we took over their mission doing the ship boardings. Which was my only time in the military doing ship boardings and looking back it was it was actually quite eventful. I look at it as a police officer coming up on a car in the middle of the night – they have no idea what they’re walking up on. So same thing with those with those ship boardings post September 11th.
Mark: I love… So a few highlights from kind of what you just talked about. One is when you showed up to the seals everyone wants to all of a sudden be a gunslinger. But you had to go clean the shitters and man the watch station.
So I’m trying to like drill this through my son’s head. It’s not what you do but how you do it that matters, right?
Jack: That’s it.
Mark: And that’s such an important thing for young people to learn. It’s like you’re not gonna get spoon-fed all the perfect jobs. And just even like when you can do it because the technology built on the back of 50 years of people like really struggling to figure out this technology. A lot of people think “well I can just go be a podcaster.” they’re like 24 years old and they’re gonna go be a podcaster because mark’s doing it and all these other people are doing it and “that looks cool and I think I can do that.”
Okay. You might be able to do that. But how are you going to do it? What kind of skills are you gonna bring to it? What kind of insights and it’s not just the… It’s not what you do is how you do it.
And the second thing is the importance of mentors. Especially in the teams, you cannot go in and expect… It takes… We used to say it took five years to kind of mint a Navy SEAL. And the first two of that are like your formal training, but then it’s all that informal training from mentors right? Just those old Vietnam vets when in our era in the ’90s. And now it’s the guys who served and done six or eight tours in Afghanistan or Iraq or more. Coming back and mentoring the young guys. So critical isn’t it?
Jack: Exactly. And it’s the mindset. So when cleaning the bathroom and changing the light bulb, it’s bringing the right attitude to it because that’s what they’re really looking for. That’s what the guys that have been there for a while are looking for. And that translates directly downrange. Cause downrange sometimes the only thing that you can affect is your attitude.
Jack: And so, I talked about that a lot with my guys as I became an officer. And then moved into those spots where hey we’re doing what we want to be doing down here. And there’s gonna be some things that we have to do just by default that maybe not maybe we don’t want to be doing… But we have to bring that same attitude, because that is what we can control. We can’t control some of these things here, but we can control that attitude.
And then you’re right. A mentor or multiple mentors are critical today… And well they’ve always been, throughout history. Obviously we know where that word came from.
But finding a mentor early on and I was lucky enough to – before I came in the teams – to meet up with a Vietnam vet that was part of Project Delta in Vietnam which was a unit run by Charlie Beckwith before he started Delta Force. And it was getting to know him… Taught me to shoot, taught me to think logically. And passed on some of those lessons learned from his experience in Vietnam. And I’ll forever be grateful for that.
Mark: Amazing. So I want to just kind of ping back on again this is Unbeatable Mind podcast – but that… The attitude of the Navy SEAL is really interesting to people and I’ll throw out some things and then you can kind of fill in the blanks. But a Navy SEAL is always gonna say “yes,” right? “Yes” to a challenge, or “yes” to a request, or “yes” to an order. They’re not gonna be like sulking or bitching about it. The attitude is just “yes, I got this. Hooyah, right? That’s kind of what that means. I got this.
They’re always gonna be positive, right? So negative attitudes, negative willies are not allowed. In fact, they’ll be ejected off a team, because it brings other people down. They’re willing to do anything and everything. And they crave challenge and growth.
And so, those are some of the attributes of the attitude of the SEAL. What else would you throw in there?
Jack: Drive, determination obviously. That never-quit attitude. And to take whatever mission, whatever challenge that is tossed our way. And crush it each and every time. And as part of that what you’re doing is part of that no matter what it is. So say it’s something back in garrison. So say it’s back at base, it’s not downrange yet.
So what you’re doing really is you’re building trust with the guys beneath you in the chain of command. And you’re building trust up that chain of command. So you’re getting that… You’re letting the people above you know, “hey, this guy knows what he’s doing. I can trust him.” and it essentially gives you more leeway when you get downrange to do the job you need to do. Because your senior leadership knows that you know what you’re talking about, knows you know what you’re doing, knows that you’ll make the best decisions under fire as you possibly can.
And then your guys see that too. The guys know you’ll get out there even if you’re not the fastest anymore. It’s important to get out there, run with the guys. Do the obstacle course with the guys. Pass on your lessons to the guys. So that they know that you are invested in them.
You’re invested in the team but you’re also invested in them individually. To help them reach their full potential as you move into that mentorship role. So it’s really about building trust up and down the chain of command that allows you to do the job most effectively, I think. That’s what I found anyway.
Mark: I love that and what you’re speaking to is right now I’m working on a book on teams, right? Because I realized how much leadership development has been focused on the individual leader, but the leader is never the result of mission success, right? It’s the team right? So to me the team is the new leader. It’s the collective consciousness and the glue of the team is trust. Because this if one guy breaches trust, the whole team breaks down. And has to like reform and rebuild in some sense.
Jack: Yep, that’s it the importance of trust can really not be overstated.
Jack: And everything you do, no matter what it is – whether it’s a quick conversation in the hallway with one of your guys, with someone from another platoon, with somebody from admin – doesn’t matter what it is. That’s an opportunity to build trust. Just like giving a brief to your senior leaders, or to your guys, or to somebody via video teleconference from another service. Each and every one of those things is an opportunity to build trust. There’s nothing that’s not an opportunity to build… Build and to continue to establish that trust. Mark: Right. And also everyone’s always watching. And you have all your teammates watching. All the support people watching. And so, it’s not just what you do but it’s how you are, right? How you behave when you don’t think anyone’s looking. Usually they say that’s integrity, but ultimately integrity leads back to trust also.
Jack: Exactly. That it exactly. People are always watching. Always judging. Always looking to see how you’re doing it, and hopefully how they can even do it better. So my job and I always felt it was my responsibility to make sure that my guys would do it better than I did in my position. So pass on not just what we were doing right and what I was doing right, but also the things I was doing wrong.
And I know one of my things that I wasn’t quite the best at was the administrative skills. I didn’t come in to do that stuff, I know I had to do that stuff. Especially when I became an officer. But it was not my strength. I would pass on to my guys how important it is to be able to do those things because sometimes your senior level leadership if they’re not out there watching you at an island, do your desert warfare training or wherever else you’re going, their picture of you could be that administrative process. Getting everything in on time or early. So I would get the admin stuff done on time.
But I saw others that did the admin stuff better. And they did it better because they got it in way earlier. And that might be the window through which your senior level leadership evaluates you. And who gets what mission going downrange. So it is important. So I wanted to make sure that my guys also knew things that I could do better. And the admin was the probably the biggest one I’d say.
Mark: So let’s shift focus to you as an author of these thrillers. Your first book “The Terminal List,” I thumbed through it. I’ve got it. I’m gonna read it because… A lot of times I get a ton of books especially for these podcasts, and I try to read, like speed-read at least… But it’s a novel. You can’t speed read a novel, you know what I mean? You have to sit down in a leather chair and like really get into it. And I look forward to doing that.
But while you were on active duty, were you already planning your writing career? Were you like taking mental notes about what would work and what wouldn’t?
Or were you just solely focused on being a SEAL? And then thinking, “oh, I’m gonna turn to that when I’m done here.”
Jack: Right. No, I was solely focused on the task at hand. Solely focused on being the best SEAL I could be. The best leader I could be. Because that’s what I thought I owed the guys under my command. It’s what I owed their families. The country. The mission. So it was solely focused on that.
But also at a very early age, with my mom being a librarian we grew up surrounded by books. And it was very natural for me to gravitate towards books that had protagonists and that had a military background, or they were in the military. Because that’s what I wanted to do later in life, so, those are the books I read. So the early Tom Clancy’s, Nelson DeMille, David Morell, a guy named JC Pollock in the ’80s. AJ Quinnell. So all these guys in the ’80s that wrote about people that had these military backgrounds. And usually it was from Vietnam. Usually was some sort of a special operations background in Vietnam. Usually Special Forces.
So I read that stuff and I knew that one day that’s what I was gonna write. But while I was in the military, I didn’t spend any time – other than knowing that was going to be my next step – I didn’t spend any time writing or practicing writing or writing down ideas or anything like that. It was solely focused on the task at hand.
And it seems that now – and I didn’t think about it like this until very recently – but my whole life has been essentially training to write this novel. To write “The Terminal List” and the ones that follow. Because essentially grew up mentored by those authors that I just mentioned. David Morell – of course he created the character Rambo back in 1972 with “First Blood.” wrote a great series in the ’80s that started with the “Brotherhood of the Rose” and that was the first fictional novel where I noticed that seals were mentioned. And they weren’t the protagonists of the story, but they were mentioned in there. And they were mentioned in the context of being exactly what my research had indicated – some of the best special operators in the world.
So I’d essentially been studying writing for my entire life leading up to the SEAL Teams, because I was reading all this stuff. And then once in the teams, my academic focus in the teams was on insurgencies, counterinsurgencies, terrorism. After September 11th it was where we were going, who we were fighting, lessons learned from people that had been there before us. And then the experience of going downrange in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So all that stuff combined to give me a lot of material to work with for my first novel. And the reason I think it resonated with Simon and Schuster when I sent it in, is because it is 100% a work of fiction. But the emotions that the protagonist feels are things that I felt downrange so, the emotions are real. And it really ended up being a much more therapeutic process than I initially envisioned going in. Because I tapped into all those real world experiences for the emotions and that really rings true and that’s why I think it’s done so, well.
Mark: Right. So your protagonist is the lieutenant commander James Reese… Is that you? Or is that a…
Jack: It is not me. It’s not me. He is much more skilled, witty than I could ever possibly be. But he’s a prior enlisted SEAL sniper that becomes an officer and he’s at that stage in his time in the military where it’s time to move on and take care of his family. So that’s where we meet the protagonist in the beginning of the story. And he’s gonna get out and move on and take care of them. And that’s when disaster strikes, of course. And what I really wanted to do is write a novel… Well, I wrote six or seven ideas down when I was figuring out which one to go with. And I naturally gravitated towards books and movies that had that theme of revenge growing up. Where there’s something just visceral about it. It’s in our DNA to gravitate towards those stories.
So I picked the one that I thought would be the most apt to get published and would be the most visceral and hard-hitting out of the gate. So it’s a story of revenge and I didn’t want it to be that kind of the trite “has nothing left to lose,” because you always have something left to lose. Which is why I went back to the samurai Bushido code and I researched that – I researched it before – but they would go into battle thinking they were already dead. And they thought that made them more effective and efficient warriors. So I thought, “How do you bring that mindset into a modern-day warrior?”
And that’s where a conspiracy of testing of drugs on our nation’s most elite soldiers is brought into the story. There’s some side effects that need to be quashed. And then off we go to the races with our protagonist essentially becoming the insurgent that he’d been fighting for the last 16 years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mark: One man’s insurgent is another man’s freedom fighter right?
Jack: There you go. And in this case he takes the things that worked against us downrange – so, it worked against us so, well, that insurgent terrorist use – and he brings those tactics to home soil as he works his way up a list to kill everybody that essentially wronged him, his family, and his team.
Mark: Amazing. How do you – I mean you just alluded to the creative process and writing six ideas and kind of like visualizing which would have the most… Land the best. Especially with your first book and get published. What is your creative process? How would you describe that? How do you unlock your creative genius?
Jack: Yeah, so, now those six or seven ideas that I wrote down, now all those are morphing into the next books in one way, shape or form. So the second novel called “True Believer” which – it was supposed to come out in April, but we had to push it to July last week because the Department of Defense has had it over six months now for their 30-day review process. So even though it’s fiction if you read the regulation conservatively it reads that hey you should probably should submit to the Department of Defense office of pre-publication and review. And the first novel they got it back in 45 days, which I thought was pretty good for a big bureaucracy. Just 15 days late.
And they took out six or seven sentences. And it was interesting what they took out, because some of it you can find on their own website. But that’s the government…
Mark: (laughing) it’s like if you use “ST-six” they’ll take it out…
Jack: I didn’t use that. I knew that one would get blacked out. But they did take a few things out. And I left them blacked out in the novel because I didn’t know well if you write around this you need to submit again and have to wait another couple months, or how does that work? So I just left them blacked out.
Mark: You just left them blacked-out which gives it a little authenticity.
Jack: Exactly. Exactly. People seem to like that, so, my plan is to do that with the second novel. But also to appeal it. The first one I didn’t appeal, but the next one I’ll appeal and if we win on appeal any of them then with the paperback edition – then I will un-redact those for the paperback edition.
But yeah, right now we had a push to July, because it’s sitting on somebody’s desk in the deep recesses of the Pentagon. Or maybe it’s just so, good that they’re just passing it around the office. Something like that.
Mark: (laughing) “hey, you gotta read this. I think he’s talking about you, Fred.”
Jack: If you read the preface to the novel, you’ll see that bureaucrats don’t fare well in my novels. Which will be a theme.
But as far as process – so, I chose the topic, I chose the theme of revenge. And I wrote on a little yellow sticky I wrote it down on my computer and I just wrote “revenge” on it and I got that idea from Steven Pressfield who wrote “Gates of Fire” and then has a bunch of other books.
Mark: One of my favorite books, by the way.
Jack: Absolutely amazing. Yep, incredible. And he has a bunch of non-fiction books that are really about the creative process. Whether you’re a painter or… “War of Art,” “Turning Pro.” “Do the Work.” great, great books.
And so, from one of those I got the idea from him to just write the theme down so, that yellow sticky that said “revenge” Stayed on my computer the whole time and if a chapter, a paragraph, a sentence didn’t somehow directly or indirectly tie back into that theme then it was out. So I think that really helped when it came to editing. I was very surprised actually that the Simon & Schuster had as few edits as they did. They had a couple here and there. I really thought there’s gonna be a ton and these guys are the experts back there. And they’re gonna just tear this thing apart and make it good.
But really very few. About three questions they had like “would he really say this here? Would this guy really do that here?” and then I just explored those questions and tidied them up a little bit and that was it. So very few edits on this first novel.
But yeah I do did all that write an outline, a synopsis… And then as I wrote I would fill in the outline. So that I could have a visual of what was happening where in the story. And when I got to about the 75% mark I’d say, then I discarded the outline completely and then just started writing without it. Because it became – it wasn’t as efficient to do it once I hit that 75% mark when it was getting that close to the end. So, that was it and that’s how I did it with the second novel as well.
Mark: Nice. And how do you – let’s talk about like I know you live in Park City, a place near and dear to my heart. I love it up there in Utah and I got a place up in Eden. And I don’t share this with many people, but I bought the condo in Eden really as a writing retreat for myself. Because I have to get away from people and it helps to be in a beautiful area. And I was writing there in January and I looked outside and the deer family comes by and just hanging out. Like, literally. I could have thrown a tennis ball at them.
But it would had to go through a window, so, I didn’t do that.
Jack: (laughing) good move.
Mark: So that’s part of my process is to… When I need to do the deep work I have to go like sequester myself in a beautiful serene setting. Without a lot of people around. What’s your thing in terms of when you’re doing the writing part?
Jack: Right, right. So for the first one we were still in Coronado. And you know in Coronado you’re pretty packed in there. There’s UPS people are coming all the time to drop off packages from Amazon. The grass is getting mowed next-door. The weed whacker…
Jack: It’s noisy, yeah. There’s cars going by, planes flying over, phone ringing, kids crying, dog barking the whole… All that. So really the first one was written between about 10:00 at night and 3:00 in the morning, because that was the only time that it was quiet in our home. We had three kids, a dog and it’s just mass chaos at all times.
So the first one, that was where I did most of the work for that first novel. So the second one, we moved to Park City. So after I got out of the military we spent the next year in Coronado just kind of figuring out our next moves. And we were always coming to the mountains every chance we got. So we made that clean break with California. Clean break with the military. And off we went to Park City. So we live here in a beautiful house in the mountains, a great view right now… But it is still mass chaos. And I thought that with the new house, I’d close the doors and talk to the kids and my wife and say “alright, when the door is closed I’m working. I’m an author now. This is my profession. And when the door’s closed, I’m working.”
Yeah, that does not work in our household anyway. It almost invites more chaos. So what I do, I go to the local library and lock-down in the local library and you can rent these rooms there that are essentially like prison cells. And you have – it’s funny, because you only can rent them for two hours if there are people waiting – so, oftentimes I get bumped for some kids working on his high school history project. That’s just how it goes.
But I do love going. And it’s kind of like going to the gym. Like people with home gyms, sometimes they have a hard time actually using that home gym, because it’s so, close to everything else in their life. And you have to go somewhere sometimes for that gym. You gotta go somewhere else where that is your only job while you’re there. Is to train. To work out. With people that are there for the same reasons.
So I kind of think it’s similar in that respect. In that I go to the library and I know that’s my place to lock-down. That’s where I turn off the phone. I turn off everything else all the distractions. Get a cup of coffee downstairs and come on up, sit in that room, and just write mark. That’s really poetic considering your mom was a librarian and you spent so, much time in libraries as a kid.
Jack: Yeah. It was great last week I spoke at the American Library Association conference in Seattle. So kind of things coming full circle and I spoke to them about that journey, about my mom taking me down there to do that research, about the other authors that essentially were my mentors up to this point. And got to really thank them for doing what they do and for turning young people on to a world of reading. And really having an impact on their lives.
Mark: Right. So you spent 20 years in the seals and everything you did prepared you to have a huge success with your first novel. It’s very rare for authors to hit the ball of the park with their first novel. But like you said – you were preparing for it forever, you’re the real deal.
But at the same time, everything about you speaks of constant, never-ending improvement. So what do you do to improve your writing skills? Like what is it that you do to make sure that every time you sit down to write it’s gonna be a little bit better, you’re gonna be a little bit more clear you’re gonna be… Just 1% improvement.
Jack: Yep, so, that’s the goal, of course. With anything we do in life – is to improve, to do better, and to have those around us also benefit from that way of life that mindset. And for them – in this case for our kids and for people that we influence, for our circle of influence, to do it better than we do it.
But specifically to writing I think to be a good writer – a great writer – you have to be a reader. You have to be a voracious reader. You have to be interested in all sorts of things -interested in research. And you have to love it – just like I love the SEAL Teams, I love writing. And I feel like right now I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in the exact place I’m supposed to be doing it. Just like when I was in the teams. So I realize I’m very fortunate in that respect. So I’m a lifelong learner, and that’s something I also try to instill to my guys in the teams is that we’re a learning organization and that’s what we do. The enemy certainly is, and they’re learning from us. They’re adapting to us. And if they do it faster than we do it then we’re in trouble. Then they win. So we have got to keep learning, we’ve got to keep adapting, and we’ve got to do it faster than the enemy.
So nowadays I’m doing trying to do that same thing on the written page. So instead of solving problems downrange and adapting downrange, I’m doing it on the written page where the stakes are obviously not nearly as high, but I’m also trying to improve. I want to improve in the craft of writing I just don’t want to manufacture books. I want to create. So that’s really what it’s all about – is creating this experience for a reader where you take them on a journey and hopefully maybe teach them a little something on the way. Or maybe if you’re not teaching them something, give them a glimpse into how you either view the world or how you deal with a specific problem set. As in books like this, like the political thrillers that I’m writing now.
So it’s always about improving and doing it better the next time around.
Mark: Yeah. Hooyah. That’s awesome. Well we got a wrap here. This has been fascinating. It’s been a blast talking to you teammate and author – I’m both but I don’t know how to write a thriller like you do. So I’ll keep doing what I do and I’m glad you’re doing what you do. I can’t wait to read “The Terminal List” which is your first book which is a huge success – Simon & Shuster – that’s available obviously anywhere you can find books. And now your next one you said is “True Believer.”
That’s the one that’s kind of stuck a little bit in the bureaucratic and government shutdown and who knows what’s going on with that. But you hope that’s gonna come out this summer right?
Jack: Yeah, so, we just pushed it from April 2nd to July 30th and hopefully… That gives them over a year to do their review. And interestingly enough, there’s about four or five military specific chapters. So really all they need to do is flip to those chapters, read those chapters, take out what they’re uncomfortable with and send it back. So they’ve managed to stretch that couple hour process into over six months at this point. But hey, once again gotta keep things in their proper perspective. It’s not a big deal.
Mark: Right. A lot more people are writing these days and probably there’s a lot of junk too. And so, they might be just getting a lot more submissions than they ever did in the last few years – because of all the self-publishing industry and whatnot.
Jack: Yeah. Could be.
Mark: Could just be overwhelmed and understaffed.
Jack: This is probably true. So I think that that regulation is gonna need some sort of tweaking if that’s gonna continue to be in the case. Like maybe just send in the military chapters and not send the ones that quite obviously mention nothing military. Or something along those lines to help streamline the process.
And maybe assign it to someone who loves reading. And just loves this sort of thing. Find that person in the building that would love a job like this.
So there’s a few things… Once again got to adapt to changing circumstances like we just talked about.
Mark: Right. Awesome. Well congrats. Great to talk to you. I look forward to connecting in person. I’ll come by and see you in Park City on my way to Eden.
Jack: Please do.
Mark: Next time I’m heading out there.
Jack: Come in for a workout. These guys I work out with are animals. And you know them… We talked about them before the podcast here, and, yeah, they are complete animals so, they’re great, great guys. So come on by we’re gonna get a workout in before you head up to the mountain.
Mark: Hooyah. That sounds awesome. Well thanks again and folks can find you – obviously you have a social media at your name and everything Jack Carr…?
Jack: I do jackcarrusa is the social media, and I do that I do the Instagram and the Twitter – Facebook was too much. So we do post things to there – but I don’t engage. So the two that I engage on are Instagram and Twitter. And then online at officialjackcarr.com. And that’s if people are interested in more detail on the gear in the books… Which are little things that I used downrange in real life. There are blog postings and things about that. Some behind the scenes on that website. So officialjackcarr.com
Mark: Is there an unofficial Jack Carr?
Jack: (laughing) I should check that. There may be now.
Mark: (laughing) maybe there’s more than one Jack Carr. That’s why you have to do that right?
Jack: There is. There’s an insurance guy somewhere in the Midwest, so, I had to do something…
Mark: Alright, Jack: Thanks again and stay focused and I look forward to your success. Jack: Thanks so, much. Thanks for having me on. Take care.
Mark: You bet. Hooyah.
And practice writing. I think a couple things… Reading and writing are two of the most powerful ways to grow and develop your mind. And so, if you could… Even if it’s just journaling your thoughts in the morning just learn to write for a few minutes to 10 minutes every day and then try to read. Ideally we’d try to consume a book a week. I’m working on trying to get to a book a day. It’s taking me some time. I got to clear my plate a little bit, but a book a day is my ultimate goal. Because reading is how we expand our universe and learn from others and really grow our world and change perspectives.
So it’s all part of becoming unbeatable. You guys are doing it so, stay focused. Feed the courage wolf. And I’ll see you next time.