What led you to join the Navy and become a Seal?
My brothers and I grew up in a military family. My dad was a Green Beret Officer. That was big in our lives-we grew up looking at our Dad as a role model. He was this tall, good looking, in shape stud, and we were surrounded by all of his Green Beret friends and chain of command. After that, he was a police officer for twenty-three years in Fort Lauderdale where we continued to have a strong military type influence.
I remember being in college and all I wanted to do was get in the military. I actually wanted to be a Ranger first, and my Dad talked me out of that. My older brother Mike, ended up joining the Navy after college; in a way I followed both my dad and brother, but for the most part it was my dad’s influence in special operations.
Mike, Myself, and Ryan all joined the Navy. My youngest step brother Michael wasn’t as military minded, but he’s really smart. He went to college, got his masters and now he works for the FDA as a biomechanical engineer. I think we all were driven to do some interesting things because of what my dad had done. We were all athletes, we always wanted to push ourselves both physically and mentally. Ryan was about four and a half years younger than me. He saw me joining up and we started talking a lot about it while he was in high school. I think it was a no-brainer for all of us.
Were you already a SEAL by the time Ryan joined the Navy? Was it an interesting dynamic being brothers in the SEAL Teams?
I joined in 95’, and Ryan joined in 98’, so he came in about three years after me. He made rank fast; by the time I got out and he was still going, we were both E-6s. He was at Seal Team One and I was at Seal Team Three.
When he graduated BUD/S they announced his name and said he was going to Seal Team Three, my team, I was pumped, but because of the Sole Survivors Policy (law enacted after all five Sullivan brothers were killed aboard the USS Juneau in the Battle of Guadalcanal, ending their bloodline) they didn’t want to put us at the same team just in case.
Eventually we realized it didn’t really matter because we had other brothers and it only applies if you’re the only living heirs. As I was getting out of the Navy I tried to get orders to Team 1, but, it didn’t work out. The dynamic was good though- we were great friends and roommates in San Diego. Our paths crossed a few times for work and we were able to work together for a few weeks in Iraq when my team relieved his in Baghdad. Those were some great times.
What prompted Ryan to serve for eighteen years?
I was in for ten years (6 years in the Teams) and was able to get two combat deployments under my belt; to help put it in perspective, Ryan served eighteen years and did twelve combat tours in that time. His service was exceptional, but, it’s also turned out to be close to the norm for these JSOC/SOCOM career guys, who, if you look at the news, are doing most of the heavy lifting. 2016 saw our country take more SOF casualties than conventional forces, which is a first for our country. Ryan and his teammates were brothers. They take responsibility for each other as brothers do. I don’t think Ryan could imagine doing anything else while he knew his brothers were still in the fight. And, he really loved his job with every ounce of his being.
This has been a long war. Ryan and the few other men out there like him sacrifice everything in their dedication to our country. It’s much different than any other war in our history. The men fighting this war don’t go and serve their time, then get on with life, they dedicate their entire lives to fighting this war. The commitment they give needs to be respected.
How do you even physically sustain yourself for that period of time?
Guys need to pace themselves. Ryan dealt with several injuries, and I did too. Although it sounds self-complementary, you really are a professional athlete in a lot of ways. You count on your body for your work, and you’re expected to perform at a high level. Especially as you get older, guys have to work smarter, which is hard when there are high performance standards in a highly competitive group. Outside of combat wounds, overuse injuries take their toll, where you’re just training hard and you don’t stop because you’re competing with the guys.
When you go to work overseas you have the possibility of getting shot or injured in combat. Outside of that, there’s a lot of wear and tear for sure. But, the Seal Teams have gotten better and better with medical, therapy, gyms and supporting their men.
Does it bother you when politicians spin Ryan’s story to ignore his heroism & Instead focus on their own political gain?
Wow. That’s the question. That is the number one motivation behind me doing anything, talking about Ryan, even doing this interview. You have this man, my brother, that did twelve combat tours for you, for me, for himself, and for every American, he deserves a hell of a lot more respect than the media and politicians have given him. There must have been a hundred reporters asking, and I didn’t have any desire to give a statement or do an interview like this. But, then you see their final product and it sucks! They already have a political spin on what they want to write, and it’s really frustrating to read. You have someone who you love, and you know their greatness, and all the things they’ve accomplished in their lives, and then you have a reporter cheapen it, try to marginalize Ryan’s life to fit their narrative. It makes me sick.
You saw the “Trump’s Failed Mission” headlines. I can assure you from knowing guys on the inside that his mission was a success, obviously had some problems- my brother died, men were wounded, and an Osprey crashed. But at the end of the day the mission was valid, they got intel off the target, and they killed a lot of bad guys.
For those who didn’t have the honor & privilege of knowing Ryan personally, what is one thing you would want people to know about him?
Outside of being an extremely competent, accomplished warrior with hundreds of successful missions under his belt, he was a great human being, dad, husband, uncle, brother and son. He was the gem of everyone’s life. He was beautiful. He was a humble and hilarious man, and obviously a warrior at the same time. Just being around him was so much fun. He was larger than life. He lived his life like every second mattered because he knew it did.
What is the Naked Warrior Project?
The Naked Warrior Project is a non-profit, 501(c)(3), that we started to memorialize Ryan and men like him. I’d do anything for Ryan. Now that he’s passed that doesn’t change. He was such a great man and he gave so much, an example our country can still learn from. Somebody should be there to ensure the legacy of our warriors, that’s what we’re trying to do. We did a race and a dinner to help raise money to build a memorial in his honor in south Florida last year and it was very successful. The race was sold out, and it was really because people started to get to know Ryan.
When is the run? If they can’t attend the event physically, can they support in another way?
This year’s race will be held on November 10th. There will also be an auction dinner again that evening. If they can’t attend, there are many options like the virtual race. Everyone can go to http://www.nakedwarriorproject.org and check out all the options to include signing up for the race, dinner, volunteer, donate or sponsor an event. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram. There’s people that often message and I personally try to respond to as many as I can. The outpouring of support has been amazing and I hope we can build off of what we did last year.