I got SEAL of God by Chad Williams and David Thomas a few years ago when it came up on a Kindle app sale without really knowing much about it.
It’s the story of Chad Williams, who, as he was growing up, was talented athletically, played baseball, went on to skateboarding (even making commercials and receiving sponsorships), and then made a lot of money sport fishing, but his interest in each fizzled out after a time. He didn’t do well at school, not because he couldn’t, but because he didn’t like academic work. He was from a Christian home, but was not a believer (beyond the occasional prayer for help out of a jam) and got into drinking, doing drugs, and partying. He liked taking risks, pulling pranks, and doing crazy, senseless (to anyone else) stunts just for the thrill. But at a point in his freshman year of college when the thrill of everything else was gone, and desiring to do “something big,” he decided he wanted to be a Navy SEAL.
His parents were dismayed, not only because of the danger, but because nothing in his life indicated that being a SEAL would work out for him. But he was determined. They had numerous discussions and confrontations that ended in stalemates until his father hit on the idea to ask a former navy SEAL to put him through the toughest workout he could. But that backfired – the SEAL, Scott Helvenston, saw something in Chad and took him on to train him for SEAL tryouts. They developed a close friendship through their time together, and Chad looked on Scott as a mentor.
Before Chad left for the Navy, Scott accepted a contract with a security firm that aided the military to go to Iraq. Only nineteen days before leaving for boot camp, Chad learned that Scott had been one of four Americans killed when Iraqis ambushed their vehicle, beat them, dragged them through the streets, and then hung them upside down from a bridge. Chad was crushed, but his sorrow turned to rage and a desire for revenge.
A good chunk of the book tells of the SEAL training, beyond rigorous both physically and mentally.
Chad continued his drinking, partying, and drug use when he was away from the base. On one trip home, he placated his parents during an argument by agreeing to go to church with them and planning to go to a party afterward. He warned his girlfriend what the service would be like and cautioned her not to raise her hand during the service if the preacher asked if anyone wanted to get right with God because it was a trick – they would then ask anyone who raised their hands to come forward and go to a room and talk with someone. But as Chad listened to the message, something finally clicked. He ended up raising his hand, going forward, and trusting Christ as Savior.
Fairly soon afterward, he had a desire to be an evangelist. He tried to see if there was a way to leave the SEALs early, both because of this desire and because his becoming a Christian and not going with the guys to drink any more put a wedge between them: they thought he was diluting their camaraderie and even physically attacked him. He ended up having to stay but was transferred to another unit. He eventually was “one of only thirteen out of a class of 173 to make it through to graduation.”
The rest of the book tells of some of his missions, his first forays into ministry, and how God led in both his ministry and his personal life.
One aspect that surprised and greatly interested me was that this story touched on two other books I had read. In the Presence of My Enemies by Gracia Burnham tells of her and her husband’s experience being captured by the militant group Abu Sayyaf, and a couple of years after that, Chad’s SEAL group along with some Green Berets helped “lay the groundwork” to overcome them. Also his group almost was part of the SEAL group that rescued Captain Richard Phillips, whose ship was commandeered by Somali pirates.
There is a lot of good spiritual truth in this book, but one that stood out to me was his description of how, during his SEAL training, his instructors would push them to the brink of quitting – not because they wanted anyone to quit, but because they wanted the trainees to be able to resist that temptation when they were in adverse conditions on the field. Instructors would either berate them or tempt them with the nice warm bed and food that would be awaiting them if they quit. Whenever someone wanted to quit during what was called their BUD/S course (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL) and Hell Week, they’d have to go ring a bell specifically designed for the purpose. One particularly hard night, “the bell kept ringing at the hands of guys who were walking out on their dream for just a little bit of comfort.” I can identify with that. I would not have lasted a day in SEAL training, but in other areas of life, it’s so tempting to go the easy route when God’s help is available for whatever He wants us to do.
I enjoyed the book, especially seeing how God radically changed Chad. There are people for whom I am praying for just such a radical change, and seeing it in Chad’s life when there was no previous inclination bolsters my hope for others.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)