Read by Brian Troxell
By Thom Shea
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Before leaving for combat in Afghanistan, Navy SEAL Thom Shea promised his wife that he would write to his children in case he didn’t make it back. What was initially intended to be a private memoir for his family turned into a powerful set of lessons for anyone striving to perform beyond what they believe possible.
Shea’s stories, while action-packed and entertaining, provide incredible insights on leadership, family, and excellence. In Unbreakable, Shea teaches readers how to achieve and maintain a strong internal dialogue through no matter what the task. Read this book and transform your life.
This book has been authorized through the U.S. Department of the Navy to ensure both top secret and secret information has been addressed and concealed. I intentionally changed the names of characters and many locations in order to honor the intimacy of the people involved, as well as the secret nature of the locations and operations. During the writing and the editing process certain events were reordered and compressed.
IN EACH WORD of this book, I have been tasked with telling my story, so if I should die in combat, my children will get a sense of their father.
Actually, my wife, Stacy, pleaded with me for two years to put to words who I am and how I am. Therefore this project is not simply a day-to-day recounting of all I’ve done but rather a retelling of what I faced and what I learned, to teach my children (and anyone interested) how to be men and women who live to the fullest possibilities they create for themselves. I often address my words to them, and you will hear from my wife and my mentors, but this book applies to everyone who starts on page one.
Simply put, being Unbreakable is creating and finding a language in yourself that will give you access to your own possibilities. But above all else, this project is a way to make up for being gone 220 days per year for twenty-three years as a Navy SEAL.
This book contains no hidden secrets. It is a painstaking study of my experiences in striving for excellence, which I share with you. I have learned what traits and habits are effective and efficient in pursuit of personal transformation to perform above and beyond what humans think possible.
My children, when you are ready to read Unbreakable and put it to use, you will recognize a pattern in each part of the book. I wish I could tell you how to know when you are ready to read these words; however, that would truly deny you the benefit you receive by making the discovery in your own way.
When you get discouraged, when you have difficulty overcoming the obstacles draining your soul, when you try and fail, or when you feel reduced by injuries, use this book as a light to guide you. A strange thing will happen when you acquire and apply the lessons shared in this text: you will be propelled to unfathomable success.
We cannot achieve success without first enduring countless hours of practice. While reading Unbreakable, you’ll learn about something I call “Internal Dialogue.” Effective use of Internal Dialogue is a skill common to all successful people, whether they know it or not. In fact, the practice of Internal Dialogue is the single most important factor in bridging your genetic gifts, your passions, and your dreams. Reading and rereading this book will show you how to consciously use Internal Dialogue to your advantage—even if I do not return.
It’s important to remember that only those who are actively pursuing their passions can make the best use of their Internal Dialogue. In other words, you must have something you are wildly committed to being or doing with your life. The gift of mastering your Internal Dialogue is one you earn through your own commitment. It cannot be given away for free, nor can it be bought. The most dangerous or useless gift is one bought or given without being earned.
Using your Internal Dialogue to create an unbreakable condition within you will serve each of you equally well—when you are ready. Trust me on this—luck has nothing to do with it.
Who am I to say that in reading this book you will know, grasp solidly, the use of Internal Dialogue? I have spent twenty-five years living and researching what it takes to overcome any obstacle to success. I have survived countless overwhelming combat engagements and failures that tested and validated the use of my own Internal Dialogue to live an Unbreakable Life. I have personally taught 330 basic SEAL students, and 112 SEAL sniper students, testing the use of an unbreakable Internal Dialogue to perform beyond what I thought possible.
I have never known a single person who used Internal Dialogue and did not achieve remarkable success. I have never known anyone to distinguish himself or herself, or to survive overwhelming battles, without possessing an unbreakable Internal Dialogue. For these reasons, I conclude that the experience and education gained by using an unbreakable Internal Dialogue are more important, as a part of the human project to create a better life, than anything one learns through the standard educational system.
As you read, your own unbreakable Internal Dialogue will jump from the pages and stand boldly in front of you. When you are ready to use it, you will see it. When your Internal Dialogue pops out, I want you to stop and drink a Guinness for me, because it will signify the most important turning point in your life.
Take note: I will be sharing my life with you—the facts, the failures, the “me,” so to speak. Through my eyes and experiences, I hope to convey who to be and how to be.
Finally, I offer two suggestions: don’t fear the need to achieve anything, and never give up…never.
All great accomplishments, all earned awards, start with an Internal Dialogue that needs to be fulfilled…needs to be needed.
By Stacy Shea
SHORTLY AFTER WE were married in 2005, Thom checked into SEAL Team Seven. Being a new member of the SEAL community, I was unsure what to expect. Everyone knows the danger involved in his line of work.
I felt strongly he should put to paper the lessons he would want shared with our kids if he didn’t survive the war. I’m not talking about a farewell letter, which many of our men write to each of their children and their wives before they leave, in case they don’t survive. I’m talking about a guidebook for the rest of their lives if they should have to carry on without the strength and mentoring of a father—their father.
From the time I first met Thom, I saw something in him that was clearly unbreakable and massively appealing. In all my broken relationships of the past, this was the one quality I had longed for, and here it was in front of me. I wanted to preserve this for our children, knowing all too well they faced the possibility of knowing their father only in stories of who he was to me and to the men he worked with in the teams. I needed him to translate for us, especially the kids, all the things he thought were important—all the things that made him the man who made me, and our family, whole.
In April 2009, Thom deployed again with SEAL Team Seven. This time, he went to Afghanistan. He was part of the first element of SEALs sent to fight in Afghanistan since the tragedy of Operation Red Wings in June 2005. For a warrior like Thom, this represented the culmination of a career serving his nation spanning nearly twenty years. For me, as his wife and the mother of his children, it represented an opportunity to find what was unbreakable in our own character.
I asked Thom to chronicle his experiences, his thoughts—the depth of his self—because I wanted what every woman wants for her children: for their father to teach them the lessons only a father can teach. These are the things I wanted to know from my own father—like how to get through the tough times in life without giving up on commitments or blaming other people. I wanted our children to know at their core they have a say in their lives and can create whatever life they want. I wanted them to learn to be strong in the face of the challenges life will inevitably hand them—to be generous in the face of stinginess, and loving in the face of hostility. I wanted them to be tough.
Adamantine (ad·a·man·tahyn): a thing that is not tangible but when it is consumed makes anything Unbreakable.
I AM PREPARING to leave for war. And as I sit in my study, I realize today may be the last day I will see my wife and kids—not to mention the land I love.
Stacy asked me to write down what I am doing and experiencing, for her and for you, our kids, to teach essential life lessons. I know that as I head toward battle I must let go of my life here, yet I want you to be filled forever with the warrior song I am singing. For me, my writing will ensure my wife and children will never be alone. This is my bequest to you.
I want to explain how distant and stressed I am. My stress is different from the kind you and Stacy experience. I have been in so many battles and risked my life so many times that stress, while there, doesn’t control my performance. I do regret the toll it’s taken on my family these last two days as you prepare to watch me board a plane that may take me away forever. Especially for the kids: it is like tearing out part of your soul when your daddy sits next to you that final night around the dinner table, and you try not to cry or even mention your thoughts. I understand.
Looking into your eyes and realizing I might never see you again, or be around when you need me later in life, is the hardest. I try to let you cry, and I try to cry myself, but years of leaving for combat make me distant and often angry. When I am angry, I tend to yell. I think yelling makes leaving easier, but it’s because it inserts a distance. I regret my frequent distance and anger.
Here I am, going to what may be my final battle, to the most dangerous place on earth, knowing I may not see my children again. As my three kids, the last of the Shea clan, read this, I want you to know what happened with your mother and me the night before I left. We lay beside each other, silent. I could not bear the thought of never seeing her again, and she must have known what I was thinking.
As I tried to speak, she reached up and put her hands on my face. The light from the window behind her outlined her long, flowing hair. Our eyes met, and we just looked at each other, not speaking, for ten minutes. Then she said something that will always resonate in my mind:
Thom, I need you to come back to us. Do not fear dying. Fear makes you weak.
Sharing my life with you, my children, is only part of my project. Adamantine—tough and hard, the opposite of fear and weakness—is my true gift to you: the gift of quality thinking, the control of your Internal Dialogue. You will have to search and work for it all your life. I will explain how I discovered and realized the power of being unbreakable. I will teach you how to attain it for yourself.
Reading and understanding this will be tough for you; even harder will be attempting to accomplish many of the things I will ask you to do without me. What Stacy said to me that last night also holds true for each of you kids individually: I need you to never give up. Do not fear dying. Fear makes you weak. I need you to fight through the obstacles that would stop you from becoming the men and woman you are, fearless and strong.
You can control fear if you can control the words in your thoughts. Your Internal Dialogue, what you tell yourselves every conscious moment, is the source of power when properly controlled, but it’s also the source of weakness if you lose control. You will learn this by reading this book.
As you children grow into adulthood, my dream for you, individually, is to be among the few extraordinary people who master their own Internal Dialogue, so you can perform beyond what is thought possible and become reliable partners and family. Internal Dialogue controls everyone’s actions, but only a few people spend the time essential for mastery—maybe one in five, or one in ten, or even fewer. For those who can master Internal Dialogue, the possibilities are limitless.
So I have a request of you, my family, in case I do not return. My request will engage your physical bodies and require you to master your Internal Dialogue, but the task is not simple and will take you to a place so hard to reach that few have gone there. When you arrive, you’ll be in the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen. This place is not just a metaphor. Between two pristine lakes in Ontario, Canada, lies a waterfall. In the center is a naturally formed bathtub where I want you to strip down, get in, and let the water cascade over you; go in the heat of summer. Most importantly, I want you to take my ashes and pour them in the top of Louisa Falls. I will be waiting for you, forever.
I am seated in a C-5 transport aircraft with the men of SEAL Team Seven, Task Unit Trident, Bravo Platoon, on our way to another godforsaken country. Our journey is taking us to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, on to Germany, and finally to hell. Like all things SEAL, everything about the beginning of the trip is managed chaos. C-5s are notorious for delays. We started with a two-day delay in San Diego. To hell with post-traumatic stress; pre-traumatic stress is far worse.
As I look around at my men, my thoughts are exclusively for them. Only three rules matter to me now, ingrained after twenty years of being a SEAL embarking on countless combat missions:
1. Use every asset at my disposal to bring each man back alive.
2. Overwhelm the enemy and win every battle.
3. Support each other so that rules one and two come true.
Each of my men deals with predeployment stress in his own way. Two hours into the first leg of the flight, some are sleeping. Others are talking about what we will see once we hit the ground. I can never sleep on these flights.
The stream of thought before a combat deployment can be overwhelming. Each SEAL’s control over his thinking is what separates us from everyone else I have met. From the first day of training, we learn to be aware of our own thoughts—to see the effect they have on our physical performance and how they affect the performance of others. For us, in the deadliest moments of battle, it is the control of Internal Dialogue that shifts the chaos of combat to the calm of victory.
These men have come a long way since we formed up eighteen months ago. We started out as the “bastard” platoon. Many of the men had suffered through poor leadership on a previous deployment to Iraq. Leaders have such an effect on men, good and bad, and I inherited an angry, bitter, dysfunctional bunch of guys. And still we had been selected along with one other platoon—our sister—out of six others to take the battle to the Taliban.
I trained all but four of the men as an instructor in third phase of Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL (BUD/S) training. One great thing about SEALs is that we all come from the same mold. We recognize something familiar about one another, something unique, creating a unity among us all. I hope you will feel this way about your family, your team, or your business associates. The greatest gift you can receive is oneness, through countless hours of pain and mutual suffering and success, a common sharing of goals and life, and, most important, a common Internal Dialogue pushing out everything except the moment at hand…the now.
My point man and lead sniper, Nike, is the most detail-oriented man I have ever known. He is inexhaustible. He was an Olympic-level rower before becoming a SEAL. Typical of our platoon, he doesn’t deal well with being told what to do. Nor do I, for that matter. The key to Nike is to give him free rein and make sure he feels like he can win—not always easy in the military, and not always doable in combat.
Next to Nike is Mister All Around—breacher, sniper, my lead assaulter. He smiles often and never has a negative thing to say in any situation. No words are necessary here, and I hope someday you have a powerful, positive friend like him, who is always there to help.
Stretched out across from me is KM, our primary assault breacher and primary heavy gunner. He epitomizes everyone’s image of a SEAL: built like a fireplug, fitness personified, works out daily. He smiles no matter the climate or condition, and as long as we don’t drink and shoot guns, he is the man.
My lieutenant, LT, is the only officer I have known whom I admire and see eye to eye with. Paradoxically, after twenty years in the military, I still fight with my leaders daily. When he and I joined up, we both agreed that the primary platoon relationship was between the boss (him) and the chief (me). Since then, we have worked toward giving each other room to do our different jobs while always looking out for each other. As the men saw us work for each other and the platoon, they, too, worked under the same simple vision: we win or lose together and live to fight another day together. Everyone makes mistakes, but we grow stronger together.
Every platoon has its comic relief. Ours wears two hats. He is my secondary communications expert and air controller. I call him Lawyer. After four years of working with him, I cannot recall a single instance where he has failed to make me laugh so hard I had to wipe the tears from my eyes. I have no idea how he keeps the intricate details of communications and controlling birds (attack aircraft) under control, but he has a knack for making good communications (comms) when no one else can. I just wish he would stop giving me broken radios and laughing when I lose my mind trying to make them work. If I hear him ask me again, “Have you turned the radio on yet?” I will take my radio off and make him carry it.
Next to Lawyer sits Jake, the angriest sniper and corpsman in the teams—probably why he works so well for this platoon. I think we are all gifted in the “I-hate-everyone” arena, and Jake is Olympic level. But his stability transcends his anger. I laugh as I write this; I think he actually loves the platoon and hates everyone else, but his attitude works for me.
My heavy weapons expert, Carnie, is amazing. Early on, when I was with SEAL Team Two, I was invited to a civilian sniper course. Two of us showed up, and lo and behold, here was a fifteen-year-old boy. I thought I was a good shot, but this quiet youngster outshot me every time. Years passed before I heard from him again. He called me with a simple request: “I want to be a SEAL. What must I do?” At the time, I was racing professionally on the adventure racing circuit, and my answer to him was simple: “Run with me. If you can do it and like the pain, you will be a good SEAL.”
As fate would have it, he made it through BUD/S and was assigned, with no help from me, to my platoon at SEAL Team Seven. He is the most reliable man in the platoon. I just hope I don’t make a decision that gets him killed. I love this man so much I made him and his wife my children’s godparents.
My leading corpsman (medic) and lead breacher, Ground Launch, headphones on, is watching some extreme parachuting video, dreaming of ground launching off some mountain in hell with a knife between his teeth, I am sure. To Ground Launch, the world is not enough. I think he would shoot a Taliban just to see if he could then keep him alive.
Looking around, I see the youngest man in the platoon, Texas. He is a true short Texan in every sense of the word—happy being angry. I didn’t have time to do enough in training for this man with just one specialty skill: breacher. Texas will have to learn fast if he is to survive.
Lying next to Texas is the most gifted communications and tactical air controller in SEAL Team Seven, Snowman. He has a way of acquiring the best and latest communications gear without spending a dime. I have no idea how he does it. Actually, I need to inspect Snowman’s gear when we get off the plane to see if he has a nuclear detonator tucked away somewhere.
Finally, since we are going to the fight of the century, we seem to have acquired the best dog handler and dog in the teams, as well as the highest-ranking explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) warrant officer expert in the navy. You couldn’t pay me to cut wire or manage a dog in the middle of a gunfight. But I am thankful such hombres want to get some with us.
For some political reason, only half my platoon is authorized to come into hell with us on the first half of the deployment. The number of SEALs in country at the time was dictated to us by some “leader” in D.C., drinking coffee and playing darts, I think. We all wish we had my platoon at full strength. But as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said early in the war on terror, you go to war with the troops and gear you have, and make it work. Nevertheless our sister platoon is at full strength, and thirty SEALs can do serious damage to the enemy
The first leg of the journey is ending. If the history of C-5 travel holds true, once this big beast lands, it will be three days before it takes off again. I love flying in these things, but the landing must surely beat the systems up every time.
We end up with a one-day delay, better than average, but enough for us to have been put up in a military hotel in Dover. We are all eager to get to the fight, but our next move is a day away, and I want to take this time to tell you, my children, more about what I think is important for you to know about my life and about your own. You all have so much to do in your lives. I may not be there to help and show you. So I want to tell you the key things you must learn to lead a full life and be able to face both the good times and the bad.
The first important discovery you must make in accessing, and thus mastering, your Internal Dialogue is to access and understand the core of your physical performance. Since the world in general puts little emphasis on the body and health—only how it looks and feels—physical performance may not seem terribly important for kids. But today’s tendency toward obesity among kids should be a sign that youth are left to satiate themselves, acting on their desires without any understanding of what their own Internal Dialogue is saying. I will go into more detail, but for now I will say that our actions are directed by our own Internal Dialogue, and regardless of what we’re born with, we all can strive for strong physical performance.
I know of no other way to teach you about your body than to tell you about what I have gone through, and show you how you can access your marvelous physical potential. Fathers are supposed to demonstrate and be present to help their kids learn. In light of the situation we face, please take this as the only way left for me to impart to you…me. Me as athlete.
I have been an athlete all my life. From my earliest memories, I couldn’t get enough of being physical. I have always been amazed watching men and women do seemingly impossible things with their bodies. From the age of five until this moment, my thoughts and mind have been filled with dreams of physically doing the impossible. Even now, my thoughts are of running through a hail of bullets while shooting the impossibly long shot to save a trapped or dying teammate.
When I was five, living in Texas, I was the youngest boy on the street. In summertime, the older boys would play street tackle football. I watched them from the safety of my house and begged my father to let me play. He would say, “No way, son. Those boys are too big for you to play—fourteen-year-old boys are too old to play with.” I can still recall saying to myself, “When you leave for work, I am going out to play. I want to show them I can run faster and harder than any of them.”
Of course, he would leave for work, and I would run out and play with the big boys all day long. I hated that so many of them were faster and stronger. I still hate it. When Dad returned from work, I was bruised, and my lip was cut and still bleeding. He was furious I had disobeyed him. True to form, I was punished and grounded from playing street football, but I kept going out anyway. This went on for weeks. Finally, Dad sat me down and said, “Son, why do you disobey me and risk getting hurt?”
I can recall, as if it were yesterday, what I yelled back at him: “Dad, they need me to play with them ’cause I love it, and I am fast and strong like you.”
This desire has followed me my entire life. I couldn’t get enough physical tests throughout high school and college. The need to be physical, to be forever fighting my way through something or back to something, as I am now, is always in me. I know the Internal Dialogue of need to be and need to be needed is inside everyone. In some, it gets killed off for some reason; it gets put in a box and hidden.
In high school, I lettered in track, wrestling, and football. I set school records in the two-hundred-meter dash and the long jump. In college I enjoyed football, track, and judo, though my academic performance lacked, well, everything resembling good grades. I became rooted in the physical.
Now, to the point of Unbreakable
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