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Combat Story

Jan 23, 2021

Thom Shea is a retired Navy SEAL, sniper, and Senior Chief who served with and led SEALs in multiple combat tours from Kosovo to Iraq to Afghanistan, including brutal fighting in Helmand Province for which he was awarded the Silver Star.   

During this fighting, not only was he leading other SEALs through some of the most challenging combat engagements of our time, but he also had a fascinating sniper on sniper engagement in which he went up against a very accurate and capable foreign fighter sniper.  After Afghanistan, Thom oversaw the famed SEAL Sniper course. 

Since leaving the SEALs, Thom and his wife Stacy conduct intensive leadership events for fortune 500 companies. He has written two books, including an incredible memoir (Unbreakable) that gives a firsthand account of the life of a SEAL in combat.   

His books and this interview are chalked full of lessons for leaders and soldiers alike. If you enjoyed Todd Opalski’s interview, you’re going to love Thom’s story and way of life.

Unbreakable Book & Leadership

Show Notes: 

2:16 - Starting out. Unbreakable.
3:40 - Growing up hunting, trapping, and outside in one of the ‘best times to be a kid in America’ making $6K at 9 years old.
9:09 - Training SEAL Snipers. Half arrived never having touched a gun, which is good for shooting.
11:41 - Thom comes from a “horrifically military” family drawing a veteran lineage through to the beginnings of America.
14:33 - How to deal with failing out of West Point and following a dream to become a SEAL rather than following someone else’s path.
18:15 - Perseverance in fighting to become a SEAL and failing BUDS four times.
23:45 - “Oh, you failed again,” from family after failing out of BUDS.
28:42 - If you ever failed in what you believe is your dream or been told no and need some inspiration to keep going, listen to this. After having failed out four times from BUDS, Thom would sit in the Admiral’s office for his lunch break for TWO years to request authorization to return. He eventually completed Class 207.
32:20 - What is the “Internal Dialogue” and why is it important? When you do difficult things, it’s not about how hard the thing is, but how you beat yourself down in the process.
38:32 - First experience in combat is the beginning of the air war in Kosovo doing a rescue as an E-5 SEAL Team 2 Sniper to rescue Chris Hill, the U.S. Ambassador in Macedonia. Described as a ‘comical series of the dumbest things that could possibly happen.’
42:18 - First time seeing the ‘atrocities of war.’
45:07 - What does it mean to be a “breacher” on a SEAL team?
47:08 - First trigger pull and kill in combat was described rather ‘insignificant’ and felt like training.
51:07 - Thom’s most difficult deployment was in 2009 when he was an E-7 Chief.
1:02:27 - Six MH-47s dropped 200 Special Operations and Special Forces into a single battle in Afghanistan.
1:09:57 - In the last moments that you live, you realize needing and being needed by others when you have nothing left.
1:12:36 - The A-10 is ‘the greatest combat machine in the history of combat machines.’
1:14:20 - How leadership can help operators after having lived through hell and killing 200+ Taliban.
1:31:50 - Sniper-on-Sniper engagement.
1:44:01 - Was there something you carried into combat that meant something to you?
1:44:41 - Would you do it all again?