Students, teachers, administrators, and Tifton citizens packed Bowen’s large lecture hall to the brim on morning of Nov. 6 to listen to the former commander of Navy SEAL Team 6 Coleman Ruiz speak. Then they packed the same hall again that afternoon, with every desk filled early. Even the college president had to sit on the floor.
Ruiz was a SEAL for 13 years, and also teamed up with Stafford School of Business Dean Dill Driscoll two years ago for a project called “Carry the Load,” a veteran awareness march from New York to Dallas, Texas.
Ruiz, a sinewy, clean-cut man, had the overcrowded room in a hush as his presence commanded complete attention. He told stories of his rise to becoming the SEAL he was then, and still is today.
One of his most impressive stories was about the SEALs’ version of “hell week,” where candidates were pushed to their physical and mental limits, and only slept for four hours during the entire week. During the “sea conditioning” part of the training, prospective SEALs would link arms together and walk waist-deep into the brisk, ocean waters on the California coast. Then they would sit down, barely able to keep their heads above the surface, and hold tight while the waves tumbled the entire team up to shore. Then they’d link up and do it again and again, hour after hour.
He said while a couple hundred candidates qualified and were present at the beginning of the SEAL training, only a handful completed the entire training and were awarded the position of being SEALs. He believes that the difference between those who gave up and those who stuck through was mental preparedness. He stressed the fact that someone can be the most physically conditioned person on the planet, but they can still give up and never reach their goal.
Ruiz told another story about when he was a commander and a close comrade was killed by an IED during a mission. He had to decide — and could make the decision without arguing with his superior — whether the team needed a day to emotionally recover from the death.
He asked his team what they wanted to do, and they all agreed to keep going and not take a day. He said how important it was to him to work and agree with his team, even as their commander.
The crowd asked questions at the end about leadership and other subjects. One person asked whether Ruiz was involved with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, to which he chuckled and said, “I wish!”
Another question asked about his spiritual life, to which he responded, “No one is an atheist in a foxhole.” Asked what are key qualities to being a leader, Ruiz said he believes a true leader is open to all of his partners and comrades about issues and problems at hand, and that a team cannot truly perform teamwork when secrets are held against each other.
The Stallion also asked a few questions during an interview with Ruiz. We asked who he looked up to when it came to leadership. He replied that he looked up to a “friend of his,” whose name is not allowed to be released, who always as a commanding officer put his team before himself, and could balance his decisions on authority.
He also said that when it comes to sports teams, at first glance they should seem “uniformed, respectful, and diligent.” He said a big question when it comes to sport teams is “Do they trust each other?”
Finally, we we asked what he believed is the number one quality a leader should have. In keeping with his humble character, he replied, “Be a follower first.”