Navy SEAL Kevin Lacz of ‘American Sniper’ fame speaks at Chattanooga Scouting luncheon

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / Kevin Lacz speaks during an interview on August 30, 2022 at the Chattanooga Convention Center. Lacz, decorated former US Navy SEAL and author of "The Last Punisher," attended the 18th Annual Friends of Scouting Luncheon as a keynote speaker.

Former U.S. Navy SEAL Kevin "Dauber" Lacz found his way to military service after the 9/11 terrorist attacks while he was a struggling student pursuing a medical degree at James Madison University.

Lacz's short, early career as a student was something of a flop, but after the World Trade Center attacks Sept. 11, 2001, Lacz would take a step into a military recruiter's office, and his course into history was underway.

By the time he left military service, Lacz had two tours of duty under his belt, including a 2006 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq, with Charlie Platoon, Task Unit "Bruiser," where his performance as a platoon sniper and medic contributed to his unit becoming the most highly decorated special operations unit of the Iraq War.

Lacz, in addition to serving as technical adviser, played himself in the 2014 movie, "American Sniper," which focused on the action of Lacz's unit and fellow SEAL Chris Kyle when they engaged the enemy in Ramadi, Iraq.

(READ MORE: 'We're under attack': Chattanoogan, Navy news head at Pentagon on 9/11)

Connecticut native Lacz, 40, spoke Tuesday to local Boy Scouts and supporters at the 18th Annual Friends of Scouting Luncheon at the Chattanooga Convention Center. The event is an annual fundraiser for the Cherokee Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Lacz said he wanted to tell the group a war story from scouting. He said his starts like any good war story does.

"No lie, there I was knee-deep in grenade pins surrounded by the enemy," he said to a chorus of laughter from more than 300 in attendance.

Except Lacz's war story for the day was from his early life and scouting and how it would play in his son's scouting.

He was about 12 years old, he said, and his scouting challenge was the mile swim.

"No lie, there I was doing the mile swim," he said. "If you're a Scout, orienteering, first-aid, mile swim, wilderness survival -- those are the big ones, those are the ones I stand by. I completed the mile swim, and I always held that as one of my greatest accomplishments."

Last year, Lacz's son was preparing to take on the next set of Scouting challenges, and at the Navy SEAL's behest, he decided to do the mile swim, just like Dad, he said.

After consecutive days of longer swims building up to the mile, Lacz said his son on the mile swim day wasn't inspired.

"That Friday morning, my son wakes up and I get up and I walked over to his rack and I said, 'Hey, G-man. Grady. Get up,' and he said, 'Dad, I just want to go back to sleep. I want to rest.' And I said, 'Well, you worked really hard to get to this point. You're going to wake up in about 30 minutes to go to chow, and you're going to regret all the hard work you put in.

'"You might want to think about that.'"

A short time later, his son found his resolve and was ready to take on the mile-long task, successfully completing it. The lesson took, Lacz said.

Lacz had to learn some of his own lessons the hard way, and he found his military home by chance.

Before the military, Lacz wanted to become a doctor, and he headed to James Madison University in Virginia, where he was uninspired and didn't succeed.

"I failed exceptionally well," he said.

After a lackluster first year, Lacz was taking on a second year, still a freshman, he said. He even attended classes that time, but he wasn't inspired.

Then his life took a dramatic change course in the bleary fall of 2001.

"I woke up kind of frog-eyed on Sept. 11, 2001, very much like the rest of you professionals in the crowd," he said. "I remember walking over and stumbling to the computer, and I hit the desk and the mouse moved, and I saw on the AOL Ticker: 'Trade Center's been hit.'"

Lacz initially thought the reference related to the stock market.

"I was very naive. I had no idea what was going on," he said. "My cellphone rang, and I picked it up, and it was my mom."

She told him to turn on the news, but Lacz said his TV money had gone for alcohol, so he had to go to a neighbor's place.

She told him to pray for a family friend who had called and spoken with his family but had gone back into the ill-fated towers and hadn't re-emerged -- he never would.

Lacz said when he attended the funeral, he was unsatisfied with college and was questioning his future.

He decided to go to the recruiting office in Middletown, Connecticut, where he could sign up with the U.S. Marines.

But the recruiter was gone to lunch. The door was closed.

"So I walked next door and found the Navy office," he said. "I really felt like I was home. I walk into the office, and I see a SEAL poster."

The poster was of a group of SEALs climbing out of the water "with handlebar mustaches and grenades and machine guns," and he was hooked.

"That's what I want to do, right there," he said that day. So Lacz was headed for boot camp and off on a road to Iraq and fame.

Scouting prepared Lacz to meet the challenges he faced in SEAL training, he said.

"It's the mental components. It's being able to be comfortable with the uncomfortable," he said. "Scouting is unique because what it does, it allows Scouts to fail in a safe environment," he said.

Learning from failures in a safe environment serves Scouts well after they have met the challenge, he said.

Upon completing his SEAL training, Lacz became a combat paramedic, honing his skills along the way to become irreplaceable by being able to "own your space," as he'd learned from being a Scout.

Lacz said Scouting teaches youth what it means to have the responsibility of representing others. A SEAL represents the Navy in the past, present and future in words and actions -- likewise, a Scout represents the Boy Scouts of America and other Scouts, he said.

"You represent your team," he said.

Kyle Croft, executive board member of Cherokee Area Council and cubmaster of Pack 3177 in Ringgold, Georgia, said Lacz was another home run for Chattanooga region Scouts.

The 2019 luncheon speaker was Capt. Richard Phillips, who was captain of the MV Maersk Alabama in the spring of 2009 when four Somali pirates in an open skiff in the Indian Ocean pursued and boarded the cargo ship he was sailing, beginning a five-day ordeal that would become the subject of Phillips' own book, "A Captain's Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALs and Dangerous Days at Sea," and the basis for the 2013 film "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks.

Last year, Col. Mark W. Tillman, who piloted Air Force One with former President George W. Bush aboard throughout the day on Sept. 11, 2001, was the keynote speaker 20 years after the attacks that day on America.

Croft said the luncheon's top-notch run the past few years is thanks to the local council's supporters and the proceeds from donations fund operations.

"Luckily we got Kevin Lacz to come today," he said.

Croft said he found Lacz's books intriguing and likes the first-person take on events.

"He really drills down into a few of their missions and takes you moment by moment in those missions," Croft said.

Lacz is also an excellent example of leadership traits that are important in both the military and Scouting, Croft said.

"He epitomizes the American Way. We are all about God, family and country in Scouting, and I think this is one way these two correlate so well," Croft said.

Contact Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.