If you go
› What: LEAD Chattanooga leadership networking featuring keynote speaker former Navy SEAL Chad Williams.
› When: 7-9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 29.
› Where: The Chattanoogan, 1201 Broad St.
› Tickets: $25, individuals, including admission, breakfast, coffee bar and parking; eight-person tables $175 ($87 for uniformed military, emergency responders)
› Phone: 424-1298
After proving their mettle by surviving an unbelievably rigorous training regimen that defies the efforts of almost everyone who attempts it, it's unsurprising that former Navy SEALs are hot commodities on the motivational speaking circuit.
On Sept. 29, author and former Navy SEAL Chad Williams will serve as the keynote speaker for LEAD Chattanooga, a networking breakfast designed to "encourage and engage leadership in the marketplace with community and church leadership." His speech will discuss his military service and how it affected — and was affected by — his religious awakening.
"That all changed when I grasped the selfless act of sacrifice that Jesus performed at the cross as he died in my place for my sin," Williams writes in an email sent while traveling between speaking engagements. "He was the ultimate soldier, the savior that came on a rescue mission. He saved me from the eternal consequences of sin, which is hell, and granted me mercy and, even more, a high rank as a child of God."
Before he enlisted at 19, Williams' father arranged for him to work out with Scott Helvenston, a former SEAL. Williams says Helvenston became his mentor, and the experience of meeting him convinced him to pursue a similar path in the special forces.
On the eve of his own admittance to boot camp, however, Williams' resolve was tested when news agencies around the world broke news of Helvenston's death and images of his body's subsequent mutilation at the hands of insurgents while he was working as a private military contractor in Kuwait.
Undaunted, Williams continued with his training and was one of 13 in a class of more than 170 to graduate from basic underwater demolition/SEAL training. Now 32, he later served as a member of two SEAL teams during multiple deployments before ending his military career in May 2010.
While attending an event featuring guest speaker and Pastor Greg Laurie on March 14, 2007, Williams says he experienced a religious revelation that ultimately proved to be as significant to him as his military service.
"I was definitely a believer in God's existence — my gut told me Jesus was the ultimate — but I never really lived my life like those things were a grasped reality," he says.
In 2012, he penned a memoir and evangelical call-to-arms, "SEAL of God," which leverages his special forces experiences and subsequent religious enlightenment to encourage others toward a similar evangelical awakening.
Before his appearance at LEAD Chattanooga, Williams responded to questions about the ties between his service and his faith.
Q Why did you want to enlist in the military? Patriotism? Familial history of service?
A: A combination of a few things led up to my decision to enlist. I didn't want to waste my life; I wanted to have an impact and go for something big, something great. Suddenly the idea of becoming a Navy SEAL entered my mind with nothing hold me back, I decided I could do it, and "I wanna be a Navy SEAL" was something I locked my sights on.
As time pressed on, my reasons for becoming a SEAL became multifaceted, remembering what 9/11 was like when I was a junior in high school remembering that both my grandpas served in the military. And after losing Scott Helvenston overseas, I really began to feel like I had a lot of reasons to see this all through.
Q What was your gut reaction to seeing Helvenston killed? Did it shake your resolve?
A: I have never had the words to describe what that was like. If anything, though, my resolve was hardened. We have a saying in the SEAL Teams, "Forged by adversity," and I guess you can say that's what that tragedy did. I wanted to press on in honor and memory of Scott.
Q As a SEAL, you served in some pretty horrific conditions and, I'm sure, confronted some pretty terrifying and terrible scenes. Did what you saw or experienced during your tours ever make you question your faith?
A: [I] never questioned my faith. When bullets were flying, I had a bulletproof faith that gave me super-confidence knowing that a bullet could never take away the eternal life God granted me.
Q How did your faith inform your experience in the military while you were enlisted? What role did it play in your service?
A: Colossians 3:17 informs us that whatever we do in word or deed ought to be done in the name of the lord Jesus. It was no longer all about "me" but about "thee" — doing it for the Lord, protecting and preserving life wherever possible.
Q Do you see your faith and your military service as intertwined?
A: Absolutely. Freedom isn't free but paid for in the blood of soldiers overseas and, most importantly, the savior at the cross.
Q How has your faith informed your life outside the military?
A: It the same as in the military, with an added emphasis on looking to protect and preserve folks' eternal life wherever possible through the power of the Gospel.
Q Why did you decide to write "SEAL of God?" What compelled you?
A: [New Zealand native minister and evangelist] Ray Comfort played a huge role in encouraging me to write the book to use it as a platform to share the Gospel. Of course, many will want the SEAL stories and I [am] happy to share them if they will also let me tell them about Jesus. The book is also in honor and memory of my mentor, Scott Helvenston. He was a real special [person], and I wanted to share what he was like.
Q What do you hope people take away from reading about your experiences or from hearing you at speaking engagements such as Chattanooga LEAD?
A: I think they will find parts of me they relate to, and I hope to point them to the ultimate treasure I have found in Christ, so that they can enjoy him, too.
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.