Clint Bruce sat down with us for our winter 2018 issue. He talked about his transition from the love of playing football to love of country, duty and serving in one of the most elite branches of the United States military. Focus, hard work and determination has made Clint a successful entrepreneur and valuable contributor to the veteran community.
Skillset: What made you want to join the Navy after high school?
Clint Bruce: I grew up watching “Magnum P.I.” and a lot of Chuck Norris movies. I’m joking, but at the same time there’s some significant truth in that. We often become what we read about and watch, especially at that age. I loved learning about heroism, sacrifice and protecting the less fortunate. I was raised in an extremely patriotic family with farming and ranching in our history. There was a deep sense of service. It’s almost like there’s a debt to the land. You have this awareness that the land isn’t free and you have to work it.
I was also raised with the desire to be a part of something larger than myself. I think that’s why I was drawn to team sports. It can’t be just about you, or you’ll only go as far as you can take yourself — which isn’t meaningfully far. The military beats the “you” out of you, so you become useful. The Marine Corps, in particular, does this as well or better than anyone else in history. They really beat the “you” out of you, and you are of great use to the nation as a result. It’s about being part of the group, a tribe. I love being part of a tribe.
SS: So, football was your ticket in?
CB: It was. I was playing football in high school with a big and successful program. During my senior year, my dad got sick and passed away. There were a lot of colleges talking to me about coming to play for them, but only the Navy would allow me to provide for my family the way I needed to as the oldest son of a hurting family. I had always loved the Army-Navy game because it was truly special, and was attracted to Annapolis in part because of that tradition.
My experiences at the Naval Academy were a blessing. The brotherhood we have there as football players is powerful and lasting. I know Annapolis, and the football brotherhood smoothed some of the rougher edges I had from my childhood and from losing my father. While I was there, I was blessed with both the opportunity to go into the NFL and the chance to go into BUDS and to become a SEAL.
SS: Was the goal from day one to become a SEAL?
CB: Yes, my “big dream” goal was to become a SEAL. It’s the reason I went to Navy versus the other service academies or schools with an NROTC program that I had a chance to play for. And I learned it’s probably the hardest way to earn a chance to become a SEAL. The competition at the Academy to be a SEAL is intense. My senior year there were only 16 billets and everyone trying out was fiercely competitive and highly qualified.
The one everyone probably knows of (or should know of) is Mike McGreevy, who we lost in Operation Red Wings. “Groove” was my classmate. For some reason, he didn’t get a billet. But as was typical of Groove, he had no quit in him. He came into the Teams after great service to another warfare community in the Navy, and he ended up being one of the most spectacular leaders we had in the community until we lost him. So, as you can tell, it was an enormously competitive class of peers.
SS: Tell us about going into the NFL after Annapolis.
CB: It was another great privilege, but a conflicted one. I already knew football, and the game had taught me a ton about life, leading and following — all those lessons team competitions uniquely share with us. It was an achievement to be invited to compete at that level. A lot of people don’t know I had the opportunity to spend time in the NFL with the Ravens because I played the same position as Ray Lewis, and he’s really good. I’d be at practice watching him and think to myself, “Man, it might be easier to become a Navy SEAL than to beat this guy out.”
It was cool to be there briefly and see the difference between collegiate and professional football, especially the linemen. I’d seen guys that big before playing in college, but not who could also move like that. The size and agility of the offensive line and the power of the defensive line was a glimpse into what “elite” is. But I knew football. I had drunk deeply from that well and didn’t know if I could become a SEAL — so I go where I don’t know. I needed to go toward a ridgeline I’d never been on before to see if I could keep up with men like Groove and these incredible warriors I had the chance to serve alongside.
The NFL was a great preview of what I would experience in the SEAL Teams, though. There is a cross-section of humanity that can do what the rest of us can’t; they are almost superhuman in their physical giftedness. There were guys in BUDs who made it look easy and natural. I wasn’t like that in football or in BUDS. But BUDs’ design levels the playing field. Sometimes the tough won’t slow down enough to learn technique. Guys who make it through SEAL training are both smart and hard.
SS: What is Trident Response Group?
CB: TRG came on the heels of an unsuccessful foray into wealth management. I was so bad. I think I became the worst financial advisor on the planet faster than anyone else. I’d sit down and ask someone if I could manage their wealth, and if they said no then I would say, “Well, I don’t want to manage your stupid wealth anyway. I hate you and everything about you.” (I was processing some anger issues at the time.) And I was honest, too. If potential clients asked if I was better than the advisors they had I would say, “No, they are so much better than me. If they die then call me, but otherwise I’d stay with them.”
When Hurricane Katrina happened, we went in and pulled a lot of people out. That changed things. When we came home I had a lot of very successful business leaders see what we did and ask if we could do things for them, things which didn’t have anything to do with wealth management, but with what I was gifted at and had done for years while serving. Private sector parallels to our operational experiences positioned us to be skilled at managing their risks from business, personal and family angles.
In 2005, we laid the plank for TRG to help these people and their businesses plan for the unexpected. Since then, we’ve simply listened to what these CEOs need and we provide it for them. We have also created a platform for career transitions for other veterans when they get out of their service.
SS: Tell us about TRG and veterans.
CB: Most veterans undervalue their ability to think. Many of them I know marginalize their intellects. It’s fun to watch them discover how their primary assets, their primary warfighting capabilities, are their intellects. The American veteran is one of the most dynamic problem solvers and team players on the planet. We put them in position to show that to leaders in the business world as we do what TRG does. And if you’re a CEO, you want that around you. You want these dynamic problem solvers who are willing and capable teammates who know how to work. It’s been fun and rewarding for me to try and create professional transition opportunities for veterans which may result in long-term tenures with us, or through opportunities with leaders they did not know, doing something they didn’t know they could do. Seeing both outcomes really is a win-win.
SS: You have a lot going on and seem to always be moving forward with your concepts and with helping veterans. Would you consider yourself a serial entrepreneur?
CB: I would consider myself a serial adventurer and competitor. Being an entrepreneur is just the field I get to play on now. I think my adventurer and competitor mentality has predated all this. So, for me this is just a new map. And like I did with football and the SEAL teams, I want to find the best adventurers and competitors out there, and I want to try to keep up with them. To get time with these people you have to add value to what they’re doing.
I don’t care how rich or successful you are, time is the one thing you can’t buy more of. So, with everything we’ve done, it’s been important for us to earn a place at the table with the business people we want to be around by offering a unique set of value propositions. Because when you’re married with three kids and you’ve been in the special operations community since you were 17 years old, you don’t always have a lot of time. You might not have time to go back to school, and you have to hit the ground running since you have to provide for your family.
We pay a lot of attention to the mid-twenties veteran, the door kicker — and we should — but we don’t lose sight of that senior enlisted who has a family and who has been in the profession of arms for more than 20 years. How do you create a business platform for them? They have so much experience to offer and amazing credibility. I loved being an officer, but the enlisted is the backbone of the American fighting machine. And the senior enlisted is the spinal cord. That’s where so much skill, experience and ability resides. Basically, I just hide among the talent all my other guys have and pretend I can direct it to a degree.
SS: You speak to large companies and groups across the nation. What advice would you give our readers?
CB: To the veteran reader, I would say that everything that worked inside the military will work outside it. You just have to understand where you fit on the map. Hard work, being a teammate, being an excellent communicator, being humble and accountable and being trustworthy is gold to CEOs. But, we must learn the language of the map we’re on now. If you’re an excellent land navigator, but you’re at sea now, the ability that made you a great land navigator is going to make you a great sailor as well. But you should recognize you’re on a different map. You need to learn the equivalencies.
To the civilian reader, when I say that this is the next “greatest generation,” I don’t say that as a disservice to any generation that came before. I think if we took a hard look at what Vietnam veterans did when they came back, we would be blown away. They came back without support or fanfare and created a booming economy during the Cold War. But I think this generation of veterans makes it an exciting time to see what’s happening in “Hometown USA” as they return home and get to work. I’m thankful to be in a great position to work with some of them.