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Episode 40

Episode 40: Finding Community at the VFW with Laurel Mitchell


In this episode of the Veteran Led Podcast, John talks with US Air Force Veteran, Laurel Mitchell, at local VFW 2503 about how her experiences in the military gave her the drive and discipline to succeed as a civilian. Laurel shares stories from her journey as she went from Air Force electrician to Associate Professor at Bellevue University, earning her MBA, Masters in Contract Management, and Doctorate in Education along the way. Tune in to hear Laurel’s story and message to other veterans about finding community at the VFW.


The Depths of Leadership and Resilience: A Navy SEAL’s Journey 

Craig Marley: I felt myself lifting away. And I could actually look down and see Roger performing, resuscitating me. And then I’m back in my body and he said I was down for about eight minutes, 7 or 8 minutes. I don’t know for sure. 

John Berry: Welcome to the veteran led podcast, where we talk with leaders who use their military experiences to develop great organizations and continue to serve their communities. Today’s episode, we have former Navy Seal and Vietnam veteran Craig Marley. Not only is Craig a veteran, but a pioneer in the deep sea diving industry. As a member of Seal team One, he was assigned to Macv-sog in Danang, where he trained South Vietnamese Sea Commandos in clandestine missions into North Vietnam. Upon discharge from the Navy, Craig began his commercial diving career in the offshore oil and gas industry. His underwater adventures have taken him into some of the deepest and most hostile parts of the ocean. Over the next 25 years, he authored numerous award winning technical papers, several novels, and helped several laser startup companies grow to multi-million dollar enterprises. 

Craig Marley: I was born in Canada. My parents are Canadian and after the war was over, my dad couldn’t get a job. There was no work after the war was over. I was born in 43 and the and the war ended in 45. And so my mother had two brothers that had migrated to California, and that was they helped my mom and dad get all the paperwork together and get a sponsor at that time. But they grew up in the depression era. So they were that, you know, kind of mentality of people that were born. My dad was born in 1916. My mom was born in 1920. My mom had a had a real affinity for the water. She loved the water. My dad used to take her on canoe trips up the up the river in Winnipeg, and we emigrated to California when I was three years old, and my mom decided she wanted to be a Red Cross water instructor. In those days, the Red cross gave a certifiable course in swimming instruction, and she wanted to treat people because she saw many times in the in Winnipeg kids getting thrown in the water by their uncle or their dad or a drunk neighbor or whatever, and drowning. And she felt that a lot of people that had survived that event really needed some professional training to get over the obstacle of the fear of drowning, because they’d already experienced that. 

Craig Marley: And she had me tag along as a five year old, and I was the guy that had to go down to the bottom of the pool and pick up an object, and then she would use that to taunt the the students and say, if a five year old can do it, you know, so can you. And and so I was helping her in that small way and we became obviously very close. Um, after I, after we moved to California, I got involved in competitive swimming at the local YMCA, and I did pretty well in the age group stuff. This is the eight and nine and ten year old 11 year old. But my coach, a gentleman by the name of Fred Louis-jacques at the San Jose Y, he said, you know, Craig, you’re never going to be able to get the kind of training here at the Y. First of all, the pool was a 20 meter pool and all the competition is done in 25 yards or 50m, one of the two depending on whether you’re in a short course or long course. So he asked if I would be interested in going over to Santa Clara Swim Club and interviewing with the coach, George Haines. 

Craig Marley: Uh, George was a wonderful coach, and over his career he was an Olympic Olympic coach several times for both men and women. So he coached, I believe, over 50 Olympians. And so it was a very honor, much of an honor for me to be able to to go to interview with him. My parents didn’t have any money. We grew up in a in a modest, uh, income family. But, uh, George let that buy. He did not pursue that at all, and he let me join the team after a few laps of swimming and time trials. Felt that I had some some, um, some promising future in swimming. So I worked real hard in the pool. We worked, uh, sometimes two, three hours a day, sometimes twice a day, six days a week. And and as I grew up, um, my times got better. My, I was typically winning more races and, uh, competing at a very high level. Um. That was. That’s the story of my swimming career. I held the national high school record momentarily for the 100 yard breaststroke, and I was very good in water polo as well. 

John Berry: And in reading the book, I yeah, I’m getting through it and I’m getting to that part. I’m like, oh, this guy’s going to go on to be a college swimmer and an Olympic athlete. And and that didn’t happen. What happened? Craig. 

Craig Marley: Well, what happened was I fell in lust. I guess that’s a word for it. Um, one of the gals that was swimming with me, um, a couple of years older than us, she wasn’t about a year older than me. And, um, we just got together in the locker room one night, and that’s. That’s how it happened. Um, she got pregnant, and I got married after I. The day after. After I turned 17 years old, it broke. 

John Berry: So you’re married with a kid in high school. 

Craig Marley: Married with a kid in high school. And, uh, I came back to high school and my senior year, and, uh, don’t forget, this is in the 1960s, so the mentality of administration was a little bit different. And, uh, basically, they they told me that they weren’t going to allow a married man to attend high school with all these other young girls there. So they kicked me out. And even though I had been elected class president, they kicked me out of high school. So I went to work and did what a responsible father should do. And it wasn’t working out. It was clear it wasn’t working out. So we, uh, we separated and we divorced, and we have a daughter, and she lives with her mother in Saint Louis. And the mother became a very successful dentist. And and I’m proud that we have a daughter together. And she has three great kids. So I have three great grandchildren from her. Um, no hard feelings, but it broke my mother’s heart. It broke my mother’s heart. She had invested so much in me and I felt like I really let her down. And I felt like I had to regain some respect for myself and also for my family. And so that’s when I decided to join the Navy. 

Craig Marley: It’s ironic that I really didn’t have any plans once I got in the Navy. I just thought that that would be a great place to restart my life. And while I was in boot camp, uh, some some gentlemen from the underwater demolition team, which, as you know, is a pre pre-qualifying or precursor to seals. At the time, nobody knew anything about Seal team. They had just been commissioned in January of 62. And I went through boot camp in April of 62. And while I was there, some instructors from UDT Underwater Demolition Team came into the auditorium and they gave a presentation and showed showed the movie with Richard Widmark, you know, blowing up explosives in the water and stuff like that. So there was about 200 of us young recruits in the in that group that that decided to check this out. You know, it must be something fun to be a Navy frogman. And so I filled out the form, and next day I had to report for an interview. And the guy that interview was with me was a guy named Gerry Harmon. He had the second class boatswain’s mate in the in UDT 11, and he he interviewed me with typical questions, you know, and then the final one was, what makes you think you can get through this program? And I took a cocky attitude and I said, I think I’m faster than anybody you have ever seen in the water. 

Craig Marley: And he called me a cocky rascal and he said, okay, report to the pool tomorrow. So I went to the pool the next day and there was eight guys chosen from that group. And I lapped everybody in the pool. So and I could do enough push ups and enough chin ups to satisfy the basic requirements. My problem was I’m a fairly heavy bone man and I was a really terrible runner. I mean, I was always in the goon squad when it came to running, and in one event I they tied a rope around my waist and dragged me down the beach behind a jeep. I was so slow. So get me in the water, coach, and I’ll show you how to swim. And that’s how I got in. And in your eyes. That took the swimming test. Only two of us were selected to join the class, and the class had already formed up with, um, a couple of dozen officers, and I think we had about 188 or 200 enlisted men. And that’s how we started the class. We graduated 34 enlisted men and seven officers. 26 weeks later. 

John Berry: And in your book, you go through in detail about the training and how difficult it was and the challenges and lessons you learned along the way. And one of the terms that came up that I hadn’t seen much of was the kit, the killed in training. It was a few years before I went to Ranger School that the the four rangers, the students, uh, died in swamp phase and, uh, but this was, uh, back in the 60s. This was actually a fairly regular thing. Kit killed in training. 

Craig Marley: Yes. We didn’t lose anybody in my class during the actual Buds training, but after we deployed, a lot of us would continue our physical exercising, running, swimming, jumping, etc. and sometimes men did die as a result of it. I lost a very good friend on a run, uh, named RJ Coates, who was in in my boat crew, and we were very close friends. He was a great athlete, a tremendous runner, great. Um, and we were on a run, and I knew that he was going to be a lot faster than me. So I took off about ten minutes ahead of him, and my route took me down to the Navy exchange in Subic Bay and back to the barracks. And so I didn’t run back way, the same way I went. And I got dressed, went into town, saw some buddies in Subic Bay. They’re having a beer. And the chief came up to us and said, RJ Coates has died. They found his body on the side of the road. He apparently had a stroke. So those are the kinds of things that happen. We lose guys in helicopter drops or gentlemen dropped. 

Craig Marley: The pilot didn’t compensate for the weight. Every time a man jumps out of a helicopter, this is just jumping out of a helicopter. No parachute. Um, you know, that extra weight that that person represented is no longer there in the helicopter? Unless the pilot compensates, the helicopter will rise. And so you put an eight guys in a stick and the seventh guy goes out, and by then you’re another 50, 60ft higher than the water. So you’re maybe 100, 150ft off the water. And a good friend of mine jumped out and they’d found his body the next day, but he hit the water like he would hit cement from that altitude. So things like that happen, and, uh, it’s a tragedy, but it didn’t happen often. Um, the the Udt-seal Memorial, uh, Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida, has a special wall now for Kit, um, Navy Seals and operators, in addition to the wall of those that have perished. So I fought very hard to get RJ Cote’s name on that, um, that memorial. It’s a big marble memorial. So that’s kind of where the kit thing came in. 

John Berry: And we all know that training must be tough and realistic to train our warriors. But we have, I believe, over the years, gotten better at, you know, implementing safety and safety briefs for everything now. And we try to do our best to to protect our warriors so that they can actually perform the function that we’ve, we’re paying them to do, which is, which is to fight wars. But in the military, training isn’t just something we do. It is what we do, and we do it every single day. And it’s hard. It’s tough, it’s realistic and it’s dangerous. 

Craig Marley: Well, I think that that transcends all forms of of all branches of the service. I mean, Marine Recon guys go through all kinds of training as well. Army Rangers and Green Beret guys. Um, special ops people go through extensive training, and sometimes we’re going back to the subject of kit. Sometimes some of the instructors don’t perhaps understand the the physiology of that particular person, and they push a little bit over the line. Uh, we’ve had a couple of drownings during training, um, in the last 10 or 15 years where, you know, the instructors are telling these guys, you’ve got to swim 50m underwater, or you’ve got to do this with your hands tied behind your back and, and figure out a way to, to stay alive. And they get a little too aggressive. Maybe there’s been some disciplined officers as well as, uh, enlisted rank instructors, uh, because they went too far. And so that’s probably just that’s something the military has to deal with. And it’s unfortunate, but it happens. 

John Berry: And of course, the purpose to to train us for war. So let’s talk about let’s transition now to you. You leave training and shortly thereafter you’re in Vietnam. 

Craig Marley: Yeah. Usually it’s about a year after you go into your particular platoon. Um. I think then they would the the team management if you will, the team officers and the other people are going to look to you to see how well they think you will perform in combat situation. Um. They they seldom wash out anybody. The only time I saw anybody getting washed out is because they were a thief. And they sent him home and busted him out. He wound up as a cook on a DC destroyer after turning. 

John Berry: And going, going, going, going back to training. 

Craig Marley: He spent a year going through training, and he and he went to jump school and he went to, you know, we went over to Westpac and he wound up stealing shit. And he next thing you know, he got busted and he wound up as a cook on a DDT destroyer escort. 

John Berry: Wow. 

Craig Marley: What happens? 

John Berry: And you also brought up that as you were going through UDT training, um, and becoming a Seal, that throughout the training process, there were people that quit and it seemed like the Navy had a expedited system to get them away from the rest of the team. It’s almost like we don’t want the quitters to infect the people who are giving it their all. So tell us a little bit about that. 

Craig Marley: That’s true. And I think there was even some stories going around that some men would actually join a class in order to get a new post, because when they dropped you, you did have the option of going to, you know, to one of half a dozen different locations for your next duty station. So the story was that some men would join and and then quit, and then they would just disappear and they’d go back to where they wanted to go. They wanted to go back to Fort Pierce. They wanted to go back to Honolulu or or whatever. Um, on the other hand, a lot of them that quit, uh, were probably sorry that they quit and would like to come back. And in my time, the only time that a man could be recycled, if you will, or was if he had an injury and they felt that he would still have a good chance of making it through the program. And a good friend of mine, um, David Devine, uh, was in the class before mine, and he had that happen to him. He had a had an accident. He broke some bones in his body, and he came back in my class and came through my class and did very well. He was killed in action in 68, in Vietnam. Left a wife. 

John Berry: And I’m sorry for your. Yeah, I’m sorry for your loss. And we we know how that unfortunately unfolds. And you went to Vietnam in what year? 

Craig Marley: My first trip to Vietnam was while I was deployed to Westpac in Underwater Demolition Team 11. And, uh, we did, uh, we went down. This is a funny story. We went down there on a destroyer. Maybe an APD is smaller than destroyer. Destroyer escort, perhaps. And we swam 30 miles of beaches in hostile territory. So we had a small squad of Force Recon guys to set up a perimeter for us, while we would recon 500 yards of beach at a time. So the cartography function was we draw a map of the beach every 500 yards, so we would deploy swimmers out with lead lines, and they would be taking small arms fire from the beach. And then the beach crew was also, um, taking some fire. And when everything got settled down, then we would swim down the beach, maybe a row of of 10 or 12 swimmers. You swim out to the 24 foot depth mark, and as you swim down every 25 yards, the crew on the beach would wave two flags and you would take a sounding and write it on your slate, a little plastic slate with a pencil. And when everything was finished, you did maybe a mile of this stuff. Every 500 yards. The slates were turned into the cartography people, and they would actually make a map then of the of the ocean from 24ft all the way up to the beach and then up into the hinterland for another 100m or so. 

Craig Marley: So the Marines helped us in doing those. So in the end of the day, you had a map that would be suitable for an amphibious invasion. That was the nature of the work. When I got back from that operation, I went to Okinawa and we were doing some mine recovery operations with EOD divers, and we were working on a small turbine powered gas turbine powered boat, a wooden boat, because you couldn’t have any steel around magnetic mines, they’ll blow up. So we were, um, diving using these wooden boats. And in the middle of the boat there was the engine and then the cowling. There were two red lines and it said danger zone here. That was where the, the, the fans on the, on the turbine engine were spinning at a high rate of speed. So we were out on the dive site and these guys were with us. And so we played um, horse or was it rock, paper, scissors? We played a rock, paper scissors game to see who got to go first in the water. And my buddy Bob Wilbur and I were the one that won. 

Craig Marley: And while we were down 110ft, we were using underwater pinging sonar to find the mine. It was. The mine was about as big as a big 55 gallon drum. Oil drum. These weren’t real mines, by the way. These were dummies that they had dropped, but the ignition system in it, they wanted to test to see if it would take the impact of falling into the water. So we would find the mine. And we had to be careful, because there were sea snakes swimming around the bottom of the mine. They like to hide in these little crevices. So we put a buoy on the mine and we swam back to the surface. And when we got to the surface, there was a big cloud of black smoke and everybody was screaming. It turned out that the boat that we had just left, the turbine engine, the governor, that that controlled the RPM of the turbine had failed and the engine simply disintegrated. And it cut the one of the EOD divers in half the shrapnel from that engine. So he never he lived for two hours. We all said a prayer for him, but he was gone. So those are the kind of things that happen out in the field, even though you’re basically just in a training mode. 

John Berry: So. And like you said, multiple tours in Vietnam. I remember a story of you. Uh, and just to backtrack, you met Lynn, the love of your life, right before you went to basic. And, you know, you didn’t. You thought this was. Well, this is someone I met, and this is probably going to be over. And she stayed with you the whole time. And at some point, you decide I’m done with my military career, and they bring you in the office and they say, well, we’re going to promote you to sergeant. And, uh, but you’re going to do another tour. And you say, well, wait a minute, I don’t want this. I you should have promoted me a long time ago, and I’m out, but, uh, but but tell us, tell us about those experiences where, um, you know, you’re obviously it’s a long distance relationship. You know, from my generation, we had internet, we were able to call home. Uh, you have several of your letters, actually, in your book that are written back and forth between you, you and Lynn. So you made the long distance relationship work. We know that doesn’t work often in the military. Often relationships fall apart when there’s a lot of deployments, multiple deployments. Uh, but you went to Vietnam multiple times and were able to keep that relationship going. How did you make it work? 

Craig Marley: Well, I have to give most of the credit to Lynn. I mean, she stuck with me and I even asked her before we got married if she would prefer, you know, maybe that I should go over there and maybe not come back. And why do you want to get married before I go to Vietnam? And she said, no way. We’re getting married in March. And I deployed in June. And so we had three months together and it was great. It was great. And she moved back in with her mom and waited by the mailbox every day for the letters. And I waited for the mail to be delivered to me. And I think we kept our relationship alive because we loved each other and wanted that to flourish. Um, I think you may you may recall in my book I refer to my, um, my little guardian angel, my little, um, it’s kind of like your conscience. You know, there’s some things inside your head that that sound right, and you reinforce that thinking about it. And, um, I just had a voice in my head that said, this is the woman for you. And I was still young. It was only 21 when I got married to Lynn, but it was the right thing, and it’s still the right thing. Our kids are all grown, doing very well, successful. And, um, and we’re trying to we’re struggling now through some of the things that happened to you when you get to be in your 80s. Right. 

John Berry: And fortunate to, to, to to make it to that age. And in fact, I remember in the book there’s a point where you I believe it was a halo jump, high altitude, low oxygen. You’re jumping into to Vietnam. And like most of us, you lose control of the chute. You know, the chutes aren’t that steerable, right? And we don’t. And so you end up where you didn’t want to be. And and there’s two Vietcong there who, who almost capture you, but you do something that, you know, my dad has always told me my father is also a Vietnam veteran. He said, you know, always make sure you have money on you because there could be some bad situations where you need money and you had cash and you had the currency that was called dong. And so. So tell us what happened when you landed. I believe it was in a rice paddy. Uh, crashed through some bamboo shoots, and all of a sudden there’s a farmer and two Vietcong, and you think that you’re going to have that, your wife is going to get a telegram and you’re you’re even you can write about that in your book. And you’re really, it seemed at the time you’re concerned was getting back to your wife. So tell us, tell us the story about what happened. 

Craig Marley: Well, I was trying to get jump qualified, Halo jump qualified while I was in Vietnam. And unfortunately, we had a parachute rigger in Seal team who was a plank owner, as a matter of fact, named Carl Marriott. And we had our own, uh, parachute loft in Danang where we stayed. Um, we stayed in an old French fort, by the way. It was a really a neat place. It was built by the French for the French Foreign Legion, uh, officers as a as their bivouac. And it was right on the beach in China Beach. And so we each had a private room. We had a, a room boy that came by and swept up all our cigarette butts and everything. It was kind of like the life of luxury, if you will, living on the beach like that. And we had a platform looking over the beach. We could have coffee or beer and stuff and uh, we had this parachute loft. And so one day I told Carl, I said, Carl, I said, I’d like to get Halo qualified. I said, uh, where can I get a chute? He said, well, let’s go over to the Air Force base, the Navy Air Force base. And I traded a pair of fins and a knife or something with a pilot for his, for his chute, because he could get another one. So I got a regular, a regular, uh, you know, pull a pull a D-ring chute, and Carl cut it the way you can make a steerable. 

Craig Marley: So he made what they call a seven gore to. I don’t know if you’re familiar with parachute technology, but that makes it look, you cut seven gores and you make the letter T u out of it. So it there’s two big two panels this way, and then five panels this way. And that makes a fairly steerable parachute. But he cut it with scissors, and then he took it into town and had an amazing seamstress stitch, a nice, uh, webbing around it to so it didn’t fray. And, and he showed me how to pack it. And once I learned how to do that, I made a couple of clearing pole jumps. You may be familiar with. You just bail it out and count to ten and pole you do those from, I don’t know, 3 or 4000ft. And then for me to make the final jump, I had to do a 12 or 12, five whatever, which is a full 62nd fall. And, uh, I had my watch. I didn’t have a nice little rig on top of my reserve. I had I just had my watch. So I bailed out of this. And, uh, the guy that took me up was a CIA guy from Air America, and he had a Stol aircraft called a porter and has a huge wing lift area, large wings, single turbine engine, and the CIA, Air America guys, they would use those airplanes to fly leaflets, medical supplies, etc., into the mountains, into the highlands and stuff like that. 

Craig Marley: That’s a different story in a different book because you’ll hear. So anyway, so this I, I, we just got this guy drunk one night and he took me up to let me jump. And we all knew that the terrain along the beach was fairly safe, except. South of what was called Marble Mountain. This was actually a big hunk of marble that stuck up like like Diamond Head, you know, at the end of the beach. And that was VC Hill. So I pulled in and I jumped and I pulled a little too high. So I got caught in some thermals, thermal drafts, updrafts. And instead of going down, I went back up again and it drifted me down south towards Marble Mountain. Bad news because I landed, like I said, like you said, in a bamboo grove. I thought it was going to get shish kebabbed, um, crashed through the the bamboo covered up my face, landed, got a few scratches sitting there in my harness, swinging about four feet off the ground. And the farmer farmer was pissed off. He was shaking his fist at me. And these two Vietcong guys, they didn’t know who I was. I was, uh, you may have heard the terms. Macv-sog. That was the military Air Combat Assistance Command Studies and Observations group. Well, I was working for the CIA in the studies and observation group. We didn’t have any dog tags. We had nothing on us that would tie us to the military at all. No insignia, nothing. 

Craig Marley: I wore a bathing suit and a t shirt, and I carried a 38 in the field and a little 22 that I bought. And personally, when I went into town and, um, and so I didn’t look like an Army guy, they didn’t know if I was a Russian or a Polack or whoever. And I spoke enough Vietnamese from the language school I went to, and all of us did took eight weeks of Vietnamese language. And then I was able to convey to them I really was Dinkie Dow, which means which means crazy. I’m crazy. Do I think, you know, do I think he dow? We think he dow and I pulled out very slowly, pulled out my dong and I handed him all the money and I said, I said, I’m sorry, dinkie dow sin loy. And they smiled and took the money. And that was I walked out and a few days later, I don’t know, it was a week or so later, some guy, some army guys were there in a jeep. They got ambushed and one died and one, 2 or 3 sent to annoy POWs. So I just, I thank God, uh, my guardian angel was there. It was a divine intervention. Um, don’t know if you believe in that, but I do. I’ve had two or 3 or 4 of them. Divine interventions or should have been should have been my number. But it wasn’t. You read one of them, the other one with my blackout in the pool. 

John Berry: Yeah. And tell. Tell us about that. 

Craig Marley: Well, it was when I was in the underwater demolition team. Um, before I went into the Seal team, and I was in Subic Bay, and there was a 25 what I thought yard pool. And I was used to showing off my swimming skills by swimming underwater for laps, 100 yards underwater, making a turn underwater and holding my breath. And I hyperventilated quite a bit. And I did 100 yards, four laps of the pool and my buddy Roger cook was watching me perform this idiotic stunt at the time, and I said, I know I can do five laps now, Roger, I know I can do five laps. Hyperventilated, with the fourth lap made the turn to for the fifth lap lights out. Total out-of-body experience. Blackness. Some stars. Mellowness, um, a very clinical, out of body experience for people that have had near death experiences. And I felt myself lifting away and I could actually look down and see Roger performing, resuscitating me. That was a very strange sight in my mind. And then I’m back in my body and looking up and saying, hey, Roger, what’s going on? And he said, I was down for about eight minutes, 7 or 8 minutes. I don’t know for sure. So he rushed me to the hospital and the doctors were absolutely shaking their head. They said, how in the hell he recovered from this? I have no idea. You should be dead. I told the nurse. He says if he’s still breathing at 5:00, let him go back to the barracks. And they discharged me at 5:00 and I had a little headache. But that was about it. So my eight month for many. Go ahead. 

John Berry: No, sorry. Go ahead. 

Craig Marley: So, you know, those are divine interventions. There’s a there’s only one way to to describe it. The man upstairs didn’t want me to go, and Lynn was probably holding his hand saying, don’t let him die. 

John Berry: And you had near death experiences and you get out of the military. And for many of us, we think that that once we get out, we’re going to live a, you know, a safe life and that the adventure is over. But for you, the adventure was was just beginning. So tell us a little bit about what what you started doing once you got out of service. What? You. What’s your discharge from the Navy? 

Craig Marley: I wanted initially my plan was to go back to school. Um, I wanted to get a degree in physics or something. Something engineering wise. But I met a good friend of mine who was in the class after me and a guy named Jerry Lennis at the hotel del Coronado. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there before, but it’s a beautiful old I have and beautiful. He just pulled up in a brand new Jag Xke. With his girlfriend. And it was all dressed to the tees. And I said, Jerry, good seeing you, man, because he got out about maybe five, six months before I did. I said, what are you doing? He said, I’m down in Louisiana diving. He said, you wouldn’t believe it. You got to get in the business, man. He says they’re paying huge, big bucks. I paid cash for my Jag. And he said, by the way, he said, they’re starting to hire divers for the North Sea. They’re trying to drill oil in the North Sea. This was in 1966. So I, I made a mental decision and then a physical decision had to do it. And I made contact with several diving companies. And I got a call from one up in Santa Barbara named Ocean Systems. I’ve been around. They’ve been around as a contract diving service for, uh, Union Oil Company, mostly on the west coast of California, and they needed divers to go into into Stavanger, Norway, and work in the North Sea. So the president of the company, a guy named Danny Wilson, he hired me. I spent two months in Santa Barbara. Lynn was with me and our daughter, little daughter, first daughter. And then I deployed to, uh, Stavanger, Norway, as part of the crew. 

Craig Marley: And we were diving surface supplied, air like scuba, surface supplied air with a hose. They look down to about a 150ft, um, mixed gas bell. Diving was was the traditional way of diving deep with with mixed gas. But if the bell wasn’t available, we also had to be qualified in hard hat mixed gas diving. So and qualified to 500ft. So that was my job. And immediately I was getting more money than I ever dreamed of. I was making more money than an engineer out of Stanford. So. This was for me and I had an affinity for water. I were not afraid of the water, even if it was black as could be. And, um, I excelled at that. And within six months I was a diving supervisor and ran my own crew. So that’s how I got out of the diving business. And you’ve read some of the adventures that I’ve had in that business. Um, a couple of near death experiences not were not mine personally necessarily, but others that were divers and and where I was just playing a role to help help them survive. Um. It was an exciting career. It’s the most the biggest adrenaline rush you can ever imagine. Standing on the bottom of the ocean in the middle of the North Sea where nobody’s been before. It’s kind of like the I’m sure the astronauts felt when they were walking on the moon. You’re tied to the world through this rubber hose. Without that rubber hose, you’re a dead man. Just like that. You got to watch out. And so you got to keep an eye on your hose. 

John Berry: And so you leave the military to spend more time with Lynn and to live a what you think is going to be a normal life. But yet you find yourself still traveling quite a bit and still living a life of of danger and excitement. And so that, you know, I think that the misconception is when we leave the military that excitement and danger is over. But the reality is there are plenty of careers out there like yours, where you can continue to pursue it. 

Craig Marley: Oh, sure. I mean, even being a police officer, a highway patrolman or a firefighter EMT guys, I mean, they they get their adrenaline rush. And basically, I guess I have to admit, I was a gentleman adrenaline junkie. Uh, I got my, you know. I thrilled doing that kind of stuff and showing off, you know, being a little macho about it. Um, the commercial diving world is filled with the same kind of characters as seals, same kind of people, many of us. Excuse me, many of the guys in the commercial diving business were Navy Seals, and I had several buddies of mine that went commercial diving. And my buddy George Layton, who was in my boat crew with me, he spent 30 days in a tank. In the middle of the North Sea. Saturation diving, where you go 30 days in a tank and you know every day you go down from the tank, you go down deeper to do work, and then you come back to the tank. Tank keeps your body compressed to roughly 400ft, but you make excursions to 500ft. And you do this for for 3 or 4 weeks. And when you get out, they give you a check for 15 or $20,000. This is in 1966. So everybody that did it, you know, had a fancy car and a fancy girlfriend. It was a little more modest, I guess, because I had a family and a wife and another daughter. So that’s how it worked. 

John Berry: My generation would leave service and then come back as a contractor to Iraq or Afghanistan and make a lot more money and a little bit more relaxed rules, and seem to really enjoy that. They didn’t solve the being away from the family problem, but it gave them a chance to develop a different skill set, or to use the same skill set in a different way. 

Craig Marley: Yes, and a lot of steals have done that too, since that whole evolution has happened. Um, my my generation, not so much because we were too old, too fat by the time that got ready. But your generation had a lot of guys coming out of the Army, Marines, Seals go over to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or whatever and become contractors. I had my buddy George went over to Afghanistan. In fact, he made a movie. Um, he liked to smoke marijuana. And I’m not into that kind of stuff, but he he went over there to do a movie about, um, the dope, the heroin business, and it’s called Fishing in Afghanistan. It’s actually a short little video. It’s on YouTube called Fishing in Afghanistan. And he starts out by showing these kids, by the way, he’s over there as a contractor to help put in some water lines, fresh water lines for some of the extended villages that lost their water for whatever reason. So he’s working as a contractor. He had a war of I think he carried a 45, but he’s out in the bush. He’s dressed just like an Afghan. He’s got a big, full beard and everything. And you’ve seen the guys, even guys out of the army and stuff. They get they try to blend in as much as possible. And George did that and he made this movie showing little six, seven, eight year old kids in the poppy fields scraping poppy paste off the poppies. 

Craig Marley: And then how does it get refined? And he actually got a chance through his interpreter, to go into a processing building, which was just a mud shack there somewhere in the Hindu Kush, where they were actually refining the the, um, heroin, poppy paste. And he got in because his interpreter told the guard who had an AK 47 and all this is on film, that George was a deaf mute from Turkey. He said, he’s a deaf mute from Turkey. So they let him in and George’s got a little handycam working, and he got footage of inside this, this place stirring the mud and all that stuff they were doing. And later on, after he got, he got out of that place, a DEA agent, international guy asked him, he said, how the heck did you know where to go? He said, we’ve been trying to track these guys down for years. He says, very simple. He says they only have one hot meal a day. And so if you see smoke coming out of the chimney at six in the morning or seven in the morning, they’re cooking paste. They’re not cooking food. And the DEA agent said, I didn’t know that. Terrific. It was a great hint. So yeah, I never had I really had never no desire to go back into combat. I think that I got my adrenaline rush from the diving. I didn’t need any more bullets shooting at me to make it even worse. 

John Berry: And you found that adrenaline another way as well. And you, you got involved with lasers and became an entrepreneur. So tell us a little bit about that. 

Craig Marley: Well, the diving business started to take a toll on my relationship, and I could tell that Lynn was taking care of three kids and I’m gone to wherever. They never find oil in Hawaii. They always find it in the crazy places Borneo and South Island of New Zealand and and Australia. So all this traveling I was doing, I knew was taking a toll on our relationship, and I just felt that it was time to hang those up, hang that up and find something else. Now we my last job was vice president of a large diving company based in Singapore, and I was covering everything from the Philippines on the north to the South Island of New Zealand on the south, New Guinea, all the islands of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia had a huge territory. I had 600 divers working for me and we built a house in Florida, a beautiful house in a in a lake community with a big, beautiful spring in the middle called the Springs, as a matter of fact, near Orlando. And, um, that was our plan as I when I got through with the diving business, we would move back to that house. So I decided to call it a day and go find another career. 

Craig Marley: And that’s basically what I did. I moved back to Florida, started thinking about what I wanted to do. Um, had a couple of false starts, took about a year and a half, and I got a call one day from a recruiter who wanted to know if I would be interested in interviewing with a laser company for a sales job, because I had been a sales as well. I said, sure, I’ll interview you. This is a start up group. Guys came out of Martin Marietta, a few engineers, sharp guys, and they’d been involved in some of the first laser target designated systems that the military used smart weapons. So that was kind of on the cusp of the smart weapons business. So I got the job and a year later I put up 5 million bucks on the books backlog sales. And we got a couple of calls from some New York Stock exchange firms, boutique firms, to do an IPO, take the company public. And I walked away with 45,000 shares of stock that later I sold. And that’s how I got in the laser business. 

John Berry: And how long were you in that business, or is that how were you retired from there, or. 

Craig Marley: Did 27 years? I spent 27 years laser business. Yeah. So I went from one company to another. I had 3 or 4 different laser companies during that 27 year period. The last one was a company here in California, uh, that was eventually bought out by Armada, which is one of the largest laser Japanese laser companies in the world. They make they make those huge laser platforms that, you know, 20ft square, that XY table, robotic cut two inch steel. They use them in the shipbuilding industry in Japan. And that company bought my company out anyway, I had enough resources to retire. So I took a retirement. I quit when I was 62, and then I started writing my my books. I did some painting too. I sold my paintings at the local winery. I had a lot of fun doing that, sold a lot of paintings to drunk drivers, to drunks. They came out after having a party at the winery, you know. Oh, I like that painting. Go buy them so well. 

John Berry: And your, your, your writing is not just your your autobiography. No lifeguard on duty, which I, which I have right here. You’re a talented writer because this is a this is an autobiography, but you’ve also written science fiction, you’ve written poetry, you’ve written quite a few things. But what I liked about, uh, we talked about this before, right before the podcast, is that to write this book, what you did was you had you had been writing all along. And I think that’s the key, is that putting this book together, uh, was not starting from scratch. It was years and years of compilations of, of your writing that you were able to put together. You said, you know, I think I’m going to write a book. It’s never as easy as we think. It’s just like everything else in life. But but you have you have shown a lot of, uh, I think, breadth of talent in writing. And it seems to be something that you really enjoy doing and you continue to do in your retirement and you’re continuing to write today. 

Craig Marley: Well, I wrote a lot of technical articles when I was in the laser business, um, you know, advances and things that applications engineering kind of stuff. So I had a lot of things published in trade publications. Um, laser anything to do with lasers would publish my work and, and I describe a particular application, how it went about and what kind of a laser you use, how big the beam should be, how much power should you use kind of fixture your needs. And when? When we first started out, the last company I was with, I was with for 12 years, um, they didn’t have a laser group. They were bought out by a Japanese company that had a couple of lasers, and they said, you know, the Japanese told my company, they said, you have to sell our lasers. So they hired me as their sales. I should get that whole project off the ground. And they only had one type of laser. It was called a YAG laser. It’s a solid state laser, and they had two power supplies, one ten watt and one 50 watt. But it was just an engine. And in my view, you can’t make anything with just an engine. You have to build a car around it or a truck around it or a wagon around you have to build something you want to do or go somewhere. 

Craig Marley: So I insisted and kept pushing engineering to drive them into making a workstation X, Y, Z, robotics, rotary tables, that sort of thing, so that you could mount the laser over that and a person could take a widget and place it in a fixture and have the, the thing spin and the laser beam would do its business. So you had a complete system and you then you go out in the field and sell a $200,000, $300,000 system instead of a $50,000 laser that they didn’t really know what to do with. And because it didn’t have any motion to it, it was just a beam of light coming out, shooting. So that was a big transition that I was able to get the company to do to, to make them into a systems integrator rather than just a laser supplier, because Ford makes cars and trucks. Have you just have an engine? What good is it? The engine is no good unless it’s sitting on four wheels. All right, so that was the attitude. And so I got them into the systems business. And within five years, we had a $20 million company. 

John Berry: You found a problem. And then you provided the solution, and you found that the solution was many times more valuable than the product that was on the market. 

Craig Marley: Yeah. Uh, we sold system. I sold systems to, um, companies that wanted to manufacture some of the very first, uh, uh, what they called Edfs. Uh Edfas. These are transmitters and amplifiers that are used in the fiber optic communication industry. And they have to seal them, and they have to do all kinds of things with them. It takes very, very delicate work to do. And I made some of the first systems in one company, bought ten systems at 300,000 bucks a piece. Shipped him to China. Anyway, that’s how that’s how I got in the laser business. And I had a great career with the laser business. I met some great people. Um. That whole industry is just absolutely exploded even since I’ve retired. I retired when I the day after I turned 62. I said, I’m gone. I wanted to retire and I had the resources to do that. So, um, but the guys I worked with went on and did great things with other companies as well. 

John Berry: And through all this, Lynn has stayed with you. You’ve been married now for 59 years, is that correct? 

Craig Marley: 59 years on March 5th of next year. And, um, God willing, we’ll we’ll push 50, 50 years and more. 

John Berry: That your life is an amazing story. Craig and I want to now take our veterans to what I call the After Action review. You probably remember these from the military, and what I like is the three up, three down, three examples of leadership that helped you get to where you are, whether it’s a civilian leadership, business leadership, military leadership. So three great examples and three bad examples. 

Craig Marley: I’m a fairly I’m an honest person. I don’t like to to bullshit. Um, you know, if I say this can do that, it can do that. Um, I’m also a patriot, you know, being in the service. I was a Canadian. I didn’t have to join the Navy. Um, I have Canadian passport. I have dual citizenship. Um, one of the things that really bothered me was we had a customer in the Bay area, San Francisco, Bay area, Silicon Valley. Um, it was a Chinese company, and they had a row of about 10 or 15 women who I later learned had been imported from China, and they were using our laser. I had 15 laser systems, small ones, but they weren’t using any optical protection. And one day I had a call from the manager, owner or whatever. He one of the lasers wasn’t working right. He wanted me to come down and fix it. I said, well, I’m not the fix it guy, but I’ll come down and take a look. So I got down to the I got up to the facility and he’s got all these women that don’t speak English. He’s got the equal opportunity employment sign on his wall that you have to have by law. 

Craig Marley: But there’s nobody in there that speaks English except him and one other engineer. I said, where’s your safety manual? I don’t know what safety manual. I said, everybody has to have a safety manual. According to the FDA. Didn’t have it. I said, what are you doing with these women? They don’t have any eye protection. Oh, no. Understand? He played. He played his cards like he was dumb, you know, he didn’t understand the laws, etc., etc. I said, well, I’m sorry, I have to report you. And, um, I found out two weeks later they moved the whole operation back to China. But the none of the women were wearing eye protection whatsoever. So I kind of got on my on his case for for doing that. Um. People found out about that, about what I had done, and I think I was doing the right thing. Um, I was proud the day I retired, and I, you know, the company gave me a nice going away party and a trophy for being the millionaire salesman or whatever. I don’t know, it’s, you know, it’s sitting in the trophy, sitting in my closet. It’s a pewter, it’s a trophy, and the darn things are heavy. 

John Berry: Well, it rewards a awarding our team members is important, right? Because at the end of the day, it may not be about the trophy, but it’s about recognizing you in front of the team and letting the team know that you’ve done something great. Because we lead by example, and when the team sees an example of leadership, they they’re more likely to follow it. So tell us a little bit, if you could, a positive about military leadership that you saw when you were in service. 

Craig Marley: Well, I think the the communication between the officers and the enlisted men in the Seal teams is, is, is quite different from the regular, um, Marines, the regular Navy. It’s there’s a there’s a much closer bond because the officers are going through the training same as you. And so I think that the, the, I think the enlisted men learn from the officers how to lead as much as perhaps the officers learn how to lead. And I think that was really important. I, some of my best friends were the officers in my class. And there were seven officers that graduated. And my boat skipper, Brooks Ritenour, was the oldest and most senior officer. He was a JG lieutenant. He was the nicest, most calm. Straightforward guy, but he knew his business. He knew how to lead. And we we never got into trouble. And unfortunately, he passed away a couple of years ago. I went to his funeral, but the other six officers that graduated are still alive, and every five years or so, the officers will get together and host a party and say, come on over. You know, they buy the beer, they buy the wine, they buy the dinner and everything. And so it’s it’s a totally different sense of camaraderie when you when the officers and the enlisted men, uh, have that much connectivity, if you will, friendship, um, loyalty, loyalty to each other. So I think you learn from that. Uh, I know people that came out of the Marines or the Army and, you know, they hated their officers, but. And even the NCOs, some of the senior NCOs, they hated them. They were horrible people. They weren’t smart. They just happened to have the stripes. 

Craig Marley: Um. I’m sure everybody’s got stories to tell about that. Um, that anybody’s been in the military will tell you. And you probably experienced it, too. Some are good, some are bad. We’ve had some bad eggs in the Seal team over the years. My friend David Devine got killed because of an officer that told him he had to get in the water up river, and the water was eight feet deep and he’s carrying £60 of gear. He went to the bottom and he never came up. The officer got reprimanded and he kicked kicked him out of the teams. But it didn’t bring Dave Devine back. Leadership matters. Bad leadership. Another officer that I that I know personally, um, ordered a friend of mine and his dive partner to get in the water off the Straits of Taiwan to do a closed circuit oxygen dive. Now, oxygen diving is dangerous because oxygen as a gas, pure oxygen will kill you at 60ft. Like that. And if you go below 60ft, you’re really asking for trouble. So the Navy has a require a law that says you don’t go deeper than 30ft. Well, when you’re launching divers and the seas are 15 or 20ft, you know that the divers could be at 40ft, think they’re safe, and a 30 foot waves come along as well, and all of a sudden they’re at 60ft. This is my good buddy. One of my boat crew died. Tony S.carter. Had a had a wife one or 1 or 2 kids from Los Gatos, California. So just mistakes officers maybe being, uh, trying to. Make marks for themselves or get praise. But you know, there’s always going to be 1 or 2 bad eggs in the batch. 

John Berry: And we’ve seen that the careerist who cares more about their position than they do about their people, and that always that always ends badly. 

Craig Marley: Nobody’s high end. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And you see that in the enlisted ranks, too. And the senior enlisted ranks. Um, my good friend of mine was in my class. He was the really only the only bad boy we had in the class. He had a criminal record. Um, Army wouldn’t take him in. Marines wouldn’t take him. Navy said come back in a year. And if you haven’t had any altercations with the cops in a year, I’ll take you in. So he came in the Navy. He was a yeoman. He wouldn’t think a bad boy would be a yeoman. You’d think a bad boy would be a, you know, gunner’s mate or something like that. It was a yeoman, and he was a great yeoman, and he made rank. And he was finally worked his way up, made I think he made four tours to Vietnam. Um, several Purple Hearts. Some of them he didn’t even want. He said, keep it. I got enough and, um, highly decorated. Got a warrant commission. Um, you may remember a you may recall a person named Dick Marcinko. He was written. He’s written several books. His Seal team two. Uh, well, Dick Marcinko asked my friend, my my classmate, um, to come to the East Coast and he would get him to the War College. So he transferred to the East Coast. Marcinko got up to the War College. He got two master’s degrees and a commission. They. And they commissioned him as a lieutenant. Lieutenant? They didn’t make him an ensign. They got him right to J.G. right away. And he retired after 30 some odd years as the Bullfrog, the oldest active duty Navy Seal. That’s bullfrog. He retired as a full commander. 

John Berry: Wow. 

Craig Marley: So there’s some great success stories. 

John Berry: And I think as leaders, our goal is to develop all of our team members to to grow to that level, right to to be that senior leader. 

Craig Marley: So good. When the guys that worked for me went on after I retired a they left they they went on to new jobs and made much more money and had much more success and got much more recognition for their hard work. So I really felt good about that. I felt good about. The guys that worked for me, had gone on and done things as good as I had ever done them. 

John Berry: Sometimes those dividends of leadership we don’t see for years down the road, but they usually happen after we’re no longer the leader. But it still makes us feel good to know that we played a role in that, in that development. 

Craig Marley: And I look back on my swimming career. You know, when you’re standing on the podium and you’re getting a medal. To me, that was a nice reward. But I always was thinking, where’s the next one? What’s where’s the next one? I wanted to move up the ladder, so to speak. Um, so I was just as devastated by that event early in my life as my family was. 

John Berry: We want something greater, and that’s most people that serve in the military feel that just like you, you want the next medal. You had the win, where’s the next win? And the next one and the next one. And that seems to be common among, uh, leaders that excel, but also among service members. They just don’t want the next promotion, the next promotion. They want the next mission. They want to succeed in the next mission. The next challenge. 

Craig Marley: Yeah. Um, a good friend of mine who was a plank owner of Seal team won a game named Dennis McCormick. Uh, he’s passed away now, but he. After he got out of the Navy, uh, he got a PhD in clinical psychology, and he wrote a paper called, um, the. The seven seven characteristics of Navy Seals, and he went on to explain, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a Navy Seal to have it. You can be an Army Green Beret, you can be a firefighter, you can be a police officer, you know. But these are characteristics of leadership. And resilience was clearly the number one thing. Resilience, determination, calm and an innovative approach to problem solving. Decisive action. And then execute a plan. Um, uh, people that that enjoy being with other people are intercommunication, interconnectivity to the rest of the world and society, honesty beyond reproach, a belief in a higher power, belief in God. Um, self-control. Um, I have to admit, sometimes we all lose our self-control. You know, one too many beers, whatever. You get tempered up. Um, but I have an optimistic outlook on life. I just turned 80 years old. I’ve got my lumber back problems. But I have to thank one person, uh, very, very much. And she works for you, uh, Stephanie Bennett and her assistant, Melissa. Those two gals made my life so much easier. And they are just to be rewarded and congratulated. I can’t praise them enough. So thank you for hiring them and leading them. And thank Stephanie personally from from my heart and Melissa. And you know what I’m talking about. 

John Berry: I do and of course, Stephanie is an Air Force veteran. And so we hire veterans because they understand leadership the way you do. And I want to thank you, Craig Marley, for being on the veteran led podcast. For everything that you have done as a leader, you’ve led by example, but more importantly, you have lived by example. Uh, from overcoming adversity early on to becoming a Navy Seal, serving in Vietnam, coming out and and having a great, uh, like I said, yeah, we’re all adrenaline junkies at heart and but but continuing that great career, uh, and then and then when, when the family begin to begin to suffer because of your career, you went into lasers, became an entrepreneur, and now you’re an author. You continue to just do more and more and keep building a bigger future. And that’s an important example for veterans. We know too many veterans that leave service and and life ends there for them. They don’t do anything else. And it and they’re miserable. But but but you showed that the adventure can continue and the gifts that you can get, the leadership gifts that you that you that you received in the military, you have given back both as a diver, um, as an entrepreneur in the world of lasers and now as an author. So thank you. Thank you for being on the veteran led podcast. And most importantly, thank you for your service to our great nation. Thank you for joining us today on veteran LED, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earn. If you know a leader who should be on the veteran led podcast, report to our online community by searching at veteran LED on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments, we want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on veteran LED. 

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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