Navy SEALS are put through some of the toughest, mentally challenging and physically demanding training in the world with only around 25% of candidates making it through to graduation. Shawn Ryan was a former US Navy SEAL and CIA contractor who has transitioned to be a successful podcaster and interviewer on hard-core topics. His YouTube channel has almost 2 million subscribers with his videos getting up to a million views and his podcasts have over a million active accounts.
Shawn Ryan joined Andrew McLennan on 20Twenty to discuss his journey from Navy SEAL to CIA Agent, now podcaster, and how he found God amongst the world’s chaos.
Becoming a navy seal wasn’t Shawn’s original plan. He wanted to join the Marine Corps and go into Force Recon but was laughed out of the office. He tried the Army stating he wanted to be a Green Beret or a Ranger and was laughed at again. Then a Navy recruiter asked Shawn if he wanted to be a Navy SEAL. He didn’t know what that was at the time, but once he understood what the role entailed, he signed up.
The Essence of a Navy SEAL is Teamwork
‘The biggest thing I learned while I was a Navy SEAL is teamwork. They ingrain that in you from the time you show up to SEAL training all the way throughout your career. You learn very fast that individual victories have no place in a SEAL team environment,’ said Shawn. ‘You get these guys that were Olympians, Golden Globe boxers—really high calibre athletes. They get there and they’re used to winning all the time.’
Shawn explains that SEAL training (BUD/S) is rigged so that you’re going to lose at something. You can’t be there for your personal glory. It’s not about you, it’s about how well you perform as a team member.
‘Let’s say you’re the fastest guy on the run or the fastest guy in the slams. You can do the most pull-ups, the most push-ups, and you’re the best shooter. That’s all great, but that’s not what they’re looking for. They’re looking for somebody who can perform, but also cares about their teammates,’ said Shawn. ‘Let’s say you do a four-mile run once a week when you’re in BUD/S. If you are the guy that is the first in on the four-mile run and then you’re having a little victory dance while everybody else is trying to pass the time, you are going to pay for that. For one, you don’t look good in the rest of the classes’ eyes because all you care about is yourself. And two, you don’t look good in the instructor’s eyes because this is a team. You’re training to be on a SEAL team. So, what they want to see is these guys go back and when you’re done, go help the guys that are struggling to complete it.’
From Navy Seal to the CIA
Shawn spent six years as a Navy SEAL before joining the CIA on a program called GRS (Global Response Staff), where he spent the next nine years. The GRS program required six years of special operations experience.
‘They would utilise all of the tactics and knowledge that special operators had gained from being at war. Then they would bring it into the CIA and it would help these case officers plan their missions, give them protection and help them with a lot of their tradecraft that they weren’t used to because they had never worked in a wartime environment,’ said Shawn.
One of Shawn’s biggest challenges was leaving the CIA and transitioning back into civilian life. The other is his newfound faith. While he grew up as a Catholic and went to church every Sunday with his family, he gave it all up when he turned eighteen and never gave it a second thought.
Shawn started looking for answers when the massive shakeup experienced all around the world in the past few years had him trying to make sense of where the world was headed.
‘I’d been looking for answers and I wasn’t finding any. And finally, I went to God,’ said Shawn. ‘I guess that would be a 20-year journey back to Christ. It’s been tough, and I think there’s a part of me that thinks there are a lot of hypocritical Christians and that drove me away from the church for a very long time.’
Hypocritical Christians were a barrier Shawn had to break through. It took him a long time to realise that Christianity was about his personal relationship with God. It was not about going to church and going through religious motions yet living differently away from the eyes of the congregation. Shawn realised that a person’s faith was reflected in the way they lived their lives and who they were at their core.
Before putting his faith in God, Shawn had tried everything from therapy to pharmaceutical medicine, and psychedelic medicine. To cope with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), he used painkillers, benzos, alcohol, narcotics and parties. Since coming to faith, Shawn has finally found peace from the turmoil he was battling.
‘I’m digging into the Bible for the first time. I had studied it a little bit as a kid, but I never really took it seriously,’ said Shawn. ‘The more I dive in and the more I read, I begin to understand I’ve been living a lot of my life the wrong way, according to the Bible. So, there are a lot of changes happening in my life at a relatively rapid pace right now. But it’s all positive stuff.’
The Breakdown That Tipped Shawn Over the Edge
After an intense week of interviews for his shows, Shawn came to a breaking point. His interviews relate to heavy subject matters that can sometimes trigger Shawn’s trauma from the past.
‘I had two interviews back-to-back. One was with this guy, Ryan Montgomery, who was a hacker who had hacked into all these pedophilia websites and was exposing the people that were partaking in that content,’ said Shawn. ‘The other guy I interviewed was this guy Tyler Vargas Andrews. He was one of the Marines who got blown up at Abu Ghraib during the Afghan war. John was missing his leg and arm.’
Shawn explains the rage he felt at leaders in the American military who dropped the ball when the decision was made for the American military to leave Afghanistan after spending 20 years there.
‘And it enrages me that there are so many pedophiles in the world. On top of that, this is all in one week, one of my best friends here in Tennessee died who was also a SEAL, and there was a school shooting in Nashville at a school called Covenant,’ said Shawn. ‘I volunteered to give them a security assessment of their school after that happened. When I went there, it had been a long time since I’d seen that kind of carnage. There was still stuff on the walls and stains on the carpets. Everything was still a mess. They were just starting to clean it up.’
Coming to Faith Via a Stranger
Shawn was on his way to Sedona, Arizona, on vacation with his wife when he broke down on the plane.
‘I just didn’t see any good in the world anymore, anywhere I looked,’ said Shawn. ‘It was a rough vacation. I had this kind of internal battle going on. It was like a voice in my head telling me, “Why are you speaking out against any of this stuff? Nobody cares. Nothing’s going to change. I don’t see anybody else fighting for it.” And it became, “Why are you doing this?”
Shawn thought about quitting his shows as he felt it was all for nothing because nobody really cared, nothing was going to change, and it was causing him so much stress. He felt like in a way he was succumbing to evil.
After going for a hike to clear his head, he only felt worse and said it was like a black tar was going over his heart. He decided at that point that he was done.
When he was walking through the gate of the resort he was staying at, one of the guards who he had never seen before started talking to him. He was in no mood to talk but this guard kept talking to him.
‘He literally read every thought that was happening in my brain at that specific moment in time from front to back. He was talking about different scenarios that were playing out in my head very specifically and saying things like, “This subject over here, you don’t need to worry about that anymore. That’s not your battle anymore. And this stuff right here, you need to quit worrying about that, too.” There is no way that this guy could have known what I was thinking. I’d never seen him before, he didn’t know me, but he was talking to me as if he knew me,’ said Shawn. ‘I only remember the first two things he told me because it scared the hell out of me. I’ve never had anybody go through my current thoughts from front to back in 60 seconds. So, I told my wife when we started walking back to our room. I said, “I think that was God talking to me there.” And she looked at me and said, “Yes, Shawn, of course it is.” She’s said, “God’s always been around you. You just don’t make time to let Him in.” That hit me like a ton of bricks.’
After having an in-depth conversation with his wife, Shawn made a decision at that moment to study the Bible and work on developing a relationship with God. His wife joined him on his Christian journey and they are both now powering through the Bible.
Shawn Ryan is the founder of Vigilance Elite and the host of The Shawn Ryan Show. To find out more about Shawn, visit: The Shawn Ryan Show
To listen to Shawn’s full interview with Andrew on 20Twenty, click the link below:
Image sourced from Vigilance Elite Facebook page.