The moment Chad Williams knew he wanted to be a SEAL was outside the college classroom, in the parking lot, where he was doing donuts in his jeep and smoking weed. He didn’t want to go into class because he hadn’t studied for the final exam.
Nevertheless, he was incensed that Mom and Dad questioned his tenacity. He had already given up on baseball, skateboarding and professional fishing. How could he make it as a SEAL? they wondered. Still, Chad’s father went to the effort to hook Chad up with a real SEAL to try some grueling trainings — hoping to dissuade him.
At the first training, Chad, a cocky kid, initially outran Scott Helvenston until Scott caught up, passed Chad, then stopped suddenly and met him with a right hook to Chad’s stomach. He had the wind knocked out of him.
After that, Chad didn’t attempt any more hotdogging. But he did keep up with the workout and was invited for another day. Dad’s plan to discourage Chad was backfiring. Instead, Scott finished pre-training and pronounced his surprising verdict: I know you’ll pass.
“I felt knighted,” Chad reports in Seal of God, his book tracking his progress from a trouble-making kid bored with school and church, one who lived for thrills, both legal and illegal.
Growing up in Southern California, Chad loved baseball and pranks. He would ride bikes on top of the school building roofs and run from the cops, hiding under trees when police helicopters searched for him.
Chad liked collecting gunpowder from model rocket engines and making mini bombs to blow up. Once a particularly big bomb blew up in his face and arms, resulting in second degree burns that required a trip to the hospital. Sometimes, his brother told his parents, and Chad got in trouble for his mischief.
At some point, Chad’s parents became Christians and started attending church. Chad never opposed the idea of being a Christian and believed in his heart that he was good, but services and Sunday school bored him.
When he dropped baseball because the coach didn’t accept him on the team in his freshman year, he took up skateboarding and would sneak out of Sunday school to go practice tricks in the parking lot.
Chad excelled at skateboarding and used all his free time to get better (he didn’t do homework). He got so good he competed in extreme sports competitions and got sponsored by Vans shoes, which gave him notoriety among the kids and free gear.
With boyish face and charm, he even was cast for several commercials to do tricks on his board.
Over summer vacation, he did stints as a fisherman on a professional boat, working 18-hour days alongside the professionals. With his money, he bought a jeep. Upon graduation, he enrolled in college simply because it was the thing to do.
By now, a friend had introduced him to drinking and smoking dope. As he partied more, he dropped skating and fishing.
His life was adrift and pointless, every passion abandoned, with nothing in the future to work for. Then his epiphany came in the college parking lot: He didn’t want to take a college test he hadn’t studied for. He would become a Navy SEAL.
He immediately told his parents. He didn’t need college. He was going to be a SEAL. He convinced himself of this while spinning his car with skids in the parking lot (a feat called making donuts).
They lacked his enthusiasm. His capriciousness was only one problem. Another was that his mom worried he would die in Iraq.
Dad set out to dissuade him. He located online Scott Helvenston and cajoled him into showing Chad he didn’t have the right stuff. Instead, Chad proved to Scott that he did have the stuff.
With just weeks to go before Chad entered the Navy, Scott was contracted by Blackwater to join operations in Fallujah, Iraq, because it paid so well.
To his horror, Chad saw Scott’s burned body being dragged in the streets of Fallujah, ambushed in the “graveyard of America.” Scott had become his mentor and friend. As tears streamed down his face, Chad vowed to enter the SEALS to avenge Scott. It was 2004.
“All I wanted to do was go kill,” he recounts. “I wanted to kill everyone who hurt my friend.
“It felt as though Satan himself had entered me.”
There’s nothing as intense on the planet as SEAL training. The brutal endurance training is said to take five years off your life. After ceaseless drills, runs carrying boats, runs carrying logs, interminable freezing swims in the ocean and a thing called “surf torture,” the sleep-deprived candidates wash out one by one.
The instructors use intimidation and psychological games to scare off as many as they can; they only want warriors who can keep their head in a life-or-death wartime firefight. After you graduate BUD/S, there’s no chance you will freeze or run during an ambush.
The dropouts must ring a brass bell that can be heard far and wide on Coronado Island to announce they’re quitting. They can’t handle any more. The instructors taunt them with the option of returning to normal life: “a warm shower, warm bed and warm ravioli” – vastly superior to the MREs the instructors provide.
Chad made it through hell week. His best friend didn’t, along with the fittest guy who everybody thought was a slam dunk. With just a few hours of sleep all week, Chad hallucinated Ninja Turtles in the water and Ninjas on the beach. He was swollen, suffering from shin splints and had a broken nose that the instructor had patched up with duct tape.
His girlfriend and family came down to celebrate the feat. They were shocked to find him looking haggard and homeless. He spent days sleeping, even peeing into an empty Gatorade bottle because he was too exhausted to get up from bed and use the bathroom.
He was beaten up. But it was official: Chad was one of the elite. Of the original 120 candidates who started, only 20 were secured.
After classes on mapping under-ocean terrain for amphibious landings, after learning to set explosives on target boats by swimming upon them without making bubbles for hundreds of yards, after cold-weather training in Alaska and marksmanship with all classes of guns, Chad was ready for his first mission.
On his trips home on break, he resumed his reckless ways. Only now, he had a motorcycle he enjoyed riding at 110 mph. He drank heavily.
His friends would start fights at the bar, knowing that Chad would always finish them. Just as he had done as a little kid, he ran from the cops. Once they pursued him on foot, he scaled a chain-link fence easily, sprinted to the pier, dove off into the water and swam a box maneuver – out to sea a considerable distance, half a mile up the shore and then into shore.
When he got home in the early hours after a late night of shenanigans, his distraught mother confronted him with puffy eyes. “I just had the best night of my life,” he responded nonchalantly.
He would attend a Greg Laurie crusade with his girlfriend, who was just as worldly as he was.
Since he had gone to church as a child, Chad gave Aubrey the lay of the land so she wouldn’t freak out: They’re going to sing and clap, there will be a preaching.
Whatever you do, he warned, don’t accept Jesus at the altar call. They would sneak off to a party afterwards.
When the altar call came, Aubrey obediently did not stand up.
“I quickly stood and immediately was hit by a radical transformation taking place within me,” Chad remembers. “I still remember the day in 2004 when I watched on television as Scott’s body was being mutilated. That day, it felt like evil was being injected into me. But on this night – March 14, 2007 – I felt like God’s love was being injected into me.”
Chad had told Aubrey to resist the altar call. As she looked on incredulous, he stood up and walked down the stadium of the Harvest Crusade to pray to receive Jesus.
What are you doing? was all she could think.
Afterwards, Chad informed her: they were no longer going out to party. All desire for drugs, alcohol, recklessness and thrills-seeking had disappeared. He was transformed and zealous.
“Aubrey wasn’t happy with the sudden changes in my life,” he says. “In fact, they kind of freaked her out.” He was fired up about his faith, studying his Bible. She thought he had “gone psycho.”
Everywhere he went, Chad witnessed about Jesus. He had been a bold sinner, now he was a bold evangelizer, even street-preaching with Ray Comfort.
When he reported to Team 1, his uncompromising service to Christ became a problem. Namely, he refused to join in the drinking, trying to settle back as the designated driver, the one sober guy who makes sure everybody gets home safe.
Some of the guys felt disrespected when Chad, busy doing freshman SEAL chores, missed their car. When they got back drunk, they were furious. They decided Chad was an insubordinate, self-righteous punk who needed to be taught a lesson.
Hazing is normal in testosterone-heavy male groups, but high alcohol levels raised their rage levels to unexpected heights. Five intoxicated SEALs strong armed Chad, forced him downstairs from their Mississippi team house and into the pool, which had a thin layer of ice at night.
Against tough guys who fought him at the bar when he was in the world, Chad made short work of them. But against five SEALS who were as tough as him, he didn’t stand a chance.
The winter was cold and the water was frigid. He had been in cold water during Hell week and even colder water in training in Alaska, but here he could not get out of the water because they threatened to kick his head if he approached the side, Chad says in his book.
“I’m not going to hit you because I would kill you if I started hitting you.” he roared (f-bombs have been removed). “I would smash your face. I would kill you.”
He then head-butted Chad. His head hit the concrete and he knocked out. When he came to his senses, the men weren’t done. They continued to force him into the pool and order him to swim underwater from one end to the other.
“I began fearing for my life,” Chad says. “I didn’t think I could stay in the cold water much longer without dying.”
More pushups and jumping jacks came next.
Chad could not comply.
They forced him to shave his head, but he was so frigid and trembling that he did a shoddy job. Eventually, they relented.
“I hit rock bottom,” Chad says. “I couldn’t sleep at night because I didn’t trust the guys around me. I had lost Aubrey, probably forever.”
To the surprise of his team, Chap reported the extreme hazing. He felt he had no choice. Such incidents usually go unreported, but Chad, because he was a Christian, was concerned they would strike again because of his faith.
He was moved to Team 7 and sent immediately to the Philippines, where they were assisting to snuff out extremist Muslim insurgents Abu Sayyaf. The Filipino Marines attempting to rescue a missionary couple by tracking and killing the insurgents accidentally killed the American husband pastor (no fault of the SEALs).
His next assignment was in Fallujah, Iraq, where his mentor and friend, Scott Helvenston had been butchered. The SEALs’ job was to capture terrorists, preferably alive so they could be prodded for intelligence.
He was surprised to learn that most of the Iraqi soldiers they worked with were already Christians.
“I stood face to face with people who wanted to cut my head off for no other reason that I was an American,” Chad says.
One on operation they received a tip about a policeman who was doubling as a terrorist at night. Usually such operations were quick, over in a few seconds: just kick the door down, the guy in fear surrenders.
But on that fateful night, they got ambushed. The “tip” was a set up. After some SEALs got off their Humvees, the team found themselves surrounded by withering enemy fire. Chad was manning the 50-caliber gun atop one a Humvee.
He followed the enemy’s tracer bullets to the point where insurgents were firing them and unleashed hellfire until their bullets stopped. Directing his aim at another rooftop position, he fired along the roof line until their bullets stopped hailing down on the SEALs.
“I wasn’t nervous, although my adrenaline was definitely flowing,” he says. “It hits you almost like a drug, like an immediate addiction to the action. After all that training…, my attitude while gripping the machine gun was one of, Come on, somebody try me. Just try me.”
The other SEALs grabbed the cop/terrorist. His father was shot in the head. Only one on the team got injured; many of the terrorists were killed and injured.
Back at the base, the team reviewed the video footage. “Who’s that up on the Humvee that let it go with the .50 cal like that?” a team member asked. Chad had made hot work of his job.
“That was me,” Chad replied.
Another guy remarked, void of sarcasm: “Thanks for all your prayers, Williams.”
Finally, he was accepted as a Christian.
As his contract with the Navy was ending, Chad planned a new phase of his life, that of militant evangelism. His love for Jesus only grew and grew and grew, and he wanted to get into the streets of California to witness to people about God.
He had been in contact with Aubrey and had apologized for being overly zealous to the point of turning her off to God. They were back together, no longer to break up.
Naturally, Aubrey accepted Jesus and began attending church.
Chad began to propose proposals. He could invite her to the pier and emerge undetected because of his Dröger rebreather out of the water, SEALs style. Aubrey said no. He could invite her to a park and sky-dive in SEALs-style and right next to her and drop to a knee and produce a ring. Again, Audrey declined.
But the company providing the wedding ring also provided Chad with the romantic and surprising occasion. They arranged for Chad to get invited by Disney to its premier of When in Rome. Since Disney invited SEALs to special events with some regularity, Aubrey was unsuspecting.
Then, Chad told Aubrey, he was going to be interviewed about the ambush on live T.V.
It was also believable, so Audrey was unsuspecting.
On the gala night, with Aubrey dressed in stunning black dress and Chad in his dapper best, the couple passed over the red carpet, where in front of all the television cameras and lights, Chad dropped to knee, pulled the ring out from his sock. Instead of being interviewed about his heroics during the ambush, Chad proposed.
Today, they have two kids, and Chad is a motivational speaker always incorporating Jesus into his stories about the SEALs.
If you want to know more about a personal relationship with God, go here
About the writer of this article: Pastor Michael Ashcraft is also a financial professional in California.