The earliest memories of my brother Phil were that he always wanted to join the Navy and be a frogman, also known as a Seabee. Their main duty was underwater demolition. As time went on he became more and more interested in becoming a Navy SEAL.
Phil, the oldest of three kids, born to an Italian immigrant father and a Brooklyn-born Italian mother, always excelled in school. Our father was highly educated. He was a chemical design engineer for the U.S. Borax and Chemical Company. Our mother was a homemaker.
When Phil was in high school, he was always preparing for the Navy. My brother used to run 5, 10 or 15 miles a day before running was ever popular. After he would run, he would go into the gym my father made for him in our basement and he would work out lifting weights for another two hours. This was his life. Homework, running, working out. The last two years of high school, he took scuba diving lessons. His bedroom always had air tanks leaning against his walls along with fins and diving masks.
It was no surprise to anyone that he joined the Navy and became a Navy SEAL.
In the 1960’s the Soviet Union’s ally, North Vietnam, was fighting against a U.S. ally, South Vietnam. President Kennedy wanted to send in small teams of guerilla fighters to help South Vietnam. They already had the Army’s Green Beret unit, it was now time for the Navy to create its own special operations unit, the Navy SEALs. (an acronym for Sea, Air, and Land). This was right up my brother’s alley.
After my brother’s duty as a SEAL in the Navy was completed, he joined the sheriff’s department in a large metropolitan city and moved up the ranks fast to become Deputy Chief.
I used to love listening to his stories about his adventures as a Navy SEAL; we would laugh for hours as he told us in detail about the tricks they used to play against the enemy, but never forgetting that they were sometimes minutes or seconds away from death.
My brother used to tell me how the SEAL’s training not only made you physically strong but mentally strong as well. They were taught the importance of teamwork. The focus was not on the individual but to work as a team. The fact that the SEALs never left another SEAL behind on a mission was a testament to this system.
Being that I was in management for almost 30 years, I would sometimes call my brother to seek his advice on some issues that sometimes arose as a manager. After all, he was now in charge of managing 200 employees himself. In my early days as a manager, I remember one incident in particular when I asked his advice about one employee coming to me with some serious complaints against another employee. He told me, “Listen intently to the employee’s complaint, but only listen with one ear.” I said, “What? One ear? What do you mean by that?” He said, “Save the other ear for the accused. You must listen to her story intently too. Remember, it is only by hearing out both employees that you can make an honest decision.” He told me by learning this lesson that I would always have long term employees, they would always respect me and remember me as a fair employer.
That advice has served me well. I have had quite a few employees that worked for me well over 10 years and longer.
My brother, a man of integrity and honor now sits in a wheel chair, the victim of a massive stroke. Once I asked him, “Phil, how is it that you are always so happy and never depressed about your circumstances?” He said, “Because when I was a SEAL, I was taught that your mind must always be the strongest part of your body, because the likelihood of you getting your arms and legs blown off and being captured by the enemy is great, and to survive those circumstances your mind has to always be in a positive mode.”
No wonder there were 300 guests at my brother’s retirement party, many with wonderful stories about the impact he made on their lives. I know they spoke the truth, because he made a great impact on my life too.
This is also one of the many reasons I feel so comfortable working at Kaufman , because Dr. Kaufman was also a Navy SEAL.