May 03, 2021

The Art of the Debrief with Navy SEALs and Warfighters, Jeff Williams and Dave Wylie

Dana Safa

1Huddle Podcast Episode #36

On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with not one, but two guests: Jeff Williams and Dave Wylie. Jeff and Dave are former Navy SEALs who now serve in senior leadership roles at Strategos Consulting. Strategos is a management consulting firm that specializes in serving senior executives in the defense, aerospace, and homeland security sectors. They provide the full range of management consulting services, from strategic planning to market analysis and access. Jeff is the president and CEO of Strategos, and Dave is the Vice President of Training Services. They’re focused on identifying and bringing their client’s technological solutions to mitigate vulnerabilities in these highly distinctive sectors. 

On this episode of Bring It In season two, Jeff and Dave sat down with 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci and talked about the art of the debrief, how training creates courage, and why we need continuous development instead of outdated one-time training.

Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. 


Below are some of the insights Jeff and Dave shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.

  • “Being a former SEAL, people initially think of courage in a gunfight, jumping out of an airplane, or diving into dark water. But because of training, I don’t remember being scared or apprehensive during those events.”
  •  “It all ties back to individual and operational readiness. Training is the core of that; it will always be the core of that.”
  • “Humans are more important than hardware.”
  • “We have some courses that individuals will learn a skill set, but they won’t deploy for a year. So what’s happening in that year, how are they retaining that information? How can you support them in that year.”
  • “Training needs analysis. That is the foundation of any great training program.”


Sam: What do you think about what makes a great training program just as true north for our listeners?

Jeff: Actually Dave is probably the better person to answer that question, but I’ll take a stab at it. Dave, when he was introducing himself mentioned something that’s really important. There are four or five soft rules. The first one is humans are more important than hardware. You can have all the great equipment in the world, but that equipment can break. Humans will get the job done. The focus on the mission and understanding is absolutely critical. At the foundation of that is training. Training to become a seal you spend about a year in basic level training and then the advanced training before you even get to a CLT, and then you get to a seal team, and you spend 18 more months with that seal team doing personal training. Six months of personal development training where the guys go off to individual schools followed by another six months of core training followed by another six months of advanced training. Then you finally deploy overseas with your shield team. I cannot tell you how many rounds I fired during that period of time, or how many room entries we did, individual room entries, and dual room entries, but you develop that foundation over a long period of time. It’s not just the individual’s ability to do it, but his ability to work within a team, which is a whole other aspect of that and a different approach to training the way that you train an individual and then on top of that, the way you train a team and the leadership in the team. I remember I came in and listed, and then I became an officer. One of the challenges, they say it all the time is you’ve got to take your head off the sites to see what’s happening around you, but you need the sites to be able to shoot what you’re shooting at, but if you’re just looking down the sites, you don’t see the big picture. I remember the first time I entered a room during close-quarter combat training. There was a person in the middle of the room wearing a rain jacket and I don’t even know if I saw that person. But after the hundredth time or a thousand times of entering a room, you see everything. You see every detail of the room, you see the color of the telephone, the color of pillows. You know the color of the individual’s eyes, whether they’re a good guy or bad guy, we refer to them as you know, there’s a Hutch report, and we referred to him in a room and everybody in the room is either a hostile, an unknown, a terrorist or a seal. Furthermore, you’ve got to be able to see all of that in a moment and adjust what you’re doing at that moment. All of that is the basis of all that training and repetition. Any way to speed that up or create greater retention, all ties back to individual and operational readiness. Training is the core of that. It will always be the core of that. I don’t believe that anytime in the future we will change from our number one truth that humans are more important than hardware. 

Dave: I would say for me there are really three parts. One is, as Jeff said already, is the people and for our company, it’s the leadership — Jeff and I — and establishing a standard for our organization. What kind of product do we want to put out? We focus on the mindset that the training we do is high risk. People can get seriously injured or people can die. So the standard has to be, as it was when we served. From us, it goes down to our staff. We recruit, employ those who I believe are the best operators that are available at that time or have that pedigreed of real-world operational experience. That’s the people’s side of it. The other side of it is the customer and working in communicating with that customer and what their true requirements are and then not only incorporating their requirements but also looking at their doctrine. That’s what they’re required to do. Being able to incorporate the doctrine, incorporate their requirements and then support it and back it up with personnel qualifications or tactics, techniques, and procedures that occurred and relevant combined with the people at the end you can have a phenomenal training program.

Jeff: When I jumped up, I jumped straight into training and Dave really starts with that training needs analysis and harps on me all the time that I try to skip that and rush ahead. Dave standard there is that training needs analysis, I think is the foundation of any good training program. 

Sam: What makes a great instructor? 

Jeff: You have to have a mastery of the subject. Especially today after we’ve been in combat for almost two decades, it’s that experience, and it’s not the classroom experience. We’ve all had professors that were just professors. They never really got out into the real world and experienced the job. It’s, it’s all booked intelligence. For me, it’s that real-world experience that I am more attracted to. I think those are my two first thoughts. 

Dave: I would say really there are three Cs: Communication, courage, and counseling. The individual needs to be able to communicate what they’re trying to teach and to support that, as Jeff said, it’s the operational experience. It’s the real-world experience and the technical knowledge to be able to support that kind of training. Courage to do the right thing, courage, to be able to stop the problem and stop the clock. If it’s not right, stop, slow down, fix it, educate, and then move on again. And the last C I would say is counseling. I kind of tie that into mentorship, but the three Cs sounded better than CCF. Mentorship and being able to be, we like to call it the art of the debrief, how you pass the message to that adult learner on what they’re doing, right, what they’re doing wrong, or how they can enhance their skill sets is an art. It’s not everybody can do it at the same level. I think it’s being able to provide that concept to your instructors and then have them when they are wearing our Strategos shirt, and they’re in front of a course, Jeff and I aren’t always there. They’re representing our company, and they represent our brand and to be able to have those three C’s in one nice package and be able to do it as a professional is special. 

Jeff: Being a former seal and in the special operations community or Swick, I think that people initially think about courage and think of a gunfight or jumping out of an airplane or diving in dark waters. I don’t remember being scared or apprehensive before any of those events. Sometimes after that gunfight, you realize how scared you might’ve been. I think about the anxiety confronting an individual that might not be meeting the standard. I get a lot more anxiety or apprehension before I have to call someone or sit down with somebody and counsel them when something that you know is uncomfortable. Furthermore, I do think you do draw a lot of courage, and you need a lot of courage to lead or be a trainer. It can’t be underestimated that level of courage that a good or great instructor or trainer needs. 

Sam: My experience has been mostly on the corporate side or the private sector side, talking to companies or HR folks. One of the things that I’ve always been confronted with is this notion that training can’t be too tough. If it’s too tough, you might lose the learner. We don’t want people to fail because we’ve got to build people’s confidence up, or we’ll hear things like a game, a game is too playful. Any thoughts or reactions to those types of comments when it comes to delivering training and having the adult learner receive it? 

Dave: You really have to figure out what works best for that learner. Not every student is the same. Some people have to go down and put their hands on a piece of equipment, and they can’t learn it by a PowerPoint and an instructor sitting up in the classroom. Using 1Huddle as an example, we’re seeing great results with our younger sailors that we’re incorporating into our, some of our courses, because that’s what they’re used to. That’s how they’re receiving data, they’re receiving information. That’s how they communicate every single day to where that older adult learner might not receive it the same way. I think that’s when you start getting into that counseling, that mentorship role to where you’re doing that, one-on-one training with that individual to elevate them, to get them where they need to be.

Jeff: I was just thinking about this the other day. I was having a conversation with my wife about my son. As a parent, you’re always training your family or your son or your daughter. You don’t want them to fall on their face but when they do fall on their face, I think you learn more. We used to say in the seal teams that if everything goes right, you don’t necessarily learn anything. You got Murphy’s law out there and everything else, all these other variables and, and not just in the seal teams, but in your everyday life. I think you always learn more from failure than you do from success. Training is the place that I think that you need to drive to failure. If you’re going to fail, fail in training. Learn from those mistakes, go back. There’s absolutely another part of training it’s possibly more on the individual side, but being introspective and recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes a good instructor trainer can kind of create an introspective environment, but it also falls on the individual themselves to look at their strengths and weaknesses, look at the team’s strengths and weaknesses, where you fit in. My personal belief is, training is the place to fail and to learn, and reevaluate. I think that any chance you have, you should push that envelope to that point of failure without doing good risk analysis and not hurting anybody but pushing to that failure. It’s gotta be relevant. It’s gotta be engaging. 

Sam: You created a pretty powerful white paper on the opportunity to use games and kind of struggle-based learning in the process to help, get a soldier ready. What did you learn through that process?

Dave: I really think the challenge is that organizations, and you could put it under the department of defense or industry, major company, or a small business. I think the challenge that when it comes to training is how an individual receives the information and probably more importantly, how they retain it. In the white paper and working with your staff, the retention level really piqued my interest. It’s really easy as a trainer or the guy running training to make sure that you plan properly, coordinate, and execute each course to success. But what happens after that? We have some courses that individuals will learn a skill set, but they will deploy and use that skill set for a year. So what’s happening in that year? How are they retaining that information? And what can you do in an industry to support that individual’s long-term ability and capability to perform the duties that you train them to accomplish? I really think retention is probably the most important thing in that entire white paper. 

Sam: What do you think the hardest thing to train is? Given all the work you guys have done across all the different environments, is there something that you find that is the hardest, from a skill set perspective or a tactics’ perspective?

Dave: For me, I would say the greatest challenge is the operational environment. For example, if you’re training somebody to drive a boat, it’s, it’s easy to drive a boat in a beautiful flat sea, nice sun, no wind, but having that scale of that operational environment, where it’s realistic on what they’re going to deal with, daytime, nighttime, good weather, bad weather, and having it all kind of line up together in a package can be challenging.

Jeff: I think Dave nailed the retention piece, but the engagement piece. I think when you have a good team, whether that’s a team on a boat or, or anywhere else. Friendly competition is a great tool and the metrics that the gamification or the game creates where it becomes natural. For the guys to start competing with each other, how long did they spend on the game? How many, how many questions did they get? It drives the individuals too. Once again, be introspective and try to do better and that’s a natural occurrence that happens as a result of 1Huddle. That’s what I believe right now. I think that’s a new way to look at training, in that friendly, competitive game environment that people want. They want to do better than their peers, but it’s a friendly way to do better. Even in the office after we got the app, it drove some fun conversations that were related to the training, and we made the training better because of that as well. Back to Dave’s other point, I agree completely with you. It’s what you can’t control. It’s Murphy’s law, it’s the environment. I’ve come close to freezing to death a couple of times in training. When things are going wrong, you really need to fall back on that foundation and knowledge to get out of that mess. I think that 1Huddle when you look at a personal qualification standard, or you look at rating exams you know how to fix something. I think it really can help bring that foundation which ties into what Dave was saying, the retention. When things go wrong, you fall back on that, and you can utilize it. 

Dave: The first thing when you started talking about that, I actually smiled because I remember, we have an ad roll that works with us, and he was trying to outdo our master chief because the master chief scored higher than him. It was throughout our entire organization, no matter how junior you were, or if it was Jeff, the president of the company, we were continuing to want to train because we wanted to be better, and we wanted to win. I think that’s a critical part of u learning is the will and the want to learn. Motivation is always going to play a key role in that. 

Sam: I got one last question for you guys. You had both brought up mentorship a few times. I think that a lot of organizations try to do that right or try and do that well. What have you found is the key to a mentorship program or a mentorship experience to be effective? What has to happen?

Jeff: I say it all the time. Mentorship is mandatory in the seal teams. It’s a natural hierarchy that you kind of get where the platoon chief is training the LPO and the LPO is responsible to mentor and grow the people under him. In leadership, you can’t be scared that the person that you’ve developed under you becomes better than you. I think that’s the ultimate goal of mentorship. You’ve mentored someone so well that they actually can do your job better than you can do it. I think that goes back to the courage concept a little as well, and you can’t be scared of that.  I think the best mentors recognize that, and there’s a rule, a relationship, a desire. You can’t really pick the protégé or the protégé pick the mentor. It’s a natural thing, but I think that all good leaders are always looking for another mentor to give them a different perspective, to force them to be more introspective, to develop that individual and his skills so that he someday can be better than you and what you’re doing. I think that’s really the goal of mentorship. You’re just always seeking that out because you do want to become better, and you need that mentorship to really get to that next level.

Dave: To me, mentorship is all about relationships, and sometimes you don’t get to pick who the people you want to mentor, and sometimes you do. I see it as an opportunity to influence leadership, influence ethics, influence performance, influence communication, and hopefully at the end of the day you’re training, your relief, as Jeff said. You should always be training your relief.  I am 55 years old, and I seek mentorship out as much as I can and through the matter is I try to sit down with Jeff’s as the president of our company, at least once a month and say, what’s the goals, what’s the objectives, how do you want us to move forward? Where do you want us to be? I think that’s important because as a team if it’s training, or you’re a clerk up at a hotel, checking people in and out standardization is critical. I think mentorship really plays a key part in that and I think it’s an opportunity to educate train and grow individuals professionally and personally. 

Sam: Gentlemen, that was great. Any other topics you want to chat on or any closing words? Anything I missed? 

Jeff: I appreciate the opportunity. I appreciate Dave pushing me once a week and asking me all these questions that I’ve procrastinated on throughout the week. It creates that relationship that’s key and kind of caveat once again, humans are more important than hardware. Relationships are key. Mentorship is key to always looking forward and trying to grow. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong and when that happens the key is to be able to fall back on what you’ve learned and the training and the foundation that you have to assess the situation and get out, get off the ex.

Dave: My closing comment would be, and I’ll wrap it up with courage. I think as an organization or a leadership in an organization, you have to have the courage to understand that your people are the most important resource. But just as importantly, you need to be able to have the courage to provide them with the necessary tools for them to be successful and a critical part of that is training. How are you training your people? How are you mentoring your people and what kind of training you’re providing them? That’s one of the reasons why I’m super excited about the relationship between 1Huddle and Strategos is you’re providing us a tool. Not only that it’s helping our staff, but it’s grooming the future warriors and throughout the services. That’s something that I take a lot of pride in.

Topics Discussed: Topics Discussed: Leadership, Mindset, Training, Future of Work, Navy, Navy Seals, Military, Practice

Dana Safa, Manager of Digital Marketing at 1Huddle

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