“I can’t. I can’t. I REALLY am going to throw up!” My pitiful whimper falls on deaf ears. Around me, everyone is engrossed in completing their respective tasks, their sweat-stained faces wreathed in concentration.
“Down it or you don’t move. If you don’t move, your team doesn’t move either. I don’t want anyone fainting on me. It’s a hot day!” barks a hulking figure clad in army green, dismissing my plight as one would an inconsequential fly. His weather-beaten visage registers neither compassion nor annoyance. A knowing smirk maybe, and a mischievous twinkle in the eyes.
Bolstered by the rowdy egging of my teammates, I down the balance of my 100ml bottle of water before triumphantly tossing it into the cardboard box on the ground. Feeling like a bloated balloon, I waddle over to rejoin my ‘troop’ for the sprint towards our next point where a clue would be waiting.
“Keep in the group. Don’t leave your group. Or else it won’t count!” bellows that familiar voice. It’s the same chap — the one who showed no mercy when I had my ‘water issues’! This time, he’s whizzing past us all in a buggy while we run our weary legs off in the scorching heat of Pulau Bintan, Indonesia.
We throw furtive glances behind us to ensure that we’re maintaining a decent distance between ourselves and the other four teams — SEAL Team 6, Sea Wolves, Undersea Voyager Project and Spartan; we’re ICE-SAR. All these names are based on the various spokespersons, organisations or obstacle races that are associated with Luminox, the original self-powered watch brand, and the watch of choice for US Navy SEALs, F-117 Nighthawk TM stealth jet pilots, other elite forces and professional divers.
To my relief, the dirt road we’ve been pounding on comes to an abrupt end as a simple wooden jetty looms into view. It overlooks a picturesque river flanked by mangroves. Bobbing in the water are rows and rows of colourful kayaks. “Welcome to the next leg of your course!” the booming voice of Chief Robert ‘Rob’ Roy, veteran of the elite US Navy SEALs, slices through the still air, as he alights from his buggy and strides purposefully towards us.
THE ONLY EASY DAY WAS YESTERDAY
“I knew two things when I went on the SEAL programme. I knew that I was going to finish and that I wasn’t going to quit. I knew I couldn’t quit on a Monday because it was the beginning of the week. I couldn’t quit on a Tuesday because hump day was the next day. I couldn’t quit on hump day because Thursday was just around the corner. I couldn’t quit on a Friday because the weekend’s coming. That’s kinda my process!” And it’s a process he ensured we got to understand very well during the gruelling Luminox Jungle Survival Course just the day before.
The Survival Course, conceptualised by Roy, incorporates the Navy SEAL mantra of leadership and teamwork in an outdoor survival setting. Its aim is to bring the Navy SEAL mantra of “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” to participants and help them comprehend how each day’s challenges can only make one stronger.
Meanwhile, the goal is to help develop each team’s ability to utilise and leverage on each other’s strengths while minimising weaknesses. In the military world, this training is essential as it forces everyone to think as a team; to act instead of react, and to anticipate events with minimal information while effectively communicating the tasks and priorities. In military missions, time is of the essence and a matter of survival.
Holding court in the centre of the room, surrounded by an enraptured audience comprising media practitioners, is Roy, who’s also the founder of the organisation, SOT-G, a leadership and team-building company, which utilises leadership strategies and team-building techniques of US Navy SEALs and Special Operations units.
Just behind him, taking a little of the shine away, a spotlight shines over a collection of Luminox timepieces, namely the new Navy SEAL 3580 series, the latest evolution of the best-selling Navy SEAL collection of Luminox watches which introduces several upgraded features designed to weather the toughest obstacles, including a chronograph function and CARBONOX (innovative carbon compound) casing. The mantra, “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”, is prominently displayed on the dial of one of the watches. There’s also the striking ICE-SAR 1000 series and Deep Dive Carbonox 1550.
But impressive as the time pieces are, it’s difficult not to be drawn to the enigmatic Roy, who incidentally has also led several Luminox Operations Challenge (LSOC) worldwide. Now clad in a striking red T-shirt worn over a casual pair of shorts, he’s looking a little more civilian albeit no less formidable, ensconced with the rest of us in this make-shift interview room at The Canopi, a glamping resort in Treasure Bay, Bintan.
In his heavy American drawl, Roy continues: “What I did with you guys yesterday was kinda like a stretch goal. Just kept y’all pushing towards whatever was around the corner. Because that’s how life is. You just have to keep pushing to the next level. I like to say there’s no finish line.”
FATED TO BE
To say that Roy, who has also acted in movies (Deadliest Warrior, Rhino Wars, Ultimate Soldier), is a walking, talking ball of pure positive energy is an understatement — he exudes fire from his every pore. That being so, it’s easy to assume that his childhood must have been an inspired one. But it wasn’t.
His early years are the stuff that movie scripts are made of. “Yeah, they were interesting,” recalls Roy, whose parents separated when he was just 3 years of age.
“I lost track of my father when I was six. I remember seeing him and then nothing until I was like 11. When I was 12, I saw him at his gig as a part time DJ. But I never knew where he lived. I only found out — when I was 40 — that he lived just three blocks away!”
Roy, who has five other siblings, realised early on that he only really had himself to rely on. He recalls: “I used to play sports when I was a kid. But unlike the other kids, I had no one coming to see me play or cheering me on. I played football... and I quit. I did track... and I quit. I did wrestling... and I quit. And then something happened and I realised that no one was going to be there in my corner rooting for me. I guess I did all those things because I wanted my parents to come to my events. In the end, I went two years without doing any sports.”
By the time he was 13 or 14, Roy knew that he needed to leave his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to make something of himself. “I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do but I did know that in order to achieve whatever it was, I had to leave.”
When he turned 17, Roy joined the military. “Then a year later, I left to join the navy after I graduated from high school,” he shares. Were his parents okay with it, I couldn’t help blurting out. I couldn’t imagine any parent being okay with their child wanting to tread that path.
He looks at me intently before replying: “My parents were poor people. I don’t think they even knew what I wanted to do. My mother only had education up to sixth grade. She was divorced and lived with another guy. And I grew up around that person.”
His voice low, Roy continues: “He wasn’t very loving or supportive. He loved my mother but he never did stuff with me. I remember one time I asked if I could call him dad, and he told me, “I’m not your dad!” It was then that I realised I would be in this on my own. So I left and joined the navy and pursued a career.”
He recalls, without any trace of bitterness, that when he graduated BUDS — Basic Underwater Demolition, a SEAL training programme — he had no one to convey his joy to. “It was the most exciting time of my life but also the most depressing because I couldn’t tell anybody. My mum was there and I remember trying to explain to her just what I’d done. But she wasn’t able to appreciate it. I don’t blame her for not understanding. My mum was just a simple woman from Mississippi with six kids to fend for.”
Roy credits his broken upbringing for making him what he is today. “Because of it, I ended up nurturing a sense of resilience. I’d always thought that I had a destiny to fulfil. I didn’t know where the roads were going to take me but I knew things were meant to happen for me. I believe that if you open yourself up to things, then things will happen.”
When he was 21, Roy contemplated being a writer. “A lot of people were coming up to me and telling me that I was creative. A guy at college told me I should be a writer. I really did think about it!” Like most young people, he was susceptible to suggestions. And being swayed constantly.
Chuckling, Roy admits: “At that age, I listened to what everybody was telling me. Another guy I met told me I should become a Navy SEAL. Well, it seemed a lot easier so I signed up for the SEAL programme when I was 24! I forgot all about writing until I retired.” His book (co-written with Chris Lawson) called The Navy SEAL Art of War: Leadership Lessons from the World’s Most Elite Fighting Force was published in 2015.
ICE MAN MELTS
He’s rough. And he’s tough. But Roy is not all hard ice. At least when it comes to his children, of which he has two with his Swedish ex-wife — a 21-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. Admits Roy: “I’m careful not to show too much weakness or too much leniency because people expect me to be this tough Navy SEAL guy. I show my compassion with humour. If you’re having a bad time, I’ll figure out a way to make you laugh. But when it comes to my kids. man, I can get emotional!”
Roy shares that he sees a lot of himself in his son. But there’s something else that his 16-year-old possesses that he doesn’t. “He has more passion and compassion than I do. He gets that from his mother. I really believe he’s the best of me.”
His eyes take on a faraway look and suddenly Roy’s hitherto booming voice grows softer as he confides: “I love my son. He’s my hero. I’m not his hero. I think that he’s the sort of person that I’d want to be if I could be somebody.”
ROB ROY SNIPPETS
ON WHAT HE DERIVES SATISFACTION FROM:
“I get satisfaction when an individual or a group takes in what I say and use it. I get a lot from training other people. I learn from the generations that are coming up on what works and what doesn’t. I learn from every age group, every social dynamic. I bring that into what I’m doing. People are people. We’re all looking for a tribe to belong to; we’re all looking for situations that can make us successful.”
“Reading. I’ve actually turned my car into a university. It’s where I do my reading. Instead of listening to music or the news, I read. I like reading about human behaviour. I’m not into works of fiction. I’d go and see a movie if I wanted to be numbed!” ON A SUPER POWER HE WISHES HE COULD HAVE: “To be able to slow time down. Not like the Flash or anything. I’d want to be able to slow things down so I can see things happening.”
“Reading. I’ve actually turned my car into a university. It’s where I do my reading. Instead of listening to music or the news, I read. I like reading about human behaviour. I’m not into works of fiction. I’d go and see a movie if I wanted to be numbed!”
ON A SUPER POWER HE WISHES HE COULD HAVE:
“To be able to slow time down. Not like the Flash or anything. I’d want to be able to slow things down so I can see things happening.”