After Jeff talked about the movie American Sniper on a recent podcast, we received a voice message from a listener who was himself a Navy SEAL sniper just like Chris Kyle. Jake Bullock was in the military from age 18 to 26 and did four tours of duty (three in Iraq and one in Afghanistan), retiring from the military in 2011.
What a unique opportunity; a window into warrior consciousness from someone that has a developmental perspective. We quickly arranged a call with Jake and Jeff, and it turned out to be a very interesting conversation!
It starts with the story of how a teenage integralist chooses to go off to war. As Jake explains, the warrior identity had always been strong in him. His father was in the military, as was his father’s father. But it wasn’t an obligation to his family or his country that drew him into service. It was the challenge: “I wanted to prove to myself I could do it.”
If you haven’t seen American Sniper, you might be familiar with Navy SEALs through any number of heroic, high-profile missions in the news, such as when SEAL Team Six went into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. SEALs are elite, special operations forces trained to operate in all environments (Sea Air Land). “I went through probably two and a half years of training before I even touched a battlefield,” Jake says. “You go through that mental training as well as the physical training, where you are really indoctrinated into this warrior culture.”
And yet…during that rigorous training he was reading Sex, Ecology & Spirituality by Ken Wilber. Jake had discovered integral theory at the age of 17. “Everything I learned always seemed to be incomplete,” he said. “[Integral theory] really tied everything together, with such a comprehensive view of reality.”
Excerpt | The most difficult part of being a Navy SEAL sniper
So, how accurate is the movie American Sniper? And what is it really like to wake up each day and your job is to kill people who are trying to kill you? Jake gives us first hand-insight: “When you’re in extreme danger…or you’re forced to take a human life, you really do your best to play these psychological tricks on yourself where you take something that…is very, very intense and sometimes life-changing, and reduce it to something that you can deal with multiple times a day, or multiple days out of a week.”
Basically, SEALs are just doing the job that they trained for. “When you’re in these special forces units, you’re going overseas and you’re the best equipped soldier on the battlefield,” Jake says. “You’re next to the best warriors on the planet. You know the United States will move mountains to see that you come home safely. You know you’ve got so much training under your belt that you’re very, very prepared for what you’re going to see.”
I would be in firefights with these individuals and come face to face with them after the firefight had resolved itself. But I never felt that raw sort of hatred that you would think you would feel when somebody is quite literally trying to kill you. It’s definitely an interesting experience to watch from an integral perspective…to see what I was doing and be the observer for it, and for those that were going through it with me. ~Jake Bullock
These soldiers are turned into lethal weapons, sure, but the most interesting thing about modern warfare is how they’re taught not to shoot. They’re trained to use discretion and restraint. Prosecuting war with such moment-by-moment intelligence is a new feature of human development. As Jeff comments, “It’s always dicey to talk about the relative humanity of war, but it does continue to create less and less collateral damage.”
Jake concurs, “If I want to give somebody an example of the development of humanity the first thing I point to is warfare. Even 60, 70 years ago, we used to carpet bomb cities. We dropped atomic bombs. And now we have bombs that are so accurate we can drop them through a window because we refuse to accept the deaths of innocent civilians. We go on night raids and we enter these target buildings where we know there are real bad guys, but unless somebody is an immediate, direct threat, we absolutely will not engage them.”
Since leaving the military Jake has been adjusting to civilian life and is currently working on his undergraduate degree at Columbia University in New York, where he says there is a lot of support for veterans. He talks about how the bonds he formed with fellow SEALs are stronger than any he’s ever had. “There is an instant brotherhood that cannot be replicated in the civilian world,” he explains. Yet these bonds can make it hard for veterans to form new relationships, particularly with other men.
How does he feel when he hears the news about ISIS and the continued troubles in the Middle East? “Warrior Jake”, he reports, still feels pulled to the battle — while “Integral Jake” works to integrate that power into an ever larger, wiser and more effective identity.
It’s a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation with an extraordinary young man. We hope you enjoy it!