Azimuth Consulting Group | The Traverse | Team Red, White & Blue
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Theme music by: Ruel Morales
Brian Schoenborn 0:02
Hello, hello. Hey everybody, my guest is essentially the real-life Colonel Hannibal Smith from the A-team. A recently retired lieutenant colonel himself, he’s logged over 30 years of service in the Green Berets, including commanding, planning and executing special ops all over Europe, Asia and North Africa. He hung his beret on getting ahead of al Qaeda and preventing the network from spreading. His weapon of choice: kindness. Since retirement, he’s shifted his focus towards leadership consulting with fortune 100 companies, through Azimuth Consulting Group, and his upcoming extreme outdoor development track called the Traverse. Give it up for my friend, Chris Schmitt.
My name is Brian Schoenborn. I’m an explorer of people, places and culture. In my travels, spending over 20 countries across four continents, I’ve had the pleasure of engaging in authentic conversations with amazingly interesting people. These are their stories, on-location and unfiltered. Presented by 8B Media, this is Half the City.
Chris Schmitt 1:16
I love it when a plan comes together.
Brian Schoenborn 1:18
Oh man, I love it dude. I can’t play the A -team soundtrack. But I’ve got that music playing in my head right now.
Chris Schmitt 1:25
Brian, hey, thanks for this opportunity to chat.
Brian Schoenborn 1:27
Yeah, dude, let’s have a good one. I’m a former Marine. And you’re an Army guy. You know, we can’t all be perfect. But I’ve always held a special place in my heart for special ops guys, especially Green Berets.
Chris Schmitt 1:43
Brian Schoenborn 1:44
Yeah, man. I’m really interested in hearing like, as much as we can talk about, about your time in the Green Berets, things that you’ve done. You know, just overall strategies and things like that. But first, I was hoping you could tell me a little bit about, like, your origin story. Like how you got into the military, how you eventually made your way to Green Berets got your commissioning, that sort of thing.
Chris Schmitt 2:13
You know, I never had really any intention to join the army and that’s the funny thing about having spent 30 years in the military is that that was never any sort of plan. It just continued to be fun. And, and as a result of being fun, and it provided for the family and actually provided a great life for my family. And, and the most interesting thing I think, is that it also provided me a ton of autonomy in the last 10 years of my career, I was autonomous to do some really cool stuff that that provided me purpose and, and provided me with a real sense of, of doing something important. You know, it’s funny to say that the reason I joined the army is because I wasn’t accepted into West Point.
Brian Schoenborn 3:08
Wait a second. How does that work?
Chris Schmitt 3:13
As it turns out, I get a letter from West Point saying, you know, “We’re sorry, but we don’t think you’ll be academically successful at our institution”. So I quickly did some research and I determined that enlisting in the infantry is the easiest thing to transfer out of, because it’s only the infantry of the army. And, and I’ll figure out a way to get to West Point. And that kind of relentless pursuit of an opportunity to do what my noteworthy goal was brought me to enlisting, and after a couple years and numerous cracks at the SAT, I got accepted into the academy.
Brian Schoenborn 4:01
Word on the street is that this bullet sponge took, what, 12 rounds of SAT testing?
Chris Schmitt 4:08
You know, I was called a math ignoramus. Hey, you know there’s a bunch of friends out there that are chuckling right now.
Brian Schoenborn 4:16
That’s probably putting lightly.
Chris Schmitt 4:17
Yes the dean at the prep school for the army, where prior service guys got a chance to transfer into the academy, with his Bronx accent good Dean Beale called me, “Mr. Schmitt. You’re a bit of a math ignoramus.” And I validated that by failing calculus my freshman year as well, not because I wasn’t working my ass off. Because I wasn’t necessarily skilled as a mathematician.
Brian Schoenborn 4:53
You know, it’s funny as I um, I had a conversation with a with Dr. Joe Trachtman recently talking about, you know, he’s at the forefront of like elite performance and stuff like that, you know, the cross between optometry and experimental psychology. He was also told that he would never be able to do science in his life. You know what I mean? Like, it’s just kind of funny how, like, certain people try to limit you on things.
Chris Schmitt 5:22
Well, it’s all about mindset. It’s actually one that I really geek out on. Carol Dweck wrote a book on the ideas of having a growth mindset.
Brian Schoenborn 5:33
Yeah, fixed versus growth. Right.
Chris Schmitt 5:35
Exactly. And I think that having a mindset of achievement. Having a mindset of being willing to learn and grow into something is the essential piece of a high performer.
Brian Schoenborn 5:47
Right on. No, absolutely. Okay, so you failed math a dozen times. You enlisted in the infantry, you know, essentially a bullet sponge. What year was this?
Chris Schmitt 5:57
I enlisted in 1986. And my first deployment was whacking coca plants. You, know, during our war on drugs and you know, and actually the war on drugs kind of stayed with me, not only something that we were doing in the light infantry from Fort Ord, California in the seventh ID. In my enlisted time, but it still followed me. I studied “Sendero Luminoso” and “The Shining Path” at West Point and did all of my papers on what it was that we were doing when I was involved in all that stuff as an enlisted guy, and it allowed me to study insurgency and groups and the energy behind the type of stuff that became incredibly valuable after September 11. After 911, my work at West Point gave me insight and some background that was very valuable as a special forces officer once I went that route.
Brian Schoenborn 7:06
So when you were in the infantry, enlisted, like how long were you there before you eventually passed the SATs and got into West Point.
Chris Schmitt 7:18
I just spent about two years before I got a chance to go to the prep school, which was another 10-month program. And then from that went to West Point, graduated West Point in 92. So, you know, a little bit over six years was necessary to get through West Point, unlike the four of my classmates.
Brian Schoenborn 7:40
Yeah, but I mean, whether it’s West Point or other universities, I mean, you’ve got seven-year seniors and stuff like that, right?
Chris Schmitt 7:49
Well, it was great because my enlisted time and I returned back to the infantry as an officer, my enlisted time gave me a ton of credibility with my troops as a platoon leader. And you know, the fact that I had done a lot of the same things that they had done so from day one you know, I was already credible or those that didn’t know because I didn’t flaunt it. Yeah, the you know, they would give me the grief you know, “hey, second lieutenant, you don’t really know what you’re doing” and you know, the squad leaders after a little bit of time would whisper in their ear and go “you know, he’s, he’s already done 10 of these 25-mile road marches. You know this is your second”. You know, my guys took care of me. I think that was that was one of my themes is that if you approach your leadership style, not only with your team, but then you exude that kindness forward as you’re getting stuff done. I think that’s an essential tool.
Brian Schoenborn 8:59
Interesting. So, so you’re an officer, you’re back in the infantry. Where are you, I mean, aside from being a butter bar, like where were you like, were you stationed at that point?
Chris Schmitt 9:10
So I was I was stationed up here at Fort Lewis.
Brian Schoenborn 9:13
Up here being Seattle?
Chris Schmitt 9:14
In the Seattle area, yep. So, actually, down in Tacoma at now called Joint Base Lewis McCord. The unit that I was in, in California at Fort Ord, got moved up. When it got moved up, the three brigades that existed of the seventh ID, two-plus of them were deactivated. It’s the early 90s you know, that kind of thing is going on. And that separate regiment then was highly deployable for little problems.
Brian Schoenborn 9:49
Little problems like what?
Chris Schmitt 9:51
Like what we’re still doing the counter drug thing in a lot of different places. And one of the counter drug missions that I had a chance to do was to be deployed to hardship Coronado.
Brian Schoenborn 10:06
Hardship, Coronado? So Coronado Island for those of you that don’t know, it’s just off the coast of San Diego. You can get there by bridge. There’s a famous hotel, Hotel del Coronado, that’s where this movie “some like it hot”, the classic with like Marilyn Monroe and whoever else was in it. That’s where that was filmed. But also on Coronado — hardship — also on Coronado. That’s where the navy seals are trained on the west coast.
Chris Schmitt 10:37
Brian Schoenborn 10:38
So, you know, whether you’re whether you’re saying as a hardship or not, I mean, that’s debatable. I’m wondering what you’re doing on Coronado.
Chris Schmitt 10:43
So, yes. And that’s exactly that’s why we were there is that we stayed there on the same base that the seals do their BUD/S training. And, my scout sniper team assisted the border patrol in tracking drugs.
Brian Schoenborn 11:04
Were you a sniper too?
Chris Schmitt 11:06
I was qualified as a spotter.
Brian Schoenborn 11:08
Chris Schmitt 11:10
No, officers really shouldn’t be pulling triggers.
Brian Schoenborn 11:12
I mean, I’m just trying to understand like, where like what your unit looks like. It was a sniper unit as a whole?
Chris Schmitt 11:18
So it was five sniper teams and three recon elements.
Brian Schoenborn 11:22
Oh, nice. Okay.
Chris Schmitt 11:24
So it’s actually three sniper teams and five recon elements.
Brian Schoenborn 11:27
So is this SF?
Chris Schmitt 11:29
So this is still infantry.
Brian Schoenborn 11:31
Chris Schmitt 11:32
It’s a reconnaissance scout sniper platoon attached to an infantry battalion. But my battalion commander was a guy named Nick Bednarek who became a Ranger regimental commander. And, and that opportunity gave, you know his, the trust that people had in Colonel Bednarek was extended to me because I was one of his, I was his selected lieutenant to be after my line platoon to be the scout sniper platoon leader. Which was super neat because it allowed for us to help the Border Patrol do a better job at interdicting drugs. We weren’t we weren’t rounding up illegal aliens were they’re crossing the border. In fact, the there’s a whole lot of legislation that prevents us from doing that: Posse Comitatus, Treaty of Guadalupe. The bottom line is there were a number of things that were involved in this mission at the time Janet Reno was informed regularly on what we were doing because we were using troops so close to the border. The cool part about this whole thing though is that it was in a capacity of support and try to help the Border Patrol do a better job utilize infrared technology better and help them as they were being distracted that the fascinating thing, then and now, is that it was so easy to come across the border so that buses were pulling up at the border and people were sliding down the drainage ditch in Tijuana and coming North like there was no way for that even be slowed. And this isn’t a discussion on the wall or discussion about, you know, many of the different republican or democratic arguments here. I think what’s interesting is that this problem has been ongoing for years through both through administrations on both parties, and no one has addressed it. And that’s the real sad thing, I think, is that there should be something done that would, that would not only serve our country but serve the people that are caught in this situation.
Brian Schoenborn 14:02
So no, I mean, I think that’s a pretty…it’s an interesting point. It’s an interesting take on it because everything seems to be so political these days about all that stuff. You know, when you’re talking about these people sliding through the drainage ditch or whatever, are you focused on these immigrants crossing the border, or are you looking at something else?
Chris Schmitt 14:23
That’s a great point and our focus is stopping drugs. So anybody with a big pack, obviously, is now a person of interest. And there’s armed guards, or coyotes or guides, armed guides that would guide these people with the packs which would wait and push, they would push all the people in one direction so the Border Patrol reacts to them, and then they would go and move the drugs in another direction.
Brian Schoenborn 14:57
Chris Schmitt 14:58
Absolutely. And they would just, push the herd in one direction and slide the other way. And, and so when that would occur, we would keep eyes on. As this became more and more successful and we wouldn’t do the apprehension we would just help the appropriate legal officials do what they need to do. As that became really successful, then it meant that bigger packages were being moved further to the east. And, and then it was key in that 1995 timeframe of really putting a dent in, in some of the post-Christmas movement of cocaine and marijuana across the border.
Brian Schoenborn 15:44
So you’re saying that after Christmas, the Mexicans are trying to move their Christmas trees and snowflakes up North?
Chris Schmitt 15:52
Everyone takes a break for Christmas. Even the drug cartels. They’re good Catholics.
Brian Schoenborn 16:01
They’re good Catholics. That’s right. Right on. So this is your early years as an officer, still infantry. Kind of your first tour of duty, right? Like a Colonel Hannibal-in-training. You know, I know you served in the Green Berets, but like, at what point did you move into Special Forces? You know, where did, what was the transition there? What happened?
Chris Schmitt 16:30
Well, I knew even when I was I was at Fort Lewis that special forces was the direction I wanted to go. I think even like towards the end of my time at West Point, I had identified that being a Green Beret is something that I wanted to do and I think I wanted to do it because the concept of being part of the army, that is working on harder problems, that’s enabling others, that mission on the border. Being involved with Cuban refugees in Gitmo, which was another mission that I had, all of those that had doing things of strategic consequence really resonated with me. So going Special Forces was something that I, I really wanted to do and it really resonated with me. I think it was the only way that I was going to stay in the military. That’s where my initial Special Forces training starts off, with training at Fort Benning, Georgia and goes to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Brian Schoenborn 17:29
In Georgia? Okay, so I mean…
Chris Schmitt 17:31
So I was pursuing the Best Ranger competition and Best Ranger is about a 72, 75 hour continuous road march.
Brian Schoenborn 17:49
Chris Schmitt 17:49
Shooting. It’s a hard event that you have to be Ranger-qualified for…
Brian Schoenborn 17:56
So, so it’s…hold on.
Chris Schmitt 17:58
It’s the ultimate…
Brian Schoenborn 17:59
This is crazy. I just need to wrap my arms around this really quick and try to unpack it a little bit for the listeners. So you’re a Ranger at this point…
Chris Schmitt 18:07
Brian Schoenborn 18:11
How many people have a ranger tag?
Chris Schmitt 18:14
Brian Schoenborn 18:16
Tab? Oh, sorry. So how many people have a ranger tab? Like, out of the whole army? So there’s a million people in the army…is this like a 10% thing?
Chris Schmitt 18:24
Probably less than that. It’s probably less than 10%. I won’t go far as say only five.
Brian Schoenborn 18:30
So essentially, you’re like, the elite of the everyday forces. Right? I mean, it takes a lot to get that tab, I would imagine.
Chris Schmitt 18:40
Absolutely. It’s a difficult school. In fact, you know, even if the question comes up of what’s harder, gaining a special forces tab or gaining a ranger tab. I would say they’re different.
Brian Schoenborn 18:56
Chris Schmitt 18:58
Ranger School was intense. You know, most people lose 30, 40 pounds while they’re in Ranger School.
Brian Schoenborn 19:04
And how long is the school?
Chris Schmitt 19:05
60 some days. Yeah, you know, there was a different format.
Brian Schoenborn 19:09
Not quite as hard as the Marine Corps Boot Camp.
Chris Schmitt 19:11
Exactly. Not as hard as boot camp, and the crucible, right?
Brian Schoenborn 19:17
Well, that’s what I was thinking, right? You’re talking about, you know, the Ranger competition or the
Chris Schmitt 19:23
How hard could it be, right? It’s only like three days. You know, how hard could it be?
Brian Schoenborn 19:27
Right? It’s the Ranger, the top Ranger…?
Chris Schmitt 19:29
You’re running 25 miles with a with a full combat load pack that you just jumped in. And you did a land navigation course and then you’re about to go shoot and then you’re going to do you know, a several mile paddle on the Chattahoochee River and then you’re going to do a bunch of skills tests and then you’re going to do another land nav course, and then you’re gonna you’re going to do a helo cast and set up a poncho Raff set up a field expedient radio system, the competition changes every year. The bottom line is, if you compete the Best Ranger competition, you’re a badass.
Brian Schoenborn 20:08
I mean, I’m not denying that, by any means.
Chris Schmitt 20:10
If you compete in the best Ranger competition and win, you are truly a master of your profession.
Brian Schoenborn 20:16
So where did you fall in this competition?
Chris Schmitt 20:18
I competed in it twice. And we we were in second place up to the last night and we exceeded our time in the land nav because we shot for another point. And we ended up finishing sixth.
Brian Schoenborn 20:35
That’s, I mean, dude, that’s respectable. Let’s be honest.
Chris Schmitt 20:37
And the guy that I did the competition with the first time, Mark Nygaard, had done the competition for five years in a row beforehand. A truly hard individual.
Brian Schoenborn 20:49
Wow, that’s crazy, dude.
Chris Schmitt 20:50
No, it’s great. Yeah, absolutely. It was a great experience it was, it was my chance to do kind of an Olympic level competition,
Brian Schoenborn 21:00
Chris Schmitt 21:01
Brian Schoenborn 21:02
I just want, I want to hear a little more about this really quick. So you said it was like 72, 75 hours. Is that continuous? Are you sleeping at all, or…?
Chris Schmitt 21:09
Well you kind of catch little naps between events. If there’s…you got to go to the range and shoot this certain weapon. They’ll put the teams in order so the teams will go one after the other. So you might have 20 minutes, and as you know being a marine.
Brian Schoenborn. 21:27
Take a power nap.
Chris Schmitt 21:28
Exactly, yeah. Being a marine, any chance you get a chance to get some rack you just pull out your Poncho liner and…
Brian Schoenborn 21:34
I’d usually I’d take my take my Kevlar helmet and like lodge it on my chest and just put my chin down on it. Like that was my pillow.
Chris Schmitt 21:42
You know, a little bit more further advanced, you pull out your poncho liner.
Brian Schoenborn 21:47
Well, I mean, we can only aspire.
Chris Schmitt 21:52
Once you really perfected over 30 years versus 3, you perfect the art of the power nap…
Brian Schoenborn 21:58
It was two actually. I aspire for that third year.
Chris Schmitt 22:06
Brian Schoenborn 22:07
Okay, so cool man, like you so you did the Ranger thing the competition, Best Ranger competition twice. Top ten, sixth place the first time probably very close to or better or around there…
Chris Schmitt 23:16
Well, the second year, I got hurt during the event.
Brian Schoenborn 23:19
Okay, so did not finish.
Chris Schmitt 23:21
Did not finish.
Brian Schoenborn 22:24
Okay, so like, you know you’re doing the Ranger training. How long were you in the Rangers before you went into the Green Berets and do you have any like…?
Chris Schmitt 22:33
So, while we’re in Savannah, that’s when I was going through Special Forces Qualification Course.
Brian Schoenborn 22:39
Chris Schmitt 22:41
So at this time I’m I’m, the reason why I left Washington is because I had had already gone through selection and was selected on it. And, and I earned my Green Beret in 1998.
Brian Schoenborn 22:56
Awesome. So, so you’re a Green Beret, essentially a Green Beret for almost 20 years. Yeah. Almost 20 years of your 30 Yeah.
Chris Schmitt 23:02
18 years. So I retired in November 16. And was lucky enough to continually have special forces assignments.
Brian Schoenborn 23:17
I know during your time as a Green Beret officer, you did Special Forces Operations all over Asia, Europe, North Africa. What are some of these operations that like, pop out? Soon as I said, “Hey, what was it like to be a green grey officer?” What are some of these that would pop up?
Chris Schmitt 23:37
You know, the cool thing is really one of the first missions, you know, the first real big mission is one that always sticks with you, and I, our team was lucky enough to be selected to go into Kosovo. So it’s early spring of 1999. President Clinton is saying there’s no ground troops. We got no boots on the ground in Kosovo, which, unfortunately, we’re sitting in Kosovo with a little red transistor radio on the BBC hearing that there’s no ground. So we decided that we just wouldn’t wear our boots today, and we’d have to wear our, you know, running shoes, so that we weren’t wearing boots. The bottom line is it was a great mission because we were tasked with finding the commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army or the UÇK. And instead of just chasing headlong into country we were deliberate enough and we we thought about it some and we found his sister in a refugee camp in Macedonia. And then through his sister were able to find him quickly, even though we didn’t know really what he looked like. We didn’t let anybody know that, but we didn’t have a real clear picture of even what his full name was. I had a codename and a voice intercept of what he sounded like. Which was super neat to be able to be successful real quickly.
Brian Schoenborn 25:20
Listeners, imagine this all right? We’re talking 20 years ago. Yeah, we’re talking 1999. The search engine of choice is basically Yahoo. Google had just been started, like a year or two before that, you know, the internet’s okay in America, but it’s still the dialup.
Chris Schmitt 25:41
Brian Schoenborn 25:41
You know, so all so parts of the world, like, like Kosovo, where do you think their internet is? You know, and so these guys, these guys are by themselves, basically. Right?
Chris Schmitt 25:51
We had to validate, you know, some of the atrocities that were happening by the Serbs so that it would improve the President’s decision to actually, you know, pursue bombing to validate that some of the atrocities that happened in Bosnia was happening there as well.
Brian Schoenborn 26:07
Right. So like, again, like I’m just trying to visualize like, technology is not nearly where it was today. You’ve got a part of a name or a code name and like one voice intercept. And somehow you guys perfected the art of the manhunt to find this guy without having to go into Kosovo guns blazing.
Chris Schmitt 26:31
And not twisting anybody’s thumbs or…
Brian Schoenborn 26:33
Wow, that’s crazy.
Chris Schmitt 26:35
Well, I think, you know, what we did is we to go with that thought again from the beginning. So what we did is we, we maximized kindness. So there was, it was clear that we were trying to help. And, and by and by treating people well, we gain trust. And through that trust, I was able to leverage that relationship, to do a much better job of not only being able to understand what was going on in the area, but ultimately help with the demilitarization of a, in essence, what was a terrorist organization.
Brian Schoenborn 27:17
Chris Schmitt 27:18
It was really neat stuff and that’s why I think it really sticks out. I mean it was pretty high adventure to be walking into this armed compound, you know, one of my 18 Charlies, so like my, one of my trusted guys on my team and I are walking in he’s, he’s armed as my bodyguard inside this compound and we sat down. And over Turkish coffee, I quickly learned that he spoke German so that we could chat.
Brian Schoenborn 27:51
So you speak German as well?
Chris Schmitt 27:53
Mein nacht nam ist Schmitt.
Brian Schoenborn 27:55
Oh, I mean, my family name is Schoenborn but I don’t speak German.
Chris Schmitt 27:58
Well, we lived in Germany as well. So I had I had plenty of reasons why I should speak pretty decent German. Plus, I had German training before as part of being a Green Beret. There’s a requirement for language.
Brian Schoenborn 28:11
Okay. Did you know that, before sitting down and Turkish coffee with this guy, did you know that you guys would share that common language?
Chris Schmitt 28:18
No. We had kind of as we were doing niceties through translators, we learned that he spent some time in Switzerland and when he’s said that I asked him if he spoke German.
Brian Schoenborn 28:33
Sprechen si Deutche?
Chris Schmitt. 28:35
Something like that. That’s pretty close.
Brian Schoenborn 28:38
My German is terrible. It’s non-existent. So then Okay, so you’re talking to him through German.
Chris Schmitt 28:48
Anyway, then we’re able to build a great relationship. And, and I had learned that he was a grammar teacher and now he’s and and the interesting thing now is that he’s, he’s very much part of the political process. He’s a president of one of the political parties and…
Brian Schoenborn 29:04
Chris Schmitt 29:04
Brian Schoenborn 29:05
Chris Schmitt 29:06
And had been, for a number of years had been the Minister of Education. When I left country I asked him, you know, “what, what did his future look like or what he was what was going to happen next now that the war was over?” and he said, “Well maybe be the president someday,” and I said, “Maybe the bigger better thing would be to be involved with the education process since he has some…”
Brian Schoenborn 29:33
So you influenced that?
Chris Schmitt 29:35
Well, it’s interesting what little things can do or change…
Brian Schoenborn 29:39
Chris Schmitt 29:40
Just a little offhand comment, I mean, it might have been the direction you’re heading anyway, or that maybe didn’t even want to do it. But it’s interesting…
Brian Schoenborn 29:47
You’ll never know one way or the other.
Chris Schmitt 29:28
Exactly. But it’s kind of a cool little like, it’s a story.
Brian Schoenborn 29:53
Yeah, that’s awesome.
Chris Schmitt 29:55
Yeah. And I think I think if if you live your life in a way that you pursue things relentlessly, you know, if you if you pursue noteworthy causes if you do them with full commitment, and you do them because they’re right. There’s, it’s easy just to put your whole self into it, it’s easy to be your best self. And it’s easier than to start a movement. If you’re pursuing noteworthy causes, you know, it’s easy to believe in it, and then it’s easy to commit and it’s easy to energize others and, and you don’t have to think about it a ton. And that’s, that’s what I’ve been fortunate enough to have, you know, I, I had that in my career. And, and I have it now. And that, that feels pretty good.
Brian Schoenborn 30:55
Nice. So, I mean, obviously, we’ve got some common themes on the relentless stuff, right. And I’d like to think some commonalities along the kindness line. I like to think I’m a fairly kind person. I’m interested in hearing how those two things how you might have utilized those two things, in other operations as well. You know, like, I know, you were active during, you know, pre and post 911, for example.
Chris Schmitt 31:21
Brian Schoenborn 31:22
Right. So I’m sure there’s got to be some sort of things that you were involved in,
Chris Schmitt 31:25
You know, there was a bunch of real interesting stuff in, in Afghanistan, and when we stood up SOC Africa, there was also some opportunities that lied along the whole piracy thing off of Somalia…
Brian Schoenborn 31:40
Chris Schmitt 31:41
But I think that the, the real PhD-level stuff that I got to do, and you know, and I found it fun and fascinating that, that as my career progressed, often, you know, you’ll hear guys say that, you know, I, I really loved that job when I was a team leader, but since then I don’t, you know, I’m not as passionate. I was just lucky enough that I continually got jobs that I really loved. And as the J3 or in corporate speak as the chief operating officer of a mission in North Africa, which we were, we were working really hard to get ahead of al Qaeda and al Qaeda influence in North Africa and, and we knew that if we could provide a little bit of hope, and we could enable the militaries of those countries to provide some influence and we get through that influence then create a situate a security situation that allowed for World Vision or Catholic World Relief or other non-government, not-for-profit kind of organizations and that, that one to do good and then be able to project them and work with their military to be seen as a protector of their country versus a robber of their country, that could get ahead of what al Qaeda was trying to influence. These 99% Muslim countries that were, you know, like Chad and Niger and Mali, Mauritania, the poorest countries on the planet…
Brian Schoenborn 33:37
And they’re probably playing off their fears too, I imagine.
Chris Schmitt 33:39
I mean, no doubt about it. Like it’s easy to…the literacy rate is low. You’re going to places that aren’t, are still somewhere between 13 and 1500. And to be able to find good people. I mean, I think that’s where I want to take this story is that I befriended the commander of the special operations forces in Chad. And Colonel Youssouf Mery, top 10 good people on the planet. We would be asked by the State Department, “So you know, what’s the deal with Chad? Like we’re not, you know, we understand why we’re, you know, super involved in, in Mali and Niger, but what’s the deal with Chad?” We’re like, “Well, Col. Mery is the…he’s the blue-chip athlete. Like he is a solid good guy. And because he’s a good guy, we need to enable good guys. I mean, if you’re an NFL football team, when you’re in the draft, if you’re a winning team, you pick the best athlete.
Brian Schoenborn 34:52
Chris Schmitt 34:54
Yeah, you, you even if that guy isn’t exactly in the position that you need the most help, you pick the best athlete, because championship teams are able to fill gaps in other places.
Brian Schoenborn 35:04
Chris Schmitt 35:05
And that was the same kind of methodology that we had with this commander of forces in Chad, and, you know, fast forward after I had left country, after working there for four-plus years across the region in Chad, Mali, and Niger. And after conversations with the president of Mali and after conversations with the commanding generals of Niger, and you know, just fascinating opportunities across Morocco and Algeria, and able to help them kind of wrestle with this problem. After all that, it was great to see these countries and, in this case, Col. Mery respond when al Qaeda started putting some influence in northern Mali. They packed their trucks and drove across Niger, got some gas and went behind al Qaeda’s forces in northern Mali in the Tagaga mountains and attacked their headquarters.
All without a political…there was no political relationship that caused them to do that, other than this guy knew that it was the right thing to do because we had spent enough time doing right thing with him.
Brian Schoenborn 36:34
Chris Schmitt 36:35
Brian Schoenborn 36:36
Chris Schmitt 36:37
I mean, that speaks volumes, right? That’s super super cool.
Brian Schoenborn 36:39
Yes, that is awesome.
Chris Schmitt 36:41
And be able to maintain a relationship with a guy like that: I’ve lived a blessed life.
Brian Schoenborn 36:50
Yeah, dude, I hear that. Are you guys? Are you still in contact with each other? You know, pen pals or something?
Chris Schmitt 37:00
Yeah, I texted him yesterday, yeah.
Brian Schoenborn 37:04
No, I’m just kidding. Well, that’s, that’s, I mean, to be honest with you, like, finding people that are true heroes in whatever it is that they may be doing, right? They do the right thing they find the right people, whether it’s protecting the population of a country or whatever else, right? It doesn’t always have to be military. But finding…
Chris Schmitt 37:26
I think that’s a great segue. I think, you know, it isn’t even finding the, like, amazing people. It’s, it’s enabling people to be their best.
Brian Schoenborn 37:38
Yeah, no, that’s I’m saying,
Chris Schmitt 37:39
Yeah, hundred percent, you know, enabling people to be their best self is, is really the platform of, of what I did as a Green Beret, and it’s the platform of, of what I do now with my company, Azimuth Consulting Group. Azimuth works hard to build self-awareness of our clients and through that self-awareness help individuals and teams be their best selves so that they can increase value for their company, improve market share, you know, ultimately find their superpower so that they can do the best that they can do. And there’s goodness that comes out of there is clearly goodness that comes that way. And, it’s great for me being a transitioning veteran. I feel like I’m not that far removed from Lieutenant Colonel Schmitt. Doing things in hot, dry, dusty places. To be able to to work with, you know, local companies here in Seattle and help amazing things happen is very, very cool.
Brian Schoenborn 39:03
Nice. Oh man, dude, I’m getting…my eyes are getting moist.
Chris Schmitt 39:08
Don’t get all teary-eyed. Do you need a tissue?
Brian Schoenborn 39:10
I might. I might need a hug.
Chris Schmitt 39:16
No, it’s good stuff man. And it’s fun to be able to, you know, one of the things that my company does and I’m kind of prepping for it right now, is we do a four-day three-night leadership expedition called, “The Traverse.”
Brian Schoenborn 39:34
That’s the Traverse, right?
Chris Schmitt 39:35
Yeah, and the Traverse is a super cool opportunity to help my clients gain perspective and translate into action. And to commit and recommit to the things that are their priorities in their life. And, I find that at the end of the expedition, those leaders, those are those people that are already extraordinary. They they’re recharged, they’re energized. They’re on their Azimuth, right?
Brian Schoenborn 40:18
It’s one of those things where like, leaders like that, right, or, or people that maybe have gone to certain lengths in their career, their professional life or whatever, and maybe they’ve gotten to a consistent point, right? Where they’re not necessarily being challenged or things like that. And they go through something where they’re where they have to put so much physical and mental and emotional effort into something, maybe by themselves or with a team or whatever. You do something that you never thought you could have done before. You come out of that, and you learn a little bit about yourself and the other people that you did it with. You come out of that, not only with bonds formed with those people, but you come out of that realizing, “Hey, man, like there’s so much more. There’s so much more out there. There’s so much more I know about myself. There’s so much more I can do based on what I’ve learned about myself and how I respond to things.”
Chris Schmitt 41:19
You know, there’s not only a value of being with other extraordinary leaders, but there’s also some incredible value just being able to unplug.
Brian Schoenborn 41:30
Chris Schmitt 41:31
And being in nature and you know, this Traverse is going through the Montana Rockies, I mean, it’s an extraordinary spot. And there’s tons of value of going through something that’s structured that will, you know, in the beginning we do some self-awareness work with the Berkman Method. It’s a psychoanalytic tool that’s more than 65 years old and has a massive population size. So it’s a very valid and reliable tool that helps people see and understand how they look at the mountain and how others could be seeing it from a different perspective. Because of, you know, their character makeup.
Brian Schoenborn 42:23
Chris Schmitt 42:24
And realize that not only did they…just as much as they need something, others may need that something different and to be able to adjust their communication, in a way to be able to help them succeed.
Brian Schoenborn 42:41
Yeah, no, absolutely. I’m kind of piggyback off of that. You know, I’m a firm believer, you may or may not agree with me on this. I’m a firm believer that everybody is different, and everyone is evolving. And when I say everyone is different, I believe that everyone is kind of like a collection of their moments and their reactions to those. Right? And I say everyone’s constantly evolving, because based on that collection, like every day, every moment that collection is growing, right? Based on that collection, that helps form the, your, your, that helps form your frame of reference, your knowledge base, how you see the world based on past experiences, right? So if you see things one way…
Chris Schmitt 43:31
I like to think of it we, we connect where we’re the same, but we contribute where we’re different.
Brian Schoenborn 43:39
Chris Schmitt 43:39
So in the space that you’re different. That’s, that’s your sweet spot, you know? And and instead of thinking that in this space that I’m different, that’s where I’m just weird. No, no in this space that you’re different, that’s your niche, that’s your strength.
Brian Schoenborn 43:54
Chris Schmitt 43:58
And that’s what, through my executive coaching, it’s in some of those places that you may think is different. That’s where your real superpower is.
Brian Schoenborn 44:12
Chris Schmitt 44:15
It’s fun. It’s fun working with the people that have brought you the Starbucks tie dye frappuccino. It’s fun enabling success in Fortune 100 companies because they’re really making some products, you know, that those successes mean jobs for lots of people. Those successes mean value in the marketplace.
Brian Schoenborn 44:45
Chris Schmitt 44:47
And that’s rewarding. It’s made me feel, now that I’m coming up on three years post military, it makes me feel like I’m still pursuing something of big value.
Brian Schoenborn 45:04
Interesting. Now, it’s a great way to put it, you know, like, for me, I’ve always been, like insanely curious about people and cultures, right? Like I, you know, that’s why that’s why I’ve reached out, I’ve gotten to know you. And everybody else, you know, I’m just curious about what makes people tick, their backstory, how they think about things, you know, from the people side, but then from the culture side as well, you know, it’s, it’s just like culture is essentially a big group of people, right? So they’ve got a lot of shared experiences and stuff, you know, so I’d like to try to dive as deep into those cultures as well. But it’s interesting, how many people are out there that do have those abilities, to have a big impact, to enable a lot of people to do things, whether it’s, you know, it’s whether it’s running Starbucks and impacting thousands of lives with employment, millions of lives with, you know that that with that standard brand in-house as well as with the coffee and all that other stuff. Or whether it’s somebody impacting somebody in a local community.
Chris Schmitt 46:21
Or even, you know, it’s like this veteran residence thing, you know, your conversation with Joseph, trying to enable someone who’s created something that could help millions of people and helping them get that to market.
Brian Schoenborn 46:37
Dude, as soon as as soon as he gets that, that money that he’s looking for. It’s dude, it’s game on…
Chris Schmitt 46:44
It’s changing lives.
Brian Schoenborn 46:44
Chris Schmitt 46:45
And being able to help him get to that right person at the right place. That’s as a community that’s our that’s our calling, as a community that’s…and it’s not just a, even as a veteran community, it’s how we all take care of each other. That’s good stuff. You know that, with, if we all take that perspective, we can really go somewhere and that’s really why I love I love living out here in the Pacific Northwest. I, I live out in North Bend. We were very deliberate on our choice of locations of where we wanted to live post-military and North Bend means that I live less than a kilometer from, like, 10 great hikes.
Brian Schoenborn 47:40
Isn’t that awesome?
Chris Schmitt 47:41
In the Middle Fork last night I lead a hike on Rattlesnake Ledge which is a great overlook that kind of sits right over a mountain lake and, and kind of meet up with a veteran group called Team RWB and lead that up there.
Brian Schoenborn 48:02
Yeah, well, so…refresh my memory really quick. You are like the chapter captain. Right? Okay. Can you tell me a little bit about Team Red, White and Blue? Tell the listeners a little bit about it.
Chris Schmitt 48:14
The great thing about Team Red, White and Blue is it’s simple. And that, you know, ultimately, I think that keeping it simple is the key to success. Our mission statement is “enrich veterans lives through physical and social activities in order to connect them with the community”. Quite simply, just having an opportunity to meet up and go for a hike, go for a run. Meetup at Rachel the Pig here on Pikes Market will run down along the water. Basically, just do an easy 5K, come back to Rachel the Pig, and grab donuts so all…
Brian Schoenborn 48:55
What’s Rachel the Pig?
Chris Schmitt 48:56
You know, it’s the pig in the market, in Pike’s market. The pig, the pig.
Brian Schoenborn 49:00
I don’t know, man, I’ve only been here for a couple of months. I’m not normally based here. I think I’ve been to Pike Place or Pike Market or whatever like once. Wait, is it the big, like, bronze pig?
Chris Schmitt 49:10
Brian Schoenborn 49:11
Oh, I didn’t know it had a name.
Chris Schmitt 49:12
Of course it’s got a name!
Brian Schoenborn 49:14
Rachel the Pig!
Chris Schmitt 49:15
“Hey, marine.” “His name is Brian.” “Oh, I thought he was just a marine.”
Brian Schoenborn 49:19
“His name is Brian!” I guess I just didn’t realize it.
Chris Schmitt 49:23
The pig’s got a name! Oh man, come on. Alright, so anyway, bottom line is we’re meeting up at the pig. The big bronze pig. We’ll go and sweat for a little bit. We won’t wear reflector belts, because we’re no longer in the military.
Brian Schoenborn 49:41
There we go.
Chris Schmitt 49:43
We’ll come back. And we’ll have a donut or something in a coffee and do a high-five and drive on. But you know what’s great about that, is that it…It’s all the good stuff of the military, that community stuff.
Brian Schoenborn 49:59
Yeah. And it’s none of the bullshit.
Chris Schmitt 50:01
There’s no bullshit. Yes, we’re just going to go for a run and grab a coffee.
Brian Schoenborn 50:04
Yep. Don’t gotta worry about the hierarchy. Don’t gotta worry about pressing your cammies. Don’t gotta worry about shoe shines.
Chris Schmitt 50:11
Brian Schoenborn 50:13
No silliness! You don’t gotta worry about digging a fighting hole on the freakin side of the Rocky Mountains.
Chris Schmitt 50:22
No, and it’s just about community. And it’s that same thought we’re thinking about before it’s, and then it becomes the responsibility as a member of that community to help each other out.
Brian Schoenborn 50:31
Nice. You know what I think is interesting? I’m shocked about your experience with the Green Beret stuff as where you’re overcoming, I don’t know, for lack of a better term, you’re overcoming like enemy opposition through relationship building, treating people humanely. Right, enabling people that kind of stuff. I’m like, I’m shocked by that because I always would have thought the Green Berets are just like coming in, kicking ass, taking names…
Chris Schmitt 51:01
Well, you know, does…you know Johnny Rambo. He just shoots everybody up with a 60-cal, but let’s go back to Hannibal Smith.
Brian Schoenborn 51:09
All right, let’s talk the Colonel.
Chris Schmitt 51:11
The A-team they, you know, I guess BA does like…
Brian Schoenborn 51:16
BA kicks some ass, let’s be honest.
Chris Schmitt 51:16
He’d beat somebody up from time to time but…
Brian Schoenborn 51:19
Yeah, BA pities some fools.
Chris Schmitt 51:19
But they never like shoot anybody in the face.
Brian Schoenborn 51:24
Yeah, but they, they blew some shit up. Let’s be honest. There were there were casualties.
Chris Schmitt 51:28
I mean, there’s I mean, it’s not…I wasn’t in the Boy Scouts. I mean,
Brian Schoenborn 51:32
It was not the Boy Scouts! It wasn’t even the man scouts.
Chris Schmitt 51:38
But, but the bottom line is, there’s always an opportunity to, to try to do things in the smartest way possible.
Brian Schoenborn 51:53
Chris Schmitt 51:54
That minimizes, minimizes hardship.
Brian Schoenborn 51:59
Yeah, no, definitely I get that.
Chris Schmitt 52:00
And I think that whether it’s being a Green Beret or if it’s, if there’s, if you want to translate that into now civilian life there’s there’s always a way to maximize profit without killing people in the shins.
Brian Schoenborn 52:13
You know, you don’t, you don’t got to be dirty, you don’t got to play dirty ball. To finish that thought really quick, like at first it was it was shocking to me that like, oh, that’s, that’s how you are operating as a Green Beret. But then secondly, I think it’s amazing how you were able to take that and just keep doing what you’re doing. You know, like it’s the same general concept, right? You’re treating people well, friendly, kind, enabling positive stuff, right? I mean, enablement can go either way, but you know, enabling positive stuff. You know, and those are the types of activities and skill sets that can really be translated to just about anywhere, you know. Like personally, I’ve you know, I lived in Asia for four years, right? And I’ve, I had an enjoyable time there. Yeah, I had a blast. Let’s be honest, I can’t wait to go back. But pretty much every place that I’ve been, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places, lot of different cities in the country. You know, I’ve lived in Asia. And everywhere that I’ve gone, I’ve been able to build a network of people as well just by just by, you know, being kind, being friendly, taking a genuine interest in people. Finding those things where people are, either they’re struggling with something or they’re inspired by something and trying to help them…
Chris Schmitt 53:40
Just providing hope. Providing hope.
Brian Schoenborn 53:41
Chris Schmitt 53:43
Right on. You know, I had a chance to teach in the staff college in India. In Chennai. And I had a discussion with a colonel there while we were, we were teaching counterinsurgency, new counterinsurgency doctrines, this is, like, in the 2000s, December of 2005 timeframe.
Brian Schoenborn 54:08
So who’s the who’s the general that was bringing that one down? Who was the command that…
Chris Schmitt 54:13
General Petraeus was in charge, yeah.
Brian Schoenborn 54:14
Oh Petraeus, yeah.
Chris Schmitt 54:15
So General Petraeus was the commandant of the school at Leavenworth, and he was kind of his break before he went right back. Back into the war. And, and I was in my in-between time from basically from being tactical team leader to returning as a company commander. And so as part of this new special, this new insurgency, counterinsurgency doctrine, we took it on the road and we validated in places like Sri Lanka…
Brian Schoenborn 54:56
They still had their civil war going on at that time, right?
Chris Schmitt 54:58
Yeah, they were just about wrapping that up at that time. In India, plenty of work in Kashmir and other places. Bangladesh. I guess what was great about this conversation in India was that the colonel said, you know, “In the Kashmir if I can do something to get that 14, 15 year old boy, if I can find him a job that he can just earn some change, and he can have that change in his pocket. And with that change, he can have the hope. Not that his family’s gonna let him, but he has the hope to buy that pretty girl a coke.”
Brian Schoenborn 55:40
There we go. Exactly.
Chris Schmitt 55:42
He’s not going to be a suicide bomber.
Brian Schoenborn 55:43
Chris Schmitt 55:44
And that really resonated with me and that has been something that has really stuck with my own personal doctrine and how I led special operations and how I now perform as a leadership adviser. There is no, there is no question that I advise in a way that if I can create hope, if I can help awareness of where your strengths are. If I can help gain some insight into how the organization can work better.
Brian Schoenborn 56:18
That’s awesome. That’s amazing, man. Dude, I gotta tell you, I think this is a pretty good point to wrap it up. Pretty natural.
Chris Schmitt 56:24
Brian Schoenborn 56:25
Dude, I got nothing but respect for you, man. You are a bad ass.
Chris Schmitt 56:29
Brian Schoenborn 56:30
You are badass. You are badass, dude. I got nothing but respect for you. You know, to be honest. When I was growing up, people used to say, “Oh, don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” So many people would do it. And I’ve always lived that way too, like, don’t mistake kindness for weakness, be kind. But In my opinion, you are the epitome of using kindness as strength. And I think that’s pretty awesome, dude. And I can’t wait to see what you’re doing with this consulting company. I want to hear all about this Traverse man, because I’ve seen the videos you put out there. I, like, dude, if you can get me over there, I’m in.
Chris Schmitt 57:11
Yeah right on. Wouldn’t that be great?
Brian Schoenborn 57:13
I would love to be a part of that.
Chris Schmitt 57:14
Well, hey. Thanks for this opportunity. This was super fun, man.
Brian Schoenborn 57:17
So much fun, man. Let me, let me close by this you want to plug anything?
Chris Schmitt 57:23
Well, you know, I think I’ll plug the Traverse and Azimuth Consulting Group. Azimuth is kind of a crazy little word. An azimuth is a direction on a compass. And it when you shoot your compass to a certain direction and you’re moving a certain distance in that direction, if you stray just two or three degrees off that direction you won’t end up where you want to be. If you just compromise one or two values of your company, you will find yourself in a place that’s not where you want to be. And that’s what’s neat about what my company stands for. And what we do is that we help leaders follow their azimuth. And they may even find where they are on the map. So they can determine their azimuth so that they can successfully get to where they want to go. And the Traverse ends up being a physical exercise and moving across, now Montana. You know, we’re looking at the great possibility of doing it in Patagonia, right?
Brian Schoenborn 58:38
That would be awesome.
Chris Schmitt 58:40
And there you go.
Brian Schoenborn 58:41
Nice. For listeners, though, if they want to find out more like where can they go?
Chris Schmitt 58:44
Well, in the show notes will put the info.
Brian Schoenborn 58:46
Sounds great. Yeah, we’ll put the website addresses about the social media accounts and stuff like that in the show notes. So if you’re interested, please check it out. Thanks a lot, buddy.
Chris Schmitt 58:56
Brian Schoenborn 58:56
Chris Schmitt, everyone. Have a good one.
Brian Schoenborn 58:59
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