DuJour Navigation

Sealed and Delivered

When the threat level is at red, some tycoons are calling the Navy

The unofficial motto of the United States Navy is non sibi sed patriae, which means, “Not for self, but for country.” For a slew of former Navy SEALs, the motivating factor of country has been replaced by that of clients. 

These days, top-earning Americans concerned for their security are hiring teams of ex-Navy SEALs who make their living as bodyguards to the highest bidders. The customers seeking such protection are as diverse as the threats they face: CEOs fearing potentially scandalous information leaks, families looking to beef up security after a robbery, prominent billionaires traveling in volatile nations or, in one case, a survivor of a deadly terrorist attack at a foreign resort.

After leaving the service in 2008, former SEAL Jason Padilla started the Los Angeles–based firm SEALs on Security, which handles protection for high-level executives. (“We don’t deal with celebrities,” he admits. “They can’t afford our services.”) The firm’s rates start at around $500,000 per year, and offerings range from body-guarding and dispatching advance teams to scout out any potentially treacherous location to training families in self-defense. 

SEAL training is rigorous and lasts a minimum of six months, during which candidates are tested on their ability to endure limited sleep, brutal cold and tremendous stress—excellent preparation, Padilla says, for security threats that would include kidnappings and corporate espionage. 

As an ex-SEAL who now runs the Cleveland-based SEAL Team Consulting, Chris Heben thinks former SEALs offer something more complex than brawn and shooting skills. The extreme mind-set of former SEALs can be appealing to intense business types, while the strategic thinking required to plan a military raid lends them the ability to anticipate and prepare for any hazardous situation. “Clients will let us know where they’re going to be heading, from Timbuktu to the Sudan,” he says, “so we will act as an information-gathering service to look at the current threats in those areas.” 

In 2012, a client reached out to Heben about plans to fly to a Mexican city plagued by drug wars. Allowing the executive to take the trip the way he had envisioned was a no-go for Heben. “We made daily security checks with the contacts I have within Mexico and gave him an update every morning,” he says. “We said, ‘If you’re hell-bent on going there, you’re not going to do it the way you think.” The team arranged for the client to fly into Brownsville, Texas, land on a U.S.-controlled airfield, and then drive into Mexico in the company of armed Mexican guards in cars retrofitted with armor. 

Aiding Heben and Padilla is the incredible Rolodex that SEALs carry. With a network of alums working at the CIA, FBI, State Department and Department of Defense, as well as at contract firms, they have access to intelligence civilians could only dream of. “Your connections are deep, they’re varied, they’re strong and they’re very loyal,” Heben says.

Still, there’s only so far even a SEAL can go. Padilla is adamant about refusing outlandish demands from clients, including requests to hold drugs or tail spouses, while Heben will refuse business that would willfully put his men in harm’s way. “Sometimes the best job is the one you don’t do,” he says. Indeed, the phenomenon of hiring ex-SEALs begs the question of whether your everyday billionaire truly requires the services of someone capable of the things a SEAL can do. 

“In the United States, a lot of our clients don’t really need this kind of service,” he says. “But if you’re a billionaire, is it worth it? Absolutely.”