BIDDLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Pa. --
When John Gretton “Jocko” Willink, retired Navy SEAL officer and best-selling author, visited Biddle Air National Guard Base in Horsham, Pennsylvania, for an impromptu morale speech in April, 2021, he said he'd be back.
Willink made good on his word to return to the base, reconnecting with military personnel and the civilian first-responder community here, during his second visit Oct. 5, 2021.
Willink normally starts his day around 4:30 a.m. with a grueling physical training session, and this visit was no exception. The former frogman was joined by a few 111th Attack Wing personnel for a workout in the base gym at 5:00 a.m.
“I appreciate the hospitality,” said Willink while addressing troops later that day. “I am retired, so I don’t have to work anymore. You all are still out there in the war-fighting class, and I appreciate that you all are out there on the line and keeping Americans safe. Thank you for having me.”
In addition to the early morning PT session, Willink attended a training demonstration from 111th Security Forces Squadron on a use-of-force training simulator.
“Jocko’s marksmanship skills were impressive,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Ryan, a Staten Island, New York, native now assigned to the 111th SFS. “The weapon we use for the simulator is calibrated by laser and replicates recoil with CO2. During his session, Jocko was putting shot groups together tight enough to fit inside a quarter.”
While on base, Willink took time to meet with members of the 201st Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers, Detachment 1, who were in the process of repaving the roadway and parking area around the 111th ATKW headquarters.
Lt. Col. James Kash, 201st RED HORSE, Det. 1 Commander, who was working with his Airmen on the paving project, met Willink at the work site, and the two quickly learned that they had served with some of the same military personnel during their time in Ramadi, Iraq.
“To have a proven combat leader of that caliber with that kind of success in the military, who has become equally successful as a leader in the civilian world, come to Biddle just to say ‘thanks for what you do,’ truly resonates with the Squadron,” said Kash. “Jocko’s words on the value of humility, hard work, and taking care of our team, reflect the moral fabric that make up RED HORSE culture. This was a fantastic opportunity for the Squadron to be recognized by Jocko.”
As a token of appreciation, Kash and his fellow HORSEmen took a short break to pose for a photo with Willink and present him with a red cap featuring the unit’s signature logo of a red stallion manning a bulldozer.
Willink then went on to a scheduled question-and-answer session where he spoke to Guardsmen and women on the challenges of being a citizen warrior, providing his take on balancing the stressors of military and family life.
Willink described a simple routine he used to successfully transition back and forth from an active-duty mindset, to a family-man mentality. It involved a simple change of clothes.
“You go in your locker and put on your uniform,” said Willink. “At the end of the day, take off your uniform, put on your civilian clothes, and you go home. And, I think that for me, throughout my career, that was a physical representation of where my mindset would be.”
“When I leave from home and go to work in the morning, I'm a dad, and I'm a husband,” said Willink. “And then I show up at work, put my uniform on, and … Now we're training for the mission. We're getting ready for the mission. When extreme conditions get done with that day, take that uniform off, put on the civilian clothes, and leave that stuff at work.”
Willink said the mental aspect mirrored the physical aspect of leaving our warrior work mentality at the job before going home to be the mom, dad, husband, wife or family member we needed to be.
“And then that is, to me, what we need to do as leaders, as human beings, that are in this very difficult job,” said Willink.
The message hit home for Tech. Sgt. Anthony Williams, one of the 111th SFS members who was on duty and in full kit the first time Willink visited the base in April of 2021. This time Williams, an Easton Pennsylvania native, was off-duty and in civilian attire while listening to Willink speak.
“It was nice to see Jocko come back to Biddle Air National Guard Base to speak to us,” said Williams. “I’m happy he got to meet more of my fellow Airmen who make what we do here every day possible. In a way, I consider him part of the 111th family now.”