I’ve lost a lot of friends and teammates in my twenties, so many that death is no stranger to me. It’s why I also live my life to the maximum and have very few bucket list items left.

This month I lost two more friends, one to cancer and one dropped dead on a run. 

Turning 50 feels a bit like rounding Cape Horn in a storm. The wind and spray is in your face, the seas are rough, and you’re just hoping the ship holds together a few more voyages. Yet here I am, a pirate who managed to navigate the treacherous waters of life and emerge, if not unscathed, at least still floating. 

My journey has been anything but ordinary, and as I stand on the deck of this half-century milestone, I can’t help but reflect on the beauty, chaos, and ultimately, the redemption that has marked my time on this chunk of rock we call earth.

As a young man leaving home at sixteen was humbling, scary and exciting. I think I cried myself to sleep the first few nights away from home on a strange catamaran sailing for Hawaii. 

(Photo: Sailing my Sabot in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico)


(Photo: My family’s ketch, “Agio”)

I learned an important life lesson on my family’s sailboat, Agio, there is only one captain, and it wasn’t me, it was my father! It took me a while to learn the humility of what it means to be a good follower. As a young man of 16 I was too busy trying to be “right”. 

Sometimes we have to realize that making your captain look good will help us out in the long run, and it’s also ok to go your own way but be prepared to deal with the consequences. 

My mom and little sister were in tears seeing me sent off, but it all worked out. Today, I have a great relationship with my father and mother. I also have a ton of respect for the stones my parents had to pack up our family and sail halfway around the world before GPS was invented. They instilled a spirit of adventure in me that I’ll be forever grateful for. 

(Photo: Enjoying a Cuban and after flying air combat in the Yaks with my “Fight Club” gang of former fighter pilots in San Diego, CA)

Not having television, only books and my Dungeons & Dragons modules, would contribute to my writing ability later in life. 

So I left home, sailed back to the US and joined the navy after barely finishing high school. I talk about all this in more in my book, The Red Circle

I wanted to be an officer and a fighter pilot, but I didn’t have the academics to get into a good school to fly for the Navy so I took another route, the Navy SEALs, 

Reading Dick Marcinko’s ” Rogue Warrior” inspired me, and I’d later meet and become friends with Dick as we interviewed him for SOFREP in New York shortly before he sailed for better shores. 

You can watch the series here. 

I have always wanted to be a pilot since I can remember and never really knew why until I thought long and hard about it. Then it hit me.

The origin of my desire? A Japanese cartoon converted for the US market called, wait for it…”Star Blazers.” 

I am aviation obsessed, and it finally hit me why. I was obsessed with that cartoon and Derek Wildstar, an orphan space jet pilot hurtling through space aboard the Yamamoto to fight off the evil Gamilon invasion with his squadron mates. 

But a fighter pilot wasn’t in the stars for me, and after enlisting as a helicopter search and rescue swimmer, I finally made it onto the SEAL Team 3 in 1998. 

My time in the Teams was incredible, I had an amazing first platoon and SEAL mentors in my Chief Dan, and Leading Petty Officer Tom. Their guidance would lead to my sniper selection, a meritorious promotion to E6 and my selection to Chief Petty Officer and being put in charge of the sniper course as program manager at 27. 

After deployments to the Middle East and Afghanistan instructor duty gave me some time off to finally get my pilot’s license. It was my best friend Glen who first let me take the controls of a Cessna and lift off from the north runway of Coalinga, CA. I was hooked and had my private license two months later. 

(Photo: A young Mike Ritland and I enjoying the fire at San Clemente Island, about to graduate BUD/S with class


(Photo: Making new friends in Afghanistan with SEAL Team 3, 2001)

I had an incredible time in the Teams but was reaching burn out after going hard for 13 years with no break (e.g. short duty as we call it in the Navy). I had a young family and my marriage had suffered the toll of war and 90 hour work weeks as a sniper instructor. Looking forward I could seen my body and marriage broken to the point of disrepair, like many old timers I’d witnessed in the Teams, so I left the Navy. 

After the SEALs, I threw myself into new ventures with the same vigor. I lost my first business, and life savings around the time I got divorced. 

I was crushed but I realized through my time teaching mental management to snipers that there was a lot to be grateful for. I still had a good relationship with my ex; we both loved our children, and I’d learned a ton about business, even though I lost it all during the 2008 financial crisis. 

After doing some overseas contracting and later taking a corporate gig I started to submit articles to men’s magazines like MAXIM and they actually paid me, and I was hooked. Later I wrote a blog, “KitUp!”, for Military.com and they wanted to hire me full time but I already had the idea for SOFREP and had started working on my memoir, The Red Circle

Both hit full afterburner, and I left my corporate job and dove into business. 

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of good and bad in people, thankfully mostly good. I’ve been embezzled from, lied to, attacked in the media by jealous teammates, had veteran employees sabotage me and others after being let go for performance issues (usually related to substance abuse), and worse. 

(Photo: Doing Over-the-Beach Insertions at “The Rock” with SEAL Team 3. Note: Not one jam swimming that AK47 through surf and sand all day long!)

Being an entrepreneur has, at times, been more stressful than being shot at in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Betrayal is a nasty beast, especially when it comes from those you once trusted. I’ve had friends, or rather, people I thought were friends, turn on me over money. It’s one thing to face an enemy in combat; it’s another to face a knife in the back from someone you brought into your fold. The lesson? People can surprise you, and not always in a good way.

It’s a harsh truth that not everyone you help will appreciate it, and some might even resent you for it. I learned this the hard way. It was a sobering realization but one that ultimately made me stronger. 

Trust, I learned, is precious and necessary but should be given sparingly. 

Despite the betrayals and the heartbreak, I found solace in my writing. It’s a therapeutic process, spilling your guts onto the page, revisiting old wounds, and sometimes, laughing at the absurdity of it all. Writing “The Red Circle” and other works allowed me to process my experiences and share my story with the world. It was through writing that I found my true calling and a sense of peace that had eluded me for years.

Being the CEO of SOFREP, now MCG,  has been an incredible adventure, and I thank you all for that. 

It’s a different kind of battlefield, where the weapons are words and the strategy involves navigating the ever-changing landscape of junk food news media. Leading SOFREP has taught me resilience and the importance of staying true to your mission, no matter how many times you get knocked down.

As I reflect on the past fifty years, with kids in college and one about to graduate high school and doing incredibly well, I realize that every challenge, every betrayal, and every setback has been a crucial part of my journey. 

They’ve shaped me into the man I am today—a man who understands the value of loyalty, the pain of loss, the joy of finding one’s purpose, and the importance of living life to the fullest.  

(Photo: My kids and I in the La Jolla, CA pool. I taught them all to be expert swimmers since they were 3 months old. Today, they also hold advanced SCUBA certifications from PADI)


(Photo: Dinner with my gang in Lisbon, Portugal…my new home.)

Life, with all its twists and turns, has a way of bringing you exactly where you need to be, even if the route is more circuitous than you’d like.

As I reflect on turning 50, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the incredible journey I’ve had. The stormy seas of life have led me to moments of unparalleled joy and achievement. Flying my airplane has given me a sense of freedom and perspective that few things can match. Watching my kids thrive as young adults fills me with pride and hope for the future. Their successes remind me daily of what truly matters.

Post-military life has been a whirlwind of new experiences and milestones. Joining YPO.org introduced me to a network of like-minded leaders who pushed me to grow beyond my limits. Attending Harvard Business School’s OPM program was a transformative experience, providing me with the tools to navigate the complex world of business with confidence. Selling Crate Club was a significant achievement, even though the business was sold in the turmoil of the pandemic. 

(Photo: With my dad, Jack, and Brent Burns at the Stanley Cup Finals. Burns is a class act, and scored my dad and I tickets last minute. My father is a great hockey player and this was his first finals game.)


(Photo: Interview with Entrepreneur magazine in 2019)


(Photo: Taking mom flying over Malibu in 2018)


(Photo: Flying seaplanes with the Aero Club Como, Italy)


(Photo: A young 15-year-old deckhand with a halibut I’d speared on the SCUBA dive boat “Peace” out of Ventura harbor, CA)

Writing has been my anchor through it all. The Finn thriller series, soon to be a TV series, is a dream come true, combining my passion for storytelling with my life experiences. The same with seeing The Killing School being turned into a sniper video game.  It’s a reminder that even the wildest dreams are within reach with hard work and perseverance.

As I enter the 3rd quarter, I want to share a message with all of you: always focus on the positives. Life will inevitably throw challenges your way, but it’s how you respond to them that defines you and the journey. Embrace the highs, learn from the lows, and keep moving forward. 

Because in the end, what else do we have, if not the ability to see the good in every situation and the courage to keep going?

The inspiration behind the title to this post. I’ve always been a huge Parrothead.



Disclaimer: SOFREP utilizes AI for image generation and article research. Occasionally, it’s like handing a chimpanzee the keys to your liquor cabinet. It’s not always perfect and if a mistake is made, we own up to it full stop. In a world where information comes at us in tidal waves, it is an important tool that helps us sift through the brass for live rounds.