In 2006, a year after our cross-country adventure in the little Cessna, I left the service. The first thing I did as a civilian was to follow Glen’s footsteps (and John Zinn’s) into the world of private security contracting. Glen, as usual, knew the right people, and he helped get my application fast-tracked. So, that by the time I left the service, I already had a deployment date set in the shadowy world of private-contract security work.
It is a realm most people don’t know much about, but private-contract security work is a noble calling that gave people like John Zinn, Glen, and me the opportunity to keep serving our country and making the world a safer place even after taking off the uniform.
In the Special Operations community, we have a belief that there are three types of people in the world. First are the “wolves.” What most would call “evil people.” They are the rapists and murderers, the psychopaths and extremists who prey on the weak and use violence and fear to achieve their goals. In the 20th century, they stood on stages and commanded armies, if they were lucky. In the 21st, they hide in the shadows, guide planes into skyscrapers, and delude their recruits into blowing themselves up in public places.
Then there are the “sheep.” Good people, everyday people who go about their lives, able to do so in safety only because they are protected from the wolves. For the most part, they are not aware of the wolves, or that they are being protected from them. They may not even really believe that there are wolves out there ready to cause them harm. But there are.
But “sheepdogs” are acutely aware of it.
Sheepdogs can look like wolves, and may at times even be mistaken for them, but they serve the opposite cause. They exist not to prey on sheep but to protect them and those who cannot protect themselves, as Mike Bearden explained to his dad. They are here for one purpose: to look after the safety of the flock.
Here’s an easy way to understand the difference between sheepdogs and everyone else. Most people, when they hear about a terrorist event or violent attack, think, “Thank God I wasn’t in that movie theater or on that plane.” A sheepdog hears about the same event and says, “Damn — I wish I’d been there!” Why? Because maybe he could have done something to stop it from happening.
As Heath Robinson’s sig line said, most of us are able to go about our lives in relative safety only because there are “rough men standing ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” Sheepdogs are those rough men. That was who Glen was, whether or not he happened to be an active-duty Navy SEAL at the time.
For my part, I did some of this work in Iraq, where I ran all sorts of missions from the insanely dangerous to the dangerously insane — missions I can’t talk about but which, if I could, would make for some pretty colorful, edge-of-your-seat action flicks.
I did that routine twice, for a stretch of a few months at a time. Glen had by then been doing it for a few years. He kept at it long after I had stopped, traveling to work in the world’s hottest hot spots and most explosive situations.
The most dangerous scene he ever encountered, he told me, was not in the Middle East or Africa but in Mexico City, where he worked with a man who didn’t seem to fully grasp the over-the-top risks he was taking.
Glen was furious with the guy’s carelessness. Because of his arrogant refusal to listen to the advice of experience, he was endangering a lot of other lives.
“Look, dude,” Glen had told the man, “if you keep going like this you’re going to get whacked. It’s not a matter of if. It’s only a question of when.”
In the summer of 2010, Glen turned 40, and his siblings and friends pulled a “surprise” birthday party for him, but he of course he knew about it ahead of time. I don’t think there was a party anywhere on planet Earth since 1970 that Glen didn’t know about ahead of time. Still, he did a great job of acting surprised.
He did a less than perfect job of acting happy. His marriage had fallen apart not long before, and it was eating at him. On the one hand, he relished the freedom (which was more or less why his marriage didn’t work out in the first place). He and Sonja had had a little sign on their Encinitas house that said, “THE DOHERTYS.” The first time I visited after the divorce had gone through, I saw that Glen had crossed out the S so that it then simply read, “THE DOHERTY.” He got the biggest kick out of that.
At the same time, he was completely torn up about it. I think it was less the fact that that they weren’t together any longer and more that he’d failed. Glen hated failure. As tolerant as he was — and he was one of the most tolerant people I’ve ever known — he had no tolerance for failure. Especially this failure. This was what his dad had done.
By that time, he had been doing this private-contract security work for years. Everyone who knew him and loved him could see that it was wearing on him. It was wearing on the whole country. We’d been at war for nearly a decade, the longest stretch of continuous warfare in our young nation’s history. And it was sapping us — financially, emotionally, and some would argue (and I would not disagree) even morally. Glen was showing the signs of that wear.
I cannot honestly say that he was seriously looking at alternatives, at least not yet. But his friends, myself included, were certainly looking for him. I was working hard on the Wind Zero project and brought Glen in as a minority partner. He became intensely involved for a while, not only helping with the fundraising effort but also managing training and consulting contracts. When a large contract came in I could hand it over to Glen and sleep like a baby at night, knowing he’d take impeccable care of the customers. When I started work on my first book, “21st Century Sniper” (later re-released as “Navy SEAL Sniper“), Glen was my coauthor. When I took a cherry executive position for a major defense firm to make ends meet after Wind Zero collapsed, I tried my best to get Glen to look at taking one as well.
And these were not his only career options. On a surfing trip to Mexico in 2009, a buddy of ours got smashed into some rocks and had his spine pierced. He needed emergency surgery. There was no one around to do that but us. As it happened, one of our party was Sohaib Koreshi, a brilliant Pakistani brain surgeon. (Note to self: When surfing off-country, always bring along a brilliant surfer brain surgeon.) We tossed our friend onto a picnic table at the place where we were staying, after stopping off at the only nearby store for beer and painkillers, and turned to Glen — who had his medic kit on hand, as always. Glen loaded our buddy with morphine, irrigated the puncture site, and proceeded to help Sohaib do the delicate surgery. “If he’s interested in doing it,” Sohaib told us after it was all over, “Glen’s got a brilliant medical career ahead of him.” (For two weeks every year Glen ran a medical clinic on Tavarua Island, a destination surf resort off the coast of Fiji.)
Glen had looked at all of these options, and there was something attractive in every one of them. He was always up for new experiences and challenges. “Glen is the master of moving goalposts,” a friend observed. “His problem isn’t that he doesn’t have goals. His problem is that he has 100 goals.”
Still, he hadn’t made any serious moves or given any real indication that a career change was in the offing.
At that surprise party, I got to meet Glen’s siblings, Greg and Kate, for the first time. Glen had always talked about them so fondly that it felt as if I already knew them. Greg had written a speech for the event, which he and Kate delivered. They described a line in that magnificent Robert Redford film, “A River Runs Through It,” wherein the older brother is recalling his father’s struggle to find more memories of his younger son, Paul, the Brad Pitt character:
“As time passed, my father struggled for more to hold on to, asking me again and again: had I told him everything. And finally, I said to him, ‘Maybe all I know about Paul is that he was a fine fisherman.’
‘You know more than that,’ my father said. ‘He was beautiful.’ And that was the last time we spoke of my brother’s death.”
Greg likened Glen to the Brad Pitt character and said, “So we will tell you now, while you are still here; that you are beautiful.”
During the party, Greg pulled me aside and said, “Hey, Glen’s doing some pretty heavy shit out there. I’m worried about him. Tell me he’s going to be okay.”
“He’s solid,” I assured him. “Glen has his act together, and it’s a good outfit he’s with. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” Now I wish I could bury those words in the deepest mineshaft.
Arab Spring was five months away.
On June 19, 2012, not long after returning from Africa, Glen was hit by a car while riding his road bike — a nearly exact replay, strangely enough, of an accident that had injured Sonja five years earlier while they were going through their divorce.
The event seemed almost designed to put Glen out of commission. Not kill him or injure him badly, just take him out of circulation. The impact broke one arm, and the resulting fall badly injured his back, one knee, one wrist, and both elbows. Any normal person would have been laid up for a few months. But this was not any normal person. This was Glen. It barely slowed him down.
The next day he reported on e-mail:
“Got hit by a car riding my bicycle yesterday. Loopy on pain meds and typing with one hand so will be off the grid for a day or two. Could have been way worse. Only broken arm, jacked back/knee/elbows/wrist.”
As the weeks wore on, he grew more and more frustrated at how long it was taking to recover. He wanted to get back into the action. In order to go back to Africa, he would have to take a fairly rigorous recertification process security agents are required to undergo every few years. It involves a physical and a shooting test. He taped up his damaged arm, went in, and aced the test.
One day, at lunch with me and another friend from the teams, Glen told us he was headed to Libya, then added, “This is my last run.”
He’d been saying that for years, but it was finally starting to sound like he meant it.
We were working with two editor friends on a new edition of our book, and on August 17 Glen e-mailed us to cheer our progress:
“Very happy with the way all has been going. I don’t know how to say thank you enough. Healing has been slow, probably cause I’m so fucking OLD! Frustrating. Really frustrating. BUT, could have been way worse, and I’m going to Africa in three weeks, injured or no.
I’ll look forward to when we can all get together and toast the new opus.”
On September 5 Glen and I talked on the phone, figuring we wouldn’t get the chance again for a while since he was heading over to Africa the next day. We talked about him coming to team up with me at SOFREP, which by this time was soaring.
“You’re a damn good writer, Bub,” I said. “And there’s no one I trust more. You know how well you and I work together. I know this thing is a winner, and I really want you to be a part of it.”
Shooter and spotter. We’d always made an unstoppable team, and we both knew it.
“We’ll talk when I get back,” Glen replied.
Even with all the options, he’d been looking at, especially over the past few months, I’m not convinced that letting go of his sheepdog duties and not going to Libya was ever really on the table.
Tucking in hours when he could find them to work on edits on our book, he e-mailed again a few days later:
“I am fighting my way through the manuscript… finding stuff to fix, little things here and there. Should be done by the end of the weekend.
Hope all is well.
On September 11, while Ambassador Chris Stephens’s compound in Benghazi was being attacked, Glen was safe and sound in Tripoli, about 600 miles to the west. When they got the news of what was going down, he and a fellow agent instantly knew they had to go help. Two Special Operations soldiers and a few case officers joined them. Told there were no flights available, they hit the airport anyway and managed to find a plane and pilot who would get them over there immediately.
By the time they arrived in Benghazi, Stephens and defense attaché Sean Smith had both died, and the hostilities had migrated to the nearby CIA compound. Glen and the others arrived at the place and Glen ran straight up to the roof, where the firefight was at its most intense. Reaching the roof, he saw Ty Woods, an agent he knew. The two friends high-fived, and Ty yelled to the others, “Hey, guys, this is Bub!”
Everyone’s best friend.
Within minutes mortar rockets had taken them both.
In an interview, Kate described her first moments after hearing the initial vague reports of trouble in Libya:
“I was home with my three children when my brother’s best friend, Sean, called me, concerned: Glen was in Libya, working as a security contractor, and he may have been at the U.S. consulate that had come under attack.
My first instinct was not to panic: I was used to his being in dangerous corners of the world — in and out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Mexico City — and he had always come home. His friend and I told each other not to worry. We agreed to talk again as soon as we knew anything.
I got on my computer and sent Glen an email. ‘I’m worried,’ I said. ‘You’d better e-mail me this very second.’ I started pacing around the house. Then I called a friend and told her, ‘What I need you to tell me right now is not to worry — it will all be fine.’ And that’s what she did. I wanted to hear that and I believed it. Glen was so larger-than-life, so smart, so good. He would be fine.”
When the news first broke that something bad had happened in Benghazi, a handful of us started shooting e-mails back and forth to see who knew what. There were still no details. I hit “reply all” and wrote, “He’s not on the state security detail, so don’t take this as gospel, but it’s probably not him.” Then I boarded a plane from New York to San Diego.
The moment we landed in California I called one of my CIA buddies just to make sure. He didn’t pick up, but he texted me back immediately:
A minute later he called me. The family hadn’t been notified yet, he said. It was a short call.
I took a breath and called Sean, Glen’s childhood friend. After all these years, they were still rooming together. I’d rather have him hear it from me. Got him on the first try. He didn’t want to believe me at first, but he could tell from my voice that this was for real.
After we hung up, I sat in the parking lot of the San Diego airport and cried like a girl for 15 minutes.
On September 20, I made the flight from the East Coast back to San Diego once again, this time on my way home from Glen’s memorial service.
The night before the service they held a wake. Thousands of people showed up. They finally started turning people away as it was pouring rain. It felt like the whole state had turned out to mourn Glen, and even the clouds had joined in.
When Mike Bearden fell from the sky in 2000, I’d been out of town and didn’t even find out until weeks after the service. When Dave Scott and Matt Axelson and John Zinn and all the other friends I had lost over that decade had perished, I still had not gone to a single memorial.
This time, I went. It was impossible not to.
Now, 20,000 feet over the heartland somewhere, I wrote the following words, my own memorial to Glen, which appeared the next day in full in the New York Times:
I still can’t believe you punched out early on me, but glad to hear from the guys that you fought like a hero — no surprise there.
You should know, your efforts resulted in the rescue of over twenty Department of State personnel. They are alive today because of yours and Ty’s heroic action.
I know you hate funerals as much as I do, but the service in Winchester was humbling and inspiring. The people of Boston are amazing. I had to choke back the tears as me and the boys rolled through town and thousands of people lined the streets to honor a hero and our friend and teammate. Seeing American citizens united around a hero, if only for a brief moment, restored my faith in humanity and that there are other things more important in life than killing each other.
Your family is and was amazing. Their poise, patience, and the dignity they displayed was incredible to witness. Your mom, Barbara, stood by stoically for hours to ensure she greeted everyone who came to pay their respects. She was an inspiration to everyone who watched. Seeing your dad, his sadness and how proud he was of you, made me give him a big hug, and reminded me to work harder at patching things up with my own father.
Greg delivered one of the best talks I’ve ever heard under the most difficult of situations. What an amazing brother; I hope to get to know him better. His speech made me reflect on my own life choices and how important our relationship with friends and family are. I’m going to work harder at embracing my friends and family the way you always did.
Katie gave such an awesome toast at the wake with all the Bub lessons to live by, I smirked secretly to myself knowing that I’ve heard them all before and will never forget. ‘Drive it like it’s stolen!’ and ‘Kids don’t need store-bought toys; get them outdoors!’ and all the rest.
Your nephews are amazing and so well-behaved. Great parents of course. F.Y.I., I told them I’d take them flying when they come out west. They were beaming when I described all the crazy flying adventures me and their uncle went on. I told them how you and I would fly with my own kids and take turns letting them sit on our laps to get a few minutes at the controls. I’ll do it up right and let them each have a go at the controls.
Sean has been steadfast in his support role and has handled everything thrown at him. Helping him this last week really showed me why he was such a close friend of yours. He’s solid, and I look forward to his friendship for years to come. You chose well having him execute your will, he’s solid.
We are all dedicated, as you explicitly indicated to us all, to throw you the biggest effing party we can, and to celebrate your life as well as our own. Done deal; Sean and I are on it.
Most of SEAL Team 3 Golf Platoon showed up in Boston. It was great to see how guys like Tommy B. just made stuff happen, no matter what was needed. Things just got handled like men of action handle them, no questions asked and no instructions needed — just get it done in true SEAL fashion.
One by one the Tridents were firmly pounded into the mahogany as the guys paid their respects. Mike and I handed the plank to your mom, choked back tears, and kissed her on the cheek. We both told her how much you’ll be missed by us all.
Afterward, the team guys, Elf, Steve, Sean and others tipped a few back in your honor. In good Irish fashion we drank whiskey from Sean’s ‘What Jesus Wouldn’t Do’ flask, hugged each other like brothers and said good-bye, each in our own way.
We are planning the yearly surf trip to Baja in your memory. We share Steve Jobs’s philosophy on religion and tolerance, but if you can arrange it, please talk to whomever and fire up a good south swell for me and the boys.
My kids will miss their Uncle Glen. I told them it’s okay to cry (we all had a good one together) and to be sad but not for too long. You wouldn’t want that. They will grow older and, like the rest of us, be better human beings for having known you.
You definitely lived up to the words of Hunter S. Thompson:
‘Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!”
When I skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke myself I’ll expect to see your smiling face handing me a cold beer.
See you on the other side, brother. You are missed by many. — B.W.”
The thing I remember most about Glen was that he was happiest around a group of his close friends — and he redefined the meaning of the phrase “close friends.” Most people go through life making friends along the way, but those friendships come and go. Not with Glen. He never let go of a friendship, ever. In his 40s, he was still running around with the guys he knew when he was three.
The more I knew him, the more I realized that this wasn’t something that just happened. He worked at it. “Friendship is like a garden,” Glen had told me once. “It needs attention if you want to maintain it and grow it.” And Glen was a master gardener. He had a little black book he kept with him always, with probably several thousand names and numbers in it. Anytime he was sitting at the airport in between flights, or in a hotel stopover on a long trip, he would pull out the book and start going down the list, calling all his friends just to check in, say hi, and see how they were doing.
He taught me that true friendship is sacred and that we should nourish it to the fullest extent possible.
No wonder thousands gathered at his memorial to celebrate his life and see him off to a better place.
There’s one more thing you should know about Glen: He specifically requested in his will that in the event of his death, there be no funeral held for him. He was quite explicit about it. Instead of a memorial, he wanted us to throw “a big fucking party.” I laughed when I heard about that, and have since updated my own will to reflect the same request.
But I knew we had to do the funeral anyway, for his family’s sake and for the sake of the thousands of friends who showed up. There was no getting around it. But I knew secretly that Glen would be privately cursing us all.
Still, the fact that we held a memorial didn’t mean we couldn’t also give Glen that big fucking party he wanted. And that we did.
A few days after I got back to California, a throng of hundreds gathered on the beach in Encinitas and paddled out on surfboards. In the Hawaiian tradition of honoring a fallen friend or family, flower leis were set adrift on the ocean. After a while, we all repaired to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which someone had donated for our venue. And it was a good thing we had a space that big because people showed up from all over the world.
Glen himself had put it perfectly when he and his friends had sat around a table for three in a tiny Filipino bar 10 years earlier, almost to the day, grappling with the news of Dave Scott’s death: “We all signed up for this. It’s part of the fucking deal. So let’s not sit here feeling sorry for him. Let’s drink up and celebrate his life.”
Glen’s death hit my children especially hard. They knew that I had lost different friends over the years — but their beloved Uncle Glen? It didn’t seem possible, and they were devastated. “It’s okay to be sad,” I told them, and we sat and cried together. But I also explained that we shouldn’t feel sorry for Uncle Glen and others like him.
“Uncle Glen wouldn’t want us to feel sorry for him,” I said. “And here’s the thing: He died living life to the fullest, doing what he absolutely loved, what he was passionate about.”
How many of us can say that about our own lives?
It’s so easy to sacrifice or marginalize our dreams, often for reasons that seem so important at the time but reveal their trivial nature when we look back years later. Glen never did that.
“Life goes by in a blink,” I told my kids. “And here’s something Uncle Glen taught us — you should each live your own lives, doing what you love. Abandon your dreams for no one. That’s the best way to honor Uncle Glen. Do your best to live the way he did.”
On October 24, 2012, two of Glen’s buddies and I took off from McClellan-Palomar Airport in the late afternoon in a little Piper Archer PA28-180 I’d borrowed for the occasion. It was a clear, sunny day. Perfect. I piloted the plane down the coast at 500 feet with a very slight tailwind, contacted San Diego International Airport over the La Jolla Cove, and requested a class B airspace clearance. Once through class B, I called the Navy tower at North Island and asked for a San Diego Bay arrival, bridge overfly, and clearance back up the coast by the Hotel Del Coronado and Point Loma at 700 feet.
We could hear the frustration in the controller’s voice as he tried to brush us off. I didn’t blame him: There were air ops ongoing in the area, and this was no time or place for some yahoos out for a joyride. But we were there on serious business, and once we explained our mission the gent in the tower immediately granted us the access we needed. After holding over the Coronado bridge for incoming H-60 helo traffic, we were cleared for a low flyby above the SEAL compound.
“Two minutes out,” I signaled to my companions.
I pulled the throttle back gradually and put us into a slight descent to lose a few hundred feet, then trimmed and set power for 100 feet over water right along the beach, as the main BUD/S compound came into view.
The sun was just starting to set over the distant Pacific horizon as we blazed past the obstacle course and watched a class of fresh SEAL candidates shuffling onto the asphalt grinder for some grueling evolution with their combat-seasoned SEAL instructors. A handful of students looked skyward as they jogged by, doubtless having no idea what we were doing there. All they would have seen was one lone guy propping open the door of the Piper and a slight puff of smoke disappearing behind it, as we let some of our friend’s ashes loose over this place he held so dear.
See you on the other side, Glen.
In Brandon Webb’s and John Mann’s book “Among Heroes,” Brandon provides his personal account of the life of Glen Doherty and of seven other of his fallen SEAL comrades. Brandon’s and John’s forthcoming novel “Steel Fear” releases next year.