The first time I met Mike O’Dowd felt like the first time I’ve met many other military “operators,” a slang term used to describe members of elite special forces units. They always seem to be unassuming.
The images of these soldiers often differ drastically from the gloried heroes displayed on the big screen or in your favorite television series. Instead of larger-than-life action heroes, they are just ordinary people that have dedicated themselves to the higher calling of defending our country’s freedoms no matter the personal cost.
Those costs are high too. Petty Officer First Class Mike O’Dowd, a formal Navy SEAL of 10 years with two deployments, knows that price well. He also knows first-hand what it takes to make it there. “When Hell Week started, this guy was there, and he was shredded. He looked like a superhero, and we were all watching him, thinking what a stud he was. Then he was gone before the end of the first day, and we never saw him again.”
In an interview for this article, Mike recollected his early days in BUDS school, the program all Navy SEAL recruits must conquer to pin the golden trident their unit proudly wear on their shoulder.
Mike was in town on business, and I met him through an accidentally fortuitous email randomly sent to me from a former client of his inquiring about renting my gym. She explained that she needed a mated space for a portion of the three-day seminar she purchased for herself and a few friends. I had the option to accept cash as payment, or I could attend the workshop for free, so naturally, I took the trade to help hone my skills. It was a fantastic opportunity; this guy is pretty much Jason Borne.
On the first day, the whole gang met up at the range. I have not shot much, but the world’s growing desire to stay armed at all costs has highlighted my need for this training. I’m kidding myself if I believe the years I’ve dedicated to martial arts are any substitute for learning to shoot and proper gun handling techniques.
Luckily, we hit good weather narrowly missing the abusive Florida summer heat, and I was immediately aware Mike was a great teacher. He was engaging, well-spoken, and easily relatable to everyone. He did, however, coyly enjoy taking quick pokes at the overzealous range guardians charged with regulating our safety, which limited the amount of training we could study.
“These old range guys are all the same. They are so concerned about safety that they aren’t teaching anyone to be safe with a gun.” Mike grumbled under his breath as our appointed custodian walked away after correcting him during one of his demonstrations.
But shoot we did and after spending six hours at the range with Mike’s tactful eye giving me pointers, I felt the gun become an extension of my arm. As a novice, it was a great feeling.
Day 2 was at my gym, and Mike very graciously and quite unexpectedly acknowledged my expertise in the field and not only welcomed but encouraged my input.
The first half of the day was all hand-to-hand, and after lunch, we switched things up by adding Glock airgun pistols. Then, before everyone left for the day, there was one more drill, a kind of course graduation that simulates real-life situations utilizing some of the skills we learned to that point.
Mike had an assistant put a hood on me and headphones blasting loud music. Armored in riot gear, he waited to attack me until she pulled the hood off, and I had to assess the situation and react accordingly and instantaneously.
The anxiety I felt in that hood was incomparable to anything I’ve ever done. The feeling of a SEAL in the room consumed me with fear while I waited in the hood repeatedly until removed again, and he reemerged, sometimes with a knife, a bat, or a gun.
The experience exposed the holes in my jiu-jitsu, particularly with a weapon involved. Jiu-jitsu is often called the gentle art, and being a high level, black belt competitor I quickly took down Mike and safely subdued him every exchange.
However, in the case of a weapon, the main rule is always to attack the attacker. In many instances closing the distance to the clinch will get you killed, a lesson I learned in real-time when Mike repeatedly stabbed me in the neck and side when he reappeared with the plastic knife.
Afterward, in a debriefing, Mike explained the brutality of my boxing training would serve me better to disorient and incapacitate an armed attacker quickly, and the uncertainty of a hidden knife should always be a concern.
Just food for thought.
In the final session, we saw Mike for the elite machine his years of continuous training forged. Tandem room clearing is a dance between two armed defenders working in unison to subdue would-be assailants. It requires precision movement and strict adherence to an internal checklist performed under the most extreme duress. Only constant drilling can produce the desired outcome, and it is obvious he has put in thousands of hours in practice and real-world application. Watching him move around a room with a gun is like watching a movie.
Mike O’Dowd is an American hero that served his country in ways that no one but God will ever know as a soldier. But his valent effort followed him back home as well. After retiring from active duty, he used his degree from Boston University to find employment in the private sector, but covid and a lack of fulfillment called him back to his training.
Along with his seminars, he also employees and trains ex-soldiers, many with the same skill set as himself, for his private security firm in Southern California. It gives these servicemen a chance to continue cultivating the skillsets they built defending our country and the opportunity to make a few bucks while doing it. “A lot of these guys are just excited to be back doing what they love. They deserve that outlet.”, Mike explained.
The calling to be a Special Forces “Operator” cannot be answered by just anyone. It requires a special breed of person willing to sacrifice everything in the name of service. You won’t cut it if you aren’t motivated by that drive above all else. Mike O’Dowd continues to answer that calling by giving back to the civilian community and his brothers in arms through his business. I highly recommend checking him out if you are interested in learning from the best.
To book a seminar, hiring private security, or just purchasing some swag to support a worthy cause, check out Mike O’Dowd on his website at Defense Strategies Group.