Navy SEAL Foundation Is All-In and Fights To Win For Navy SEAL Families: Captivating In-Person Interview With CEO Robin King

(Interviewed By Larry Fowler, BUD/S Class 89,  Early on February third, I packed l my car and left Florida for a 2,000-mile drive to Coronado California. My goals were simple: spend several weeks checking out the new BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL) training facilities as much as my veteran's id card would allow, spend lots of time on the Coronado Amphibious Base, and lastly sit down and interview Robin King, the President and CEO of the Navy SEAL Foundation (NSF).

The NSF mission is simple.  Provide critical support for the warriors, veterans, and families of Naval Special Warfare.

There is no doubt, the NSF is a high-performing organization committed to excellence. Charity Navigator has awarded them a 4-star rating since 2009 and a perfect score of “100” since 2014 for their financial health, accountability, and transparency. NSF ranks higher than 99.9% of all charities nationwide. Less than 100 charities can make this claim annually, with ninety-three cents of every dollar donated directly funding their programs.

Ironically, the NSF is the polar opposite of the group which they support.  Think about it.  Navy SEALs are all about the “suck-it-up,”” pain is good,” and “never quit” attitude but the NSF says something like, “wait a minute, pain is not always good;” every individual matters including SEAL families.  Even so, they both share the same daring sense of purpose.

Fortunately, the NSF is all-in and committed to supporting our valued warriors and their families.  It may be impossible to find another organization that supports their mission as strong as the NSF. 

During my interview with Robin, you will hear about a few of their programs.  However, don’t hesitate to investigate all they offer on their website,

In a world where integrity and creditability are endangered species, Robin King is a breath of fresh air. Although she mentioned that she could never survive BUD/S due to her despise of cold water, there may not be a greater warrior in the pursuit of excellence for the well-being and survival of SEALs and their families.

Now, the interview: Not everyone who quits BUD/S is a quitter, agree?

Robin: Yes. Some certainly just decide this isn't for them. From what I know about the Teams after being part of this community for many years, that's the best thing for the community as well. You don't need a guy who could make it through but doesn't really want to be there.  Doug Young, BUD/S Class 89 honor man, and SEAL lifer, once commented “to be a SEAL is the most selfish thing a man can do because everyone else, wife, kids, family is going to pay the price for his 24/7 commitment to the Teams.”

Robin:  Yeah, but it's also such an unselfish thing to be doing those jobs for people you don't know and support our country. Because somebody's got to do them. I mean, this last war, was all about special operations. If those guys weren't willing to do that, where would we be? It is and it isn't because my husband [SEAL] would tell you he's had fun every day of these 32 years.  He loved it. Now that we're on the tail end of it, I don't look back and think it was a terrible life. I look back and think it was a fabulous life.  You raised two girls. Was it tough having a Navy SEAL as a father?

Robin:  What they learned from being part of this community is pretty significant. The community is pretty tight, but I think more of that exists today because of some of the things that the foundation does, like our kids' camp.  The Foundation Kids’ camp seems to offer unique support for SEAL families.  Where are they?

Robin:  The camps take place on the East Coast, West Coast, Hawaii, and West Virginia.  My kids would often find out that somebody else's dad was a Team guy after they already knew him. They weren't coming together through any functions when my kids were younger to know all of that and that you could really communicate about any stressors on that.  I think the kids today tend to be a little bit closer because of the opportunities that our foundation and some others have created for them. I think that's positive.  Were your two kids born in Virginia Beach?

Robin:  No. They were born here in California. We left here when my oldest was about to turn five. They really grew up in Virginia Beach.  Where do you see the SEAL Teams 10, 20 years from now with AI artificial intelligence, robots? 

Robin:  I'm certainly not the expert to know anything. It's hard for me to think that they're still not going to be valuable. I think there is going to be a heavy slant for a SEAL who can really work the computer. I remember Admiral Olson saying, “I need a Ph.D. who can win a bar fight.”

I still think that holds true. And you need people all across the spectrum, from the guy who's the great problem solver when it comes to computers, to the guy who's the problem solver when you're dealing with an obstacle.

Will anybody surrender to a drone? Will anybody surrender to anything like that? Or does war just keep going? Does it require that face-to-face before something will ever end? I do think SOF is going to stay important. I think that role is going to shift for SEALs. I know the last Admiral was really focused on returning to maritime and getting back under the sea after all those years in Afghanistan and on land, doing things that only SEALs can do.  The future sounds exciting moving forward for the Teams. Agree?

 Robin: I know I don't have a clue about anything really that they were exploring, but I know they were very excited about it. The opportunities, the skill set that our guys have, what they're going to be accomplishing. We joke sometimes that SDVs (swimmer delivery vehicle operators) are some of the only guys who can still keep a secret, so nobody knows what they're doing. We all know what happened in other places, but nobody knows what SDV has been up to all these years.  As a wife of a SEAL, and as a CEO of the Navy SEAL Foundation, what's your biggest stressor? 

Robin:  Well, as a CEO, providing support for the community is challenging. Giving away money is easy. Giving money well and providing good programs is hard because you have to set left and right parameters. Sometimes it means you say no. If somebody came and said, I've got a lot of credit card debt and that's making it hard for me to pay my bills. I'm like, You're an adult. Right.

When you have the assets that we have and you push the amount of program support in the community that we do, it's easy for the line to get blurred that you would like to say yes to everything. But really, every program we have has a reason for existing. Absolutely. It's better to teach a man how to fish, right?

Robin:  Right. And we are about fish. The Navy SEAL Foundation is not normally a long-term solution.  What other ways does the NSF help SEAL families?

Robin: [We] want to be a resource, want to help you get through the DoD system, the VA system, to get the support you need. We're all about that. We're about getting you on the right track.  NSF primarily strives to give courage, strength, comfort, and any financial support, when possible, by NSF guidelines. Is that kind of what I'm hearing?

Robin:  Yes.  Is professional counseling a big part of this?

Robin:  Right.  And there can be financial support that goes with that.  If all your staff were here at this table today and if they were to be asked, tell me about Robin, what are the first couple of words you think would come out?

Robin:  I’m direct. Hopefully smart, hopefully, that I represent the foundation very well. When I go to speak publicly, the part that makes me most nervous is that I want my team to say, I'm so glad she leads us. It's not about the donors in the room. It's these people who work here and grind it out. I really don't want them going, “Oh, what was that?”  Can you describe your typical donor?

Robin:  We've got amazing people who give $10 a month for forever. We've really built our recurring database of donors on the smaller side, people who are just very committed and give monthly. That makes such a huge difference. I think a lot of people think “my $15 a month isn't that big of a deal” because they know about galas and tables and all that. But gosh, we get millions of dollars a year from those people who just know what we do, maybe know a Team guy, know a Team guy's wife, or a relative, and just want to contribute $15…$100. And they do it on a recurring basis. And that just adds up. And it gives us sustainability. It gives us the ability to keep planning these programs and doing these programs.  How about faith? Is there room for faith in the Teams? 

Robin:  I don't know that I've sat and had conversations with the guys about it. I know very spiritual families. Faith and spirituality, are one and the same, different, who knows? A lot of really consistent churchgoers, people who this matters a lot to. I think the Teams welcome it now more publicly than probably years ago. I think it's always existed. I think a lot of people who want to go fight for the country are very patriotic and spiritual in some way.  If you could snap your finger and change anything in the Teams, what would it be?

Robin: Gosh, I’ve got to be careful with this one; easy low-hanging fruit here. I wish that the Team guys were not in control of whether their spouses are on lists for ombudsman and other information. It blows my mind that a guy can opt out of his wife for seeking information about what's going on in the community. I think that is problematic and that she can miss out on opportunities to get to know people, to do things for the kids, for things as basic as coupons and military opportunities. But more than anything, what's going on in the DOD.  I don't quite understand that. So why would a guy not want his wife to be aware of the resources available to her? 

Robin:  I get that. I think it is a throwback to old times when people thought wives’ clubs and spouses may or may not all be super friendly or whatever. I remember, gosh, in the early years when I was married and the guys would get reimbursed or whatever and be like, “Don't talk about that reimbursement because I know so and so and so and so don't tell their wives you're getting that money back.” People just don't want their wives involved in everything and it's just a missed opportunity. I don't think it creates a strong family. Maybe it's the guys who just don't understand everything. Maybe it hasn't been explained to them well. I'm not sure, but it is a consistent problem. We face it all the time. A spouse who doesn't know about something because she's not on the list because she didn't even know there was a list.  I would think the wives are each other’s support system when their husbands are deployed and they share information amongst themselves.

Robin:  When you're in San Diego, people live really far apart. People don't know each other the way they did when Bill was in his first platoon (35 years ago) and you were dealing with it. Every Sunday was over at the Master Chief's house having a barbecue. It was all that thing. It's just not always that way anymore. Because you can live really far away.  Anything else you would change? 

Robin:  I think it's all based on information and communication with the guys, with the community about opportunities for their own health and well-being. I think sometimes things get stove-piped and information doesn't get to where it's supposed to go or where it needs to go.

A SEAL's job is to not work on benevolent stuff. His job is to work on what's going on in the world. I don't expect him to do that. The way things have to operate legally really does create problems for some people.

I just wish those opportunities were a lot more available and that the Navy SEAL Foundation and other groups could get in front of these guys at work to tell them about things that could be helpful.  What's the biggest difference between the East Coast and West Coast Teams guys other than geographic?

 Robin:  I think East Coast is a little bit older. Because you got Dev Group out there and they tend to be a little bit older. The community is closer on the East Coast because of geography. That's my experience.

But the West Coast guys can really dance. The cutest thing at our princess and her frog father and daughter dance. The East Coast guys don't really dance, but the West Coast guys, those guys really dance.  Maybe it's because they're younger, you think?

Robin:  I feel like they're younger. I don't have a statistic on that. But those guys have a good time. They dance with their daughters. It is to die for.  Sounds to me like there's a challenge in there... (LOL) 

Robin. I like it.  Will they ever be female, maybe, SEAL?

Robin:  I think there will be.  Really?

Robin:  I mean, they're allowed to be. From what I hear from some of the guys in the leadership, there definitely maybe women who could make it through.  You think so?

Robin:  My husband (Bill) thinks so. I've heard admirals say they think so. We’ve just got to find the right one. I think it will happen at some point. Some women have gotten part way through the pipeline at this point.  Do you prefer cats or dogs?

Robin:  Dogs.  What gives  Robin a feeling of accomplishment?  I think I know the answer to this, by the way.

Robin:  What is the answer?  I think you're tough. I think you have to be. But I think you're an extraordinary giver and really deeply care for people. Therefore, compassion is big. So, whenever you're able to help SEAL families in their time of need or oversee giving 400 scholarships to SEAL kids, I think that's a day you may just want to sit back and take a deep breath and say, “Wow, that was great!”

Robin:  Yeah, that feels good. I think when I face a new challenge, which I don't want to have to face, and come out with a solution that I'm happy with and feel like I've learned something on how... I handled that well. I didn't understand where I was going to go with that. It was very tough in the beginning, very confusing. I got to the end and provided the support well and communicated it well. Maybe it wasn't what the person initially asked for, but it was a really good solution. I learned about my thought process during it because it's been tough over the years. You have to separate your own personal emotions from these cases a lot of times. When we get too emotionally invested, it can cloud our decision-making.  Often when emotions are involved, logic goes out the window. But that's what you do...

Robin:  We try to establish those parameters for our programs when we're not dealing with an emotional situation. That's why I said every program has a philosophy, it has a parameter, and all those were done like, sit down with my team and we talk about that on a day like today. So that tomorrow, when something happens, we can go back and say, this is what we decided, and we did that with it. We decided that with a clear mind. Now, that doesn't mean there's not gray. You can't go somewhere else out of your boundaries. When we hear, ‘this happened with this guy and he won all these awards, and everybody loved him, and da, da, da, da.’ It doesn't matter if everybody loved him or everybody hated him because he's qualified and we're going to give him great support. I can't have the guy that everybody loved getting a $50,000 funeral and the guy that nobody liked getting $2,500.  Because everything you do sets the precedent?

Robin:  Yeah. So we need to be able to maneuver the system regarding our support in a way that when it's the popular guy and people want to have floats and blimps at his funeral and to be able to tell them we're not going to do that and here's why and have it go well and have them finish with the whole support and say, “The Navy SEAL Foundation was amazing. What you did for this family, what you did for the community was stellar.” I can know that's fabulous and we stood by what we planned. I didn't have to put a blimp in the sky to actually show these people that we are supporting well. I communicated that well, and I represented the Navy SEAL Foundation well.  Speaking of funerals, I was shocked that suicide was an issue in the Teams. You guys (NSF) had the courage to stand out and say, “Hey, guys, we may want to look at this and have a discussion.” Did you get any pushback from anyone to say, “We really don't want this to be out.”

Robin:  Yeah, we did. Wow. We did. We got told we don't need to talk about that. We're like, “Well, we're going to talk about it. You don't have to participate, but we're talking about it.” We've done a lot of work in that area. It's unfortunate that every time someone dies by suicide, you get this ground swell up. We have to do more. We're doing everything we are able, and everybody who's working in space is doing everything they know to do.

It doesn't get reenergized when someone dies. It's always there. It's heartbreaking. It's hard to tell people the truth, which is, there are some people who are going to die by suicide no matter what. It has been happening since people figured out how to do this. There are people who are never going to give you any notice. It's a bad decision with an easy opportunity in a window, a small window where they make this decision.

There are also those who have mental health issues. Or brain injury, right? And those, when we can see it coming, we're throwing all in over here. When we have these situations where someone dies by suicide and you didn't see it coming and people are like, what else can we do? You know, that's like me sitting across, me going, you're fine every day. And what am I supposed to… like…throw suicide statements around 24/7? It just doesn't, you know. It's a tough scenario. I think we're trying to do a lot to make sure people understand how to have the good conversations on this. I carry around in my bag all the time, this little booklet from a doctor, Craig Bryant, that we work with on suicide, if you get that call.  The Foundation did a great job on the suicide broadcast video.  You guys really went all out. If I can summarize, you're basically saying, hey guys if suicide in the community is or becomes an issue, we're here for you with NSF support, right? 

Robin:  Yes! I also think Naval Special Warfare and SOCOM are working really hard to make sure the community knows it is okay to have this conversation.

They are really working hard at that and I give them a lot of credit for the steps they've taken. NSW is typically known in Socom to be on the leading edge of so many initiatives to their guys. Transition, mental health, all of that. And some of that is because they've got groups like the Navy SEAL Foundation who can help get them.  As the NSF CEO, are you a confrontational person?

Robin:  No.  No, but there may have to be moments when confrontation is necessary, so when you have to do it, you have to do it.  Right?

Robin:  Yeah. I don't like to have to have those hard conversations. I do only want to have them once. So that's why I feel it's important to be transparent, direct, and really say the truth. I mean, I told my kids since they were a little bitty, when your friend comes to the door and says, do you want to play? If you don't want to play, the answer is no, thank you. Right now. Not I can't or I'm sick. Because when you want to go in your front yard later and play, you want to be able to do that. So don't back yourself in a corner with some, like, BS line about why the foundation is not supporting and we're not doing something that's going to bite you in the ass later.  What are you most thankful for? 

Robin: My husband and my kids.  What’s one thing people misunderstand about you? 

Robin: By nature… I'm actually an introvert, and so people, I think, think I can be cold when really, I'd rather just be, like, on the computer by myself.  What's the perfect vacation for Robin King.

Robin: Walking around Italy with my husband.  What city in Italy?

Robin: I got married in Florence, Italy. Really. But I love Rome too.  We all know that SEALs loves a good adrenaline rush, right? So, what gives Robin an adrenaline rush?

Robin:  Gosh. Probably just when good things happen for my kids or my husband.  You guys have been married 28 years now.

Robin: 35 this year. 35? You guys look so young you must have got married when you're nine or something… 

Robin:  Oh, I got it wrong (ha!). What's the craziest thing Robin has done that you can share?

Robin:  I'm not very crazy.  Listen, you're married to the alpha dog Navy SEAL. I mean, you have to do crazy, right?

Robin:  Yeah, he (Bill) does crazy. I don't do crazy. I am straight-laced.  I don't think that I've ever done anything crazy.  It may sound boring, but I can't think of anything.  Any favorite movies?

Robin: A movie called ‘Cousins.’  Cousins? 

Robin: Yes.  Isabelle, Rose Laney and Ted Danson. It's my favorite.  Okay… 

Robin: Mine and Bill's favorites. Yeah, that would be my favorite.  So you're not a Pride and Prejudice person?

Robin:  Oh, I love a good Jane Austen. I love Pride and Prejudice. But I had the mini series version with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy...  Did your husband (Bill) like Pride and Prejudice?

Robin: Probably not. He can probably tolerate it.  Do you watch Hallmark movies?

Robin:  No.  What's something you can't go a day without doing?

Robin:  Talking to my kids.  Your biggest pet peeve.

Robin:  I have so many pet peeves. Do you see that sign up behind you? My staff gave me that.  What does it say?

Robin:  There is not to be any whistling or unnecessary noise in this passage. That was a Churchill thing, right? Because, whenever people tap and click and whistle and make noises at the building in Virginia Beach, they would all sit in their office waiting for me to stick my head out and yell out, “Who is doing that?”  And whistling and kicking and clicking and, you know, my husband, my poor husband can't you know, he eats an ice cream bar and then clicks the wood sticks.  I'm like, “I'm gonna kill you.”

Also, whenever people don’t answer the question that I ask.

I want them to just answer the question. And if I need more, I'll ask you more, but stop assuming.  Yes. I get it about the high pitch noises!  I had nightmares with me as a kid, being dragged out of a car going 90 mph, hanging down with my teeth, scraping the concrete on the highway and making that noise. So I'm with you all the way.

Robin: That is a horrible dream.  It's not a dream, it's a nightmare.  

Robin: Wow.  What accomplishment you're most proud of with NSF?

Robin:  My accomplishment that I'm most proud of with Navy SEAL Foundation? Probably that we're building this Warrior Fitness Program.  Warrior Fitness Program?

Robin:  It’s a new program. Well, it's a program that already exists on the East Coast, and we're building out this full facility here on the West Coast. It should be opening in April.

It is a kind of reset of mind, body, spirit, active duty, veterans, pre- and post-911 are eligible. You should go. On the East Coast, we started working with Alex Oliver, who was at SEAL Team Six for a while. Olly had become a real expert in human performance. He had actually written a paper about improving human performance by only two or three percent; the difference that it would make in the SEAL Teams. Got all the way up to the Command Staff, who said, “Hey, prove it,” and gave him a budget at Denver. Olly did prove it. When Olly got out, he started his own side business. He was really just training athletes with that thing. I have an incredible director of programs, Allison Messick, and she actually went to Olly and said, “I think we can do something great here.” Today, this program exists and its workouts, it’s nutrition, it’s cognitive, it's all of that. We're bringing that now to the West Coast; building on our own facility right down next to Petco Park.  What food could you not live without, Robin?

Robin:  I started eating better about a year ago, so I'm living without a lot of foods I wanted to eat but I never thought I'd live without. I don't know. Mexican food, I guess.  Do you drink green drinks? Anything that's super healthy that a lot of Team guys would be drawn to?

Robin:  No.  Do you have a major goal you'd like to accomplish before you retire 100 or so years from now? 

Robin:  I'd like us to fund our endowment, fully fund our endowment. That would feel really great.  The endowment would help ensure that our programs could exist in perpetuity. So, to have enough money in the bank so that we can just draw off of the ‘interest’ income. That would be great. Take some pressure off.  Your budget for 2021 was 19.5 million. Does that sound right?

Robin:  Yeah, 2021. But we spent more than $29 million on programs last year. It just continues to grow. It's a big lift every year. To be able to remove some of that pressure, to secure a huge donor that would...  You have billionaire Ken Griffin, right?

Robin:  Yeah, Ken Griffin. If we could get... I can't believe I can't think of her name. Used to be married to Bezos. Right. And she's giving [money] away. If I could get her to give us just a billion. That would solve my problems.  The problem with that is when you have one person that donates 50 % of your budget, if you find yourself without that, you kind of crash.

Robin:  Well, if it was big enough, it would sustain everything. That's what I'm saying.  Okay, got it.

Robin:  If it was a big enough donation, it would sustain everything, and that just frees up your ability to function.  What makes you feel anxious, uneasy, or overwhelmed? I know confrontation is one of those. Anything else?

Robin:  Just surprisingly, maybe publicly representing the foundation because I just want to do a good job at it. We do so many things and some of them have gotten quite complicated. When you're talking about brain health, mental health, the way we support, and the groups we work with. Just communicating that clearly, representing the foundation well. When I'm leading into an event like that, it's very anxiety provoking because I want to do a good job, I could prep to the end of the Earth and there's still more I would need to know because our support is really that deep.  I once served on the suicide hotline and I know the importance of leaving things at the office, right? So, all to ask is, as soon as you clock out, are you able to leave all the emotions at work at the end of the day?

Robin:  I do try to leave it at work. I try to tell my staff to leave it at work. I try to not work on the weekends. But we all have email on our phones, you all check things and make sure nothing's going crazy. I think that's different than waking up in the middle of the night because you can try to leave it at work, but what wakes you up in the middle of the night just wakes you up in the middle of the night. I definitely wake up with my brain spinning. It's not just about the budget and how we carry this load. I sign off on the expenses every day. We're writing checks and so I have to sign on everything over a certain amount. It has gotten to where it's a lot of money we push out every day. It can give you the anxiety to think, ”We're pushing this much out every day, which means we have to turn around and raise that much money every day,” which is a lot of pressure on the development team. You want to keep your ratios good, so you don't want to spend too much money on raising money because it affects how you look and your 93 cents on the dollar and how this formula is just so delicate and how you keep it in balance. Those things will keep me awake.  Are you aware that they tore down the old BUD/S compound and now building the new compound?

Robin:  Is that open?  Yes. Well, I went in. Doesn't mean it's open although the old BUD/S compound is now demolished and the new compound looks finished.

Robin:  I didn't know they had moved in there yet.  However, I did not see BUD/S Class 89 plaque “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday” anywhere.

Robin: There's no way that's not going to be back up. There's no way. Did they still bring out the little monster guy?  I did not see him. I haven't thought about the frog. He was in front of the old BUD/S compound when I was at BUD/S in 1976.

Robin:  Not the frog, he's like the...  Yeah, the monster.

Robin:  Yeah, the monster. He was sitting in the hole. I mean, the outside quarter. How can you function without the frog monster?  What would you advise your younger self today?

Robin: Well, interestingly, I've been at this job for 23 years, and it's been great. But I think I've learned through dealing with all of the great, interesting people I get to meet through this job that I would have varied my career more.  You would have what?

Robin: Varied my career more.  What do you mean?

Robin:  When I meet these people who have just worked in a lot of different areas and done a lot of different jobs, to me, they have massive amounts of connections. They're really, really well-rounded. I've told my kids, I'm like, I find this interesting when I meet so many of these people who are super successful, they've really done some really interesting things throughout their lives. They've taken chances and now they've changed jobs. And I never did.  Robin, you were with Disney in a high-profile position, NSF for 23 years, not to mention Navy SEAL wife with two children.  You've been around. I'm not sure anyone else could come in and step in and do what you do unless you have all the valuable experience that you have accrued.

Robin: Well, like I said, it's been great. But it's funny you get to this point and you go, what if?  The thing about when you play the what-if game, it almost always leads to nowhere. It's a deep, unknown hole. I’m confident that most, if not all SEAL families would unanimously be thankful for all you do for NSF.

Last question, are you a night person or a morning person?

Robin:  I don't know. I'm a mid-afternoon person. I'm not a morning person, but I'm not a night person either.  Are you a rule follower or not a rule follower?

Robin:  Oh God, yes, I'm a rule follower.  You're an analyst, of course. Your husband, Bill?

Robin:  Oh God, no.  I'm finished.

Robin: All right. How did I do? Amazingly well.  Thank you for your time today.  As mentioned, I just want to come in and be transparent and humanize your story.  Honestly, sometimes we humans, forget to show gratitude and gratefulness. 

Robin:  Thank you.



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