BTU #271 - The Global Special Operations Forces Foundation (Stu Bradin)

As soon as you run into financial problems, there are usually marital problems as well. What’s sad is that there are families that have survived two decades of war but are unable to survive times of peace.
— Stu Bradin

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Why Listen:
Stu started a non-profit to help the Special Operations community, and structured it in a way where it is partner and member run. He has now grown it to over 2k members in over 60 countries, with 88 corporate partners, and is growing at a rate of 10-15% every year. He talks about what it’s like to establish a “network of networks” where governments now go to seek advice. He talks about the challenges facing the SOF community, and more.

About Stu:
Stu Bradin is the President / CEO at The Global Special Operations Forces (SOF) Foundation (GSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that aims to build and grow an international SOF network of military, government, commercial, and educational stakeholders in order to advance SOF capabilities and partnerships to confront global and networked threats. Stu started out at the Citadel, and served in the Army special forces, retiring as a Colonel.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps:


Joining me today from Tampa, FL is Stu Bradin. Stu Bradin is the President / CEO at The Global Special Operations Forces (SOF) Foundation (GSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that aims to build and grow an international SOF network of military, government, commercial, and educational stakeholders in order to advance SOF capabilities and partnerships to confront global and networked threats. Stu started out at the Citadel, and served in the Army special forces, retiring as a Colonel.


How would you explain the Global Special Operations Foundation?

The Global Special Operations Forces Foundation is a non-profit that advocates for the interests of Special Operations members around the world.


How did you get the idea to start The SOF Foundation?

It wasn’t actually my idea. I was assigned to US SOCOM about nine months from retirement. We were assigned to support the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation in a symposium they were putting together. At one point during that, the President of the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation asked me why Special Forces didn’t have a foundation.

What I liked about the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation was how active members were. They told me they would help me stand up the Global Special Operations Forces Foundation. We’re now about to hit our 5th anniversary. We 2000 members and 88 corporate national and international partners. We grow about 10-15% every year. We have 6 full-time employees and have matured quite a bit since our beginnings.


What are some things the partners and members do as part of The SOF Foundation?

We’re designed based on committees - we try to bring together subject matter experts in our networks that can provide advice to different organizations and governments. We have a strategic advisory committee. That committee decides on different programming that would be beneficial for our organization. The board members will then vote on those ideas and move forward with those ideas that are approved.

We do an independent audit every year. That’s not required of 501(c)(3) organizations but we do it as an additional layer of transparency and honesty with our stakeholders.

Our small business committee has developed a lot of programming to help Special Operations members transition into civilian roles. We have construction companies that love hiring Special Operations veterans because those kinds of people are able to work calmly with a lot going on around them.

If you’re on active duty, it doesn’t cost you anything to be a member of our Foundation. You can submit a resume to us and we then allow our corporate partners to access the resumes. We also work with the Honor Foundation, which is an organization that helps members of the Special Operations community transition. The have a specific transition program which is really unmatched. They are the cornerstone of the transition services we provide.

We also realized that a lot of ourtranistioning vets had not done much due diligence financially. Many of our SOF veterans face a lot of stress surrounding financial security. We reached out to the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Foundation. They do a lot of financial literacy work with our members.


What are some trends that you’ve seen with transitioning SOF members?

What we did at the SOF For Life Program is create a survey to find out what challenges transitioning members are facing. Financial readiness is the biggest challenge our members are facing. While serving, our members get a lot of additional income post-9/11 that was not available to service members before September 11th. The problem is that a lot of people think that their salary in the private sector should be in line with their overall pay in the military. But really, it will be more in line with your base pay. Sometimes people in the military build a lifestyle that is in line with what they make in the military but that’s not sustainable once they get out.

Often times I’ll ask a transitioning SOF member how long he can go without getting paid. Usually it’s the spouse that is managing paying all the bills. She’s the COO of the operation in that way. Usually she’ll tell me that they can go 3-6 months with no pay. What we found in our survey is that many of our veterans are underemployed after they leave the military. The problem is that during this time, they don’t adjust their lifestyle to match that change in income. When that financial savings is gone, a lot of marital problems arise. It’s a family that survived two decades of war but then can’t survive a time of peace. So our goal is to get these members into a job they’re excited about. We feel like that is going to really make a difference in these member’s lives.

Financial literacy in general is often a weakness for veterans. In the military, everything is decided for us. There are very specific pay scales for everything. So then when we transition, we can often be very poor advocates for ourselves when it comes to salary negotiations.

The second thing that concerns me is that we don’t prepare for retirement medically. We lie about our medical status when we’re in because we want to go on the mission. As a former SOF leader, you don’t want to tell someone they can’t deploy. Everyone will turn on you if you’re that guy. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll do if you have to tell someone they can’t deploy. So then we have people that have spent 20 years in the military and in reality, they have many medical struggles but their record doesn’t reflect any of that. When I retired, I had two volumes worth of a medical record.

Finally, I think a lot of our members don’t know exactly what they want to do in the next chapter of their life. A lot of people get out an do a similar thing as a contractor. Others want to do something completely different. When I was getting out, I decided to start a non-profit. For me, that’s what I wanted to do. So one thing we really try to do is help members of this community figure out what they’re passionate about.


Are there any resources you would recommend to veterans?

I’m a big advocate of the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Foundation. What they do is sit down with you and go through all of your finances. Your financial needs change over time depending on your circumstances so it can be very helpful to talk with someone about exactly what investment vehicles are right for you.

When I got out of the military, I had almost $200,000 in my Thrift Savings Plan. I made the decision that I wanted a human being managing that money. I ended up taking that money and putting it into various financial vehicles. So it’s important that you are looking into exactly what your financial needs are and how you’re planning for that.


What can someone do if they want to get involved in The SOF Foundation?

I encourage all past and present members of the Special Forces community to join our foundation. You can do it online. For veterans, membership is $25 for one year or $75 for three years.

All of our corporate partners post jobs and we send those out to our members. We encourage our members to upload their resumes to our system. Our corporate partners have access to those resumes.

We also do many different events for our members. We’re trying to build a network amongst this community.

We are a true non-profit. We spend every penny on providing services to our members so we’re always grateful to accept donations.


You’re on the Spirit of America advisory board. Can you share more about that?

It’s basically a pro-US non-governmental organization. They do a lot of things the government can’t do. They are able to go into communities and provide rapid assistance because they are much more nimble that many government agencies. It was founded by Jim Hake. I’m a huge believer in what he does with Spirit of America.


Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?

I encourage people to treat their transition like an operation. It’s months and years worth of work to prepare yourself. You won’t get hired just because you’re a veteran. Companies appreciate your service but they have to hire people that will improve and sustain their business. So I encourage military members to really view this time as an operation they need to invest time and energy into.