As a special operator in the US Navy’s most elite unit and actively engaged in the global war on terrorism, Eddie Penney had achieved his childhood dream. He was the tip of the nation’s spear, prepared for anything, except for becoming a single parent of three young children.
In his new book, Unafraid, Eddie shares his story, the insight gained and the truth exposed when you reflect, regroup and commit to personal growth. You’ll read about his life as a Navy SEAL and the adolescent aspirations that led Eddie toward his military life, as well as the painful challenges that, left him a single father with sole custody. You’ll learn that old wounds both seen and unseen can heal and redemption is always possible.
Hey listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Eddie Penney and Keith Wood, authors of Unafraid: Staring Down Terror as a Navy SEAL and a Single Dad. Eddie, Keith, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Eddie Penney: Thanks for having us.
Keith Wood: Thanks, Drew.
A Meeting of the Minds
Drew Applebaum: All right. So first thing’s first, let us know how do you two know each other?
Eddie Penney: Keith and I met — this is Eddie talking — Keith and I met at a shooting school that I was an instructor on, and Keith was just going through it. Keith knows more about guns than I do by far, he writes for Guns and Ammo and a bunch of other gun shooting magazines.
So he was going through the course to write articles on it, and we met through that and then, we stayed in contact and I did a podcast, I reached out to him. I was like, “Hey man, if you don’t mind, please listen to this podcast.” It was from Mike Ritland’s, Mike Drop. What’s his podcast called, Keith?
Keith Wood: Mike Drop.
Eddie Penney: Mike Drop. Mike Drop, his podcast. So we did that, he listened to it and we got on the phone, I was like, “Hey, hey bud, would you be interested in writing a book?” and he’s like, “I thought you would never ask,” and we just — we went off to the races so that’s kind of how it started.
Drew Applebaum: Now tell us respectively, can you give us a little bit of professionalism or background on each of you?
Eddie Penney: Keith, go ahead, buddy.
Keith Wood: Yeah, so I’m a lawyer by training, and I’ve spent the last 19 years doing government affairs work. So working in state legislatures, effectively lobbying, and probably in 15 years of magazine writing and then several years ago, helped write three books, all of them fiction, and those turned out to be tremendously successful. So that’s how I realized I could tackle a book.
Eddie Penney: And then, I did 20 years in the military, four in the Marines, 16 with the SEAL teams, about the last three or four years, I got custody of my children, was able to still deploy while like juggling the kid thing, doing the single father thing and life kind of turned around big time. So I went from savage mode, going to Iraq and Afghanistan to coming back, changing diapers and doing pigtails, so it was a freaking mind blown.
Drew Applebaum: So the question for both of you is, Eddie, why was now the time to share this story and then after, Keith, if you don’t mind, like what was it about Eddie that you saw that you were like, “I also want to write this story now”?
Eddie Penney: I started writing this book, and it was really just vibing on paper. I don’t really want to say writing, I was almost like journaling certain things. I mean, it had somewhat of a flow back in 2014, and I probably had about a hundred, 150 pages written down, certain things in life and deployments and childhood, and kind of shelved it for a while. The book was actually going to be called Façade, that’s the first thing I had for it.
Then when I met Keith, I gave it to him and he’s like, “All right, some of this is good, we need to chop this up,” and then we just started the interview process and then started making our book, which was going to be within war. Where like, I was dead set on within war, within war, and then when we started dealing with our publishers, Unafraid was brought up by Keith, his idea, which is like my word.
So I teach the unafraid mindset, and I’m like, “Why the heck did I ever not think about this?” and Keith’s like, “Yup, Unafraid,” that’s just kind of stuck, that’s just what it was so.
Keith Wood: Yeah and from my angle, I mean, Eddie’s military career alone could certainly warrant a memoir. He’s done a tremendous number of things and has a fantastic story, some encouraging, some tragic, but to me, it was the duality of his story. You know you hear; you have this like, he said savage mode, tier-one SEAL, going out there doing these things, and then you have this loving father who is having to adjust to that lifestyle and then all of the trials and tribulations that followed.
So it’s really, one, it’s not just one kind of story, right? It’s got something for everybody, and I think that also hopefully will allow us to reach different audiences. Folks who might not traditionally read a SEAL book might read this because of the family angle and vice versa.
Drew Applebaum: When you were going through these stories and again, for both of you, how much information did you have to omit due to some of the sensitive nature of the content, due to some of these missions overseas, and was there any levels of clearance where you have to get some of these stories cleared before you could put them in the book?
Eddie Penney: Yeah, so we held our finished manuscript or what we thought was finished. We had to submit it to a process that through the Department of Defense, and they have to go through it, they read it, and if you talk about certain commands or agencies, it has to go to them. They kind of have to give their blessing, and then it gets sent back with redactions, which are black lined or “We need to take this out” or “You need to rephrase your words.”
So there was a little bit of that, but I mean, the story that we had, we actually put stuff in there, we’re like, “For sure, they will take this out,” and they didn’t. Really, it was just the names of some units, and I think that was really it. Keith, was there anything else that was crazy big on that one?
Keith Wood: No, they’re really hung-up on names and what I did, kind of as my homework, was to go and read memoirs of folks who had similar career path to Eddie and that the books had been approved and we tried to use the same characterization of units and things that we know are called a certain thing, we’d have to call them something else in the book, and that’s fine, I don’t think it distract at all, but we also try to minimize the redactions because I know sometimes that can be disruptive to readers. So we only and maybe, two places is there a physical redaction in the text.
Drew Applebaum: I mean, let’s be honest, it looks very cool when you do see that big black box.
Eddie Penney: It totally does. They’re marketing for us.
Keith Wood: It’s almost a marketing tool, yeah.
Eddie Penney: We have to run in, right? In the beginning.
Keith Wood: This book is so good, the government doesn’t want you to read it.
The Growth of a Soldier
Drew Applebaum: I love that one in the beginning. Let’s dig into the book itself and again like, this is a memoir. Like every memoir, it’s filled with highs and it’s filled with lows, but I’d love to just start at the beginning. So Eddie, tell us about those younger years, tell us about you, what was your childhood like?
Eddie Penney: It was awesome, always doing sports, running in the woods. I always knew I wanted to be in the military. It was like for some reason, now that I’m older and I see people struggling with careers that they enjoy, I was very lucky. That was just my passion, I just like, I want to be in the military, want to be in the military and watch the movies.
My dad was always encouraging because he would always be watching the movies, so I would just watch them with him. It’s just was my thing, all the way through high school and then went into the service, there was no, “I got to do this because I was in trouble with the law,” or other things that I knew when I was very young, like, this was my path, no matter what and looking back, I’m so fortunate to have that.
It was good, and I’m very fortunate to be on the other side, still in one piece, somewhat. So it’s definitely a good thing but always knew it, you know? From pretty much, day one I can remember.
Drew Applebaum: A lot of your mindset was kind of brought in from your dad, right? He had this kind of “Get it done” attitude, and how did that affect you throughout life?
Eddie Penney: Yeah, he did. He would just do things and I talked to him about this — he has no idea about this, he vaguely remembers some of them but he would just get stuff done. I always remember that no matter what it was, no matter how crappy the task or what it was, he would just, there was no talk, there was no whining, there was no complaining, he just did it, and I really admire that about him.
So that was just without even realizing, that was getting soaked into my memory, like, “Okay, this is your habit, this is what you’ll do.” If something needs to get done, we don’t need to talk about it, unless it does require a crazy plan or something, just go do it. If you can walk over and go do whatever it is yourself, then go do it.
Then you can move on to the next and there’s no need for conversation, it’s done, the page is turned, it’s in the past, so moving on. That was so valuable to me, volunteering for stuff, like if anyone said, “We just need to go do this,” I’d go do it and it wasn’t a big deal. Some guys had a hard time with that.
Drew Applebaum: You talk about mindset early on in the book, and mindset is all about just, what do you need, having the confidence to pick a goal and attain that goal, but as you talk about in the book, there are some failures along the way, and it happens for everybody and one of them, you talk about early in the book is when you didn’t succeed in becoming a Marine sniper. So can you talk about how after, you know, a really long series of wins you kept yourself motivated after that loss?
Eddie Penney: Yeah, if you want to take the knife out of my back right now, that would be great. No, I’m just—No.
Drew Applebaum: Everyone’s going to know. It’s all out there now.
Eddie Penney: Yeah, that was a hard pill to swallow. I was like, I couldn’t even get into the school. I’m like, “Man, I really stink.” So I was like, “I’ll just go back, I’ll be a cop in Cincinnati,” and then, after feeling sorry for myself for a couple of months, I was like, “Wait a second, stop this, this is not supposed to happen.”
So, I just started training, I remember throwing on my cammies, I’d go to the pool and I’d start swimming with my cammies on, my camouflage uniform and just putting myself through as much hell as I possibly could, to get ready for the SEAL program, and I went to the recruiter as soon as I could.
For the Navy side, when I was in the Marines, I crossed over when I was out, and I mean, I was in contact with them for that last year just on training, learning stuff as best I could and that was my mindset. I was like, there was no if, it was like I’m going to, “I’m going to, I’m going to, I’m going to,” and that’s all I would tell myself and I live like that. All the way, I guess, to tell you I could say I retire. So that was it; it was my lifestyle, period.
Drew Applebaum: You talk about keeping your head in the game, one of the big takeaways is keeping your head in the game and just reminding yourself of the why and why you’re doing things, and your experience came from being in a warzone and just remembering your training and, of course, all those SEAL training chapters are amazing, but how do you relate that to folks who are not into a warzone where it’s a little bit easier to forget that why what would you say to them?
Eddie Penney: I think you need to realize why we do anything, right? A family is a big motivator, getting that feel-good feeling of accomplishment, whatever it might be, and to be honest with you, a lot of people are in jobs that they’re not happy with, and I am always like if that’s not where you’re happy, it doesn’t mean to pull out where you can’t support your family but maybe you start your own project.
Maybe you start your own hobby, maybe you start your own business, but you need to find that. You need to, that’s what like you have got to go with that passion and purpose or else you are just wasting away, and I see it so often. You know, I don’t want to say the nine-to-five job because some people love the nine-to-five job. They love it, and that’s great. If that’s their thing, then that’s their thing.
But there is a lot of people that are doing things that they are not happy with and the thing is, is that they don’t take that first step to fix it or to change it because they are afraid to take that risk and if you’re not going to take any risk, then you’re not going to get any reward plain and simple and I encourage people to hey, take that risk. It’s okay, you’re going to fail. You are going to fail, but once you fail, you’re just learning.
You know, you’re either going to take it, you’re going to win or you will learn from that failure and that’s beauty. You just got experience right there.
Drew Applebaum: You move on and you head out for many deployments and some of them didn’t go as planned and you lost members, fellow members, you lost friends, you lost brothers along the way and had some survivor’s guilt. Can you talk about what that feeling was like, and then Keith, if you could add on, when Eddie is telling you these stories, what are you feeling and how are you able to really capture that in the book?
Eddie Penney: Yeah, some of those ops where we lost good friends, they still keep me up at night. It’s gotten better, I do certain things, EMDR therapy, brain spotting therapy, ganglion block shots on my neck to help with the PTSD piece. I understand that it’s not me that caused it, but also I understand that there’s always that little piece, “If you didn’t say this, if you didn’t tell them to move here.”
Not that I can foresee the future. I am just doing my job the best that I possibly could. It’s not fun, it’s not cool to live with. I know I can’t change it, and I just try my best to honor them as best as possible, but I am not going to lie to you, it still hurts a little bit. It definitely hurts and Keith, Keith has probably seen and heard me cry probably more than any person in this world, so he knows a lot about it.
Keith Wood: Yeah, it was an emotional process to go through obviously for Eddie, but for me as well. One, just have an empathy for those guys and their families and their loss and also Eddie as a friend having suffered these losses in his own life. So it was important to me that we do those guys justice and that we tell their story in a way that’s befitting of their lives, and the way I knew that I was doing my job right was after we would talk about something then I’d write it and I’d send the draft back. If Eddie cried reading the draft, then successful.
Eddie Penney: He was very successful.
Drew Applebaum: It is, yeah.
Keith Wood: A lot of crying.
Drew Applebaum: It is very vulnerable, very real, very real book. It is not easy to talk about this stuff.
Keith Wood: I think that’s honestly, that’s the best part of this book. The thing that sets it apart from so many others, it’s not this, “Hey, I’m macho, I’m perfect.” It is like, “Here is all the good, the bad, and the ugly open book for the whole world to see,” and I think that’s fairly unique.
Drew Applebaum: You know, I love how you structured the book where you do hot washes at the end of each chapter. So I’d love for you to explain that really, what is the term “hot wash” means? What does it mean and really, how do you two use it in the book?
Eddie Penney: So hot wash or a debrief is just something that you do after any operation or training event. You kind of go over what went right and, more importantly, what went wrong because wrong in that line of work could get people killed, and that’s where we really want to focus on. Like you get the good old boys out of the way, you know, give them a pat on the back, and then we need to focus on this because this was not good.
So initially, this started out, it was going to be, it was a letter to my children at the end of each chapter, and then it was kind of — I can’t remember, Keith could fill me in on this one, but it was kind of hard to put it in that term like why don’t we talk to a broader audience, and we’ll talk to everybody. All the readers, all my friends, family, military, children, they could all get something out of this. So we change it to hot wash from one of your friends, Keith, right?
Keith Wood: Yeah, that’s right. My friend J.B. Marshall who’s an Air Force pilot read it, and he said, “I love these lessons learned at the end of the chapters. You mentioned a hot wash elsewhere in the book, why don’t you combine those two themes?” and we did and it worked out really well I think.
From Fighter to Father
Drew Applebaum: Now, not to bring up more wounds, of course, but again, along your journey, in your military journey, you know you also actually happen to see your marriage break up, and then along the tail end of that, you became overnight, you got full-time custody of your children, and you went from what I’m going to call active soldier to active father. So what was that transition like? How did your life changed in that instant?
Eddie Penney: Going back to when I was the active military and I was married before the divorce and getting custody, I’ve realized I was not doing my part what I should have been doing. I was putting my career first, I was putting the SEAL teams first, I was putting my boys first, I was putting going overseas first hands down, and my family got backseat and I justified that in my head.
Being self-absorbed is just like, “Hey, I am doing this for our country. I am doing this for the citizens of this country,” so I need to be 100% engaged because it is serious. When you go over there, and you are taking it to the enemy, you’re getting shot at, you are shooting them, it’s just very surreal. It’s hard to explain to people that haven’t been over there and done that. It is very real, but nonetheless, I failed on keeping that balance of work and the personal life.
There’s still that, “I don’t care what your job is, I could have done much better,” and writing this book was a big eye-opener for me. Definitely failed there, but when I got custody of those kids, I really think that those kids probably took care of me more than I took care of them. They showed me a whole different life. They showed me, excuse me, that’s an emotional piece right there, they showed me life.
It was awesome, it was so beautiful, just these kids, they were ten, five and ten months just opened up my heart. It wasn’t definitely not overnight and definitely took quite a few years but just slowly and gradually just peeling away all the freaking calloused and just non-emotion person I was. It was beautiful, at the same time it was very, very hard for me to go from this war fighter to daddy daycare, taking care of my children.
I didn’t know what I was doing, and when you’re at the tip of the spear, and you say, “Yes, I finally got here. I’ve been through every single training, and nothing can stop me,” that’s what you think, right? Then you got these three kids staring at you, you’re like, “Okay, you guys are tough.” There’s a lot that goes in there, I just wasn’t prepared for it, and so that led to a lot of drinking. I couldn’t sleep at night, which led to a lot of pill-popping once the kids are in bed.
It was just the toughest part, it was the hardest training I’ve ever done in my entire life out of anything, but in the end, it was the most beautiful thing as well.
Drew Applebaum: You do give so much love to them in the book, there’s photos of them in the book and so much more details and the ups and downs of their story, but let us fast-forward for the moment, where are you in life right now?
Eddie Penney: Right now, I am in a blend of family, married just over a year. We have three kids living with us, so we have five total, three dogs that run the household and living life. We’re working off running a business contingent group, Keith and I are about to start our second book and just doing podcast and doing the Unafraid Mindset, spreading that out there and just trying to equip people to go out there and get what they want, take ownership of it and go get it. I am very happy right now. I am in a very good place right now.
Drew Applebaum: You do have a companion website along with the book. Can you tell us the address of that site and what readers and listeners can find there?
Eddie Penney: Yes, so it’s eddiepenney.com. We got all of our podcast on there, we’ve got—that’s where we’ll be putting up the pictures for the book if you are doing the audio. You can get signed copies of the book there. We’ve got a den, which is kind of a motivational like media platform. Guys and girls can go in there and get, just filled with inspiration, motivation, diets, faith, whatever it may be. It is just kind of really to amp you up, get good book ideas, that’s eddiepenney.com.
Drew Applebaum: Well, Eddie, we just touched on the surface of the book here. There is so much more inside, but I just want to say that being vulnerable in telling your story is no small feat, and Keith, taking this incredible story and making it into this book is also an incredibly large feat. So congratulations, both of you, on having this book published.
Eddie Penney: We appreciate that. I’d make one comment, Keith is by far the brains behind this book. He is magical with his words, him taking the recordings and then putting them on paper, he’s just an awesome writer, very creative, and he gets the point across and he gets it across well.
Keith Wood: It helped that I had an awesome story to work with.
Drew Applebaum: The two of you. Gentleman, this has been a pleasure. I’m really excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Unafraid, and you could find it on Amazon. Eddie and Keith, besides checking out the book, where can folks connect with the both of you?
Eddie Penney: I’m on Instagram @eddie.penney, Facebook at Eddie Penney Unafraid, that’s a public page, and then the website and that’s about it for me.
Keith Wood: The YouTube channel.
Eddie Penney: Oh yeah, we do an Unafraid Podcast, where we actually break down every chapter and talk about it, and we do a bunch of other cool podcasts on there, and that’s the Unafraid Podcast, so they can go and find that as well.
Drew Applebaum: Very cool. Well, Eddie and Keith, thank you so much for giving us some of your time today, and best of luck with your new book.
Eddie Penney: Thanks, Drew.
Keith Wood: Thanks, Drew.