By Robert Benchley
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do after graduating from Lafayette,” says Drew Bisset ’67. “My father asked if I had considered law, so I took the LSAT and did very well. I entered law school at the University of Connecticut, but in 1968, President Johnson started ramping up the Vietnam War, and I got drafted. I enlisted in the Navy and never looked back.”
Bisset also never got to Vietnam. The Navy needed more SEAL junior officers, so he was sent to Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I., “probably the first enlisted guy with a college degree to go to OCS for the SEALs,” he says.
Commissioned by his grandfather, Andrew G. Bisset ’15, he served with SEAL Team 1 and UDT-21 (underwater demolition team), which carried out a variety of assignments in Central and South America. He left active duty in 1973 and joined the Navy Reserve. He commanded two NR Special Warfare Group Detachments, as well as NR SEAL Team 2 and NR Special Boat Squadron 2. Ultimately, he became Reserve Commodore of the NR Special Warfare Command, the senior SEAL Reserve position at the time.
Following 9/11, Bisset volunteered to serve as military liaison to the Mayor of New York’s Office of Emergency Management at Ground Zero. Two years later, he saw front-line action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Because of my background, I was employed by a defense contractor to go in for the opening of the war,” he says. “The goal was to establish a media network to communicate to the Iraqi people. Displaced Iraqis who had been run out of the country by Saddam Hussein served as our spokesmen. My role was to get the radio and television stations back in order and get the spokesmen air talking to the people about why the U.S. was there.”
Bisset’s retirement in 2005 could have marked the end of the story, but his service has continued through a private mentoring program he started in 1994 for aspiring SEALs. The idea for SEAL RDAC (Recruiting District Assistance Council), based in Connecticut, where he lives, extended back to Bisset’s own SEAL class, in which only 24 of 180 candidates graduated. The six-month training program is considered the most strenuous and difficult in the world, and Bisset believes the rigors of his football training at Lafayette gave him an advantage. When he heard that the Navy was considering lowering the fitness standards in order to graduate the number of new SEALs needed (currently 250 a year), he was aghast.
“I thought that was short-term thinking to a long-term problem,” Bisset says. “The difficulty with so many of the candidates who didn’t graduate was being unable to pass the physical fitness requirements, especially the swimming portion. Our answer wasn’t to lower the standards, but to raise them. The graduates of our program who enter SEAL training can perform more than the minimum that will be required of them to graduate.”
Independent of the Navy, SEAL RDAC is free of charge and reliant on private donations of money, facilities, and expert instruction. To date, the program has sent 155 candidates to SEAL basic training, and 110 have graduated—a success ratio almost the opposite of that for candidates who enter through normal channels. In part, says Bisset, it is because his program has its own criteria for admittance.
“We have recruiters bring in high school kids, but they haven’t been out there on their own and have not been subjected to the stress and pressures of life,” he says. “We like to work with a more mature candidate—typically a college graduate who has played college sports and, above all, is mentally tough.”
Bisset followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, Andrew W. Bisset, ’41, who was president of his class, to Lafayette and to the Navy.
His grandfather was trained as an engineer and spent his career in the service, retiring as a vice admiral. His father served as an artillery officer in the Marines during World War II and later became an attorney.
His brother, M. Douglas Bisset ’69, was a member of ROTC Scabbard and Blade Society, and served in the Army as a cargo officer in Vietnam and Korea.
Bisset says camaraderie is the greatest benefit of a military career.
“You’re in there with highly motivated people who want to be there and serve their country,” he says. “It’s a tremendous feeling. You don’t have that in the civilian world, where it’s dog-eat-dog. In the military, everybody is looking out for everybody, particularly in our type of unit. If you can’t function as a team player, you won’t make it.”