Rudi Reyes – CHIEF INSTRUCTORCategory: Press Pack Article
Rudy was born in 1971 on Richard’s Gebauer Air Base in Missouri while his father, a US Marine, was fighting in Vietnam. After his parents’ divorce, Rudy and his three brothers were raised by his grandparents, and later by the Omaha Home for Boys.
Aged 26, a decorated martial artist, Rudy joined the United States Marine Corps and, after impressing in the recruitment phase, went on to become an elite Recon Marine. Rudy became a highly decorated Special Forces operator, leading over 50 patrols behind enemy lines. He served one tour in Afghanistan and two tours in Iraq as a Recon Marine Team Leader and Scout Sniper. After leaving the marines, Rudy worked as a counter-terror contractor for the Department of Defence.
After leaving the military, Rudy spent time in Africa where he trained wildlife preserve rangers in anti-poaching tactics and later went on to found ‘Force Blue’ a Veteran Non Profit which pairs former Special Operators with Marine Scientists to work rebuilding and restoring coral reefs, saving turtles, and working within the conservation community. He also competes and trains people for Adventure Racing and Martial Arts. In 2008, Rudy appeared as himself on the HBO miniseries Generation Kill. He has worked on many survival shows, Apocalypse Man and Ultimate Survivor Alaska. He was also one of the main contributors for multiple BAFTA nominated documentary series Once Upon a Time in Iraq.
Welcome to SAS: Who Dares Wins. What is your military background?
I was an infantryman in the Marine Corps, and I was honour graduate of my bootcamp, and eventually I was given an opportunity to try out for Recon. Reconnaissance Marines are only 300 out of 300,000 Marines, and the selection process is very extreme and arduous. Looking at it in terms of SAS and SBS, we have different accents, but the culture is the same. It is the very best of the very best. The nature of the work we do, to train at that high level – to give you perspective, my first year of the unit, 23 of my brothers died just in training. The training is so high level that few of us die in combat. I went to war over and over again. I fought in Afghanistan, Pakistan, I went in to do clandestine probing missions in Kuwait preparing the battle space for the invasion of Iraq. Later, my platoon led the entire First Marine Division into Iraq. If you watch Generation Kill, that was about us. I returned home again to be an instructor, and then Fallujah came across the radar, so I was a team leader there. Then after seven years in the Marines I moved into teaching and training, and competing in martial arts and boxing, and doing some private military contracting, as well as doing some work in media. I continued to do counter-terrorism in North East Africa for the State Department. And then I taught, trained and led the premier bomb squad in the world. My last mission was about eight years ago. So, altogether, about 15 years of military experience.
Why did you choose to join the military in the first place?
I was a kickboxer with a devout Chinese martial artist practitioner, and did heavy duty meditation, and studied Buddhism and focused deeply on compassion. And me being an orphan, and coming from broken homes and broken places, I saw a documentary about orphans in Kosovo who were left without anyone to care for them because of the snipers killing on both sides. And a few days after I saw that documentary, I saw in USA Today that President Clinton was deploying American fighting men to go and fight in this humanitarian crisis. And that was a sign to me that, as an able-bodied young man, I had to join. So I joined the Marine Corps because I heard it was the hardest. I did not like guns, I did not like the trappings that you see in video games and action movies. I wanted to be part of the greater good.
What was the recruitment process of joining special forces like for you?
It was very difficult. I’m from the Midwest, and I did not grow up swimming. I could really run great and fight, but I couldn’t swim. I had to work so hard to make the swimming portion. I was the fastest runner, the strongest, the most fit, but in the pool it was really difficult. So, when the other Marines went and drank beer at the weekends, I trained and trained and trained. To get trained as a Recon Marine takes about three years – that’s just the basics. I’m a scout sniper, I do amphibious raids, helicopter raids, vehicle insertion raids, mountain warfare. I’m a combat diver, I’m a paratrooper, I’m an explosives expert, desert survival, arctic survival, and then we go through SERE school as well, to protect ourselves if we’re caught behind enemy lines – Survival, evasion, resistance, escape. That’s just the basics. In between wars I would go to follow-on schools and refine my leadership.
What appealed to you about the job of SAS: Who Dares Wins as the Chief Instructor?
We got an incredible call from Jon Cahn, the series producer, and I had been working in film and television, making survival shows, and some feature films. But the best stuff I’d ever done was with British production teams. Something about the sensibility and maturity, the Europeans seem to have when it comes to entertainment. I got a call, and I had no idea it was for chief Instructor, I didn’t even know about the show. But they started talking to me about it, so Jade, my missus, and I watched every single episode on Amazon, and we were blown away. I’d read every single book on combat, I’d read every single book on special operations, I read Andy McNab’s books, Chris Ryan’s book, I read Black Hawk Down. So for me to be honoured to be in the conversation with the SAS: Who Dares Wins, I was blown away. I was extremely excited and extremely humbled. I went and did the recces, and got to know Billy and Foxy, and we’re now very close. It’s been nothing short of a blessing, it’s the best work I’ve done in entertainment ever. And I know it’s just the beginning.
Did Foxy and Billy give you any advice ahead of filming?
You know what? Billy is like the big brother I never had. I’m the oldest brother. Billy just said “Hey, don’t worry about it, just give it your best and be you.” And, of course, he was right. And Foxy and I are consummate with our physical fitness and training. We’re training warrior brothers. We’d listen to some freakin’ Pearl Jam and just get at it. It was a great team. And Remi was the last addition, from the SEAL community, and he totally rounded out the crew. It was fantastic.
How brutal was the environment out in Jordan?
For me, not that brutal. I’ve got years of experience out in the desert. But for regular British people, it kicks the shit out of you. It’s so dry. These recruits were fantastic, so fit and so strong, but they’d never been in complete zero humidity, or that kind of heat, or continuous sand. So they dehydrated quickly, and it sapped a lot of their strength. Those who survived the process learned to adapt. Jordan, for a civilian, is a major ass-whipper.
In the series you describe the relationship between US and UK special forces as a brotherhood. What do you mean by that?
I’ve unknowingly fought in the same battlegrounds as Billy did in Iraq. And when I went back to fight in Fallujah, I was trained by the royal marine Commandos in Kuwait and in Iraq, how to identify markers for IEDs and caches. Also, we have a Recon and scout Sniper cross-training programme with the British Royal Marine Commandos. We come from the same culture, we really are family. No wonder the UK and the US have been such staunch allies for 150 years, right there next to each other. It’s a brotherhood, it’s palpable. You can see it, you can smell it, you can taste it.
What did you make of the recruits on the show?
It takes a lot of guts to come out to a foreign land, an area that you’re not prepared for, and lay it all on the line. Some of the recruits really surprised me. I did not think they would last very long, they seemed to be wilting, and those recruits ended up finding the most strength and really evolving into something that they didn’t know was possible. In general I thought the recruits were fantastic, and hats off to the production company for finding people who have deep grit, and also have struggles and pains and traumas, that they are there to overcome.
How much of the process of training involves you getting to know those back stories and understanding the recruits a bit better?
I would say SAS: Who Dares Wins is a human transformation show in the guise of a military selection show. It’s all about peeling back the layers and unlocking the true potential of the recruits. It’s catharsis and healing. We got to know them very well. We don’t have dossiers on anyone, we utilised our field craft and human intelligence background and experience and training to discover what makes these recruits tick.
What is it about the process that brings these emotions out of them?
This show is really emotionally driven. It reveals things deep in the recruits’ lives that I’m sure so many people around the world can relate to. I think, why they get emotional, and I reflect back when I was going through my selection, I never knew when I was going to come home, or if I was going to die in training. We had a payphone down in our team room, and we had to take turns for only ten minutes on Sunday to call anybody we could. I didn’t get emotional, because there was no opportunity to work on the scars or the pain or the demons. Instead, we had to use that for fuel. The difference about this series is in my experience, utilising my tough background and my scars and traumas and such as fuel, it made me a competent and successful warrior. They created a very intelligent fighting machine, they taught me how to defeat enemies. However, since I never did get to work on a single emotion except rage, later in life I developed struggles, and my life completely derailed and fell apart. What I love about this show is that these very brave recruits are addressing the hardest stuff in their lives head on. I believe because we break them down physically and put them under so much pressure there is no place to hide. They can’t hide from themselves, and that’s when the real duty happens on this programme. It’s really some of the best and most emotional TV I’ve ever seen.
You’ve talked about having your own traumatic memories. Do you feel like you’ve dealt with that, or is it an ongoing process?
I would say, to be completely honest about this life, there’s a little piece of me that I love some of the pain and some of the scars. I love that chip on my shoulder where I have to move into every environment ready. Some of those things have been so hard-earned, and shaped and formed in the right way can be very positive. There’s things that you have to become to be a war fighter. There are some serious after-effects, and that’s what I had to work on, and continue to work on. And I’m proud that I have these problems to work on, because what would be the alternative? That I was poor at my duty, and that I was slack in combat, and that I was killed or my men were killed and I would later take my own life from guilt? So, it’s wonderful that I get to work on myself now, but first you must win the fight. Win the fight and destroy the enemy and safely return home. There’s no pity here – there is sadness, but not pity. We work through that sadness, and I feel very happy that I am able to be a beacon of light for so many other veterans going through the same thing.
What’s the key to being a successful recruit on the show?
The key is indomitable spirit. The body will break, and that goes away and is reformed. The mind will play tricks on you and tell you that you’re too tired and too hurt, or you’re missing mum and dad or missing husband and wifey. No! The mind will play tricks too. The body lies and the mind lies. But if you’ve got an indomitable spirit, you will make it.
Did you enjoy filming this series? What were the best and worst aspects of it?
Oh my gosh, did I enjoy filming this series?! First of all, I was dog-tired – me and the boys are doing LONG days every day, and on top of that staying fit and being briefed. And being responsible for directing recruits on these heavy-duty tasks. It’s dangerous, what we’re doing but we work closely alongside a health and safety company. And then we do the interrogations and mirror rooms and preparing for the following day. What I loved the most about it was that it was like being on deployment again, being back in the team room, and executing rad missions. Helicopter insertions into the ocean, massive patrols, gas mask work, marksmanship, threat assessment. It was so incredible, to be now, at 50-years old, back being 25 again, with the best freakin’ teammates in the world, Billy, Foxy and Remi. I can’t wait to do more. I’ll be doing this for the next ten years, brother, I’ll just have a bit more grey in my hair and a bit more grey in my beard.
What were the hardest aspects?
Some of it was very dangerous. The mule-packing was very dicey – doing helicopter work, and with massive heights and rappelling. But all the dangerous shit I do on a daily basis. But the hardest thing is when I am doing mirroring, and I am talking with the recruits, and I’m hearing them express these pains and these hurts that they’ve been through, and they break my heart. Seeing these strong human beings, who have got the guts to be there, crying in front of me, about someone that abused them or abandoned them or someone they lost, and not being able to reach over and hug them, and say “It’s gonna be okay, I’m proud of you,” – that was the hardest thing for me.
You seem like such a compassionate, sensitive guy – is it hard to turn into the taskmaster who has to beast the recruits?
You know what? You can tell the instructor and warrior blood in me that began in the Omaha Home for Boys. It started when I was six years old and two brothers attacked my little brother, and he was only five and we had to fight them, and the older brother that I was fighting had glasses on, and we were tussling on the ground, and I had to punch him in the face. And I remember I punched him in the face and broke his glasses. And I got his brother off my brother, and I was crying for hitting him, because it hurt my feelings to hit somebody, because I felt for them. I grew up having to fight, and fight for the good, but it still takes a piece out of you. In time, that becomes home, and through martial arts and competitive fighting, and ultimately through recon and combat, I’m an expert and honing that tough love to make superior fighters and warriors. So, you can see, when the rubber meets the road, and we need to create men and women that will run towards the gunfire, and fight to the death, out of love, I am a hard-ass. Out of respect for recon, and for SAS, and for SBS, out of respect for SEALS, I will be a hard-ass. Out of respect for the mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters that these men and women come home to, because they lived, because I taught them to be absolutely intelligently aggressive and control it, I will be the hard-ass.