The UDT-SEAL Association is a veterans support organization comprised of past, present and legacy members who have served, are presently serving or who strive to serve in the Naval Special Warfare community.
Its mission is to unite all active duty, veteran and retired personnel who are serving, or have served in Naval Special Warfare and to support the health and welfare of all its members and their families.
Over the past 40 years, Zeagle has been a proud partner of the Naval Special Warfare community, and we’re excited to be supporting the UDT-SEAL Association as part of our 40th Anniversary celebration.
To learn more, we got in touch with the UDT-SEAL Association’s Director of Operations, Steve “Gonzo” Gonzalez. Well versed in the needs of the veteran community, Steve spent 30 years in the Navy—with over 20 of that serving as a SEAL.
From coaching university football teams about teamwork to helping FORCE BLUE with coral reef restoration, Gonzalez is a passionate veterans advocate who has the credentials—and years of service—to inform his position.
Tell us about the UDT-SEAL Association’s history? How did it evolve?
The UDT-SEAL Association was established in 1969 by a group of Navy SEALs hanging out in a garage, drinking beers, going back and forth to Vietnam. With combat you have the loss of life, guys getting wounded or injured, so they started passing around a hat to take care of the families. From there, it grew into the UDT-SEAL Association—which is 50 years old this year.
What started as a fraternal order of SEAL’s has now transitioned to a 501 c(19) veteran’s service organization that exclusively focuses on veteran’s needs.
From there, we launched the SEAL Veteran’s Foundation, which is a 501 c(3), and establishes a war chest to help our veterans out even more so. Focusing on the pre-911 veterans—guys who served in Korea, Vietnam, WWII, Grenada, Panama—conflicts that happened before 911.
Why does the SEAL Veteran’s Foundation only serve pre-911 vets? Are all three orgs run by the same group?
That leads us to our next organization, the Navy SEAL Foundation, which takes care of the active duty guys and those that have served post-911. [The different organizations] work well together—we even share the same building. But regardless of when a service member served, from 1943 to present day, we care for that service member, for that veteran and their family.
The UDT-SEAL Association is operated by its own members—they have a board of directors who are all former SEALs. And it’s those members that mandate the nonprofit’s Three Pillars of support.
What are the Three Pillars of the UDT-SEAL Association?
The first is a life-assistance program where we help our members deal with the VA and other medical assistance.
The second pillar is scholarships for the children of SEAL veterans. I personally have a 15-year-old daughter and I did 30 years in the military and I missed probably 2/3 of her life while deployed into arduous areas. So, it means a lot to me that we have scholarships for the children.
The third pillar focuses on history and heritage. To support that, we have a variety of event programming, get-togethers, and such—including two reunions a year that are a great chance for the guys to get together and see teammates they haven’t seen in a while and to celebrate life because, once again, in this profession, you might see your buddy at one reunion, then never see him again. So, we honor our history and heritage.
It’s great to see the young guys right now who are presently serving in Iraq together with the gentlemen who have served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and other conflicts. It’s great to remember your past and your legacy. That’s the reasoning behind our third pillar: To ensure that that is never lost.
The guys today understand that they’re part of a legacy—it’s not just you—it’s also the guys who served before you. And those are the three main pillars of the UDT-SEAL Association.
What was it like being a Navy SEAL during your career?
I truly enjoyed it, and when you find something you truly enjoy, it’s not work to you. The thing about being a SEAL is that no two days are alike. You’re either training or deploying to different areas, different countries, different regions doing different missions. So it was always fun for me and I always took great satisfaction that we’re the tip of the spear when it comes to our nation’s national security.
What was your retirement transition from the SEALs like?
I was truly blessed. When I was getting ready to retire, about six months out, I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grow up. Then I was approached by the UDT-SEAL Association and they told me they’d like to bring me on board as an operations officer. You know: jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
But it worked out perfect for me because it allowed me to continue to serve, not necessarily downrange, but I’m serving those that are serving downrange. I had a long career, pre-911, post-911, peacetime, wartime. I was able to see what I needed as a service member and then carry that into: What can I do for other service members and people just like me.