You could say that Gentry Jensen stumbled upon Wharton when “Good Morning America” stumbled upon him.
“We were training out in the desert once, just out there completely by ourselves, and a film crew came up and wanted to shoot footage of us,” said Jensen. “It was a crew from ‘Good Morning America’ who was doing a piece on SEAL officers who had gotten out, gone to business school, and gone on to do things after that. That kind of planted the seeds in my head.”
Although now a second-year Wharton M.B.A. student, Jensen has spent the majority of the past decade—about eight years—as a U.S. Navy SEAL. Known as the elite corps of the U.S. Navy, SEALs take their name from the environment in which they operate—sea, air and land. First commissioned in 1962, SEALS form the foundation of Naval Special Warfare combat forces. As Jensen explained it, SEALs are experts at “operating between that zone that’s a few miles out to sea to a few miles inland.”
So exactly how tough are these maritime warriors? Let’s just say you’d be a fool to mess with them.
Jensen said the initial part of training is designed to ensure that only the truly committed remain. “They’ll [SEAL instructors] yell at you; they’ll make sure you’re uncomfortable all the time; they’ll start off the day by having you go jump in the ocean when it’s about 50 degrees outside and the water’s about the same temperature and just make sure that you spend the rest of the day wet and miserable and covered in sand. Any time they think you’re not doing what they think you should be doing they’ll drop you for pushups until you can’t do it anymore.”
Sound physically and emotionally abusive? You bet, said Jensen, but for good reason. “Given the fact that their lives could someday depend on your competency it’s completely understandable. I think [it’s] the only way you can effectively test for that without actually putting somebody in combat.”
Jensen said the SEAL’s dedication to each other and their country was what attracted him upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.
“[You spend more time with your fellow SEALs] than you spend with your family. You get to know them pretty well, a little too well sometimes. You know what they look like in the dark. You know how they snore, you know how they smell.”
Yet while Jensen appreciated the camaraderie and the challenges associated with being a SEAL, other things in his life were also cooking and gaining top priority.
“When we found out that my wife was pregnant, we just thought long and hard about how much I wanted to be gone and what sort of things I wanted to do with my life. I realized it was important for me to be around my family more, especially if I was going to have children.”
Transitioning to civilian life has been a cinch for this go-getter; Jensen said he’s looking forward to working at J.P. Morgan in the near future. There’s just one hurdle that he needs to overcome. “Probably the biggest adjustment is the fact that things don’t start exactly on time, and I’m not very used to that at all.”
Originally published on April 3, 2003