Frank Anthony Phillips sits in his clean, organized office next to his wife, Marci. Midday rays pour through a window and bathe them both in flattering light. When Frank looks at his best friend, which he does often during our two-hour interview, his features soften and the Spirit draws a smile on his experienced face.
Frank was a founding member of one of the United States military’s closest, most elite families: the Navy's SEAL Team Six. He is accomplished — both on the battlefield and in business. He’s also authentic, genuine and tough.
In fact, he’s so tough, people don’t tell those clever Chuck Norris-style jokes about Frank Phillips. They wouldn’t be funny; they’d be true.
Marci is a founding member of a biological family she never knew. As an infant, she was dropped on a doorstep in Korea and soon adopted in the United States. She is kind, extraordinarily capable and equally accomplished in business.
As I listen to Frank, as I watch his clear, confident eyes, it's obvious he possesses great faith and trust in three things: God, Marci and second chances.
Phillips was raised a Lutheran in West Covina, California. Sometime after confirmation at age 13, he began to lose his taste for faith. When his parents dropped Phillips and a brother off at the chapel, they’d wait for the car to disappear. Then, they’d do the same. They would dart to a nearby donut shop, often with tithing tucked in their pockets.
By age 16, Phillips was a popular jock who enjoyed parties and dreamed of independence. Finally, after running away and being tracked down by his father and some high school coaches, his parents agreed that if he earned his GED, they would allow him to enlist in the Navy at age 17 following his junior year.
He did, and Phillips proved a quick study. Before long he became a member of the Underwater Demolition Team — a Navy frogman — and was raising eyebrows with his drive, desire and ambition to get things done.
Meanwhile, the world was in turmoil. In late 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overrun by Iranian students and 66 Americans were taken hostage. In April 1980, a rescue attempt dubbed "Operation Eagle Claw" tragically failed and the Navy knew it was time for a new, world-class counterterrorism unit to rival the Army’s elite Delta Force.
Commanding Officer Richard Marcinko was tasked with launching this exclusive squad. He called it "SEAL Team Six," reportedly to confuse the Russians and other enemies on the number of actual teams in action. Marcinko wrote extensively about this experience in his best-selling book, "Rogue Warrior." He's also spoken about his experiences on many television shows.
Over a period of just six months, Marcinko handpicked 76 of the Navy’s best, including Phillips, and trained for a rescue mission that would not be needed. Days before launching, on Jan. 20, 1981, the hostages were freed as Ronald Reagan gave his inaugural address in Washington, D.C.
The training, however, was not in vain and SEAL Team Six would take part in high-stakes operations around the globe. They are the team responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden, along with many other high-profile worldwide operations. Though other similar groups have come and gone, SEAL Team Six continues today as one of the most elite special operations counter terrorist units in the world.
During Phillips' 16 years as a part of SEAL Team Six, and later as a founding member of Red Cell, the first anti-terrorism team, he lived hard and experienced things most will only see in movies. When he wasn’t saving someone else’s life, someone was saving his.
He’s been blessed with second chances in firefights, chases, close combat and in amassing more than 800 parachute jumps. Many of those trips started from a commercial jetat 35,000 feet above the Earth and while traveling more than 600 miles per hour. Imagine spending more than 25 minutes navigating your way to the ground in enemy territory.
Though he retired into the private sector in 1991, Phillips' life continued to run at high speeds. He excelled in business and was soon managing high-level security and training projects around world worth half-a-billion dollars.
“You had it all,” I tell Phillips as our discussion swivels from career to faith.
“Not really,” he answered. “I had a hollowness in me. I was not fulfilled. I’d always been a challenge-driven guy. I wanted the next mission and I wanted to be the top SEAL, top unit, top guy at work. I had achieved all that and acquired these material skills sets. But I was still never satisfied.”
He turns to his wife. “Even in relationships, I felt empty.”
Then came Marci in 2005. They met as colleagues working at a large defense contractor.
“I remember thinking, here is this V.P. of this company and he has a dinky little American flag on his desk," Marci recalls as Frank’s eyes lock on her profile. "I thought it was goofy at first. But I learned very quickly how important it was to him. I learned what patriotism really is and that I’d taken it for granted.”
Marci describes how, for the first time in her career, she saw an executive who actually followed through on every commitment. “That struck me. I realized that Frank is a person of action. If you want something to get done, you ask Frank. And he had such ethics — that stood out.”
Soon after they began dating, Marci invited him to church. She’d been a less-active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and knew it was time to return. She wanted the happiness only the gospel brings, and she wanted to share that with him.
“This was a new season in his life. I understood the things he’d done, who he used to be, but I didn’t see him that way.”
Over the next two years, Marci continued to learn what the country meant to Frank, and Frank learned what the gospel meant to Marci. Both point out that rather than full-time missionaries leading the teaching, Frank was primarily taught by friends, church members and Marci’s parents. “But it wasn’t the words,” Frank says. “It was the actions of those around me.”
In June 2007, Frank was baptized by Barry Bryant, one of the church members most responsible for his continued conversion.
“I get goosebumps when I think about it," Frank says. "It’s what I love most about the doctrine. This baptismal process, and the cleansing of my sins. I prayed it would all be true, this chance to start anew.”
When Frank came out of the water, he felt a warm, overwhelming feeling of relief. “I knew I’d been cleansed. Suddenly, 50 years was off my shoulders.”
The couple was married a month later, adopted into a loving, accepting ward family. In 2009, they were sealed in the Washington D.C. Temple, and they have countless church members to thank for fellowshipping and answering questions along Frank’s journey.
In between colorful stories and lessons learned, Marci and Frank both offer praise of her parents and how without them, she wouldn’t have the gospel. “They’ve been the biggest blessing in my life," Marci says. "I know that God put me on a detour through Korea, but he knew where my earthly parents would be.”
When I ask Frank to consider some of the things that drew him to the gospel, he starts by nodding at his wife. “A big part of my testimony is sitting right next to me.”
He adds an appreciation for living prophets and apostles and the blessing of temple service. “The church is so service oriented, and we trust everyone does their part.”
The thought prompts him to make another military analogy. “When I think about the men I served with, I trusted them with my life.” He smiles at his wife and continues, “I do the same for her. We would die for each other.”
We listen as he’s reminded of the parable of the lost sheep. “It’s all about the ninety and nine versus the one," he shares. "We save the one, no matter who it is.”
Today, the couple owns and operates a successful high-end training and security firm in Virginia, Golden Seal Enterprises. But none of it, Phillips says, is more important than what they do as husband and wife, home and visiting teacher, Young Women president and counselor in a bishopric in the Berryville Ward in Winchester, Virginia.
As we prepare to say goodbye, I note how much good Frank Anthony Phillips has done with his second chances at life, love and faith.
“Well, it’s because I’m no longer empty,” he says. “Because of the gospel, I’m a different man.”