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THF Featured in

Organization Finds New ‘Tribe’ for Special Operators After the Military

As featured in

26 Mar | By Richard Sisk

Matt Stevens cites himself as an example of why The Honor Foundation performs a crucial role in serving the unique needs of troops departing the tightly knit active-duty special operators community.

“The toughest thing to figure out is what is your next purpose,” said Stevens, a 26-year Navy SEAL who retired as a captain.

Much like many of his peers in special operations, Stevens said he was searching for “what I wanted to do, where I could apply my skills and still feel like I was doing something important” when he left the military.

In 2017, Stevens went through what was then a 15-week course offered by the foundation and found a job with a Boston firm. He returned to the organization last month as its chief executive officer.

Unlike the employment programs for veterans run by other organizations, the foundation’s course does not focus on training particular skills such as marketing, sales or cyber security.

“We’re not a job placement program, but we do try to connect to the right opportunity,” Stevens said.

Instead, the foundation’s course, offered free of charge to special operators from all the service branches, concentrates on the individual, and the skills and motivation they already possess.

It’s a matter of translation of those abilities to the private sector, Stevens said.

“In our community, what’s driven into the guys from day one is team before self. It’s team and then self in the pecking order of what’s important,” he said.

The special operator, in a sense, is part of a “tribe,” Stevens said, and the foundation focuses on “the time you leave one tribe and have to find another tribe” while in transition.

“Those units are very tight and close-knit” in special ops, he said, “so when you leave that, it’s tough to find a like-minded tribe, one that is all about the team sharing the same common purpose.”

The foundation’s literature states that one of the goals of what is now a 12-week course is to make those going through it feel “uncomfortable before you can get comfortable.”

What that means, Stevens said, is “trying to help the guys understand that when you transition to the private sector, you have to think about yourself first, you have to sell yourself, and that is probably the most uncomfortable thing that guys do. They don’t like putting themselves on a pedestal and showing off — that’s what they think it is.”

“What we instill in them is, hey, tell some stories, and that in itself will tell the potential employer about who you are,” he added.

The foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit and partner of the Navy SEAL Foundation, began offering the courses in 2012 and now has campuses in San Diego; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The 12-week course teaches resume writing and networking, but the main focus is to help the special ops students develop the ability to present effectively on how the leadership, planning and teamwork skills they honed in the service can apply to businesses’ bottom lines.

“I got so much more out of it than I thought I could,” Stevens said of going through the courses himself.

The courses begin with what he called the “pre-assessment stage” with extensive interviews of a prospective student. Three main phases follow, he said.

“The first [phase] is about you, the person; dig into what makes them tick,” he said. Then comes what he called “tactical-level stuff” — resume writing, working up LinkedIn profiles and studying interview techniques.

Finally, there’s the “pre-employment workup” in which participants do interview rehearsals, make visits to local area companies, and discuss small business opportunities and entrepreneurship.

Then, Stevens said, “we take [participants] on a trek” to another city where they can make connections and network.

When it’s over, “we don’t just cut them loose; we stay connected to [them] and try to help,” he said.

The program has graduated 429 students thus far, and Stevens said he expects the number to exceed 500 by the end of this summer. There is a faculty of 44, plus 90 volunteer mentors from various business sectors and nine executive “coaches,” he said, adding that the foundation is preparing to offer the courses online.

Some of the graduates decide to remain in the service, “which I think is great and noble,” Stevens said.

“Some decide to go into higher education, [and] some want to do sabbaticals, but most go into the workforce,” he added.

The decisions are up to the graduates.

“We don’t tell them what to do. We try to provide opportunities,” Stevens said.

THF Featured in the Virginian-Pilot

From battlefields to boardrooms: New CEO of foundation to help Navy SEALs eyes expansion

As seen in the Virginian-Pilot

By Brock Vergakis 
Staff writer

Mar 20, 2019 Updated Mar 20, 2019

It was just a few years ago that a San Diego-based foundation designed to help Navy SEALs transition into the civilian workforce started offering classes in Virginia Beach.

Now the entire foundation is led by someone here.

The Honor Foundation tapped a former Virginia Beach-based SEAL last month to be its CEO, the first change in leadership since the organization was founded in 2012.

Matt Stevens, who was a SEAL for 26 years, said his goal is to bring the unique three-month program that teaches resume writing, networking, self-assessment skills and more to special operators in every branch of service. A major focus of the program is helping special operators show how their leadership, planning and teamwork apply to the business world.

The program offers executive-level education from faculty at top-tier schools like the University of Virginia, mentorships from local business leaders and a nationwide professional network. The students — who can still be in the Navy or recently discharged — go through mock interviews, give presentations on company strengths and weaknesses, and gain an appreciation for entrepreneurship challenges. 

When Stevens left the Navy, he was selected for The Honor Foundation’s inaugural East Coast class in 2016, which helped lead to a job with a company in Boston that made drones. He said his experience with the foundation was invaluable, and he volunteered to serve as an adviser to give back. He said he hopes his new role will allow him to spend more time with his family in Virginia Beach after traveling to Boston about once a month for his old job.

“My family had voted. We weren’t going to move,” he said.

Since its launch, the foundation has opened campuses in Virginia Beach at Tidewater Community College and near Camp Lejeune, N.C.  It’s also offering an online program for special operators around the world. The foundation has more than 400 graduates so far. 

“We want to be able to provide the opportunity for every person within the special operations community to attend the course. There’s 70,000-ish in the SOF community,” Stevens said. “We have to do it in a very methodical way.”

To expand, the foundation will need to rely on financial donations and volunteers from the corporate world. Stevens invites business leaders to come see for themselves the faculty and the students, who come to class in business attire. 

“Spend some time here. Seeing is believing. Become a mentor or coach,” he said in an interview at TCC. “But also hire the talent, because a lot of guys have grown roots here and want to stay in the Hampton Roads community. … I think the natural inclination is to look elsewhere. But I think it’s really important for us to keep talented individuals here.”

And they’re not all SEALs. 

Ted Handler was one of the first Marines to be chosen for that service’s recently created special operations force, the Marine Raiders. After working in joint special operations in Africa and elsewhere, he was ultimately assigned to work with Naval Special Warfare Development Group at Dam Neck, where he spent the last five years of his 22-year military career. 

But once he got out, he and his wife didn’t want to leave Virginia Beach. The feeling of community and genuine friendliness they experienced here was unlike anywhere else in the world they had been.

“The Virginia Beach community hit home with us like, ‘Wow,  this is what friendly people are like. They actually aren’t looking to get something out of it,’ ” Handler said. “They just know what we’ve been through because it really is a military town to some degree.”  

The only problem: That limited where he could job hunt.

“It was immensely stressful,” he said. “As you’re older you have responsibilities, different expectations. You’re not as flexible.”

But the Honor Foundation helped connect Handler with local business leaders. He’s now a senior manager at Stihl, Inc. in charge of overall business process improvement.  He  reports directly to company president Bjoern Fischer.

Even though Handler had prior business experience — after he graduated from college and again after his first four-year tour of duty — he said the experience he gained at The Honor Foundation was vital. The first time he left the military, he said, he was “wildly unprepared.” He didn’t know how to find meaning in his work and ultimately rejoined the Marines on active duty after 9/11, when he lost friends at the World Trade Center and nearly lost family members, too. 

When he left the Marines this time, he said, he was ready.

“It was a phenomenal program. It hands down prepared me for the challenges of the civilian community,” Handler said. “I haven’t seen anything else like it. And I think if the military was really smart they would be doing it this way for everybody.”

Welcome Letter from Matt Stevens

Having served as a Navy SEAL for several decades, I’ve had the honor and privilege to serve alongside the absolute finest men and women on the planet. My heart and soul has, and always will, be in service to the Special Operation Forces (SOF) community. In that vein, I’m humbled to announce that I have accepted the role of Chief Executive Officer of The Honor Foundation (THF).

When I first encountered THF in 2016, I knew this organization would have a lasting impact on the SOF community transitioning from military service to the private sector. After joining the inaugural class at THF’s Virginia Beach Campus as a student, my journey with THF has come full circle:  from Fellow, to Alumni, to President of the SOF Advisory Board, to a member of the Board of Directors and now as the CEO.

In the past three years, I’ve watched THF thrive — from one campus to four; from a staff of three to 15; to an exponential growth in Fellows, Coaches, Mentors, and Employer Partners. I’ve experienced numerous graduations, witnessed breakthrough moments with Fellows on their transition journey and experienced first-hand the power that this Program can have on not just individuals but on their families. The dedication of the team behind the scenes is inspiring — going way beyond the call of duty to help each Fellow find their “True North”.

As we celebrate the 5-Year Anniversary of THF in June, we’re experiencing our own transition as we continue our journey to impact the lives of the entire SOF community. I am a believer in THF and its unique process. I welcome you all to join us as we write the next chapter in defining what it means to serve others with honor, for life, so their next mission is clear and continues to impact the world.

With deep respect,

Matt Stevens
Chief Executive Officer
The Honor Foundation



The Honor Foundation, a unique transition institute created originally for Navy SEALs and the wider U.S. Special Operations Forces community, has just announced that a new CEO will be leading the organization effective immediately. Founded in 2014, the non-profit welcomes Matt Stevens as its Chief Executive Officer.

This change will usher in a new era at The Honor Foundation—a time for its own transition and continued growth. In the past five years, The Honor Foundation has successfully developed a nationally-known transition program for Special Operations Forces, helping them to navigate the pivot from military to civilian life. It accomplishes this via an executive-education style transition curriculum that combines one-on-one executive coaching and industry mentoring, three months of class instruction, and access to an elite nationwide professional network. This program has over 400 graduates thus far. Since its founding, The Honor Foundation has grown to achieve:

Four campuses: Three physical campuses in San Diego, CA; Virginia Beach, VA; and Camp Lejeune, NC, and a virtual campus, THFv

429 Program graduates and 20 groups through the Program

98% Fulfillment rate of Alumni

Expansive network (Tribes of Support) and employee partners, with over 90 executive coaches, over 90 industry mentors, 33 faculty, which include leaders from companies such as Airbnb, Katerra, W-D 40, Anki, and Amazon

Rang the closing bell at NASDAQ in Times Square in 2017

Now, The Honor Foundation is poised to exponentially grow its impact, with the goal of reaching the members of the Special Operations Forces Enterprise that haven’t yet been touched by The Honor Foundation’s mission. In the near future, it has the goal of opening more campuses; increasing the number of mentors, coaches, and staff; and reaching another 1000 members of the Special Operations Forces community. Stevens will helm the effort and is uniquely qualified for the task. Stevens served as a US Navy SEAL for 26 years. He graduated from U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in 1992 and was subsequently assigned to the East Coast where he served in various SEAL Teams, SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams and Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG). Stevens commanded at every level in the Naval Special Warfare Community to include a Squadron at NSWDG, SEAL Team TWO, Naval Special Warfare Unit THREE, and Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR. He served staff tours at the Joint Special Operations Command in Fort Bragg, NC; as the Operations Officer at Naval Special Warfare Group TWO in Virginia Beach, VA; and in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict (ASD SO/LIC) in the Pentagon. In addition to his decorated military career, Stevens attended THF’s inaugural East Coast class in the Spring of 2016, joined the THF SOF Advisory Board in the Spring of 2017, and joined THF’s Board of Directors in February 2018. Following his transition from his military career, he served on the leadership team of an emerging technology company from 2017-2019.

Stevens’ deep ties to the Special Operations Forces community and his experience as a THF Fellow and advisor allow him rare insight not only into THF’s mission, but also into the realization of it. “I feel incredibly honored and humbled to serve as the next CEO of The Honor Foundation,” says Stevens. “Through my personal experience, I am a believer in THF and its unique process. Now, I have the opportunity to fully pursue the mission, share my experience in both the military and private sector communities and serve these talented men and women in whatever capacity I can.”

Founder and former CEO Joe Musselman has now departed his executive role at The Honor Foundation but will remain an active voice on the Board of Directors and will be spearheading The Honor Foundation’s endowment effort at Having worked among some of the brightest business minds available through The Honor Foundation, Musselman recognizes that a change of guard is sometimes necessary to catalyze growth and is confident that Stevens’ leadership will carry The Honor Foundation to its next evolution and its next mission. “Matt Stevens is the leader this organization has earned,” says Musselman. “He is the living, breathing embodiment of THF’s vision. It is only appropriate that THF have a leader who has come full circle, through a history of exceptional service in the Special Operations Forces community to our transition program, and now to an executive career serving a community he knows, loves, and understands. His leadership will allow The Honor Foundation to support the lives of thousands of families around the world in a more connected, compassionate, and significant way than we have been able to before.”

The Honor Foundation will enter 2019 fortified not only by strong leadership but also with a host of powerful partners that support its efforts, including the Navy SEAL Foundation. “I can think of few people more qualified to take the helm at THF than Matt Stevens, ” said Robin King, CEO of the Navy SEAL Foundation, Founding Partner of THF. “Because of his rich experience within the NSW community and the fact that Matt was a graduate of the very first East Coast cohort, I feel confident that he will lead with care, compassion and a commitment to every transitioning warrior who walks through the doors. NSF’s board and staff wish him the best as he enters this new phase of his career of service.

Said Andy Christian, Executive Director of The Marine Raider Foundation, “Matt Stevens’ appointment as CEO of The Honor Foundation is a clear reflection of THF’s commitment to our transitioning Marine Raiders. We are excited to see this highly qualified and dynamic executive leading THF into the future.”

These partners, along with an elite group of business leaders that serve as mentors, staff, faculty, and employee partners will work closely with The Honor Foundation’s leadership team and Stevens to continue to impact the lives of Special Operations Forces and their families nationally and internationally, and to serve them with honor for life, so that their next mission is clear and continues to impact the world.