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A Different Kind of Summer Camp

By Rob Chudzik ’91 (CLAS), ’15 MS

Photos by Peter Morenus

A Different Kind of Summer Camp

By Rob Chudzik ’91 (CLAS), ’15 MS

Photos by Peter Morenus

A Different Kind of Summer Camp

By Rob Chudzik ’91 (CLAS), ’15 MS

Photos by Peter Morenus

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Cornelius “Neil” Guinan ’89 (CLAS) recently concluded 30 years of decorated military service, which included leading several Navy SEAL teams, as well as his most recent post as Deputy Commander, Special Operations Command Europe. Guinan now serves as executive director of Camp Trident, a nonprofit camp program held in locations around the country that seeks to increase self-confidence, maturity, initiative, and teamwork skills in teenage boys.

1.

What was your journey to the Navy SEALs like?

I joined the Marine Corps after high school, after deciding that I wasn’t quite ready for college. While stationed in Beirut with the Marines, I met some Navy SEALs – after working with them, I decided I wanted to be one. When I finished my time in the Marine Corps, I decided to go to UConn. … I graduated in 1989 with a BA in political science and went straight into Officer Candidate School in Rhode Island, then to SEAL training.

2.

What got you through SEAL training, and what life lessons did you take from that experience?

Perseverance and, most importantly, the desire to not let yourself, your family, or your friends down – those are the things that drove me. Also, when I went through SEAL training, I was older [at 27] than most of the candidates, so I had the benefit of many life experiences to lean on. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that your body can go much further than you think it can – if your mind will let it. SEAL training is more about mental strength than about physical strength.

3.

How did your UConn experience impact your career?

My political science degree from UConn certainly provided me with a valuable background and understanding of geopolitics, which has been critical in all my roles. Whether in Latin America, Africa, Europe, or the Middle East, I had a much better understanding of the region as a result of my education. Even if I hadn’t studied a specific country, I had the tools to quickly get up to speed on the current geopolitical situation when I was sent there. Additionally, the team environment we had at the UConn Rugby Club was second to none. We had one heart in that club, and we were all part of it. That same team culture, camaraderie, and attitude are very prominent in the SEAL teams as well.

4.

After leading several SEAL teams, you took on a much different role in Europe – was that a difficult transition?

During most of my tours in Afghanistan and Iraq … I would control multiple operations from a command center [and] would periodically go into the field with the troops, to stay tied in with the operators and the environment on the ground. Going to Europe was a change of role and environment; I had spent the previous 10 years in Central Command (Afghanistan and Iraq) and then had to get to know Europe. There are 51 countries under the area of responsibility of European Command, [where I was] meeting with military and civilian leaders in different European countries, trying to encourage their continued support for joint special operations forces. So I went from a command and control combat role to political-military discussions with military and civilian leadership. I didn’t join the SEALs to work in an office, but it was an important role, and I’m proud of the work we did.

5.

What was your motivation for starting Camp Trident?

My wife, Mia, and I believed that I had something to offer young men. I wanted to try to help kids deal with some of the challenges of growing up today. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, if you got into a little trouble, it wouldn’t necessarily ruin the rest of your life. The world is a bit harder for kids today. Camp Trident is an effort to help boys realize that they are turning into men, and to help them start to take on responsibility and become more mature. We try to help them transition from that awkward 12-year-old into a mature 17-year-old – but not necessarily take five years to get there.

6.

What is the philosophy behind the camp’s work?

We strive to give the boys an exciting outdoor experience, away from electronics and the everyday pressures of teenage life. We do some fun, cool things while overcoming some fears – whether it’s heights or being out at night or on the water. During the process of becoming more confident in this environment, they become open to messages about being responsible and maintaining integrity.

7.

What do you see the kids getting out of the camp?

We hear [from parents] that the kids seem to have a much greater awareness of responsibility. … Some of those who benefit most are from troubled backgrounds or single-parent homes. They get the message that it’s not mom and dad’s fault anymore. You can be whatever you want to be, but to do that you have to start taking responsibility and determining your direction.

Camp Trident

8.

Are there any success stories from campers?

We have had two campers who have recently been admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy, and many who were admitted to other colleges and universities. This camp is not at all about recruiting kids for the military, but about letting kids know that they can be whatever they decide to be, and building the confidence and responsibility to get there.

9.

What are the plans for Camp Trident’s future?

We’re going through the process of becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and also expand[ing] to four separate camps – Virginia, Massachusetts, Colorado, and a fourth to be determined. The goal is to provide the opportunity to as many teenagers as possible.

Camp Trident

Camp Trident

10.

What are your post-retirement plans?

I plan to home-school my three daughters [aged 6 to 11] for a year, continue to run our camps, and take time to plan the next steps in my career. There are many opportunities out there, but I’m not going to rush into anything.

Learn more at camptrident.com.

Discuss

  1. Bobbi Moran says:

    The lessons learned at Camp Trident and the teaching and coaching philosophy shared by the staff are second to none. I live and work in a boarding school environment and truly believe that young men (and women) could truly benefit from the type of training and self-awareness that Neil and his colleagues offer. I have seen first hand the results of a Camp Trident experience from friends and family members who have sent their sons to camp. It is truly transformational and so needed in this day and age for our young men. The core values that are instilled and lived by those leading are what truly sets this experience apart from others. I am a huge fan!

  2. Bernie Moran says:

    Now, more than ever before, young people need outstanding mentors that can provide the tools to be self reliant, respectful of the diversity that surrounds us, and the confidence to be who they are called to be, even though it may be something that no one else sees or hears. Neil Guinan and his staff understand this. Not only have they lived under these guidelines, but each are wonderful role models for our youth. I congratulate Neil and wish only the best for all who touch Camp Trident today and for future generations.

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