Mykel Hawke: retired Special Forces officer, TV star and inspiration to thousands

WE TALK to retired Special Forces officer Mykel Hawke on his career in the Army, life as a TV presenter and plans for the future.

Mykel Hawke

Mykel Hawke is one of the world’s most respected survivalists.



A TOUGH upbringing and unruly childhood could have seen Mykel Hawke’s life go one of two ways. After time spent in a gang and plenty of fights Mykel joined the Army and excelled at all that was put in front of him.


A career that lasted 25 years saw him become a US Army Special Forces Green Beret and one of the most respected men in his field.


Due to his warm personality, experience in some of the world’s most dangerous war zones and passion to teach and pass on his skills to others Mykel was attractive to TV producers and agents. Today he is most well know for starring on shows such as Lost Survivors, Man, Woman, Wild and One Man Army. With a passion to help veterans and humanitarian organisations he also lectures, teaches and has a gained Ph.D and is currently working towards his Masters. He is the author of several books and also has plans to write more.


Make no mistake about it. Mykel is a tough guy. He’s faced situations that most people could only get close to by sitting in front of a television set and at certain times during his life has found it hard to control his anger and aggression.


However, Mykel is a man full of of compassion and his work with some of the vulnerable in the world show just that. While he has fought, sometimes nearly to the death, for his life and the lives of those around him, he is also just as comfortable teaching or inspiring others through words and the lessons he has learnt during his time on the planet.


Mykels’ brutal honesty and ability to put everything into perspective while talking about some of life’s toughest challenges makes our interview with him one not to be missed!


Mykel Hawke

In his time with the Special Forces Mykel was deployed to Africa in 1998.


Could you tell us about your time in the US Army and later the Army Special Forces and how did that career help to shape the person you are today?


I was kicked out of junior high school for fighting. I had become the leader of a gang created to defend ourselves against some other gangs in the area. But, because I was an Honor Student and member of the Chess Club, they promoted me to high school. However, my family was too poor for me to continue in school, as we often had no food, power, water and barely any clothes to wear. So, I wanted to break the cycle of poverty and decided education was the key.


The only way for me to get an education was to join the Army. I was fortunate and scored high enough that they made an exception to policy and let me in, even though I lacked four years of high school. I took the entrance test at 16 so I had to wait until I was 17 to go to basic training, that was in 1982. I never planned to stay in as long as I did (25 years). And I certainly never thought I could be a Special Forces Green Beret. But I had earned three Communications Specialties, earned my Sergeant Stripes, was Airborne and Primary Leadership qualified, so they invited me to join Special Forces.


I had no clue who they were. I read three books that changed my life and decided, this was the kind of man I wanted to be and the family to which I would like to belong. The ‘Quiet Professionals’, their moniker, who help others and let others take the credit. As a victim of brutal child abuse, I loved their motto, ‘De Oppresso Liber’ which translates to ‘Free The Oppressed’.


So, I tried out. There were 300-plus men at the start, whittled down to 63. And of the 63, only three of us graduated on the very first go at everything. One man, Trigg, was this perfect human. The other man, Inderbitzen, was nothing like anything you would imagine, just not impressive to look at, haha! But he did it. And me, somewhere in the middle. It taught me a huge lesson – never judge a book by its cover, Green Berets are ALL HEART and MIND. Where there is a will, there is a way, or they’ll die trying. That is the difference. There is no try, no quit, only do, or die.


They kept offering me school after school. I didn’t want any of the schools that produced badges like a lot of guys wanted. I wanted the hard schools that would make me a better asset for the men and mission. So, I went to Intelligence School, Language School, Jump Master School, SERE or Survival School and of course, the most difficult academic school of all, Special Forces Medic School. Did you ever see the Princess Bride? Where the Dread Pirate Roberts says to Wesley every day, sleep well, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning…? Well, I felt like that. Every day, I’d likely get washed out, but, every day, I rose to the challenge and overcame.


Finally, after 25 years, some conflict and a lot of love and loss, my time was done.


Mykel Hawke

Myke’s survival skills and ease in front of a camera have seen him present several TV shows.


How did you first break into TV work and what were some of the early programmes you were involved in?


My television career was a total accident, a fluke really. I never had any aspirations to be on TV and never thought about it. I spent 12 years on Active Duty and the other 12 were in the Guard and Reserves. I was going to university when Desert Storm hit. I was mobilised for war but they wouldn’t let the part timers go unless they were medics. So, I volunteered for medic school. That was over in like two days, and the medic course was two years later, ha! So, frustrated and wanting to get in the fight, I started a medical business to work in war zones and got lucky with my first contract in Azerbaijan running a war clinic and combat medic school.


That was so intense, I started a kids camp in Costa Rica so my guys could take six months in war and then six months in peace, teaching outdoor skills to youth in the beauty of the jungle. That is where MTV Road Rules found us in 1998. They asked for help making a show, I gave them good producer ideas, then they asked me to play a role of teaching on camera, then asked me to play a role of bad guy on camera, and the rest is history. They began asking more and more to work on sets, then I was promoted to segment producer.


I was a single father of two teenage sons living in Los Angeles working for ABC when 9/11 hit. I was still in the Special Forces National Guard. I held a family meeting, we watched the second tower get hit, my sons said “Dad, go kick some ass!” So, I was mobilised for war, did all the advanced officer schools on a fast track and then went to war and was a base commander and militia commander before returning and becoming a national guard team commander.


That is when all the on camera stuff really began. Right now, the media flavour for special ops is all about the Seals and that is great. A decade ago, it was about Green Berets – riding in on horseback with bags of money and fighting with guerilla fighters to overthrow the Taliban or driving in with a then unknown leader, Karzai. I am friends some of these great men. But their works got the media interested in Green Berets on camera, and since some folks knew me, they kept asking me to do stuff and finally asked me what I wanted to do. I created Man, Woman, Wild and One Man Army and that really began the TV notoriety. Although, I had done well over a dozen TV shows and even a film with Dirty Sanchez of UK MTV before I ever did those shows, ha!


Mykel Hawke

Mykel pictured during some AK training with former Marine Brady Pasola.


Could you tell us more about Lost Survivors and what has it been like being able to work with your wife for a television show?


Lost Survivors was a brilliant show. We made 22 episodes of Man, Woman, Wild for Discovery. I made it a point, as a teacher, to make fire, shelter and find food and water in as many different ways as we could and to teach new things that were most universally applicable for any normal person and their loved ones if they were caught in a bad situation. But these were primarily STATIC or in one place. This is a very different thing when you can focus on building a nice shelter, setting traps, making big signals, etc.


But Lost Survivors was all about MOBILE survival. A HUGE difference. I teach Special Ops folks like Seals and Green Berets, primitive survival, a lot more than they get in SERE school which is intentionally, heavily focused on Geneva Convention and other prison situations. Mobile survival means an entirely different planning sequence, logistics, time management, etc. So, we were very excited to teach these as well as key NAVIGATION methods and decision making reasons and logic. No one had really done this before and certainly not like we did. So, that show is a thing of beauty.


A lot of folks will never know, that we broke a lot of records during these shows. We filmed an entire episode at sea, they said it couldn’t be done – we did from open to close without ever touching land. We did more than an entire ‘act’ (before commercial break) inside a cave and then some. We did the only real fire survival episode thanks to the Louisiana Military fire service and special access and we did the only true urban survival episode thanks to the crew willing to risk their lives on the volatile volcanic island of Montserrat. And Ruth was told by Discovery that she was the first PRINCIPLE FEMALE in their 25-year history and she single handedly changed their viewing demographic. So, we are pleased with our quiet accomplishments.


Mykel Hawke

Mykel has fought in some of the world’s toughest war zones and today enjoys passing on the knowledge he’s gained to others.


What inspired you to start writing and what can readers expect from your books?


Like most of the things in my life, I can’t take credit for some grand plan. For my first book, it was a series of flukes. I started learning languages, got rated in seven and was paid for three which is the maximum the Army allows. I started teaching my team-mates and one of them was a professor who asked if he could use my method for his students. A few years later, when I was nearly killed five times in one day during the fall of Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1999, I was surrounded by rebels about to shoot me in the face and that awfully humorous cliché moment hit me – what would I have liked to do before I die? And the very boring answer came back- ‘write a book’, haha! So, I lived…


When I got back to the world, I was not ready for people. My PTSD after so much violence and bloodshed, had me looking for trouble. When you beat up three bullies in the middle of a Las Vegas intersection on a Saturday night and send them to the hospital, it’s time to withdraw.


So, I took my Jeep, my wolf, my rifles and my computer out to the desert and began writing. I wrote three books, a kids’ book, the language book and a novel. I sent all three to ten publishers each and was done. The language book got published in 1999 and has been a best seller ever since.


My second book I had done a special jungle survival show called Science of Survival for Discovery. A publisher saw it and asked me to make a small book on fire. I did. He loved it. Asked me to write more. I asked how much, he said, all you want! So, I sent him nearly 700 pages. (There’s always more, but the wife was about to scalp me, ha!) So, he published it ALL!


It was a best seller, rated best in class by The Guardian and Kirkus. They made a skinnier, waterproof field version which was essentially, half the book. It was harder for me to edit down than to write the thing! They planned to stop the big fat book as it was hard back and expensive. But when they did stop, and saw the fat book on the after-market for $2k and $1k on Amazon, they brought it back into print as a soft cover and now the fat, skinny and mini books are all doing well.


I co-wrote a romantic adventure novel with Kim Martin based on my character and time in the Drug War. And I’m working with Dale Hodgkinson on some graphic novels based on my time in Africa.


Mykel Hawke

Mykel pictured with his son enjoying one of his many outdoor passions.


Could you tell us more about Hawke’s Special Forces Handbook and how the manual aims to teach survivalist skills?


The biggest part of any book for me, is the tone – how it makes you feel and what you’re able to retain. So, I write all my books like I speak, as a teacher, I have a simple self-applied standard. I have to find a way to say to my students what they need to remember. So, for me, being a knuckle dragging dummy, I try to find simple, pithy ways to say so the keys stay. Under stress, folks do not remember details, but they remember the big items. If I can teach it in verbal or written word so that they need never take a note in a classroom, or once they read it, they’ll always retain it, then I consider it a job well done.


The other thing is, after 20 years of reading, doing, teaching, living survival, I found some things in books were either not accurate or even perpetuated myths and a lot of the real detail you’d need as a true novice, without the benefit of hands-on instruction, you would not have what you need from any book. My fave is the SAS Manual for it’s scope and size, but without training, it’s not very useful. So, I wrote my book to take an absolute beginner from zero to hero in one reading. It’s a fat book, but it reads easy and retains easier. That is my mission with my books, get new folks interested, not intimidated and get folks to learn and succeed, not be frustrated.


But, if I had to say what my survival books are all about in a nutshell – HOPE! That we are are here from some survival trait in our family lineage and DNA and therefore, each person, when faced with extremes, simply has to find what it is they need to live for, their will to survive, and with some common sense and applied skills this can see them through. But I do not peddle fear or crap. If they do not take action, no amount of will alone can save your bacon. And death is very real and comes to us all. Their job, is to make it wait! This is the message of my survival books.


Mykel Hawke

Mykel pictured at Barksdale Air Force Base.


Could you tell us about your work in supporting veterans as well as humanitarian organisations?


This is simple. Ever seen Saving Private Ryan? At the end, the Captain, lay dying, says to the young man they saved, simply – earn this. Earn the sacrifice of all these great people who served by living well, being good, doing good, giving back. So, I try every day of my life, to do just that. So many times, I should have been dead. I see each day above ground as a true gift and I am thankful for it. So, I give back everything I can, whenever I can. We’re all going to die. We came into the world with nothing and leave with nothing. What we leave behind is our legacy. I hope I can leave one of love and hope. That’s it.


Since I have been given the gift to fight for others, the blessing of those skills means I have the obligation and duty to use those skills to help. So, I am inclined to those humanitarian endeavours where many others may not be able to go or do. I have been teaching doctors and humanitarians to go into harm’s way to help others since 1996 when I lectured at the International Congress of Solutions for Natural and Man Made Disasters. I wanted to see Food Aid get to those in need and not taken by the rebels.


I sought to get my Ph.D. in Repatriation of Child Soldiers. My Masters is in Family Counselling for this reason. I teach doctors to go into mass casualty disasters and War Zones, as evidenced by my video with Direct Action Resource Center (DARC) online and the new Global Surgery Book by Harvard for Medical Professionals in War and Disaster, has a chapter on Safety, Security and Survival by me. So, at the end of the day, I am a teacher at heart.


Mykel Hawke

Mykel pictured with Timothy Kimman in Belize during the Commando Jungle Rumble.


Do you have any exciting plans for the rest of 2015 and beyond?


Ahh, great question! We have some shows, films, books and products in the line-up and we are expanding to make a new channel as well as teach new markets such as aviation and energy. We re-branded our ‘Mykel Hawke Knives’ to an entire new line up of products now called ‘Hawke Brand’ for families and professionals. We are continuing to teach outdoor skills to small groups as we have since 1994 under Specops, Inc. but converted that to Hawke School in 2014 after 20 years of operating. So we are staying busy and productive. As the song says, “the future looks bright”.


Thanks for your time and here’s wishing each of you readers, ‘Limitless Pursuits’!

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