11 Questions & A Cup of Coffee: Navy SEAL Veteran and BASE Jumper Andy Stumpf
Andy Stumpf flies higher than most commercial pilots, except he doesn’t have a plane. Okay, actually he does, but most of the time he just has a parachute.
Stumpf spent 17 years on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror, going through SEAL training and BUD/S twice — once to graduate, the second time to become an instructor. He became the Navy’s first E-6 selection to commission through the Limited Duty Officer Program in the history of Navy Special Warfare.
After taking a bullet from an insurgent, Stumpf was told he’d take years to recover.
Instead, Stumpf broke the odds the same way he now breaks world records for skydiving and BASE jumps on behalf of the Navy SEAL Foundation and other causes close to his heart. He now lectures on the lessons he’s learned from combat and has a podcast, Cleared Hot, interviewing whoever he wants. He’s also been a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience.
We sat down with Stumpf over a cup of cold brew and asked him 11 questions about what drives him, how he defines success, and how he thinks he’d fare in case of the apocalypse.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TFO: How do you make your coffee?
AS: I started off as just pure drip, and then I was basically made fun of by Evan [Hafer]. So I switched to pour over and then went the Chemex route. There are three ways I’ll drink coffee now. One of them is a pour over; another one is from the espresso machine Evan sent me, which I’m very grateful for now that I know how to maximize its potential; and a cold brew.
And I would say anything other than my morning cup of coffee is generally cold-brewed just because I can drink it faster and get the effect that I’m looking for.
TFO: How do you take your coffee?
AS: I just do a splash of heavy cream in either one — hot or cold brew — and that’s it.
TFO: What’s the most bizarre or extreme place you’ve ever drank a cup of coffee?
AS: You know, I actually remember the very first cup of coffee that I had, and a buddy of mine — I think intentionally — knew that he was giving me a gateway drug. We were up in K2 [Karshi-Khanabad Air Base] doing some jump training. We were playing chess, and he slid me an iced mocha. That motherfucker knew that it was basically crack cocaine. I had never had a cup of coffee in my life.
And I had it. I don’t think I slept for like a day and a half.
That was my jam for years. And then finally I realized that it was mostly sugar, so I switched to something a little less carbohydrate-centric.
But that first cup of coffee is actually probably the one that sticks out for you the most, over a game of chess in Uzbekistan.
That was the beginning of my coffee journey. Before that, I had tried a sip of my mom’s coffee when I was really young and it just tasted like dog shit, so I was never interested in it. And I was watching these adult, grown men just hovering over a coffeepot in the morning and I could never understand why.
Now, of course, I do. But that’s 10, 15 years later to the game.
I have crafted my life in a way where I’m able to pursue the things that enrich me.
TFO: What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done, physically or mentally?
AS: The hardest thing I’ve ever done was making the decision and then following through with a divorce.
BASE jumping is easy. You just walk up to an edge and you have a conversation with yourself, and then if you step off, gravity does the rest.
I have three kids, and the mental gymnastics of trying to decide if the decision was correct — if it was the correct decision for me, if I was the one that was the problem — then going through a process that reduces you at the end of the day to a set of numbers. “This is what your value is.” Then, having other people — that you are paying — argue things about your value. It just strips you completely bare as a human being.
The physical nature of it is not hard, except for the stress and how that manifests. It’s definitely the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
TFO: What motivates you to do what you do?
AS: That’s a good question. If you were to ask me whether or not I consider myself to be a successful person, my honest answer would be “I don’t know.”
I completed my military service, but it was nothing spectacular. I made it into a community that, statistically, not many people do; but I was very average among my peers. And I’ve kind of dabbled in a bunch of things outside of the military.
I think a lot of people define success as notoriety or money, and neither of those things actually interests me in any way, shape, or form. I have crafted my life in a way where I’m able to pursue the things that enrich me.
Money, for me, is one of the last things that I think about. I decide what I would rather do with my time, which I think is a much more valuable asset.
When it comes to decisions moving forward, that’s how I determine what I want to do.
I talk to [sponsorship] brands all the time, and one of the first things they want to talk about is money. They say, “Come work with us! We’ll pay you this!” And I have to say, “I’m sorry, I’m actually not even interested in working with you guys.” Because that’s the last thing that I want to talk about. I want to talk about what we could do together, how we could spend our time. And we could go do things as opposed to buying things.
That’s my litmus test: Is this valuable enough to me, as a person and who I want to be, to spend my time doing it?
TFO: What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about you or the work that you do?
AS: I’m a very simple person. I think if people misunderstand me, it’s probably a matter of them not listening, or watching, what I’m doing. I’m very straightforward with the things that I do and say.
TFO: How do you define success?
AS: This [definition] has gone through phases for me. I’ve definitely been in a place where success was completely tied to the number in the bank. I think a lot of people get tied to that.
Then I went through a period of time where success was the metaphorical business card — whatever it would say — on a small piece of paper like you would hand somebody and they would remember you. So you know, the acronym [beside] your name, the initials, the parking spot, the office suite, all that stuff. I’ve definitely fallen into all of those trappings.
Success for me — and actually, I’ll tie wealth to that — is the ability to do the things that I want to do, when I want to do them; the flexibility to control my time so I can pursue things that I find to be interesting or enriching to myself. I’m not beholden to anybody else.
TFO: Mountain view or ocean view?
AS: Well, I was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, so I grew up around the ocean. I have a very deep appreciation for the water. I mean, obviously, coming from the military background that I did. So I can deeply appreciate it.
Now living in the mountains, it’s very different. Distinct seasons, and very different sports or activities during each one of those seasons. Because I’ve spent so much time around the coastline and in the water throughout my military career — it’s not that I’m done with that or I just don’t want to do it anymore — I think I just have a deeper appreciation for the areas that I haven’t spent as much time in.
It’s tough to beat the northwestern section of the Rocky Mountains.
TFO: If you could have any superpower, what would it be? You’ve already flown, right?
AS: Yeah, but every time you jump out of an airplane or off of an object, it’s not in your control as to when you land. You have to be really careful and safe if you want to continue to do it as either an occupation or a hobby. So I think I would still go with flying, but with the ability to control it, as opposed to — you know — being beholden to gravity.
I can fall back on a level of training, but the most powerful weapon you have is what’s between your ears.
TFO: What are your hobbies outside of what you’re known for?
AS: I definitely don’t need any more hobbies. I have buddies all the time up in Montana saying, “Hey, man, you should start snowmobiling.” I’m like, “Dude, I need a snowmobile like I need another hole in my head.” I barely have enough time.
I barely have enough time to do the things that I really enjoy doing. I’m actually in Sacramento right now doing a quick speech about leadership and then I’m heading to San Diego for a few days of jumping. Obviously, I consider myself a gravity enthusiast, both out of an airplane and, often, fixed objects.
I used to think of the podcast as a hobby, but it’s really not. It’s actually the most rewarding thing that I do because I get to sit down with people that I am fascinated by and explore what makes them tick. So, I guess I do that professionally, which is really weird to say.
I used to fly airplanes. I enjoy all of the outdoor activities that Montana has to offer — I’m a fan of snowboarding. I love to ride motorcycles. I love street bikes, and I have a dual-sport motorcycle so we can go out in the backcountry of Montana, and camp and travel that way. I hunt, both rifle and bow. I do jiujitsu somewhere between five to nine days per week.
I stay busy.
But jiujitsu, like all those other activities, is a mental and physical challenge for me. That’s why I love it. Hunting is, especially with a bow — your odds are so stacked against you. It’s very challenging. It requires discipline, it requires focus, and it requires training all throughout the year.
Snowboarding, not so much. You get on the lift and you go bang out some runs. I just enjoy that one. I enjoy the beauty of being outside. I like going with friends.
But every hobby that I do has an aspect of it that is challenging, and I think it’s impossible to master — and that’s probably why I enjoy doing it.
TFO: On a scale of one to 10, how confident are you in your ability to survive in a post-apocalyptic world? One being I’m dead on day one, 10 being I’ll be the ruler of the new world order.
AS: There’s some variables in that — obviously — like where are we starting from? Am I at my house with all of my shit? Am I only in my vehicle? I could say it would be a sliding scale. If I had some control over the starting point, it would be a 10. If I didn’t have control over the starting point, it would still be a 10.
The answer is still going to be a 10. And it’s not a difference physiologically between human beings, the difference is — I see this a lot when people are thrown into a crisis for the first time, or they’re thrown into a physical altercation for the first time where there’s real violence — their decision-making ability falls apart. People from the world that I come from, and spent almost 20 years of my life, are able to prioritize and execute decisions.
So what would give me the leg up, regardless of the situation — especially at the very beginning — is the ability to recognize what’s going on and make critical decisions at that moment and get ahead of the power curve.
I mean, I can fall back on a level of training, but truly, I’m telling you, the most powerful weapon you have is what’s between your ears. And a lot of people have never refined or even looked at it as a weapon.
That doesn’t mean you have to use it for negative things, it means you take all of the lessons learned that you got throughout a career and pass them on to other people so they don’t make the mistakes that you did.
But at the end of the day, if you line up 100 human beings, the difference between somebody who’s going to win and somebody who’s going to lose, it’s not physiological. It’s not strength or cardio or endurance. It’s the fucking will to survive and the knowledge that they may have already experienced, and how they can take that into their decision-making process.
Cleared Hot is sponsored by Black Rifle Coffee Company, which owns The Forward Observer.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 print edition of The Forward Observer.