We dive into the mailbag and answer your questions about SEAL Officer programs with our guest, Andrew Dow.

Episode #42 | 12/13/22


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Life is about constant evolution. Always better today than we were yesterday.

(Host) Scott: Welcome to The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday, the official Navy SEAL and SWCC podcast. I'm Scott Williams, your host, and today we have with us, Andrew Dow, who's a retired SEAL, and also our officer programs expert. And we thought, well, today we’d just take a look inside the mailbag. We get a lot of questions about officer accession programs, and in particular, about what we call SOAS which is the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection. And maybe Andrew, you can just start by giving us kind of a synopsis of what SOAS is.

(Guest) Andrew: Sure, well, first of all, thanks for having me again, guys. SOAS, the SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, was developed in 2014 and it has now become an official program for the Navy, prerequisite for BUD/S, Basic Underwater Demolition SEALs. It's a two-week long course where we assess officer candidates, whether they're coming from the Naval Academy, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS) candidates, lateral transfers, some candidates from the big Navy active duty. It’s a two-week course of instruction during the summer where we will assess specifically four attributes that we're looking at: one being their cognitive abilities, their character, which is a real important one, their leadership and their ‘team-ability’. That's what we're looking at with those four main attributes. They will go through a week of physical and mental assessment evolutions, where we will be testing them through their physical capabilities, as well as presenting them with some mental challenges that they'll be faced with. One being, it could be, you know, some evolutions they'll see as similar to what they'll see in BUD/S more, it's log Physical Training (PT), or boats on their heads. But they'll also be introduced to new types of evolutions that specifically are assessed there, those four big traits. And then the second week being interview week, where they will sit down with an officer and a senior enlisted SEAL in the community, and they will sit down – and note it's a business interview, where there will be asked questions and regarding the community, regarding where they stand and how they were raised, challenges they faced, and to get a good idea of what the individual, who the individual is. And all this gets thrown together and goes to the selection panel, which happens after SOAS.

Scott: And just to be clear, this is not for enlisted candidates; it's for officer candidates only. And when does SOAS occur during the assessment pathway?

Andrew: SOAS happens during the summer, and it happens, like I said, two weeks, in June, two weeks in July, two weeks in August, and this happens after applications have been submitted to the SEAL Officer Community Manager (OCM). And correct, like you said, it's only for SEAL officer candidates; the enlisted side is completely separate. Those applications are due in February to the SEAL OCM, and from there it's a – they find out if they receive an invitation to SOAS, they complete SOAS, then the SEAL selection panel, which is a panel of O-5 and O-6 SEAL officers that determines who will receive orders to BUD/S. After that, pretty much a month, two months after that, depending on which accession source, you will head off to BUD/S.

Scott: Okay, so it's definitely pre BUD/S.

Andrew: Yes.

Scott: And it's after the application piece. You get a notification; if you're invited you come here during the summer, and then you get notified if you're going to attend BUD/S. And that notification usually comes when?

Andrew: So, selection panel is in September. Most candidates, specifically OCS, will be notified late October. ROTC and Naval Academy, since they're rising seniors, they won't find out until about December time-frame, because they won't actually go to BUD/S until the summer of graduation. But OCS candidates can leave anytime between November to April, where they would first have to attend OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, for 12 weeks and then a month after that they will report to BUD/S. So, they could get to BUD/S as early as January-February after the selection panel and be at BUD/S getting after it.

Scott: So, we're talking about a good year, year and a half process from deadline of application to actually showing up for BUD/S, if you're selected.

Andrew: Easily, yeah. Most candidates, it's about a two-year cycle. OCS, it's a little sooner because they already have their degree, right? To become a Naval Officer or any officer, you have to have at least a four-year degree to earn your commission. So, it's usually about two years.

Scott: So, much longer timeline than a guy going for an enlisted contract?

Andrew: Absolutely.

Scott: Good. I mean, (an enlisted candidate) may even show up a month after he gets a contract, but usually more like three to six months, but way longer for officer candidates. So, this is why it's good to apply when you're in your junior year?

Andrew: Yes. Great question. Most candidates I start trying to reach out to them their freshman, sophomore year in college, just so they have an idea and so they have all their answers before they actually submit an application. So they can, you know, start building their resume. But usually, candidates start their application, whether it's ROTC or Naval Academy, their junior year.

Scott: OCS candidates usually are either graduated already, or about to graduate that May, so they'll start their application usually August for a February deadline. Okay, so we have a lot of questions that people out there have sent to us and by the way, but before we get into those, I'll just say if you have questions about SOAS, about SEAL officer programs in general, or whether you have questions about the SEAL community, even if you want to be enlisted, or the SWCC community, if you want to be an enlisted SWCC – Andrew, how can they get a hold of us?

Andrew: Well, for the SEAL Officer side, they can just go to Google, is a great resource to find all things – SEAL Officer requirements, as well as the enlisted side for both SEAL and SWCC. But my contact information is there on that website. That's probably the easiest way to find out more about it. And from there, I can get you on the SEAL email distro, which is an opportunity for aspiring SEAL candidates to come together. And I send announcements out regarding upcoming events, specifically for SEAL officers. So, it's a good resource to have, just going to is where you start.

Scott: Right, is our home website. It's where all the information is, where you can find out about training, about accession and a lot of other things about the community and our general email there, which actually comes to me and so I can send things over to Andrew or whoever I need to, to get answers. It is for all your questions. So, we're gonna do a few today. We have so many here, we'll probably schedule you for another session and we'll answer some more, but all of these questions that we're about to cover are about SOAS, so I'm going to kind of randomly throw some of these out of here, reach into my mailbag - okay, I totally faked that - and we're going to have some questions. So, all right, how about this one? “Will knowing a second language help with my SOAS package? If so, what languages should I learn?”

Andrew: Alright, so languages in general is a good quality of good capability to have when you're looking into the SEAL community. SF (Special Forces) requires all their operators to learn a language. The SEAL community does not, but it's always a good tool to have when it comes down to it – specifically for the SOAS application it is not a requirement. It's a nice to have specifically languages that SEALs are operating in. You can just check out the news where their major conflicts going on, those areas and the regions that there could potentially be presence, military presence, are good spots to start learning what language you could potentially learn. However, it is not going to get you to SOAS. It's a good thing to have, it's a nice resume booster, but it is not the thing that is a requirement.

Scott: Could it separate you from the pack?

Andrew: It can, and you know from experience guys and gals that speak a language are more in tune to learn another language, you know, they can learn multiple languages and that can be very, very powerful tool within the community being able to speak multiple languages. I think having a good understanding, not just a basic understanding but working knowledge of this language of a specific language, will definitely help you in the end but I mean, this is just such a small part before going to SEALs, before going to BUD/S, before going into SOAS. I mean it's good to have, but it's not necessary. However, it doesn't hurt. So, languages like, you know, the big ones most people take if they're doing any type of major is whether it's Spanish, French, German. But obviously some of the big ones were no longer in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, the Arabic language and other dialects isn't as ...

Scott: .... not quite as immediate use as it used to be, right?

Andrew: Right, but I mean, being able to speak any of those languages is what puts you above everyone else and it will definitely jump out on the application, and seeing that you can speak any of those dialects.

Scott: Well, considering that we have SEALs and SWCC in more than 100 countries around the world, there's plenty to choose from. I guess we would strongly encourage English.

Andrew: I would hope so. That's an important language. Yeah.

Scott: Portuguese, you know? You got to think about where we could possibly be in the world, right? So French and Spanish are widely spoken languages around the world; Dutch, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian – you know, the usual candidates? So, it's a good thing to have, it's not a requirement.

Andrew: No, it's not. It's a nice to have and it won't hurt, right? But if you have to choose between, okay, a language or having a better GPA, you want to lean towards having a better GPA. You know, academics is important when you're applying specifically for the SEAL officer route.

Scott: Now, one question I've heard before is, ‘do I need to learn how to, you know, dive or snorkel or, you know, shoot a gun, before I get to BUD/S?’

Andrew: Scott, it's funny you say that. A lot of classmates of mine never dove, never shot a weapon in their life before coming to BUD/S, and they were probably some of our best shooters and best divers because they were a blank canvas - everything the instructors taught them, they absorbed and were able to do it the exact way the instructors were telling them to do it, vice having a person who shot their whole life or dove their whole life has all these incorrect, habits, right, bad habits that are hard to fix and hard to relearn. So, you don't need to have any of that experience if you have a will to serve, a will to lead. That's what the community is looking for: good men and women who are willing to, you know, potentially make the ultimate sacrifice. Everything else will be taught to you, and you'll be expected to learn it, and learn it fast and learn it well.

Scott: Okay, let's look at another question. Here we talk about elements of the package: “What does a good letter of recommendation look like? What should be included in a letter of recommendation?”

Andrew: The SEAL Officer Community Manager got rid of letters of recommendation; they're now called letters of references. It's a templated format that you can find on the SEAL Officer Community Manager page. You give it to someone who you feel would write a good letter of recommendation, they will complete this letter of reference and submit it along with your application. It's general questions to talk about who you are as an individual. What some of your goals are, your strengths, your weaknesses, things that really paint a good picture about your character, and what you represent? And that leads into who should you get for these letters of reference.

Scott: Right. Are we talking about a four-star admiral or Chuck Norris? Or who?

Andrew: Hey, if you're great friends, or if your father or mother are great friends with these types of individuals, and they know you personally, yeah, I would get Chuck Norris in a heartbeat. But most people don't know Chuck Norris or a four-star admiral. But if you do know these types of high-caliber people, yeah, it doesn't hurt for them to write your letter of reference. But at the end of the day, the SEAL officer board wants to see the letters of reference from people who know you as in a personal level, right? Some people I suggest the candidates get is guidance counselors, professors, coaches. Maybe you have a family friend that served in the military. And a big question I get is ‘do I have to get a SEAL? Like a SEAL officer, SEAL enlisted to write my letter of reference?’ And the answer is no. It's nice to have but at the end of the day, it's not necessary. But if you do have someone in your family chain or in your network of people, I would highly suggest you reach out to them and see if they're willing to write a letter of reference for you. That will help.

Scott: The point is that you don't have to go military celebrity hopping, they want somebody who has true insight into the character of the person they're writing about.

Andrew: Right. Don't just search for that cookie cutter signature. You know, it was a four-star general, who is your mother's cousin's sister's best friend’s husband's friend, right, just because their signature is so known. They don't know you. And that's what we're looking for – people who know you.

Scott: Yeah, so probably not their local senator who just met you over mail.

Andrew: Correct. Right.

Scott: Okay. Got it. What are some common mistakes seen in SOAS candidates throughout the first week? Our readers want to know – sorry – listeners.

Andrew: This is a great question. Some of the things that we see in candidates showing up, they're not prepared with running. And SOAS, BUD/S, everywhere you go, you're running. Whether it's a sprint, or it's a jog. You're going from point A to point B, and you're running. We have candidates showing up who are struggling just with this. And something I suggest to all candidates is, you know, it's important that you're training, not just for long distance, but short distance. You should be a good sprinter, and a good long distancer. You don't need to be a marathon runner to go to BUD/S, it will help and to go to SOAS it will be very helpful. But that's not just being able to condition and maintain a pace that’s what is important to get through SOAS and BUD/S. Those guys and gals who can run three-hour marathons. Yeah, that will you probably make it for the running portion, but it's not going to get you through log PT, it's not going to get you through the ruck run specifically, which leads me to rucking.

Scott: Rucking, soft sand, boots, we get these questions all the time, should they be training like that?

Andrew: I caution this because I don't want to see candidates get injured prior to coming to SOAS or BUD/S, but something you will face at SOAS is rucking, and you know, it's an unknown weight, but I'll tell you, it's somewhere between 35 and 45 pounds. Everywhere you go, you'll be carrying this weight and there may be evolutions at SOAS where you'll be (running) an unknown distance for time to complete a ruck run, so your first time wearing a rucksack with 35 to 45 pounds shouldn't be at SOAS. I would definitely prep with that. But you need to make sure you're pushing yourself to an understandable limit, so you don't hurt yourself. Because that's something we don't want to see: guys and gals training too hard and hurting themselves and then they underperform at SOAS, so be cautious with how you train using a ruck. There's a lot of informative videos out there on how to ruck properly, people think it's just throwing a backpack on and start running. Now there's actually technique to rucking properly, and oh yeah, by the way, you're going to do it on the sand. Do your research before you jump into it. And Scott, just like you said, guys and gals are not used to wearing boots. I'm not saying strap on your boots and go run in public because some people may find that embarrassing, but I would highly suggest the first time you wear boots isn't at SOAS. At SOAS you'll get issued a pair of boots if you need it, but I suggest to everyone spend the $160-$180 and get yourself a good pair of boots that you can break in. The boot that they're utilizing at BUD/S and it used to be the Bates Light, but they moved away from that and now they're using the Nike SFB boot in color black, non-Gortex. I get this question a lot. Why non-Gortex? Well, you're going to be getting wet and sandy and you want your boot to be able to drain. A Gortex boot doesn't drain well like a non-Gortex boot. Nike SFB generation 2, black, non-Gortex boot, that you can find a range of prices. They're expensive, but it once you get them broken in, it's like wearing running shoes and it will definitely pay dividends in the end when you show up to SOAS prepared with a good broken-in boot and you can crush all the evolutions that require you to run on the sand.

Scott: Yeah, and probably not a good idea to make your very first run on the sand the first time you're also wearing boots and the first time you're carrying a ruck, right?

Andrew: Yeah, it's funny you say that but let's picture the individual who lives in the middle of the United States where they're not going to have a beach front. Get yourself on a trail, do some trail running with these boots. You know you want to find a terrain that is not blacktop concrete. You want to find something that gives a little bit so your muscles get used to running on uneven soft or a different type of surface so your body is prepared for that. Because that's all that's out here. I mean, we're looking out our window right now and it's all beach, soft and hard sand.

Scott: If you're in the middle of farmland, hey, find a pasture and run out there because that's going to work pretty well, I think.

Andrew: Absolutely. Just getting miles with these boots on uneven, different types of terrain will definitely carry dividends when you get to SOAS.

Scott: Okay, so staying on the topic of physical fitness, someone else asked, “aside from training for a good PST score, what are some good exercises or workouts you would recommend to be physically prepared for SOAS?”

Andrew: Being a Navy Seal, everyone thinks, you know, you got to be this super big and muscular individual to do things and carry all this weight and do all that. Most Navy SEALs aren't like that. They're in good shape, they have good cardio, are able to maintain a certain pace for a long time, are physically strong and you know, durable within their muscles. What I'm getting at is you don't need to be a bodybuilder or CrossFit superstar to be able to be a good Navy SEAL operator, right? You should be doing high reps, lighter weight. You don't need to be, you know, doing single-rep, max bench press squats; you need to be doing high reps, lower weight, you know, probably not even over your body weight. That's what you want to be doing. But know that you're preparing yourself for the worst-case scenario where you would have to, you know, potentially drag your teammate out of harm's way right, and your teammate can weigh anywhere between 150 pounds to 250 pounds. You need to be able to move that weight. But in preparation to do that, you need to be able to continue and go at a certain pace with a certain type of strength, which leads to high reps, lower weight, right? If you need to move something heavy, really quick, you'll be able to do that.

Scott: Well, I've seen guys training before, team guys, and it's nothing like the training I've seen when we tell guys to get ready for a good PST. Knowing that, these candidates’ first step is blowing away a PST, not looking like Captain America for a mission overseas. That's a whole different level of fitness. They can do that when they get this far. But in the beginning when they just need to impress a SOAS board with good PST scores, what are they looking at for exercise?

Andrew: Some people prepare for a PST for SOAS. That's the wrong way to prepare. You prepare for the PST to take the PST to submit with your application. Once you submit your application, you need to start training as if you're an endurance athlete. Like I said: high reps, low weight. Not a marathon runner, but being able to run four miles in 28 to 30 minutes. You know, maintaining a pace. Being able to do 100 straight perfect push-ups, that gives you muscle flexibility, all repetitions are in good form. Have a good condition of (your) body. Because a lot of the evolutions you do at SOAS and at BUD/S are high reps, repetitive movements. Let's look at log PT: a lot of shoulder strength, a lot of legs, leg strength. Working your lower body is very important because like I said, running is everywhere you go, you're running, you're going to be doing log PT, you're going to be doing races. So, making sure you have a strong lower body and strong shoulders is very important prior to coming to SOAS, and the big thing is making sure you're healthy. You don't want to overtrain and hurt yourself because you're not stretching enough. What I'm telling individuals is, stretch after you do your workouts just so your muscles have a time to cool down and you're not getting hurt. Big things are: you’re training for a marathon without being a marathon runner, high reps, lower weight, and you should be focusing on leg strength and shoulder strength because that's 90% of the type of workouts you're going to be seeing at SOAS.

Scott: And for the PST they can use the physical training guide on to get them ready. Once they knock out that great PST, then they can focus on the SOAS training, which is a bit of a different kind of training. So how would you rank the or weight the requirements, the PST, the letters of reference, university, et cetera, of a SOAS package for an invitation? What's most important?

Andrew: The first thing the board does see (on) the down-select panel, which is the SEAL Officer Community Manager, the first thing they're going to look at is your PST score. Over the years we've had much more competitive scores. Now they'Re starting to get a little bit lower, but we're still seeing a very competitive score somewhere between the 700-800 comp score. What does that look like? We're looking at a nine-minute 500-yard swim, 90-plus push-ups, 90-plus sit-ups, 15-plus pull-ups, and a 9:30 mile and a half run.

Scott: Yeah, and I'll just interject here that if you go on we have a PST calculator. And the PST calculator will give you that composite score and tell you where you are. And there is one specifically for officers, it's a different set of standards, it's higher standards. So, use that PST calculator for officers. Plug in your scores, and you'll find out where you are and how much you need to improve.

Andrew: Right. And you know, the thing we're seeing most is guys and gals (with) run times that aren't good, but also pull-ups. When you do your PST for your application and you submit it, the first thing you're going to do if you get invited to SOAS is a PST. So, you better ensure that your PST is accurate to what you submitted, right? Because quality assurance isn't always up to standard because at SOAS you're going to have a one-to-one ratio with assessor to candidate. They're going to be watching every push-up, every pull-up, every sit-up, and it's really important that you're doing good form and practicing this good form prior to coming to SOAS. Cause they're going to discount the reps that don't meet the form.

Scott: Yeah. And potentially you could get dropped from SOAS if you get checked...

Andrew: You can get dropped from SOAS if you're doing improper form. If you get hit several times on doing something incorrectly, you could potentially get sent home.

Scott: Don't deselect yourself by having crappy form on your curl-ups or your push-ups, right?

Andrew: So back to the question, you're saying, right, so PST is very important. That's the first thing they're going to look at. GPA, that's very important to have a strong GPA, but the board understands that a mechanical engineer GPA, and an economics GPA, if they're the same, you know, mechanical engineers usually have a harder workload, right? I was an econ major, and I had buddies who were mechanical engineers, we had the same GPA, but they had a much harder workload than me. Granted, you know, I shied away from my focus on academics sometimes because I was focused on athletics, but just know that if you have a 3.0 mechanical engineer, GPA, that's okay. You don't need to have a 4.0 but if you have a 2.0 Economics GPA, I would have a little concern. Because unless you're a division one superstar athlete and, you know, fell along the wayside of not studying all the time because you had to focus on your team and your team came first, the board will understand that. There's a lot of things that play into your GPA, but having a strong GPA, you know, 3.0, good to go. Right. And the degree kind of matters. There isn't a specific degree the community is looking for. They're specifically looking for, okay, you picked a degree, you stayed with it, and you succeeded and earned that degree. Specific degrees aren't a primary thing they're looking for when they're looking at an application. So, PST, strong GPA. And probably another one is having a background in something, whether it's in sports, in extracurricular activities, doing something outside of just academics. And what I like to call ‘building your brand’. So along with in your SOAS application, you're going to submit a resume. And this is basically a brag sheet about you, the candidate. So, the more things you do outside of school or outside of work that gets added to your resume that makes you look a more enticing candidate for SOAS. Doing other things, that interest you is important to do, and it helps build your brand as a candidate. If you're at Notre Dame, and you're an NROTC candidate, and all you're doing is NROTC, you're wrong. You need to be doing something outside of NROTC. Whether it's playing a sport, doing some sort of club. I'm not saying go walk on Notre Dame football, right? If you played football in high school, maybe there's a club sport, maybe there's something else. The whole point is to have that team environment. The teams are the teams, the SEAL teams. You’re working alongside men and women serving, and you need to be used to this team environment. That's why it is so important to maintain that prior to SOAS. So, at college do things that involve teamwork.

Scott: I’ve heard the commodore often talk about team-ability being a crucial attribute in SEALs and SWCC too.

Andrew: And it starts in high school, college, and continues if you choose to go SEALs, to the teams.

Scott: Makes sense. So those are the priorities for a package. We have time for one more today and we will have to have you back because we have a lot more questions to ask. So last one for today: “What is the best way for OCS candidates to compete with Naval Academy and NROTC candidates, given the lack of military experience and background that they may have?”

Andrew: OCS candidates. It is sometimes difficult for those applicants because some of them don’t have any military experience at all, whether their parents, mom or dad served, or their grandparents served. Some of them don’t have that luxury. Where Naval Academy and NROTC, they’re thrown into the military lifestyle right away – once you get to school, you’re part of the military. Learning how to march, learning how to salute, learning how to make your bed properly. OCS candidates don’t have that luxury and they aren’t gonna have that luxury until they go to Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. So, some things that they can do: first off, OCS candidates you need to reach out to me. You can get my point of contact at or it’s That’s a good way to reach me, but you can find my email at the website. The reason I say you need to reach out to me is for a couple of things. One, I have a SEAL officer email distribution list. This is a list I’ve been collecting since I’ve started doing this and it’s all current applicants who are interested in going the SEAL officer route. I send out announcements about different opportunities for OCS and ROTC candidates. Some of these announcements will notify you of upcoming webinars that I host. I host about six a year, and these webinars go through the SOAS application, it goes through NSW 101. I get guest speakers on, some senior officers, junior officers, senior enlisted, junior enlisted, to come on and talk about officer enlisted relationships and some of the challenges they face as SEAL operators. But it gives OCS candidates an opportunity to learn about the community ahead of time and it also tries to balance the playing field with their Naval Academy and ROTC teammates. Naval Academy has SEALs in the yard – and the yard is the campus – so they have an officer and an enlisted and sometimes even another officer on the academy grounds that they can reach out to as a resource. OCS and NROTC do not, so that is why we started these webinars for them to have a touch point and a place they can go to, one, talk to a Navy SEAL, me, or talk to some of my special guests that I have come on, but it also gives them an opportunity to talk within each other to create their own network. It gives them a good common area where they can meet and potentially build friends and training buddies to get prepared for SOAS. To ask questions and bounce things off each other. That’s the distro that puts out announcements about the webinars. We also host OCS and NROTC exposure weekends here in Coronado. Those are by invitation only; you register, and I notify you if you get invited, and it’s basically modeled after the Naval Academy SEAL screener, and what we do is run you through some challenging evolutions for about 24 to 26 hours of hard evolutions that you may or may not see at SOAS or BUD/S. But it gives you the opportunity to see if, one, this is for you, and two, what you need to work on. And it prepares you for SOAS. Don’t worry about the military part because the whole SOAS staff understands that you have no military background or knowledge of the military so you're not going to be graded on poor military bearing, or the way you wear your uniform improperly. They understand that you are going to learn that after SOAS because OCS candidates don't go to OCS until after they’ve been selected and been told they are going to BUD/S - that’s when they will go to OCS. They go to OCS after SOAS and before BUD/S while the Naval Academy and NROTC have been through some military training. And another thing that they can work on is most of our OCS candidates have their degree already, so they have graduated already and work in corporate America or the public sector. Stay active and continue to do things that you would do. Surround yourself with challenges, go to your local gym and join the club swimming team. Continue to stay active and do sports and types of extracurricular activities outside of your work. You can stay active and stay engaged so you can have that competitive edge when you get to SOAS. Maintain that and don’t get lazy after you graduate.

Scott: Thanks for that. I want to put in a quick plug for Andrew. Folks, the only way you're going to hear about this stuff, besides hearing what we say quickly here on the podcast, is by going to Check out the officer accession page; you're going to see Andrew’s name and email on there. Contact him so he can tell you about these things that are meant to help you, so you can get on that email list and we can let you know what is going on, and you can explore the community from there. I appreciate you for coming in today and we are going to do this again, because we have plenty more questions. Folks, that was Andrew Dow, the officer community expert, and I'm Scott Willliams...and this was “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday.”