“I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m just going to give it all I got.”
That’s how Brandon Stone, speaking to a crowd of attendees, chose to summarize his life at Centennial Hall on Wednesday. His story was brought to Juneau by the Juneau Glacier Valley Rotary Club through its 25th Pillars of America speaker series.
Stone, the first Juneau-grown speaker to share his story through the Pillars program, had been known for his exceptional grit since childhood. Past Rotary President Max Mertz, introducing Stone under his childhood nickname “Spud,” talked about the U.S. Navy SEAL-turned-lawyer’s time as a Juneau Jumper, where he was the youngest person on the team.
Once on the stage, Stone pointed to a photo of a bell from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. He noted, looking especially at the youth in the crowd, that to drop out of his training, all he had to do was ring the pictured bell three times. Instead of quitting, though, he chose to keep moving forward, despite the many obstacles that lay ahead of him.
Fresh out of college, Stone recalled how he wanted to go to law school. Having not gotten into a school he wanted to go to, Stone found a new path: become a Navy SEAL officer. Never mind that he had bad eyesight and couldn’t swim — two important parts to becoming a SEAL — Stone applied anyway, and miraculously, was sent to BUD/S despite not fulfilling the requirements.
There, Stone met his challenges with a mixture of determination and idealism. He recalled taping contact lenses to the room walls because his own contacts often washed out of his eyes during training. Later, when he got Pulmonary Edema and was pulled out of training for five months, he used the time off to improve his “competence and character” instead of letting the barrier to get to him.
Stone became one out of 37 to graduate his year. At the beginning of the program, there were almost 300 people working to become a SEAL, and in his words, “somehow, he was one of them.”
On stage, every memory Stone recalled was met with a smile. “I loved it,” he’d say often, talking about the people he met and the opportunity he had to serve his country.
While serving in Afghanistan in 2011, he was tasked with a life-changing experience: to lead his platoon through a Taliban stronghold base. Every one of his team members made it out alive that day, but Stone was airlifted out on a helicopter with a blown left leg that had to be amputated at the hospital. He was later awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor.
Refusing to use a wheelchair, Stone forced himself to learn how to walk. Although he knew his time with the SEALs was over — he had served eight years — he chose to move on, applying and getting into one of the best law programs in the country under the Tillman Scholarship at Georgetown University.
Stone became a general litigation associate at Kirkland &Ellis LLP in Washington, D.C. He now lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife and three kids.
Although Stone’s ability to get through challenges is admirable, he sees himself as just another Juneauite. He acknowledges life doesn’t always go the way you plan, but that’s how it’s meant to be.
“I never dreamed I’d become a pirate lawyer," he said, joking about his leg, "but I can either chose to keep going or to just stop.”
Correction: This article has been amended to clarify a quote.
• Tasha Elizarde is a high school senior living in Juneau. She writes “This Day in Juneau History” and a Neighbors column, The Story Sharer, for the Juneau Empire.