Top 40 Ex-Military Motivational Speakers

  • By Aaron
  •  Jul 05, 2023

Everyone has stories that can teach others valuable lessons, and Engage’s selection of military speakers has plenty to share. Hire an ex-military member to talk to your staff about employee development. Boost your team’s morale after a tough loss. Have them discuss relationship building or how to become empowered to tackle challenges Here are our top 40 ex-military motivational speakers.

1. Robert O’Neill

Robert O’Neill served on SEAL Team 2, SEAL Team 4, and SEAL Team 6. He’s a 53-time decorated combat veteran with three Presidential Unit Commendations, three Combat Action Ribbons, four Bronze Stars with Valor, and two Silver Stars for Gallantry in Action Against the Enemy to his name. He was the lead jumper in the mission that rescued Captain Richard Phillips and a team leader on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. His stories of bravery, determination, and facing fear head-on will resonate with your audience.

2. Michael Abrashoff

Michael Abrashoff was the Pacific Fleet’s most junior officer when he took over command of the USS Benfold, a poorly performing ship. Within a year, it was the Navy’s best ship, and he did this without changing any of the crew. That story resonates with business leaders that it’s often leadership that’s the problem and that transforming leadership and workplace culture can make a huge difference.

3. Chef Andre Rush

Chef Andre Rush is so much more than the talented pastry chef, master ice carver, chocolatier, and White House chef. His 23 years in the military led to him taking on a role as an advocate for military service, healthy living, and suicide prevention.

4. Nicole Malachowski

Times have changed, and Col. Nicole Malachowski proves that women can do anything. She’s the first female pilot on the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron. She’s a combat veteran White House Fellow and even had a Star Trek Federation starship named after her. She had a stunning career that came to an end when a tick bite led to an illness that left her unable to walk or talk for close to a year. She kept fighting and powered through. Her talks of facing challenges without fear through resiliency resonate with audiences.

5. Lt Col Waldo Waldman

His nickname is “The Wingman,” and he’s the author of “Never Fly Solo.” Lt. Col. Waldo Waldman overcame a fear of heights and claustrophobia to become a fighter pilot, a dream he didn’t want to give up on. He excels in speaking topics like resilience, overcoming adversity, high-pressure performance, leadership skills, and change management.

6. Randy Couture

He’s a former U.S. Army sergeant and became a UFC champion who was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. He’s used the skills he learned in the military and in professional fighting to develop several businesses and an organization for wounded veterans. Randy Couture is an inspiration.

7. Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour

She was the only girl among four siblings growing up, and she learned to be tough because of it. She was America’s first Black female combat pilot who served two tours of duty in Iraq. She went on to write “Zero to Breakthrough, The 7-Step, Battle-Tested Method for Accomplishing Goals That Matter” and shares her insights with audiences.

8. Chris Moon

Chris Moon is the subject of an episode in Discovery’s “I Shouldn’t Be Alive.” He’s a former British Army Officer who was taken prisoner by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. He managed to negotiate not only his release but also two other colleagues. In 1995, he lost an arm and leg in a landmine explosion in an area that was supposed to be safe. He had to treat himself and make it to South Africa in a 14-hour journey that doctors were shocked he survived. You’d think that would be enough, but he survived that to run the London Marathon as an amputee.

9. Ron Garan

Col. Ron Garan is the author of “The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture From a Journey of 71 Million Miles.” He’s a NASA astronaut and fighter pilot who has been in space and at the bottom of the ocean where he’s learned to look at life with different perspectives. He’s a great choice for motivational speeches involving working together to enact change.

10. Randy Hetrick

While he was deployed, Randy Hetrick forgot some of his portable exercise equipment. He fashioned what would become the Suspension Trainer from some supplies his troop had on hand. This turned him from a 14-year Navy SEAL into an entrepreneur, inventor, and fitness expert. He’s an expert speaker on talks ranging from leadership to positive culture.

11. Brent Gleeson

He’s a retired Navy SEAL Team 5 combat veteran and author of “TakingPoint: A Navy SEAL’s 10 Fail Safe Principles for Leading Through Change.” Brent Gleeson is a noted speaker on topics ranging from team building and leadership skills to culture building and organization transformation.

12. Devon Harris

Here are a few things about Devon Harris you probably know and a few you don’t. He’s one of the Jamaican bobsledders who did the unbelievable and made it into the Olympics. Throughout it all, he maintained his “Yes, I Can!” attitude. What you may not know is that he was a child of poverty. He was never expected to become a strong military leader, but he did, commanding more than 120 soldiers and receiving a Queen’s Commission. He retired after eight years and talks to people about believing in themselves.

13. Travis Mills

In 2012, Travis Mills was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when he lost portions of both legs and both arms when an IED went off. He is one of five quadruple amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who survived their injuries. He’s found a new focus as a motivational speaker and advocate for amputees and veterans.

14. Jason Schechterle

Jason Schechterle is an Air Force veteran and former police officer. His role with the Phoenix police changed his path when a taxi crashed into his patrol car. He was trapped inside when his patrol car burst into flames and left him with burns over 40% of his body. He had to undergo dozens of surgeries to be able to complete some of his daily tasks. Jason travels the nation to talk about the power of the human spirit.

15. Nate Boyer

He’s a former Green Beret who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Following his return from the Army, he played for the Texas Longhorns and won the Disney Spirit Award at the ESPN College Football Awards. He inspires his audience to try their hardest and remember that “Anything is Possible.”

16. Melissa Stockwell

Melissa Stockwell lost part of her left leg when the Humvee she was in was hit by a roadside bomb. This happened within three weeks of her Army deployment. After several surgeries and infections, she retired from the Army and became the first female to lose a limb in active combat. She didn’t let her injuries stop her and became the first Iraqi War Veteran to qualify for the Paralympics and is now a 3x World Champion.

17. John Register

As a Persian Gulf War Veteran, John Register became an amputee, but not for the reasons you might think. He was training for the 1996 Olympic Games when he didn’t make it over a hurdle correctly. He’s now a 2x Paralympian and author of “10 Stories to Impact Any Leader: Journal Your Way to Leadership Success.” Ask him about his “Hurdling Adversity” keynote speech.

18. Jason Harris

He’s a decorated combat veteran with the U.S. Air Force. Lieutenant Col. Jason Harris is known for his skill in building a “culture of trust,” which is essential to protecting your team and making sure people know their roles so that they can do their job effectively. This is all part of his “No Fail Trust” methodology.

19. Dean Stott

Dean Stott is one of the first British Army members to join the Special Boat Service. After 16 years of service, he left the military and entered the world of private security where he rescued 22 military members and diplomats from the Canadian Embassy in 2014. He also evacuated over 1,200 people from Afghanistan. He’s a firm believer that nothing is impossible.

20. J.R. Martinez

You might recognize J. R. Martinez from “All My Children” or “Dancing With the Stars.” Before this, he was serving in Iraq when he sustained burns over 34% of his body. He travels the world talking to audiences about never giving up and making the most of all that life has to offer.

21. Israel Del Toro, Jr.

In 2005, Israel Del Toro, Jr. was in a Humvee that hit an IED in Afghanistan. He lost most of his fingers and suffered third-degree burns on 80% of his body. He came out of a coma almost three months later to learn he may never walk or breathe on his own. A fighter by nature, he overcame the odds and relisted with the Air Force, becoming history’s first 100% combat-disabled Air Force technician to reenlist. He’s an inspiration when it comes to panels and talks about never giving up.

22. Anthony Bourke

Major Anthony Bourke is a decorated F-16 fighter pilot who’s served around the world. You may not know his name, but he was one of the first Homeland Defense pilots to fly over NYC after September 11th. He’s a specialist now in management training and top performance.

23. Mike Sarraille

He’s a former enlisted Recon Marine, Scout Sniper, and U.S. Navy SEAL. Mike Sarraille used his experiences to write a bestselling business book “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent. Book him for talks on leadership and management topics.

24. Tom Reber

He’s a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and known for encouraging people to achieve their dreams through a tough love methodology. Tom Reber is the founder of Live Unafraid Performance Coaching. He’s especially popular when it comes to business management and improving sales.

25. Rudy Reyes

Rudy Reyes is a former Marine Recon combat veteran who played himself in HBO’s “Generation Kill.” In his post-military career, he founded Force Blue which pairs special forces divers with conservation efforts and trained African rangers in anti-poaching techniques. His stories and lessons learned along the way thrill audiences.

26. Stephen Drum

Stephen Drum spent close to three decades in the military, including many years as a Navy SEAL Master Chief where he developed and led high-performing teams in Afghanistan and Iraq. He developed the “Warrior Toughness” training program for the Navy and specializes in powering through stressful situations.

27. David Sears

For 20 years, David Sears was a Navy SEAL who planned, led, and executed special ops in more than 40 countries. He was a troop commander for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group who led the first successful rescue of a U.S. prisoner of war since World War II. He also helped plan and execute the rescue of Colombian and U.S. personnel who’d been held for more than five years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. His keynote topics cover important concepts like decision-making, planning for anything, and what it takes to be a Navy SEAL.

28. Herman Shelanski

Retired Vice Admiral Herm Shelanski is a former Naval Officer and current motivational speaker. His talks cover essential business and life topics like decision-making, leadership skills, learning from your mistakes, and being the best you can be.

29. Michele Rigby Assad

Her stories are going to have your organization, staff, or other group members on the edge of their seats. Michele Rigby Assad worked undercover for the CIA working in dangerous areas throughout the Middle East. She’s the author of “Breaking Cover” and can talk about the stories she shares within that and how to face fear and not back down.

30. Matt Lindley

He’s a current airline pilot and former member of the Royal Air Force. Matt Lindley faced challenges as a gay pilot. He uses his experiences to share what he learned about speaking up for yourself, changing an organization’s structure, and changing the outcome because you stand up to adversity.

31. Caroline Johnson

Caroline Johnson is one of the 1.7% of female fighter jet pilots in the U.S. Navy. She’s the author of “Jet Girl: My Life in War, Peace, and the Cockpit of the Navy’s’ Most Lethal Aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.” Her accounts of her life in the skies resonate with audiences. Book her to talk about achieving your dreams and staying at the top of your game once you’ve achieved what you never imagined was possible.

32. Darren McBurnett

Motivational speaker Darren McBurnett is a former Navy SEAL who specializes in a “Never Quit” mindset. He believes in using positive behavior, being true to yourself, and building strong communication skills. His presentations are high-energy, fun, and inspiring. Plus, he shares his work as a talented photographer so that his talks are visually appealing, too.

33. Jason Redman

Jason Redman spent more than a decade as a Navy SEAL and ten years as a Navy SEAL officer. In 2007, he and his team came under heavy machine guns and small arms fire, and he was severely wounded. During his recovery, he wrote a sign on his door that instructed people to leave if they were entering his room feeling sorrow or pity. That “Go Elsewhere” sign became part of the “Overcome Mindset” that audiences learn a lot from.

34. Ryan Stream

Ryan Stream was deployed twice to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army. But, in one of those deployments, 71% of the soldiers he deployed with had their vehicles blown up by an IED. One soldier in his unit died. He used this and his childhood experiences to change the man he would become. He’s a motivational speaker who talks about addiction, mental health, the power of positive thinking, and believing in yourself.

35. Dan Cnossen

Dan Cnossen is a former Navy SEAL who lost both legs during a battle in Afghanistan. That might knock most people down, but he didn’t let it stop him. He left the military and began training for the Paralympics, winning Gold in 2018 in the 7.5km Biathlon event. Book him to talk about overcoming adversity and never looking back.

36. Ben Morton

Ben Morton is a former British Army captain and current performance coach and leadership mentor. He’s led troops through life-and-death situations and learned what leadership is truly about in the process.

37. Commander Jimmy May

Commander Jimmy May has more than two decades in the military and is an active-duty Navy SEAL. He holds three Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. His skills in conflict resolution, team building, and combat leadership are exceptional.

38. Terry Schappert

He’s the host of “Hollywood Weapons: Fact or Fiction” and a former Army Special Forces Green Beret. Terry Schappert served in the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. After retiring in 2017, he turned to acting and appeared on shows like “Law and Order,” “Warriors,” and “Person of Interest.”

39. Chad Manske

After a 30-year in the U.S. Air Force, Chad Manske retired as the Commandant of the National War College in Washington D.C. He didn’t stop working, however, as he became a Senior Advisor to the CEO of the National Defense University Foundation and serves as an advisor or chairman to many other organizations. His talks on international relations, crisis management, and leadership are among the best.

40. Mark O’Neil

Mark O’Neil served in the U.S. Army for 33 years before retiring. During that time, he took part in several combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and also served in Bosnia. After his military career, he founded The O’Neil Network and now helps organizations develop strong leaders and business operations.

By sharing personal accounts and experiences from their years in the military, our top 40 ex-military motivational speakers at Engage provide valuable insight. Their experiences provide the insight individuals and teams need to develop strong working and personal relationships where teamwork, overcoming adversity, and leadership skills.