A Good Man Gone

Candice Reed is a freelance writer based in Vista, Calif.

Scott Helvenston’s chiseled movie-star face flashes through my mind whenever I run on the beach. It’s mainly because of him that I stay in shape.

Every morning before I head out on my run, I read the paper. Early this month, I stared at the photograph of the charred bodies dangling from a bridge over the Euphrates River. Thank God that isn’t anyone I know, I thought selfishly, and turned the page. Two days later my friend Ciaran e-mailed me.

She forwarded the story of the four civilians working for a private company, Blackwater Security Consulting, who were killed by rocket-propelled grenades during an ambush. I read the article, and pieces of it sunk in--Scott had gone to Iraq to work for the contractor to the U.S. government charged with protecting the delivery of food in Fallouja, and to make a large amount of money in a short amount of time for his two children. It couldn’t be the same man--but, of course, it could.


“Isn’t this your Navy SEAL?” Ciaran asked.

I stared at the name--Scott Helvenston--and remembered the grisly photo. Suddenly I felt sick. Then I burst into tears. It was definitely my Navy SEAL.

As a freelance writer I’ve interviewed thousands of people. I’ve listened to their stories, written them and filed them away. But Scott was different.

Four years ago we spent eight weeks together--two hours a day, three days a week. A small local paper wanted me to write a series of articles about what it was like to train with a fitness guru. My job was to write about the ex-Navy SEAL who had given Demi Moore a new body for her movie “G.I. Jane.” Scott’s job was to turn a semi-couch potato journalist into an athlete. He would get some publicity for his business. I would get copy for eight weeks, and maybe a new body. We were both just doing our jobs.

It was a cloudy January afternoon when Scott and I met at the beach in Del Mar. He bounded over to me like a puppy, shaking my hand and smiling brightly. He was full of energy as he talked about pulse rates, push-ups and body fat percentages. He didn’t seem like a typical Navy SEAL. I had grown up in San Diego and hung out in Coronado enough to know that those military types pretty much kept to themselves--robotic and secretive. Scott didn’t seem like a killing machine. He smiled too much.

He started talking about himself to set me at ease.

“I left Florida when I was 16 to join the Navy,” he said proudly as we stood in the sand. “And I was a SEAL by the time I was 19. Stayed in for 12 years. Once a SEAL, always a SEAL.”

“I never saw any big action, but I’m still looking,” he said. As we jogged down the beach, he told me he spent his days finding ways to capitalize on his SEAL past, coming up with a Navy boot camp for wimps, for instance. He wanted to make a fortune.

By our second workout session, every part of his personal life had come out. His father died when he was 7, which led to some family difficulties. He recently had a few business deals that had gone south, and I could tell he was bitter about that. Scott had a chip on his shoulder and it was hard to miss.

I couldn’t believe he was telling me, a journalist, all the personal stuff. How did he know I wouldn’t print all his dirty laundry? Maybe he didn’t care.

I told him my parents were divorced and he seemed almost happy to hear it. I don’t think he heard the part about my loving stepfather. To him we were both damaged and it would make me stronger. During the next few weeks Scott flashed his megawatt smile and charmed me into doing more squats and pull-ups than I ever thought possible. He could bark like a SEAL, but he rarely had to. I would do anything for Scott.

“You know,” he said one day in a kayak. “You might be even prettier than Demi.” I knew he was lying, but it got me to paddle until sweat dripped in my eyes and my arms went numb. We were tough workout buds. Simpatico.

“Ten more sit-ups and you’ll beat Demi’s record,” he teased one afternoon as I huffed and puffed in the sand. When I did 20 more, we ran around the beach and cheered.

Scott’s last challenge was to get me to rappel off the side of a rock face. Afraid of heights, I more than hesitated. I made excuses and started to cry. Scott didn’t notice. His eyes remained fixed on the horizon.

“I can’t help but think there’s something more for me out there,” he said softly as he took a step closer to the edge. I noticed Scott didn’t have a harness. My legs started to shake, and as he walked closer to the edge, he spoke about wanting to do more for his country. He said he was tired of scraping by, trying to make a buck as a civilian. Life had disappointed Scott Helvenston. I wasn’t about to do the same.

“I’ll jump,” I yelled, scared to death.

“I knew you could do it!” he said.

Moments later I was on the ground, still shaking, but in one piece, looking up at the sky and Scott through my tears as he stood on top of the rock.

“Hoo-yaa!” he yelled, pumping his fists into the air.

I snapped a mental picture of him at that moment and I’ve held it in my mind the past four years, during which Scott would occasionally be in touch.

It’s been a few weeks since I saw the photographs and heard the news. It’s difficult to comprehend that Scott--a father, athlete, Navy SEAL commando and a friend--is gone, and in such a brutal manner. So I do the only thing I can think of to deal with the pain. I head out to the beach for a run.