Remi Adeleke isn’t your typical Navy SEAL-turned-influencer.
In an era when numerous special operations veterans have traded their military credentials for fame and a platform, Adeleke has focused on telling the tough stories that matter most to him.
The Nigerian-born, Bronx-raised Adeleke has written about how enlisting in the Navy saved him from a criminal path. He’s consulted on gritty military-related dramas such as the Amazon series “The Terminal List,” starring Chris Pratt, and the feature film “Plane,” starring Gerard Butler.
As one of the staff trainers on the Fox reality show “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test,” in which celebrities attempt to make it through a modified version of special operations training, Adeleke popularized a tough-love catchphrase: “Time to pay the man.”
Adeleke got his break in the entertainment world after getting out of the Navy in 2016 and pursuing a Master’s degree in organizational strategy. While in school, an associate of blockbuster film director Michael Bay contacted him about being a consultant for several film projects, to ensure their military authenticity. He taught himself the basics of screenwriting while working on his own memoir, Transformed.
His latest project has him telling other veterans’ stories in an unapologetically unflinching style.
Down Range, a new podcast by Tenderfoot TV and hosted by Adeleke, wastes no time in immersing listeners in the complex and harrowing world of military combat.
The first episode features the story of former Army sniper Michael Harryman, a four-time Purple Heart recipient who spent 15 days in a coma and suffered grievous injuries after taking a rocket to the face in Iraq. Despite the podcast’s unblinking dedication to showcasing the difficult realities of military sacrifice and service, Adeleke says Down Range is not intended only for veterans and those already immersed in the military community.
“I think it’s [for] anybody that’s looking for a good story, and anybody that’s looking to get some inspiration,” Adeleke told Navy Times, “To push through whatever struggle that they’re facing.”
The following interview with Adeleke has been edited for space and clarity.
Navy Times: Was storytelling something you were known for while in the fleet?
Remi Adeleke: I was an intel guy, so that required a lot of writing – that’s visual storytelling. It’s a long process of meeting with a source and then writing a very, very detailed report … and somebody has to be able to pick up that report 10 years or 20 years from the day it was written and read it as though those events happened that day. That’s when I really learned visual storytelling.
NT: What other aspects of life in special operations have transferred to what you’re doing now?
RA: Many things. Being very disciplined and being goal-oriented, being disciplined about achieving those goals. Also, being able to handle rejection. When you’re down and [getting] a lot of no’s and being willing to persevere – I think that’s the most important tool that I took from my time in special operations that I apply every single day. In SEAL training, the attrition rate is like 90% – we started with 270 guys and only 29 graduated. And that’s the same in Hollywood. In SEAL training … I had trouble with swimming and I struggled with the cold water. Regardless of those struggles, I just kept on going, and kept on going, and kept on going. And so that’s what I have to keep doing.
NT: What are you hoping to accomplish with this new podcast, Down Range?
RA: I’ve really wanted to expose more people in America to stories of veterans, of heroes who fought for our country and are still in some cases fighting for our country in different ways. We’ve got all these stories out there in film and even TV … I’ve had a chance to work on [Amazon Prime TV series] The Terminal List. But there’s never been something in the veteran space like this type of immersive podcast. The Sgt. Harryman story, with the Purple Hearts and Bronze Star and all that stuff, most people who listen to it, they’re not going to be able to relate to that. But what they can relate to is a man who achieved a lot but still struggled mentally, struggled with alcoholism … but was able to overcome those struggles. That was what I loved the most about that podcast: how he was so vulnerable after he got out of the military, after he got out of a combat unit. Because that’s something the average person can listen to and say, “Wow, you went through hell. You had it worse than me.” But he was able to overcome.
NT: Who is the podcast for?
RA: Anybody who’s looking to get inspired. I just got a message an hour ago from a guy on social media who said, I never served in the military, but hearing your story, I learned how to swim … just in case something happens and I’m in a situation where I need to save my life or save my kids. This is another example of who this podcast is for. It’s for anybody who’s looking to get better in life. And I think that’s the intrinsic goal for everyone … we all want to be better tomorrow than we were today.
NT: On the Fox reality show “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test,” you exposed viewers to the challenges of special operations training. With all these projects, why is it so important to you that Americans understand the world of special operations better?
RA: The military recruitment numbers across the board are historically low. If we went to war with any major country, we would lose – we would be speaking that country’s language. There’s so much that the general public doesn’t know, that if they knew, no American would be sleeping at night. Why I think it’s important for me to do these shows, and write these books, and do this podcast is to expose young people to the military, and different aspects of the military, not just special operations. Maybe they say, I want to serve my nation, I want to give, I have nothing going on in my life, because there’s so many young people that don’t have anything going on. And it’s not just great for the country, when people serve, it’s also great for the individual.
NT: You’ve talked about the value of veterans serving as influencers to expose more Americans to service. There are also those who criticize veterans, particularly those from special operations, for capitalizing on their service to gain fame and a platform. How do you reflect on that?
RA: I think at the end of the day, it’s all about where a person’s heart is. And my heart has been, and continues to be, all about utilizing my platform to inspire other people. I don’t think that my service to this country ceased when I got out of the military. My service to this country is ongoing, and will continue to be ongoing until the day that I die. I avoid talking about operations and missions, because that’s not necessary. I try to talk about, here’s what the military did for me, and other people, and here’s where I’m at now.
Correction: an earlier version of this story contained an image mistakenly identified as Remi Adeleke. The image has been updated.
Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter covering the U.S. military and national defense. The former managing editor of Military.com, her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Politico Magazine, USA Today and Popular Mechanics.