A Conversation with Joel and John


By Jimmy Mack

Former Navy SEAL and Discovery Channel star Joel Lambert answers questions from John, his sponsored child

You may have seen former Navy SEAL Joel Lambert as he works to evade some of the world’s best military and law enforcement tracking teams on Discovery Channel’s “Lone Target” (aka “Manhunt”). But did you know that he is also an advocate and supporter of Children International? Joel has traveled all over the world and witnessed real poverty firsthand, but after visiting the Philippines and seeing CI staff and programs in action, he believes there is hope for change. Joel has sponsored John, a 15-year-old youth in the Philippines, for more than four years. John had some questions for Joel about being a sponsor, and Joel was more than happy to respond:

John: Why did you choose to sponsor children? How and why did you choose me?

Joel: When I was in the SEAL team, I was active in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. When I got out of the Navy, I wanted to do something like that again, but I wasn’t sure what exactly. I was introduced to Children International by one of the program’s outreach workers who approached me on a Los Angeles street. When she asked me who I wanted to sponsor, I said, “a boy from the Philippines,” and I got you, John. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I was so excited to get that first letter from you …

Joel Lambert in “Lone Target” episodeOn his own: In “Lone Target,” a Discovery Channel series, star Joel Lambert tries to outrun a military or law enforcement unit in each episode. Photo credit: Bob Parr.

John: What made you decide to become a soldier? And then why did you become an actor?

Joel: I actually wanted to become an actor before I went into the military. As I was growing up, I was involved in drama, doing commercials and stage plays. As I got older, I began to feel this drive deep within myself … to challenge the core of my being with the most difficult and intimidating thing I could do in life, and that ended up being SEAL training.

It was what scared me the most, but [I knew] I had to do it. That has become a lesson that has shaped me and served me well in my life. As I was at the end of my SEAL career and transitioning out of the Navy, I began to stumble into opportunities in film and television, both in front of the camera and also behind it, bringing technical and weapons expertise to productions. I felt a pretty strong tug in that direction, so I went with it ... and after a lot of hard work, here I am.

John: What is the scariest situation you have ever experienced?

Joel: There have been plenty in my life, from actual combat situations where people were shooting at me to training scenarios, such as getting tangled in a parachute after skydiving into the ocean at night, miles from shore, and nearly drowning. My career in the SEAL teams had no end to the insanely frightening events. It's part of what we do. The thing that I've found, though, through all of them, is that the normal "fear" reactions (elevated heart rate, respiration and adrenaline) can be turned from "fear" into "focus" through training. The physiological responses, instead of inducing "fight, flight or freeze," can instead "focus" you calmly onto the target or the problem.

Joel Lambert and John, his sponsored childJoel and John enjoyed spending the day together during one of Joel’s recent trips to the Philippines.

John: What hardships have you experienced in life?

Joel: I've never experienced true poverty, or what I would consider crushing circumstances ... I've been very blessed. However, I've been betrayed by those I've loved, and I've had to risk all of my existence against [situations] that truly seemed impossible. I think that you can find, and should find, the "impossible struggles" in life, whether circumstances give them to you or not.

John: Who has been the most important person in your life?

Joel: I can't name just one: my parents who have raised me, mentors who have shaped me and my Brothers in the SEAL teams that I have been honored to stand with and be counted among.

John: Is it difficult to be an actor and a sponsor at the same time?

Joel: Not at all. Sponsorship is so easy that I feel like, no matter where you’re at in life, it can be done. It costs so little to make a difference in another’s life. We all should look at how we can accomplish that. Kindness is free. Spread that stuff around.

John: What is the most important lesson your parents taught you?

Joel: Wow … there are so many. I think the most important thing they taught me, probably unintentionally, was to [work hard] for everything. I wasn’t given everything. I was loved, taken care of and supported, but I had to earn things I wanted. I didn’t like it at the time, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve found that we are at our best when we struggle. The greatest aspects of our humanity come out when the way is steep, not at the top of the mountain.

John: Were you happy when you visited our home? How did you feel?

Joel: I had just finished filming the Philippines episode of “Manhunt” when I visited you, and I was exhausted, dehydrated and very drained. But visiting you in your home and meeting your family was hands-down the BEST day of my trip. Seeing my letters and photos in your house, along with items that I had been told were purchased for your family through sponsorship benefits really brought it home for me. I was humbled to meet all the CI workers that accompanied us and see the amazing work that they’re doing, as well as their passion and commitment. Even though your English isn’t very good, and my Tagalog is nonexistent, I had such a great time with you! I loved meeting all your brothers and sisters, as well as your mom and dad. We took a lot of pictures, didn’t we?

John: Is there any advice that you want to give me?

Joel: Trust yourself. You have everything you need, John. Even when it seems impossible, and it will, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter how small the step. You’re gonna change your world!

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