Would you swim from Jersey City to Manhattan?
Former Navy officer and Horizon SVP Tim Susanin takes the plunge to support the NAVY SEAL Foundation
On Saturday, August 19, Tim Susanin will walk past the Empty Sky Memorial that honors the lives lost on 9/11 and enter the Hudson River at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. He’ll wade out into the current and take the first strokes on a swim that will take him first to the Statue of Liberty, then Ellis Island, before he finally emerges at Battery Park in Manhattan.
Susanin isn’t a professional endurance athlete; he’s the Senior Vice President for Compliance, Risk and Audit at Horizon® Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. But the grueling test of endurance has special meaning for Susanin, a veteran who joined the Navy in 1988.
The event is organized by the Navy SEAL Foundation and the three-mile swim is open to SEALs, military veterans, police officers, firefighters and first responders. At each stop, participants will do pushups and pull-ups to honor American values, traditions, and sacrifice.
The thing is, Susanin never dreamed of joining the Navy when he was growing up in Philadelphia. It wasn't until he was in law school at Villanova that he realized becoming a Navy JAG (Judge Adjutant General) was the right choice for him.
"I wanted to get into a courtroom," he recalls. "But if I went to work for a law firm, I might not see the inside of a courtroom for five or ten years. And most of the government offices had hiring freezes on." Susanin wanted to be where the action was.
"My wife, whose father was an Air Force JAG, said to me, 'Gee, did you ever consider the JAG corps?'"
It was 1988. A Few Good Men, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, was three years off. And the TV show JAG didn't begin its run until 1995. So no, he hadn't considered it. It turned out to be just what he needed to advance his career.
But his stint as a JAG was more than that – it was an eye-opening experience. "When I got to my first duty station, I met all these men and women from all over the country, from every walk of life," he recalls. "They were on the front lines. They were on ships, in subs, and in planes. And I loved hearing their stories -- they were attracted because they wanted to serve. And it was worth it to them to put their life on the line, to secure the freedoms we all have. I came to appreciate that these were real patriots."
Today, he's a strong advocate for military service as an advantage for a career in civilian life.
"It gives you very good management experience," he says. "You're given accelerated job duties at a fairly senior level. I was 25, having trial after trial. And my friends who were pilots were flying multimillion-dollar planes and managing flight crews in their early-to-mid 20s. The experiences, the interactions – these are leadership skills that are priceless in corporate America."
Susanin has seen for himself why Horizon has long been recognized as a Top Employer for Veterans and their spouses. "We are a very diverse company," he says. "And the military integrated before Brown v. Board of Education. Horizon is very committed to DE&I. And just like the military, Horizon is an institution made up of very smart men and women who all respect and value each other – their similarities and their differences. Beyond that, when you think about a military team, you think of people who have integrity and are transparent, who act with accountability, and who collaborate."
"In both the military and Horizon, you have a culture of excellence. So these two institutions just fit, hand in glove."
Alison Banks-Moore, VP and Chief Diversity Officer, couldn't agree more. "At Horizon, our veterans bring various skills, including leadership, teamwork, accountability and loyalty," she says. "Veterans represent many different backgrounds and have the sensitivity to collaborate with different people. Many speak more than one language and have traveled extensively."
Horizon set up the Military Affinity Group – or MAG – to support employees with military backgrounds through mentorship and networking.
For Tim Susanin, jumping into the Hudson River for the big swim will be a challenge, but one he feels he's up to. "I'm a triathlete," he explains. "But I typically don't do a three-mile swim. So I've definitely had to amp it up. I had to do a two-mile ocean swim at Long Branch in June to qualify."
He notes that not everyone can keep up with SEALS – who are, after all, among the elite physical specimens in the U.S. military. "I've heard the term 'straggler' thrown around a bit," Susanin says with a chuckle. "They don't want any stragglers."
The NYC SEAL swim supports over 30 essential Navy SEAL Foundation programs for SEAL Community active duty, veterans, and their families. A part of the proceeds will benefit the Uncommon Grit Foundation, which is focused on raising awareness, increasing community support, and finding ways to help military, first responder, and related family support organizations.
To learn more about the Navy SEAL Foundation or support the NYC SEAL swim, visit https://impact.navysealfoundation.org/event/2023-nyc-seal-swim/e46384