He was headed for prison, but became a Navy SEAL instead

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Photo credit Photo courtesy Remi Adeleke

It's fitting that Remi Adeleke ended up finding work in Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers: The Last Knight after leaving the Navy. After all, the story of the former SEAL's journey is something straight out of a movie.

Adeleke's story begins in Nigeria, where he was born the son of a wealthy businessman and lived a life of comfort for the first few years of his life. That changed abruptly when his father died and the Nigerian government essentially took everything from the family. This led his mother to move the family to the United States, where they would settle in New York City's most hardscrabble borough, the Bronx. It was there that Adeleke began wandering down the wrong roads, and hanging with the wrong people.

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"I started out stealing and that progressed to selling a little drugs here and there," Adeleke recalls of his teenage years. "That progressed to running scams and by the time I was 19 I had a whole lot of money that I was bringing in every week and I got involved in a deal with a drug dealer that went really, really bad and that was a wake-up call for me."

That wake-up call led him to give up the street life and start searching for a calling. That search brought him to the office of a Navy recruiter, and rekindled a memory from a few years earlier. It was a memory of a movie, "The Rock", and of the Navy SEALs featured in the film. 

"Though they died (in the film) in my mind I said, y'know, if I ever turned my life around that's what I'm gonna do," Adeleke says. "I was probably around 15 at the time so after a few days that dream of being a Navy SEAL disappeared and I went back to my normal life of doing the things I shouldn't have done. But when I finally decided I was going to join the Navy, that dream kind of re-emerged within me to be a Frogman." 

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It was a dream that became reality, making him one of the first 50 or so African-Americans to have done so.

"I was the only African-American to graduate in my graduating class," Adeleke says. "From a racial standpoint, no, there's not much diversity and that's something they've been working on for a long, long time to get more minorities into the community."

Adeleke cites several factors at play in the lack of diversity including a poor education system in inner-cities, a lack of marketing exposure aimed at black youth, and a large percentage of African-Americans not knowing how to swim. There are also not many people who can show them how to navigate that road, which is something Adeleke aims to change in his book Transformed, which was recently cleared by the DoD and is now available for pre-order with a release date of May 14th.

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"I was strategically writing my book as somewhat of a blueprint," Adeleke says. "For kids from my background, people from my background to be able to read and say 'Ok, now I know how to get into the program, and not only am I gonna get in, I'm gonna make it through... One of the main purposes of me writing the book was to inspire and show kids from my background hey, I came from where you came from and I did not have the skills at all to be a SEAL. When I joined the military I couldn't swim. When I joined the military I didn't have the academic scores to be a SEAL. I was skinny, I couldn't do 10 push-ups or one pull-up."

It's right there in the title, Adeleke says. Despite his initial shortcomings, he set his mind to accomplishing a goal, and was able to persevere and improve himself. He is transformed, and hopes to see more following in his footsteps. 

You can hear the full interview from Remi Adeleke's appearance on CBS Eye on Veterans below. 

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