Brian Decker didn't quite know what he wanted to do while growing up in Kentucky. And when that question came up – what do you want to do with your life – usually someone would respond with "well, follow your passion."
He didn't buy it. For him to have a passion, he had to be recognized as being good at it – with the passion following after.
"Passion without an achievement is a hobby," Decker said. "That's me in golf, right? I'm passionate about golf. I'm just no good at it. So that makes it a hobby.
"But for me, the first success I ever really enjoyed in life or others recognized me for being good at what I did was when I joined the military, and it was along that way, somebody believed me before I believed in myself."
Decker comes from a military family. His father served in the Vietnam War and his grandfather in the Korean War. It wasn't until he joined the military in 1993 that he realized how impactful service had already been on his life – and how impactful service would be in where he was going.
Now the Colts' Director of Team Development, Decker served 22 years in the military, including from 2001-2014 as a member of the United States Special Forces.
"I wanted to be around the best, I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to be a part of something special," Decker said. "And so for me, that was trying out for and getting accepted in Special Forces and completing that training. That's when I found my tribe. Finally I felt like I was with the people — I was surrounded by people who were great. And it made me a better version of myself."
The experiences and knowledge he gained while serving the United States have brought him to where he is now, a key member of an NFL team working to champion the Colts' collective character. Decker previously was in charge of talent development with the U.S. Special Forces and is now translating those recruitment and growth principles to helping general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich find the right players to fit the Colts' well-established culture.
"We have made the composition of our locker room – it's one of the elements of our competitive strategy," Decker said. "We believe that – get the right people on the bus, the right coaches and staff and then put them into an environment where it basically becomes reinforcing."
With the Colts, too, Decker has found the right place and right culture for himself.
"I didn't know if I was ever going to be able to find that same level of purpose after I left the military, specifically being being in Green Berets – we're such a small, close-knit fraternity," Decker said. "So I didn't know if I'd ever be able to get that purpose again. And I found that here."
Decker also understands what it takes to lead an organization with a collective mission – and the challenges that come with it – thanks to his military experience.
"Being the captain of a Special Forces team was, I mean, I don't think we understand or we can truly appreciate at times how much stress that Chris or Frank or the leader of any organization is under," Decker said. "But I can appreciate that, because I knew that I was sent to a country to go to war, I have 11 other guys on my team. I know their wives, I know their children, I know their families.
"I have to accomplish this mission, I have a job to do, while also I have to maintain and look out for the welfare of my men. And at times those things are at odds.
"... I don't want to call it a burden, because I don't think it is a burden. I think it's a privilege to lead. It's a privilege to lead. But that's a lot of weight when you're when you carry the welfare of all the people around you."
But there's plenty about being a veteran and serving your country that those who haven't done it cannot understand. Decker missed the birth of his twin girls. He's been a part of funeral details for service members killed in combat. He still gets "cold chills" whenever he hears the national anthem "because I know, I don't take that freedom for granted."
And, he adds, "The people that are really the unsung heroes and all this, it's the wives and the children – the wife that has to raise the kids when you're gone on her own, and she's living in a town where she has no family, right? I mean, you just don't think about that."
Decker has a deep appreciation for his time in the military. He is who he is now because of the 22 years of service he completed for the United States. He found found his passion and his purpose in the military, and is now applying himself to doing his part for the Colts' collective mission.
"I would do it 100 times over again," Decker said. "They sent me to college, they sent me to graduate school. They're the ones that created those developmental opportunities along the way that created this opportunity. And I just don't think it would have happened had I not been afforded that."