Profile of a Navy SEAL
SEAL stands for the Sea, Air, and Land teams of the U.S. Navy special warfare unit, and they are today's heroes. Americans have heard of their incredible feats of taking down the Somali pirates with three precision shots, thus saving Captain Richard Phillips, and the mission that killed Osama bin Laden, which seemed like it was straight out of a Vince Flynn political thriller. This year, there have been books published by former SEALs, and a movie, Act of Valor, is due to be released in February 2012. The books by former SEALs share similar storylines: enduring a hard childhood, deciding to become a SEAL, the BUD training, the missions, and the toll on their personal lives. American Thinker interviewed some of the authors and the filmmaker to get their interpretations of these real-life mavericks.
Act of Valor directors Mouse McCoy and Scott Waugh collaborated with the U.S. Navy to make a film using actual Navy SEALs. Waugh told American Thinker that the Navy Special Warfare community approached the two directors to tell their story accurately regarding who they are and what they are about. To ensure that the characteristics of a SEAL are accurately portrayed, the actors are actual SEALs. The plot is action-packed, but the film also explores the perspectives of the wives and children, and the sacrifices they must endure. Although they are the quiet professionals who want to do their job anonymously, eight active-duty SEALs agreed to star in the film to display the complexity of what they do. They want to convey a message: consider them human beings, not terminators. Waugh felt in making the movie that he had a tremendous burden, since he wants to make sure that audiences "get a vantage point of truly incredible inspirational men whose actions allow us to be safe at home. It's fiction-based reality, where real guys are used, real stories told, but to preserve their anonymity it was fictionalized. We want to show how they operate as well as their private lives. These men allow Americans to have a sense of security, but they are not super-humans[.]"
Don Mann, a former SEAL, concurs that the SEALs do not want to be viewed as super-heroes. In his recently released book, Inside SEAL Team Six, he discusses his troubled childhood, overcoming adversity to become a member of SEAL Team Six for eight years and a SEAL for over seventeen years, finally retiring in 1998. The most interesting parts of the book are when he goes into detail about his missions, although a lot was redacted by the censors. One of his first missions was in Somalia, which was compromised by a shepherd who found their hiding place. In order to survive, he and his fellow team surrendered to two dozen armed Somalis, who later released them.
Mann was asked about this incident, since it seems so out of character for a SEAL. He stated that he put this incident in the book to show that not all missions go perfectly, but also to debate the rules of engagement policy. He told American Thinker, "This is a big frustration for those in the military. The approaching person had no weapon, so we had to follow policy and let him go. If we would have taken that guy out, there is no telling what the repercussions would have been legally. Common sense does not prevail in these circumstances, just the legal end."
Mann is honest about both the positives and negatives in becoming one of America's most elite warriors. He placed emphasis on the physical endurance, the need to push oneself to accomplish the mission, how "you get a real adrenaline rush when doing a night jump, diving underneath ships, or going on a shooting mission in different countries. Adrenaline is addictive. When that kicks in, there is no fear factor. The body can take ten times more punishment than you thought it could. The one thing all SEALs have in common is that we don't know the meaning of the word 'quit.'"
Unfortunately, "quit" does apply to many SEALs' private lives. Mann is now married to his third wife, the ex-wife of one of his former teammates, who set her up with him. Being away approximately 300 days a year from home does not make for a wonderful family life. Mann pointed out in the interview, "The Navy has the highest divorce rate of all the services. Among the Navy, the SEALs have the highest divorce rate, and of all the SEALs, Team Six has the highest rate. As much as I loved all my wives, I enjoyed going on the missions, which says something about priorities. The feeling of doing something great for our country overrides the feeling of wanting to be home." He makes it very clear throughout the book that SEALs sacrifice their private lives to defend their country.
Two other books, KBL: Kill Bin Laden: A Novel Based on True Events by John Weisman and SEAL Target Geronimo by Chuck Pfarrer (both books will be featured in an upcoming review), go into great detail about the Osama bin Laden (OBL) mission. However, the authors also discuss the SEALs' character. Weisman explained that America's special forces have conducted over 1,700 raids since 2010, and during the night of the OBL raid, there were about eleven other high-target missions. He wrote the book as a novel because "everything has a classification on it and I did not want to jeopardize them. I wanted the public to understand that the SEALs are human, with psychological pressures, job pressures, and home pressures. I wanted people to get a holographic view of them as opposed to a Superman view." He did that well, having quotes in the book to the effect that a SEAL's most important asset is his brain. Then there's the SEAL motto: "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger, and the more we sweat in training, the less we bleed in battle."
Pfarrer's book tells how SEALs react during a mission: able to tune everything out while confronting the enemy. They gain a zero consciousness that taps into the thoughts and intentions of those they are pursuing. What makes this book interesting is that Pfarrer, a former SEAL, gives his mindset and impressions of how they will react. "It is almost impossible for civilians to conceive how much these men care for and trust each other." As Pfarrer explains, this camaraderie is developed during the three phases of BUD training: physical conditioning, science of combat, and land warfare. For example, during Hell Week, SEALs are made to rely on one another as they go through the emotions of fear and disorientation while machine guns are fired over their heads, fire hoses spray them, and smoke grenades are thrown at them, all the while having no more than four hours of sleep per day. The emphasis is always on teamwork since once a BUD quits by ringing the bell three times and placing his helmet in a line, the remainder of the boat crew must carry the quitter's load. As he describes it, "it is psychological warfare between the student and instructor."
Howard Wasdin, also a former SEAL, wrote a book published earlier this year, SEAL Team Six. This book gives the details about the life of a Navy SEAL sniper. After becoming a member of SEAL Team Six, Wasdin graduated from the Marines' Scout Sniper School, becoming one of eighteen snipers on the team. Especially poignant are the chapters that place the reader on the battlefields of Somalia and Mogadishu, where Black Hawk Down took place.
The last paragraph in the book summarizes Wasdin's views: "The SEAL Team Six sniper standards remain high[.] ... For the most part, their commitment, sacrifice, and patriotism will continue to remain hidden." When asked about that quote, Wasdin commented, "I got the nation's highest medals, the Silver Star and Purple Heart, on an op that went completely wrong, Black Hawk Down. I have been on a bunch of ops that have gone really, really well and never got any recognition. The only reason we did not win this one is that Bill Clinton decided to cut tail and run, totally negating all the sacrifices made. Sorry if I sound bitter, but I was in a position to see my buddies going down. He totally pulled out before we had accomplished the mission, maintaining political points instead of wanting to win."
In his book, The Heart and the Fist, Eric Greitens reports about his service in Asia and Africa. He is able to give the reader a different picture of the War on Terror, and how it encompasses more than Afghanistan and Iraq. He wanted to make sure that Americans understand that today's warrior must be physically and mentally strong, yet also act as a diplomat and role model. He explains in the book that his choice to become a SEAL was due in part to understanding that "all the best kinds of compassionate assistance ... meant nothing if a warlord could command a militia and take control of the very place humanitarians were trying to aid[.] ... I had become an advocate for using power, where necessary, to protect the weak."
Anyone who wants to learn about the SEALs has plenty of books to draw upon. Reading all these accounts makes it obvious that there is not one type or characteristic to describe a SEAL. They are from different backgrounds, have different physical traits, and are cowboys, Rhodes Scholars, and religious men. The one common thread is that they are risk-takers, quiet professionals, married to their profession. They know only one word: perseverance. For them, a successful mission is bringing back everybody alive. They would sacrifice anything for the "guy" next to them, doing whatever it takes to care for the "guy" to the left and right. The bottom line is that Americans should be proud to know that the SEALs are there, willing to sacrifice and to do what is right for their country.