For an elite special operations force that relies on stealth and anonymity, the SEALs sure have been in the limelight this year. It’s probably the one place on earth they’re not exactly prepared to be.
After the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound last year, President Obama’s White House readily talked up the successful mission, too much according to some members of the SEAL community.
Obama’s noticeable swagger in public appearances, especially one at an immigration rally in Texas, led to the popular Saturday Night Live ‘victory lap’ skit soon after.
There’s been a movie on the SEALs and one is in the works, and a number of books. Which all seemed very odd to reckon with their need for secrecy and their strong code of silence.
The latest and most controversial is the book No Easy Day by a former SEAL who took part in the bin Laden raid and before that, the rescue of the captain held hostage by Somali pirates. Before I ever heard of it though, I had the author of one outstanding book on the SEALs on my radio program, on August 6, the anniversary of the worst single-day loss of life in the history of Naval Special Warfare. A US military Chinook helicopter crashed that day the year before, killing 30 Americans, 17 of them Navy SEALs. Eric Blehm wrote this essay about it for Time.
Blehm spent the hour on my program on August 6th this year discussing his book FEARLESS: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown. It’s the one book I highly recommend on these elite forces, because it’s so well done, thoroughly and honorably and with the willing cooperation of the team who served with Adam Brown. Willing only because they wanted his story told.
From the Prologue:
From May through July 2011, when it seemed that every journalist on the planet was scrambling to get an inside angle on the Osama bin Laden kill mission in Pakistan, I was making my way around the United States interviewing over a dozen U.S. Navy SEALs. Although most were from the Naval Special Warfare Development Group or, as the Obama administration announced to the world, SEAL Team SIX – the team that had taken out bin Laden – I was meeting with them for a different reason altogether.
I traveled from California to Pennsylvania to Alaska to Virginia to Arkansas, interviewing each of the SEALs for several hours. Although the mission of a lifetime that some had taken part in only days before was still on their minds, we weren’t there to focus on bin Laden. Theyd met with me, an outsider to their ranks, for something equally important and deeply personal to them: the family of one of their fallen SEAL brothers–Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam Brown–wanted his story told.
And if the world was to learn about Adam Brown, the SEALs wanted it done right. As one of the men, Thomas Ratzlaff, humbly said to me…”Adam is the one SEAL from our command whose story absolutely deserves a book.”…
“You need to tell the whole story,” John Faas admonished me…”There are enough books that show how tough SEAL training is, there’s enough Tom Clancy fiction. What there isn’t enough of is the humanity. When you start digging, you are going to find a whole lot of humanity in Adam Brown.”
The book jacket has several strong endorsements. One of my favorites is the one author James Campbell wrote:
“When people know they are going to die, often their one regret is that they didn’t say ‘I love you’ enough. Adam brown never had to worry. His life was about love: love of God, family, friends, country, his fellow SEALs, and the Afghan children who worshipped him.”
And this, from U.S. Navy Chaplain Bob Freiberg, Adam’s chaplain during BUD/S:
“Be prepared for the full range of emotions as the true adventures of a real American hero demonstrate that ‘with God, all things are possible.’”
I don’t know how these other books and films portray these men, but FEARLESS is gripping and full of heart and, as that one SEAL put it, humanity.
Late in Blehm’s book, he wrote about a book Adam Brown was reading during one of his deployments, one he shared with a buddy who enjoyed book swapping and “long talks about history, religion, politics, and war. The rest of their squadron ribbed them endlessly for watching hours of Book TV on deployments and training trips.”
This particular book was Tender Warrior, and Adam eagerly shared portions with his buddy. “You can read it; I’m almost done. Check this out,” he said, thumbing backward through the pages. “It was written by Stu Weber, a Vietnam veteran, Special Forces. He became a chaplain. Stopping at a passage, he handed the book to John, who read,
The Warrior function is…unmistakable in Scripture…Within the epistles, the mature believing man is often described in militant terms–a warrior equipped to battle mighty enemies and shatter satanic strongholds.
The heart of the Warrior is a protective heart. The Warrior shields, defends, stands between, and guards…He invests himself in “the energy of self-disciplined, aggressive action.” By Warrior I do not mean one who loves war or draws sadistic pleasure from fighting or bloodshed. There is a difference between a warrior and a brute. A warrior is a protector…Men stand tallest when they are protecting and defending.
Of the SEALs I know, and what I know of the SEALs, this is true. It’s what they do.
When No Easy Day was coming out, I had Eric Blehm back on the show, eager to hear what the SEALs thought and said about that controversial book. Among other things, he told me that just two hours before coming on the air, he learned that a counter-narrative had just become available online, and he urged anyone reading the book to read the counter narrative put together by special forces members. It’s called No Easy Op.
This handy guide isn’t a book review of “No Easy Day” – there will be no shortage of those to come. Instead, it is a review of the modern culture in which these operations are conducted and reported upon, this Information Age, and where the release of “No Easy Day” touches on hot issues in Operational Security (OpSec). SOFREP [Special Operations Forces Situation Report] provides invaluable context the public needs to understand how to frame their own assessments of the balance between the public’s desire to know what is going on versus the need for secrecy and security to maintain and conduct these types of operations. This guide gives the reader bearings on how to interpret the information, and sources of information, that will be flooding the news about “No Easy Day” as it is released.
This quote from “No Easy Op” easily summarizes why SOFREP is an essential component to the interaction between SOF, the media and the public:
“Our world is filled with information, misinformation, and deliberate disinformation, all at the same time, and sometimes they even come from the very same source. It has never been easier to conduct research and become informed, but it has never been harder to distinguish between fact and fiction. SOFREP’s goal is to make this determination easier.”
Read it to be informed. Read Eric Blehm to be inspired.