If you have had the privilege of knowing a member of the US Navy SEAL teams, you know what I am talking about when I say they are “different.” They are different from one another; some are tall, some are short, some are wild and crazy others are introspective and philosophical. There is no “type” of man who finds what it takes to join the most elite military unit in history.
But there is still something about these guys. I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with several SEAL team members over the years and I have always been deeply impressed (and very glad they are on our side).
SEALs are Team Guys
SEAL’s describe themselves, first and foremost as “Team Guys.” The team is everything. From the wonderful and simple philosophy that “Two is one and one is none,” SEAL’s are hard-wired to work together. They operate seamlessly with others in what can only be described as the most powerful high performance teams in existence. To be a team guy is to live a code. The code is complex and nuanced and only really understood by someone who has “been there and done that” and spent real time “down range.”
If you want a peek into the world of an operational SEAL team, the movie “Act of Valor” is a pretty good snapshot. Sure, you can nit-pick the film. The actors are active duty SEALs, so the acting is not stunning; but the situations, story lines and the life/death interdependence that make the “teams” so effective are displayed well.
The movie offers a fictionalized version of the incredible real world bravery of Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor who sacrificed his own life to save his teammates in Iraq in 2006. Monsoor’s actions earned a Medal of Honor; but you get the feeling that kind of sacrifice is expected for these elite warriors.
Many SEALs were nervous about the release of the movie. The last thing we needed was another crappy movie about SEALs (Remember the dog starring Charlie Sheen?). But the biggest thing the SEALs were worried about is that the movie might reveal operational techniques or secrets that could compromise a later mission. After the release of the movie the general consensus was that the movie was “an OK movie”—showing off SEAL operations without revealing anything classified.
In the early days of the SEALs, (The SEAL’s began with an executive order from JFK) operational security was the rule of the day. SEAL operations in Vietnam were the stuff of legend; shadowy figures that brought a level of ferocity and jungle adaptation and took the fight to the elusive Viet Cong. SEALs rarely had their picture taken. They fought knowing that no one would ever know about the missions, actions, risks, or results. Like their SAS counterparts, SEALs operated in a completely secret world.
But all of that would change when SEALs like Richard Marcinko came on the scene with books offering a look into their secret world. Marcinko released a book called the Rogue Warrior in 1993. I liked the book. It is a raw, honest, testosterone fueled story about the development of the counter-terrorist unit SEAL Team VI and Marcinko’s own journey in the teams. Since then Marcinko has released dozens of fiction books that feature all kinds of “shooting and looting” and “hopping and popping”, he even has his own Xbox game.
Another author to dive deep into SEAL Team training and operations is former SEAL Dick Couch. Couch offers fiction and nonfiction offerings that detail the rich history of the teams. One of my favorite books is a book by a Vietnam era seal named James “Patches” Watson called Walking Point. The book is an unvarnished view of the early days in the Teams. You get a great view of the beginnings of “the code.” Another great book is First SEAL by Roy Boehm, the man who met with JFK and truly established “the teams.” In these books we learn a lot about the character and philosophy of the SEALs—but nothing too specific about any “real world” operations, places, names, or outcomes.
And now there is No Easy Day: A Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden.
But this book is different. Matt Bissonnette co-authored the book under the name Mark Owen. Interestingly, the book was not offered to the Pentagon for review. Bissonnette was under (most likely) a wide range of potent non-disclosure agreements. That SEALs don’t talk about operations is primary, fundamental, and obvious. But Bissonnette, for some reason, went around the chain of command and published the book without government review. And apparently, he breached confidences that are considered classified. The general consensus is that the book includes operational details that would have been redacted by the Navy.
There is a feeling that Bissonnette violated the code.
Bissonnette offered to donate all proceeds from the book to the Navy SEAL Foundation, a wonderful charity that supports the families and children of fallen SEALs. The SEAL Foundation turned him down. It is expected that other military based charities will do the same. Add the promise of prosecution by the government and a few death threats and you have a really bad PR problem on your hands.
All because he broke the code.
In chapter 9 of our book Evolutionaries, we share how Evolutionary leaders honor the power of a code. It allows people to act in ways that defy the logic of personal gratification—or safety. The code allows people to work for values that remain stable and constant even while everything around them is changing. The code is a bedrock of trust that allows people to act in concert with each other to achieve incredible things because you just know that others “have your back.”
You can be sure that there are going to be lots of conversations among SEALs about Bissonnette’s actions. The general feeling among the SEAL’s that I know is that this book’s release is damaging to the team community.
I confess I am reading the book. And I feel like I am enabling a short-sighted choice and a breach of trust. It is unfortunate that this amazing moment in military history is being revealed in a way that could harm the SEAL Team community.
To ease my guilt, I am making an individual contribution to the Navy SEAL Foundation—an organization that won four stars from Charity Navigator for integrity and transparency. You can too. Check them out at http://www.navysealfoundation.org. These are people who are keeping the code and doing everything possible for the warrior’s families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. Only last month we lost 11 SEALs in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
Read the book, or not. But make an offering to the Navy SEAL Foundation and honor them for their work, and their integrity, and keeping the code alive. Hoo yah.