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SEAL hype now even attacked by SEALs

Posted by John Reed on

I have been complaining for years about military special ops hype including the marines, rangers, airborne, and especially the SEALs. Now even some SEALs are attacking fellow former SEALs about it.

Encroaching on Army and Air Force turf

First, the very idea of the SEALs is a rogue project. The Navy is the defense unit that operates in a salt-water environment. The name SEAL stands for Sea, Air, Land. Excuse me but air and land were assigned to the Air Force and Army. It was in all the papers.

Famous for ‘tough’ training not victories

Second, the reputation of the SEALs is based more on the sadistic, masochistic difficulty of their training than on their accomplishments in combat. Indeed their “training” is more test than education. They have a bunch of admittedly difficult but irrelevant tortures that you have to endure and pass.

I likened ranger training of a similar nature to banging your head against a wall for two months so you can spend the rest of your life bragging that you were tough enough to do that. Or stupid enough. It’s pride through masochism.

Masochism not competence

Training is supposed to make you better at something. The so-called “elite” military units are about 10% training and 90% tormenting you to see if you’re “tough enough.” Tough enough for what? When did SEALs ever have to swim with their ankles and wrists tied in combat the way they do in their training? The elite-unit members are masochists and not much more. All their “training” does is drive away the less masochistic. Since masochism is stupid—a psychiatric defect actually—arguably, the best SEALs and rangers were the sane ones who did not graduate from, or even enter, the schools.

The use of the SEALs in Panama was an embarrassment. So was the operation about which the Lone Survivor movie was made. What a disaster! Yet it has been spun somehow as yet further evidence of how great the SEALs are. In fact, Lone Survivor is at the very least evidence that the chain of command above the Lone Survivor should have been court martialed or at least fired from the military.

Do they even win half of their battles?

The SEALs selectively release facts about their missions success or failure, like Soviet space shots where they would not tell us about them until after they were successful. My guess is their missions are about half successful and half disasters like Chinooks full of SEALs getting shot down by some $100 RPG. If they were an athletic team, I expect their winning percentage would be around .500 or less—never in the payoffs.

They are the weakest military units of all

Special ops military units are extremely weak in the context of military units. They are tiny. Rangers in Vietnam typically operated in 6-man teams. They carry only small arms and can’t carry much ammo for the simple reason that it’s heavy.

They cannot maneuver in extremely hot weather unless they have stealthy access to fresh water sources because they cannot carry enough water to stave off heat stroke. They cannot operate in extreme cold weather because they cannot carry or use shelters. Also, because snow preserves footprints, it’s hard to move and avoid detection. Special ops guys are the original “summer soldiers.”

One slogan about them within the military is they are “stealth soldiers.” Well, they’d damned well better be, hadn’t they? There are only a handful of them—maybe a platoon (40) max. Their weapons are all small. Their ammo is maybe 100 rounds per man and they carry very limited amounts of food and water. They are the equivalent of what in the civilian world are called fugitives.

Furthermore, humans cannot be stealthy enough except in circumstances that rarely exist on planet earth. Special ops units must hide during the day in thick vegetation and move only at night. Furthermore, the area for miles around must be devoid of dogs or other animals and even people who have lived there a long time. See the lyrics of the song Wolverton Mountain. The Lone Survivor guys were essentially killed on the Afghanistan equivalent of Wolverton Mountain because you shouldn’t go on Wolverton Mountain and the SEALs stupidly violated that rule.

The Lone Survivor guys, all of whom were killed but one, were revealed by goats. When I was in Ranger School in Dahlonega, GA, farmers’ dogs were always barking at us when we were 1/4 mile, a 1/2 mile or some such away in the dark.

Special ops are the solution to an almost non-existent problem

So how many places are there on planet earth where

• vegetation is very thick?
• climate is moderate?
• there are no dogs or other domestic animals?
• there are no long-term residents?
• there is a military target small enough for special ops, but important enough to risk the lives of dozens of special ops troops and the conventional forces they need to rescue him?

The answer is hardly any. Special ops are the solution to an almost non-existent problem. They are Hollywood, not national defense units.

We’ve lost our stealth. HELP!!

Away from the front lines, they put down non-special ops types, But then they do an actual op, and as soon as they get discovered by the enemy, they scream for the conventional forces to, “GET US OUT OF HERE!”

Does 60 days turn you into Superman?

One question people should ask is how long is the training that turned you into superman? Three weeks in jump school, and it’s often jokingly called four hours of training crammed into three weeks. Civilian jump schools don’t last three days, let alone three weeks. Ranger school is two months.

SEAL training is six months. In college, six months is roughly a semester. Did any of your semesters in college turn you into a superman who should be elected governor or get paid to comment on foreign policy on TV? Maybe if you had to swim with your ankles and wrists tied.

I am a West Point graduate, airborne, ranger, Vietnam vet. I would guess that about 400 or 500 of my 700 West Point classmates (1968) are also airborne, ranger, Vietnam vets.

Elect me because I’m a former SEAL

A former SEAL named Eric Greitens who has written three books about himself is now running for MO governor. (Over 100 books about themselves have been published by SEALs since 2001.) Some of his fellow former SEALs have done a YouTube criticizing him for exaggerating his record according to the NY Times

Other SEALs are “circulat[ing] a pointed critique—titled “Navy SEALs Gone Wild: Publicity, Fame and the Loss of the Quiet Professional.” I recommend that you read this. It is apparently a masters or doctoral thesis, but very readable, not academic.

It is good as far as it goes, but it fundamentally calls for preserving the SEAL mystique. Mystique is dishonest. SEAL training is tough, but it does not sound especially useful for missions. It would be great if they improved the training. Making the SEALs as good as the hype would be great, but also impossible.

SEALs, rangers, marines, paratroopers are human. Their combat records are mixed. Their limitations are so great that it is hard to find missions that actually fit their capabilities and limitations. The public needs to know all this. I see little in the thesis that urges ending the hype. Reducing the hype would reduce all the misbehavior regarding releasing details of secret ops by simply making the SEALs less attractive to Hollywood and Fox News etc. As long as former SEALs can get rich and famous by selling military secrets, like the classified details of their operations to their training, some will do so. 

Just so.

Here are some of my SEAL articles.

My military blog is at My old military articles list is at Generally, I have moved those to my current military blog.

I also wrote at least three articles on the “elite” schools that I went to:

The NY Times article quotes Kevin Lacz, another SEAL with a book coming out as saying readers are captivated by “the mystique and aura of the [SEAL] teams.” The article also describes SEALs as having become “the closest thing to living action figures...”

I discuss pursuit of mystique at some length on pages 18, 19, and 20 of my book Succeeding

Succeeding bookMystique means 

“a fascinating aura of mystery, awe, and power surrounding someone or something.”
  • an air of secrecy surrounding a particular activity or subject that makes it impressive or baffling to those without specialized knowledge.
    Some definitions say mystique means superhuman.
    The bottom line in my book on mystique is a bold-face rule: Do not seek achievements that are overly esteemed by the public for the sake of that misplaced prestige.

    Here is a quote from the thesis:
    ‘Former Navy-SEAL-turned-media-personality Brandon Webb nicely captured the climate emerging in the former SEAL community during an interview for Men’s Journal when he proclaimed, “Right now the SEALs are having their moment, and I intend to ride this wave as far as I can”.’

    The SEALs know the hype is BS

    I am an airborne ranger, but I was never a SEAL. So I am not the expert on SEALs actively encouraging, or at least sinning by silence to conceal the fact that they are nowhere near as good as the public has been led to believe. But I was close enough to that world to recognize bullshit when I hear it and see it.
    Who are the experts who could blow the lid off this long-running fraud? You need to find an honest SEAL. Are there any? Not that I know of yet.
    The military has no monopoly on mystique. The list of categories in my book with mystique includes ex-cons, FBI agents, CIA, Ivy League, MDs, pro athletes, law enforcement officer, Rhodes Scholars, clergy, beauty queen, cheerleader, movie or TV personalities. 
    You can spot categories of people who have mystique by what is mentioned about them in an article. For example in my early years, virtually all articles in which I was quoted about real estate investment would mention my undergraduate education: West Point.
    But it is pretty certain the same periodical would not have mentioned the undergrad school of my high school best friend: Michigan State. Neither relates to real estate, but West Point had mystique. An American tourist recently killed in Israel was described as a West Point graduate. If he had gone to Rutgers, they would not have mentioned his college.
    I hold in contempt those who trade on mystique, the classic example of whom is John McCain. He has somehow persuaded the American people that he is modest about being a POW and doesn’t like to talk about it.

    Are you kidding me? What is John McCain if you subtract the POW from his resume? An Annapolis grad pilot who retired from the Navy after an undistinguished career. Flying missions over North Vietnam is brave and exciting, but it is the normal job of a Navy pilot and there are thousands of men who did that whose names we do not know. .
    McCain has played the POW thing for all it was worth. And he was nowhere near the best of the POWs. He was in the bottom tier of them in terms of medals awarded during his POW period.
    Now the guys who are trading on military hype the most are the former SEALs. Indeed, I think it’s safe to assume nowadays that many young men who are ambitious politically or to be a celebrity are choosing to seek the SEALs as a career move before they join the Navy.
    Those who care about what SEALs are supposed to be about need to adopt a policy of more successful missions and less talking about ourselves and trying to turn being a former SEAL into a career on Fox or in politics or as an author. The thesis takes a step in the right direction, by I see no refuting of the notion that SEALs are superman, just that they shouldn’t talk to much about what they do.

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