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Three SEALs recently dying in or after flunking out

Posted by John Reed on

One drowned in training. One committed suicide after flunking out. Another died in a drunk driving accident after flunking out.

Kill a trainee, leave the military

A person dying in training ought to end the careers of the closest three people above the deceased in the chain of command. By definition, training is closely supervised and the conditions are tightly controlled.

I went through five full years of Army training—West Point, ranger school, signal officers basic, parachutist school, radio officer school and satellite officers school. Guys died in ranger in my class, the class before me, and the class after me (heat stroke, lightning strike, and an instructor who declined to use his safety line when supervising a night parachute jump)

My ranger article covers my views on “training deaths.” ( My VIP demonstrating deaths article covers another article on US military personnel dying in “training.”

‘If you ain’t a SEAL, you ain’t shit.’

The suicide and drunk driver deaths call attention to another dimension. Special ops units are overhyped; the SEALs far more than any other. There is an attitude within special ops—I was an airborne ranger—the gung ho-est thing there was in the Army at the time. The attitude is if you ain’t a SEAL (or ranger or marine or paratrooper etc,) you ain’t shit. I am not exaggerating. Some of the less mature or less sober personnel use those exact words.

Logically, West Point and the Air Force and Naval Academies are far more elite than SEALs or anything else—for one thing, it’s four years not six months or six weeks—but no one says that. Cadets and midshipmen, unlike early non-academy trainees, are trained in part to me mature. Special ops bravado is immature.

‘All he ever wanted to be...’

You have persons in the special ops training who have wanted to be a SEAL or marine or whatever since early childhood. I know. I wanted to be a West Point cadet, not from early childhood, but from the summer before my junior year in high school.

Overly high and arbitrary

Two big points: the standards are too high in many cases and arbitrary in other cases. As I said in my web articles, the elite units often have extremely hard tests that reflect no actual military skill, just to find excuses to flunk people out—like the requirement that you swim with your wrists tied behind your back and your ankles tied. That is college freshman fraternity pledge garbage.

I suspect everyone could learn the trick of how to do that by practicing or taking a SEAL prep course. But it’s not related to accomplishing a military mission. It is hard for the sake of hard, not for the sake of American victory. It’s hard so SEALs can brag about how hard it is. If you do not prep for it, you may flunk even though there is nothing wrong with you and you could have done it if you had prepared.

Decided to flunk them out before they arrived

Secondly, the elite schools decided how many they are going to flunk out before you got there—so they can brag about how few graduate. If I secretly trained a class before they arrived to pass so they were all better than the average SEAL—they would still flunk out the usual percentage.

How do you flunk a guy who passed? Just lie. There are case histories of that in my articles. My West Point article has two examples, I believe, of guys being flunked arbitrarily just because the instructors did not like West Pointers. I heard it happened to a bunch of West Pointers in my ranger class.

Boyhood dream + flunk = suicide

It sounded like the suicide was one of those. He passed but was arbitrarily flunked—I presume to meet the quota. The song the Ballad of the Green Berets has the line “one hundred men we’ll test today but only three win the green beret.” Gee, isn’t it possible only one or two will flunk?

A wink and an elbow poke is the answer you would get from the instructors if the brass were not around.

I can see how some boy who placed all his self-esteem and hopes to be a real man on becoming a SEAL might jump off a high building if he passed and was flunked arbitrarily. Remember, if you ain’t a SEAL, you ain’t shit.

World-class athletes my ass

The elite units claim to be equivalent of world-class athletes. That’s not even close to the truth except for Pat Tillman—who was shot three times in the forehead by a fellow “elite” ranger. If they truly had such high standards. Then the vast majority of wannabe SEALs and rangers would fail just as the vast majority of wannabe world class athletes get cut.

‘Poor man’s NFL’

The truth is SEALs and rangers are about masochism—sort of a poor man’s NFL. If you just put up with extreme deprivation and exertion for X months, you get to wear some badge that says you’re a bad ass—a world class athlete—the rest of your life.

The military needs to knock off the overhype. Teenage boys buy into it too much and their flunking out can destroy them literally. The training and tests in the qualification schools need to reasonably reflect the military missions they are likely to be asked to accomplish.

The standards should be objective and everyone who passes ought to get the stinking badge—if not a slot in one of the specialty’s full-time units. That is sort of the way jump school works, also signal officers basic, radio officer and satellite communication officer schools. Those make no pretense of eliteness, but they could if they wanted to.

The purpose of a school is to educate, not to flunk people so you can brag about how many flunked out.

The budget for the unit in question should have nothing to do with the flunk-out rate for the school.

No swimming in the bin Laden mission

Work backward from an actual mission to the proper training and tests. For example, take the bin Laden mission which was CIA and SEAL personnel. For starters, there was no swimming involved. What they needed was the best guys in the US military at landing in choppers at night, breaking into a walled house compound, and clearing the building of combatants.

Given a replica of the compound on which to practice, and a couple of months to practice, I expect most US Army personnel could do as good a job. Most high school football teams could do as good a job of such a mission. (I coached six of them.) It was not a rocket-science mission.

What about all the freezing in the surf and crawling in the sand and underwater exertions and the rest at SEAL training? A bunch of masochistic and hard-for-the-sake-of-hard bullshit. And three guys recently died from it.

Those responsible deserve court martials. They will get off. Macho tradition and bragging rights and bravado trump winning wars and protecting their men from unnecessary injury. That’s wrong.

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