Book Review: Rorke Denver’s “Damn Few : Making the Modern SEAL Warrior”

Damn Few cover

I had the opportunity to get my hands on a copy of Rorke Denver’s Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior, which he wrote with Ellis Henican.  Here’s the short version of the review:  It’s a very good book, and if you like getting the inside story and how the Navy creates its SEAL elites and what they do with themselves once created, it is definitely the book for you.

Here’s the longer version.  Many of you may know who Rorke Denver is, since he was one of the stars in Act of Valor, the SEALS’ foray in film making.  For a non-actor, he was every bit as good as most people one sees in movies.  As you may recall, I have mixed feelings about that movie.  As a movie about who the SEALS are and what they do, it’s a great action adventure film.  My problem was that the movie made the SEALS’ particular arch enemy a terrorist . . . Jew.  Long-time readers may recall that I was extremely upset, as were many other politically conservative Jews.  A military friend of mine put me in touch with some of the SEALS involved in making that movie, though, and I came away pretty darn convinced that, at the end, the scene identifying the terrorist mastermind as a Jew was accidental.

I know that the boots on the ground guys aren’t out there dealing with Islamic terrorists, or Somali pirates, or Latin American drug lords, while all the time dreaming that what they’d really like to do is kill a few Jews.  Nevertheless, the fact that the powers that be involved in making the movie — the producers, director and, most especially, the Pentagon brass — did not delete a scene that should not have been in there, still rankles.  This means that, whenever I think of the SEALS and, most particularly, the SEALS in Act of Valor, 99% of me admires them tremendously and views them as true heroes, while 1% of me cannot quite seem to get over that feeling of snit and betrayal.  I was therefore worried that I might carry a chip on my shoulder that would leave me unable to enjoy the book.

I need not have worried.  Having read Denver’s autobiography about his life as a SEAL, I find that my 99% admiration for these guys has increased in strength (although I’ve discovered that I’m never going to let go of the 1% sense of betrayal against the brass).  The guys on the ground really are the closest things we will see on this earth to super men.

Every SEAL book starts, of course, with BUD/S and that insane subset of BUD/S, Hell Week.  Working together, Denver and his co-author, Henican, provide a gripping picture of the kind of men who make it through the program, as well as describing in detailed, but never boring prose, precisely what program they make it through.

And what kind of men are they?  Well,  in some ways, all types:  short, tall, wiry, beefy, analytical, physical, black, white, brown, etc.  These men are a cross-section of America.  What they all have working for them as they enter the BUD/S program is superb physical conditioning.  What not all of them have, but that the ones who succeed need, is that peculiar inner drive that enables them to suffer just as much as the person next to them, but not to quit.

As is the case with every book I’ve read about BUD/S, while the program is certainly intended to make sure that those who make it to graduation as SEALS are physically able to handle the rigors of their work, the real goal is to separate those who can cope mentally and emotionally in whatever environment they find themselves.  And that doesn’t just mean SEa, Air, and Land; it also means boredom, battle, conference rooms, and film premieres. They must be men with an unshakeable sense of themselves and their purpose, and with a scary level of concentration that allows them to acknowledge yet ignore fear, pain, and any other “distractions.”  Denver walks us through the tests of strength and endurance that these men have to pass in order to become SEALS.  I was tired and sweaty by the end, despite having experienced it only through my imagination, while in the comfort of my armchair.

As with so many people one reads about who become SEALS or Medal of Honor winners, even when he was a child, Denver had a passion for his passions.  I know that sounds stupid, but it’s not.  Those of us who raise children know that they cycle through various hobbies about which they’re passionate, provided that the commitment doesn’t become burdensome.  Soccer is great . . . until it becomes too hard.  Reading is fun . . . until you’ve exhausted the library’s supply of fantasy novels.  History is interesting . . . but it get’s boring after a while.  People like Denver, though, have a deeper drive that enables them, even as children, to sustain their interest in something long after everyone else has dropped out after having discovered that it wasn’t as fun or glamorous as they thought.

Denver describes being a hyper-competitive, hyperactive kid who succeeded at every sport he tried — and who didn’t quit once he’d achieved a goal (he made the team) or when the drill got boring or painful.  He got himself a lacrosse scholarship to Syracuse University, even though he’d only started playing the game a few years before, while in high school.  Once there, this hyper-competitive future warrior was a fine arts major.  As a liberal arts person myself, I liked that touch.

That Denver knew himself and had moral courage early on reveals itself in one very nice anecdote he tells about joining the Syracuse lacrosse team.  Denver is a teetotaler.  Like me, his decision to abstain seems to stem, not from any puritanical opposition to alcohol, but because he doesn’t like it and prefers to be in control of himself.  Denver knew, though, that his team was a hard-partying, hard-drinking group.  At his very first party, he came up with a plan to put the drinking issue front and center.  He handed the team caption a bottle of booze (which told everyone that Denver didn’t believe he was morally superior to his friends) and then announced that, not only wouldn’t he drink, he’d willingly to fight anyone who thought they could make him.  Nobody fought him and Denver learned then that having a plan means that, in many situations, you’re already halfway to victory.

As is the case in all SEAL books, readers learn that, while these men love their country, they train and fight and risk because they love the battle and they are deeply committed to the warrior brotherhood.  When you’re on the battlefield, Denver makes clear, you’re not reciting the Declaration of Independence.  Instead, you’re looking out for your buddy, and you know he’s looking out for you.

One of the things that Denver emphasizes with something approaching fanaticism is the practice and preparation that marks every single waking moment in the SEALS’ lives.  He wants everyone to be very clear that SEALS don’t win battles, kill pirates, and take down bin Laden just because they’re strong and brave.  Strong and brave are a prerequisite, but what makes and breaks every single mission is preparedness.  These guys have practiced every move over and over. When they go to battle, they plot out every possible contingency. There is always not just a Plan B, but a Plan C and probably a Plan D too.

What I found fascinating about Denver’s book is a section near the end, in which he talks about the tension between the SEALS and the brass in Washington.  While the 1980s and 1990s were not really the SEALS’ glory years, 9/11 brought them into stark focus again.  Their ability to fight quickly and effectively in just about any situation was a splendid advantage in a war unlike any 20th century war America had fought.  In Iraq, once the invasion was over, big troop movements weren’t much good against insurgent guerrilla tactics.  What worked was the SEALS’ decision to go out, intentionally draw fire, and then mow down the opposition.  Their ability to raid and secure houses within minutes also meant that they could clear the rats out in their dens.

Success is a double-edged sword.  The SEALS were greatly admired, but they also came under pressure from Washington to become bigger.  That’s a problem when you have a pretty open try-out and training process that sees more than an 80% attrition rate.  The only way you can increase the numbers is to decrease the standards.  But if you decrease the standards, then you’re not SEALS anymore.  You’re just another “more elite than the regular military” force.  Denver is honest enough, though, to say that during his post-Iraq years as a SEALS’ instructor, he saw some of the instructors get too caught up in making the training process so rigorous that only perfect specimens would graduate.  That too risked rendering the SEALS obsolete, as they would become too select to sustain themselves.  Denver believes that there’s an uneasy balance now, with instructors recognizing that easing off a little is not the same as abandoning standards.  Time will tell  if this compromise works.

Regarding the way in which the books is written, I have to give Denver and Henican two thumbs up for an excellent structure and a strong authorial voice.  (That latter quality can be difficult in a co-written book.)  Each chapter begins with an apt quotation about war and warriors, and a personal anecdote that relates to the chapter’s topic, whether it’s BUD/S, Iraq, marrying, or making a movie.  (And speaking of marrying, it seems that SEALS, when they’re home, worship their wives, which is as it should be, of course.)  I liked this structure, which helped me understand better the information in any given chapter.

The book balances nicely personal reminiscences, easy-to-understand descriptions of objects and conduct alien to the ordinary civilian, and stories about SEALS other than Denver himself.  That last means that the book isn’t too self-referential, something that can get dull.  Sometimes, after having read a memoir, I’m done with the person, not because I don’t like that person, but because I feel I’ve learned enough about him or her to satisfy me.  With Denver, however, I finished the book with no small degree regret, wishing I could spend a little more time in his company, as well as the company of his wife (she sounds great) and his teammates.

Overall, I give this book an A+ for content and readability.  If you like military memoirs, you should definitely include this one on your list.

Military brass invited a Muslim cleric to pray at Navy SEALs’ service — and he proceeded to damn them (in Arabic)

Portraits of Navy SEALs killed in helicopter crash

This one really got my goat.  I wrote it for Mr. Conservative, but I want it to be here too.  It’s not enough that Obama’s careless boasts got the SEALs (and 21 others) killed.  It’s that, when all honors should have been paid to them, the gutless, PC, Obama Pentagon (I’m mad at the brass, not at the troops) decided to invite a Muslim cleric to give an invocation.  They probably didn’t even bother to find out what he would say or what he did say.  I’m really steamed about this lack of respect:

On May 2, 2011, United States SEALS raided Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in Pakistan and killed the man who masterminded the 9/11 terror attacks that left 2,996 people, mostly Americans, dead. The moment the mission concluded, President Obama was boasting about the details – including identifying SEAL Team 6 as the team responsible for the raid.

President Obama’s loose lips left the Special Forces community in shock because an important part of their operating procedure is anonymity. Three months later, on August 6, 2011, the Taliban shot down the helicopter in which 17 members of SEAL Team 6 and twenty-one other American and Afghani troops were traveling, killing all of them.

For Obama, the bin Laden raid was a personal triumph, and he boasted loudly about his role in it, in order to boost his political credentials. For the SEAL Team 6 members, the raid’s political aftermath was an entirely unnecessary death sentence. These men willingly and cheerfully served their country, but none of them intended to die as a political sacrifice to Obama’s ambitions.

Aside from an October 2011 report on the men’s death, Washington has forgotten about these men who not only died in America’s service, but were sacrificed on Obama’s political altar. Their families and friends haven’t forgotten though, and convened a press conference in Washington on Thursday, during which they revealed a truly shocking fact.

The gathered families played a video showing the official funeral that the military held in Kabul for the victims of the attack on the helicopter. Although there were generic references in English to “God”, the military barred any mention of Jesus Christ. The military did, however, invite a Muslim cleric to speak at the funeral. The Muslim cleric recited a long prayer, in Arabic. Later, the families had that prayer translated and were outraged to learn that the cleric damned the fallen troops as infidels – at their own funeral! The translation you see in the video and below is a certified translation:

Amen. I shelter in Allah from the devil who has been cast with stones.
In the name of Allah the merciful forgiver.
The companions of the “fire”
(The sinners and infidels who are fodder for hell fire)
ARE NOT EQUAL WITH the companions of heaven.
The companions of heaven (Muslims) are the winners.
Had we sent this Koran to a mountain, you would have seen the mountain prostrated in fear of Allah.
(Mocking the God of Moses)
Such examples are what we present to the people, so that they would think.
(repent and convert to Islam)
Blessings are to your God (Allah) the God of glory and what they describe.
And peace be upon the messengers (prophets) and thanks be to Allah the lord of both universes (mankind and Jinn).

You can view the full three hour video here.

In addition, the gathered families reiterated what those not in thrall to Obama had already realized: this funeral need never have happened. Their sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers died because the White House, by identifying SEAL Team 6 as the team responsible for bin Laden’s death effectively ensured their death. “In releasing their [the SEAL Team 6 members’] identity, they put a target on their backs,” said Doug Hamburger, whose son, Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Hamburger, was a crew member on the helicopter.

The Team 6 members knew that they were targets. According to Bill Vaughn, his son, Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron Vaughn called his parents after the White House released information about the Team’s identity. Vaughn remembers that “He said, ‘Mom, there’s chatter. My life is in danger. Your life is in danger. Get everything off your social media. Our families are in danger.’”

As with anything that could tarnish Obama’s reputation, the mainstream media will most assuredly ignore this press conference. It’s up to us, therefore, to ensure that these stories live on. Please use social media, or just old-fashioned socializing, to let your friends know about this press conference. The seventeen SEAL Team 6 members and the twenty-one men who died with them on August 6, 2011, deserve at least that much.

State of the Union Open Thread

I can’t make myself listen to Obama.  He hectors and I don’t need that in my life.  I’ll read the speech, and the multiple analyses of the speech, tomorrow.  Until then, I’d love to hear what you have to say about it — or what you have to say about anything else that’s interesting.

Speaking of interesting, it seems that Dorner is dead and I say good riddance to bad rubbish.  My sincerest condolences go to the families and friends of those he so cruelly murdered.  My thoughts are also with those who were unlucky enough to find themselves in the LAPD’s panicky line of fire.

Oh, one other thing — you knew this was going to happen.  The powers that be want to get women into the SEALS.  They’re assuring us that they won’t lower the standards except that, in the next breath, they say they’re going to review the standards to lower them. Attention, SEALS:  Run while you can.  Speaking as a woman, and a pretty strong, aggressive one at that, I can still tell you that, if the standards are lowered to accommodate even the toughest women, you guys are going to start having to watch your back because, with the best will in the world, these women won’t have your six.

It’s a crazy world, isn’t it?  Was it always this crazy, but we just didn’t know because there was no 24 hour media and no internet?  Or are the wheels really coming off the bus?

Chris Kyle leaves for his final resting place *UPDATED*

Chris Kyle

Having read Chris Kyle’s American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, I keep forgetting that I never actually met the man.  The book was so vivid, not just about his war-time experiences, but also when it came to his life and personality, that my memory creates false images of my actually having spoken with Kyle.  I’m not delusional.  I know they’re false memories.  It’s just that a very real person stepped out of those pages.

Today, that vivid man was laid to rest, beginning with a memorial service before approximately 7,000 people at Cowboys Stadium, followed by a long drive to Texas State Cemetery in Austin, Texas:

Slain ex-Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was a devoted husband, father and friend who will never be forgotten, his widow told mourners at his memorial service Monday.

Taya Kyle said she was broken but that the family will “put one foot in front of the other” to get through their grief. She told her two children that they will remember Chris Kyle’s silly side, Texas twang and prayers they prayed together.

“Chris, there isn’t enough time to tell you everything you mean to me and everything you taught me,” she said through tears.

Nearly 7,000 people, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, attended the service at Cowboys Stadium. Dozens of military personnel and others were seated in front of the podium near the star at midfield, where Kyle’s flag-draped coffin was placed at the beginning of the service.

After Taya Kyle’s eulogy, country singer Randy Travis sang “Whisper My Name,” which he said Taya Kyle had told him was a meaningful song for the couple, and “Amazing Grace.” At the conclusion of the two-hour service, bagpipers played as military personnel carried out Kyle’s coffin, and many in the crowd saluted.

His friends and fellow service members told mourners that Kyle was more than an excellent sniper feared by U.S. enemies — he was a dedicated family man known for his sense of humor, compassion, selflessness and generosity.

Some who served with him said that Kyle was a man, myth and legend because he would do anything for his fellow SEALs. Some of his childhood friends recalled his mischievous side, and one said he and Kyle played with BB guns as kids — and Kyle “wasn’t a good shot back then.”

(Read more here.)

Kyle was a larger-than-life character, and I suspect he would have appreciated this larger than life funeral.  I don’t just suspect, though, but know with absolute certainty that he would infinitely preferred to have spent a long life with the wife and children he adored.

R.I.P, Chris Kyle.  You were a man of courage and honor, you touched many lives, and you will be greatly missed.

UPDATE:  Typically, the Daily Mail has the best coverage.

Chris Kyle, RIP

Chris Kyle

Back in June, I reviewed Chris Kyle’s American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.  I gave the book a thumbs up — it was an enjoyable, informative read about life on the front lines from a tough guy who became a SEAL, and then went on to become, as the title says, the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military history.  Along the way, Kyle picked up, just to name a few the honors bestowed upon him, two Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars with Valor, and two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals.

One of the things that struck me about Kyle’s book was how earthy and irreverent it was.  I compared it to Marcus Luttrell’s equally enjoyable, but very different, Service: A Navy SEAL at War, which struck a more reverent note.  Kyle was a rough, tough man, who lived hard and loved his wife and family with the same passion he brought to everything else he did.

That rough, tough, passionate, loving man managed to survive front line service in Iraq only to die yesterday in Texas when a crazed former Marine shot him and Chad Littlefield at point blank range, killing both:

The deadliest sniper in US history has been shot dead at point blank range by a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.

Chris Kyle, 39, was blasted in the back by Eddie Ray Routh, 25, after taking him on an outing to a shooting range to help him deal with his demons.

Routh also allegedly shot dead his neighbor Chad Littlefield, 35, who was on the trip too.

I’m not blind to the irony that a man who made his career shooting people died by being shot. I don’t have to go to Left wing blogs to know that they’re probably celebrating this “karmic” end to his life. This point of view is, of course, wildly and completely wrong.

As Kyle fully understood — as every person on a battlefield has understood — there is a difference between war time and peace time. During war time, an enemy is arrayed against you and yours. If you don’t kill him, he will kill you, and your friends, and your family. Provided you are fighting against a true enemy (one who genuinely seeks your destruction), killing in war is a righteous.

My Dad may have had nightmares about the Nazis coming to kill him at El Alamein, but he never had nightmares about the Nazis he killed.  Individually, I have no doubt that there were decent men amongst the Nazi troops, men who were patriots, rather than genocidal maniacs.  When a country goes to war, decent individuals too often find themselves on the wrong side.  Sadly, though, the nature of war means that, to destroy an evil nation, one has to destroy its military — including the cannon fodder forced into that nation’s war.  Kyle understood this.

At home, though, in peace time, Kyle was not a crazed killer.  He was a family man and an educator.  He sought to protect innocents.  Living as a man of peace, in peace time, his murder was just as terrible as it would have been if he’d spent the last decades being an accountant, rather than a SEAL.

I enjoyed the funny, rough, pragmatic man I met in Kyle’s book.  If you haven’t read it, I bet you’d like him too.  Perhaps now is the time to buy the book, since I’m sure his wife and children will need the royalties from its sales.

Didn’t find it on Facebook: the Navy SEALS’ poster attacking Obama on Benghazi

Usually, I post about what I’ve found on Facebook — the anger, the silliness, and the misinformation from my Liberal friends.  Today, I’m doing something different.  I’m posting about what I didn’t find on Facebook.

You see, Facebook was apparently unwilling to tolerate a poster that suggested that Obama had been less than courageous when it came to protecting the people under his command.  (And although Woods and Doherty were no longer with the SEALS when they died, they worked for the CIA, making the President their CEO on the chain of command.)

We here at Bookworm Room do not share Facebook’s bias, and are happy to make this poster available to you:

Yes, Facebook is a corporation and we agree to abide by its terms of service when we choose to use it. I’m not planning on boycotting Facebook, because I find it useful and interesting. However, those two facts don’t mean that I’m willing to let Facebook get away with censoring appropriate political content. (And by “appropriate” I mean that this poster makes a genuine political point, it is not racist or antisemitic or in any other way hate-filled, it’s not X-rated, etc.) If Facebook won’t allow its users to distribute this image, it’s up to the rest of us to do so.

For more information about the Special Operations community’s unhappiness with the Obama administration (he uses them and abuses them, so to speak), go here.

Book review: Marcus Luttrell’s “Service: A Navy SEAL at War”

I promise that this post will be a review of Marcus Luttrell’s Service: A Navy SEAL at War.  First, though, I have to start with the ridiculous, before I can give proper context, not to the sublime (because war isn’t sublime), but to the important and meaningful.

The ridiculous is, of course, MSNBC’s own Chris Hayes, who earned himself a great deal of much-deserved ridicule for his inability to acknowledge military heroism:

CHRIS HAYES: Thinking today and observing Memorial Day, that’ll be happening tomorrow.  Just talked with Lt. Col. Steve Burke [sic, actually Beck], who was a casualty officer with the Marines and had to tell people [inaudible].  Um, I, I, ah, back sorry, um, I think it’s interesting because I think it is very difficult to talk about the war dead and the fallen without invoking valor, without invoking the words “heroes.” Um, and, ah, ah, why do I feel so comfortable [sic] about the word “hero”?  I feel comfortable, ah, uncomfortable, about the word because it seems to me that it is so rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war. Um, and, I don’t want to obviously desecrate or disrespect memory of anyone that’s fallen, and obviously there are individual circumstances in which there is genuine, tremendous heroism: hail of gunfire, rescuing fellow soldiers and things like that. But it seems to me that we marshal this word in a way that is problematic. But maybe I’m wrong about that.

One doesn’t need a psychiatric degree to know that Mr. Hayes probably suffers from, or should suffer from, paruresis — the inability to urinate in front of others.  Regardless of the exact nature of his physical attributes, this is a guy who, deep down, is pretty damn sure that he’s under-endowed and can’t measure up.  Only a deep and abiding inferiority complex could see a young man, ostensibly in the prime of his physical life, unable to recognize and appreciate that others are willing to make sacrifices he’s incapable of even contemplating.

Perhaps because I’m a woman, it’s easy for me to acknowledge my own physical cowardice.  Maybe a man has to rationalize himself away from a fight in which he could have served.  For example, I know a man who could have served, but didn’t, in Vietnam.  He was once an anti-War protester.  Now, though, he goes around boasting about how he’s more man than anyone who served — “I could have done that, and I, with my super-duper manly-man skills would have out-gunned everyone there.  I just chose not to serve [and, sotto voce, I'm eternally grateful my draft number didn't come up].”   Hayes represents the other end of the self-justification spectrum:  “Service is stupid.  I would never have gone into a fight because I’m not stupid.”

This is the mindset that results in movies such as the Danish film In a Better World, an Oscar-winning foreign film.  Aside from some indescribably boring film-making techniques, the movie got off to a promising start, with a premise that seemed startlingly un-European:  Fight back against bullies.

In the movie, Sofus, a bully, is going after another schoolboy, Elias.  A new kid, Christian, who has traveled with his father and experienced many new schools, comes to this particular school and, when he is too friendly with Elias, Sofus turns on Christian too.  The next time the bully starts on Elias, Christian beats the crap out of Sofus.  When Christian’s father picks him up from school and asks “Why?”, Christian has a simple answer:  If had hadn’t done this, I would have been bullied again.  Now, all the kids know to leave me alone.

I was impressed.  Who knew that a European film could be so wise?  After all, we know that, unless you stand up to bullies, they’ll keep bullying.  Stand up to them, however, even if you take some knocks, and they back off.  It’s basic school yard logic.

It turns out that I was impressed too quickly.  Christian, the boy who stood up to bullies was actually a psychopath who started dragging poor victimized (but peaceful) Elias down the path to total warfare.  This scenario, the movie implies, although it never says so, was how Columbine got started.  Never defend yourself, because if you do, you will become a crazy wacko who tries to commit mass murder.  Always let wiser, peace-making heads intervene, causing you to back off, leaving more room within which the bully can operate.

And so, at long last, we get to Marcus Luttrell’s Service.  Incidentally, when I speak here of Luttrell, that’s a bit of a shorthand, since he worked with James D. Hornfischer, who wrote the excellent Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of her Survivors.  My best guess is that Luttrell provided the stories and that Hornfischer shaped them into a very readable book.

Boiled down to its essentials, Service is the un-Chris Hayes and the un-Northern European pacifism.  Instead, it’s about those men who understand that the only way to deal with bullies is to take them on and defeat them.

Does this mean that those who stand against bullies are bullies themselves?  No.  Unlike bullies who happily and viciously trample anyone in their path, a hero carefully targets his fight, taking it to the bully, and then stands down when that fight is finished.  It’s that ethos that permeates Service.

I found Service very difficult to read, not because it’s a bad book, but because it’s a good book.  Luttrell’s first book, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10, was painful to read, but it had what was, for me, a recognizable story arc:  our hero trains; our hero faces a terrible battle in which his comrades, after fighting with awe-inspiring bravery, die; and our hero struggles through adversity to survive.  I knew what was coming in advance because that operation was so famous, and because I recognized the narrative arc (although it was still upsetting for this armchair warrior and bona fide coward to read).

Service, however, lacks the familiar narrative of an epic tragedy.  Instead, Luttrell walks the reader through the fight in Ramadi from 2006 to 2008.  Patrol after patrol, fire fight after fire fight, frustrating bureaucratic interlude after frustrating bureaucratic interlude — as you read the book, you feel as if you’re there and for me, that’s a tough feeling. I knew about the bureaucracy (especially the increasingly restrictive rules of engagement), and I had a sort of vague, MSM-ish understanding of the reality of battle, but Luttrell’s book is much more intense.  Here’s part of his description of the end result of a battle that went south for the SEALS:

When the QRF [quick reaction force] arrived outside [the building being attacked] with a couple of Bradleys, the squad moved quickly downstairs and lined up to break out of the house.  They tossed two smoke grenades outside to cover their exfil, then burst through the door.  Two Iraqis were in the lead, followed by Elliott [Miller, who had shrapnel wounds and was bleeding heavily], hobbling along with help from Johnny Brands.  The jundis [Iraqis fighting with the Americans] had just hit the street when the world went dark.  The IED might have been dropped down on them from the roof in a backpack.  Or it might have been planted in the ground or hung on the gate while they were inside.  All we know for sure is that it was a trap set by enemies who were obviously wise to everything we were doing and how we were doing it.  They knew that straight-on firefights were losing propositions.  So they snuck around and planted their bombs where they thought we’d be.  They sure got it right that time.  An enormous explosion engulfed our guys as they exited the house.

The explosion killed the two Iraqis leading the way; the first man simply disappeared, evaporated by the blast, his scan remnants driving away in the air, a pink mist, while the second, partly sheltered by the leader, was nearly sliced in half at the waist.  The blast still had enough force to devastate Elliott.  It tore into his body wherever it wasn’t protected by body armor.  His legs were shredded from midthigh down.  He had a hole in his right shoulder and the parts of him that weren’t covered by plates were being eaten into by a terrible chemical residue.

[snip]

Johnny was better off, but that wasn’t saying much.  Both his feet were attached to his ankles only by the Achilles tendons.

[snip]

Looking down at Elliott, Dozer saw that his friend’s legs seemed loose and detached in the bloody mess of his pants.  The steel rifle magazine stored in his front vest pouches had been dished in by the blast.  Elliott’s watch was charred and black but, amazingly, still kept time.  Only his body armor saved him from being killed instantly.  Dozer ran his hands under Elliott’s plates, checking his torso for wounds.  As he removed Elliott’s gear, Dozer realized he didn’t have the first idea where to begin treating such a seriously wounded man.  That was when he heard another explosion, a smaller one, go off in the courtyard.  A grenade.  The insurgents were still out there, probing them, probably planning another attack.  (Service, pp. 145-147.)

And so it goes, as the men work desperately to extricate themselves and their wounded teammates from a rain of fire.  The SEAL team did eventually make it to safety, and Elliott and Johnny Brands survived, but it was a close thing, and their injuries were devastating.

I chose the above excerpt because of the immediacy of the story.  With Luttrell’s narrative abilities and Hornfischer’s writing chops, you, the reader, feel as if you’re there, in the middle of a battle in the streets of Ramadi.  That’s why it took me a while to read the book, despite the fact that it’s interesting, entertaining, and moving.  After going (in my head) through a battle with the guys, I need to rest and regroup.

There are a few overarching themes in the book:  Luttrell believes deeply in God, country, and America’s armed forces.  His love for his twin brother (also a SEAL) and for his SEAL teammates generally is transcendent, and keeps bringing him back to the fight. In addition to being an action-adventure story and an homage to the SEALS specifically and the fighting forces in Ramadi generally, this book is also a eulogy and a memorial to those SEALS who made the ultimate sacrifice there and in Afghanistan:  Mark Lee, Michael Monsoor, Carson Vaughn, Jon Tumilson, and so many other good men (including all those who died on August 6, 2011), each one a man who directed his formidable strength, intelligence, and energy, not to mindless X-sports, but to protecting his country and fighting for his comrades.

This middle class, female, armchair warrior walked away from Luttrell’s book pretty convinced that Navy SEALS are crazy — but I mean that in a good way.  Only crazy people (in a good way) would put themselves through the training they do and live for the fight the way they do.

Thank God for these crazy people, who can bend their energies to a focused fight against bullies, and who have the moral decency to live by America’s rules of engagement, even as nothing constrains the other side.  Even though Luttrell vividly describes the way the SEALS chafe and suffer at times when the ROEs prevent them from hitting a known and obvious target, they are proud of the fact that they reserve their fire for combatants, and that they neither target nor shield themselves behind the innocents.  This ethos, one that one can call civilized warfare,” makes the fighting much harder in the rabbit warren of Ramadi, but it is one of the things that separates the heroes from the sadistic bullies.

If you would like to immerse yourself in a book that details ferocious urban warfare against a wily and amoral enemy, Service is your book.  The stories are compelling, the writing styling is clear and gripping, and the people you meet in the book are people you’d like to meet in the real world too.

Former Navy SEAL (who looks like Keanu Reeves) challenges Obama’s self-absorbed reliance on the SEALS as campaign tools

I got an email from Andrea Shea King (the Radio Patriot) that had in it a picture of Keanu Reeves and a headline about a post with one former Navy SEAL’s challenge to Barack Obama because of the latter’s narcissistic reliance on the SEALS as his own personal campaign tool.  That seemed like a pecular coupling.  I mean, I love Keanu’s looks more than the next girl, and he’s been in some great action movies, but I certainly don’t associate him with either the SEALS or (thankfully) with political statements.

I then took a second look at my email and realized that the picture wasn’t Keanu Reeves. Instead, it’s a picture of Benjamin Smith, a former SEAL, who is less than thrilled with the way Obama, rather than congratulating himself on successful foreign policy initiatives (which is appropriate for a presidential campaign), seems to be trying to arrogate the SEALS’ physical courage to himself.  It’s a good opinion piece insofar as it reminds Obama what his role in the bin Laden assassination really was:  after much agonizing, and based on information made possible by President Bush’s policies, he authorized an admiral to authorize the SEALS to carry out a plan.

On a more frivolous subject, you can see where I might be excused for confusing Reeves with Smith:

Of course, while Reeves is just an actor who plays a tough guy, Smith really is a tough guy.  More than that, if rumor is accurate, he’s accurately representing the views of entire group that is less than thrilled at the way in which president Obama compares overcoming his fear of a bad headline to the SEALS daily willingness to lay their lives down for their country and their team members.

(In Keanu’s defense, I will say that, aside from his visual appeal, he is one of those very rare actors who keeps himself to himself. He doesn’t opine about romance, current events, politics, the environment, or anything at all. When it comes to an actor, off-screen silence is a valuable quality.)

Obama’s peculiar definition of “courage” vis a vis the bin Laden raid

When Don Quixote and I talked yesterday about Obama’s use of the bin Laden raid as a campaign talking point, he pointed out that any sitting president who is running for reelection would use the raid as a talking point.  I agree.  The problem isn’t that Obama politicized the raid, it’s the way in which he did it.

A normal president would have used the raid to highlight his focus, acumen, and successful use of America’s national security resources.  These are the things the man holding executive office can, and indeed should, sell to the American public.

An abnormal president, however, talks about his personal courage in taking a political risk, something that matters only inside the Beltway.  That’s what’s so profoundly wrong about Obama’s approach to the bin Laden raid.  He’s not using his politics as a campaign selling point; instead, he’s using his campaign-related courage as a campaign selling point.

For Obama, serving as president isn’t about serving the country; it’s simply about him winning the office.  Obama’s bizarre presidential sales pitch, one that sees him boasting that he risked his standing in the polls, highlights the God that Obama really serves:

Obama’s use of special forces: not just bad strategy, but a terrible way to thin out an already thin (and very elite) herd

BUDS trainees during Hell Week

Special troops are, by definition, small in number.  If everyone could do what they do, they would be special.  They are made up of men with unusual mental and physical strength.  Again, by definition this is a subset of all men.  (No disrespect meant to the majority of men who aren’t unusual in both their mental and physical strength.)  Once these men are selected, they are subject to rigorous training, training that would be impossible to give to large groups.  Special forces go beyond “the few, the proud.”  They also fall into the class of “rare and few in number.”

Given their numeric limitations, it makes sense to use special forces sparingly.  Once lost (God forbid), each member of a special forces team is very, very hard to replace.  Someone needs to tell that to the President, who, flush with SEAL Team Six’s exquisite raid on Osama (a raid that subsequently resulted in the vengeance-driven loss of many members of that same team), is tasking those guys with responsibility for Afghanistan — all of Afghanistan.  As Max Boot says:

The kinds of direct-action strikes that these units carry out are an integral part of any comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy–but they cannot substitute for the absence of such a strategy. That was the mistake we made in Iraq from 2003 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2009. Now it seems Obama is making that mistake again, to judge from news reports the White House is planning to lean heavily on the Special Operations Forces as they withdraw regular troops from Afghanistan. This is not a way to defeat the Taliban, the Haqqanis, and other dangerous terrorists on the cheap–it is a way to lose the war while pretending you are doing something to win it.

To which I would add that it’s also a war to squander a special breed by placing them at unreasonable risk, so that they might no longer be there when we really need them.

Obama’s great “love” for the military

One of my father’s favorite stories concerned his niece, who lived on a farm in Israel.  Daddy was visiting there one day when he saw his niece, who was then about 5, playing with a wee little baby goat.   At this point in his narrative, Daddy would always stop and explain to the city-bred people around him that there are few things cuter than a frolicking kid.  Here, see for yourself:

What Daddy found so amusing was what his niece was saying to the cute as they played:  “Oh, little goat, little goat!  I love you so much.  [Pause for kissing the goat.]  We’re going to have you for dinner tonight!”

Our president might have been listening in on that story.

In his State of the Union address, Obama began and ended by billing and cooing about the wonders of a military that perfectly carried out his order to kill Osama bin Laden. His very first words were an encomium to the troops:

Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq.  Together, we offered a final, proud salute to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow citizens fought — and several thousand gave their lives.

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.  (Applause.)  For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.  (Applause.)  For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.  (Applause.)  Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated.  The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces.  At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations.  They’re not consumed with personal ambition.  They don’t obsess over their differences.  They focus on the mission at hand.  They work together.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.  (Applause.)  Think about the America within our reach:  A country that leads the world in educating its people.  An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs.  A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world.  An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.

By the way, am I the only one who finds that last paragraph a bizarre non-sequitur?  How does praise for the troops carrying out their mission transform into our following their example by having lots of (government-funded) education, (presumably green) energy independence, and a big high-tech sector?  Mr. President, need I remind you that Rule Number One of timeless oratory is that it should make sense.

Eventually, after almost an hour of standard campaign bloviation, all of which involved the government spending more and more and more taxpayer money on green energy, on Leftist education, on tried-and-failed social welfare initiatives, and on other Big Government boondoggles, Obama got himself back to his beloved troops (emphasis mine):

Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  (Applause.)

That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us.  That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.  Yes, the world is changing.  No, we can’t control every event.  But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs –- and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.  (Applause.)

That’s why, working with our military leaders, I’ve proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.  To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I’ve already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing dangers of cyber-threats.  (Applause.)

Above all, our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it.  (Applause.)  As they come home, we must serve them as well as they’ve served us.  That includes giving them the care and the benefits they have earned –- which is why we’ve increased annual VA spending every year I’ve been President.  (Applause.)  And it means enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation.

[snip]

Which brings me back to where I began.  Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.  When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight.  When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.  When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.

One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden.  On it are each of their names.  Some may be Democrats.  Some may be Republicans.  But that doesn’t matter.  Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates — a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary — and Hillary Clinton — a woman who ran against me for president.

All that mattered that day was the mission.  No one thought about politics.  No one thought about themselves.  One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission.  It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job — the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs.  More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s somebody behind you, watching your back.

“Little troops, Little troops, I love you so much.  [Pause for kissing up to the troops.]”  “I’ve proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.”  “I’m going to have you for dinner tonight.”

Making our troops pay for the Democrats’ frenzied spending binge is a disaster in the making, for them and for us.  The troops are the canary in the coal mine.  If Obama uses his budgetary powers to eat them all up, they are sitting ducks on the battle field and we, suddenly, are sitting ducks at home.  Obama’s great love for his troops is meaningless if he fails to provide them with the financial support they need to have the best weapons and the best training in the world.  I’m all for trimming fat, reducing redundancies, killing bureaucracy, and generally increasing efficiency.  Bankrupting the military, however, will not achieve those goals.

I started this post with a true story, and I’ll end it with an old, rather bad joke:

A famously miserly farmer informed his neighbors that his donkey was costing him too much, and that he was going to train the animal to do without food.  His neighbors were skeptical.  When they next saw him, they asked how the experiment went.

“It went very well,” he said.  “The first week, I cut the oats out of his diet.  That donkey kept going just fine and I saved me a bunch of money.  The second week, I cut the grain out of his diet, and he was still doing his job, and I was saving even more money.  It was only in the third week that I had some problems, but I think I can fix them.  I cut the last thing — the straw — out of his diet, and the damn thing up and died.”

Memorial Day Post: The Warriors Among Us

[I'll keep this at the top through Memorial Day.  Scroll down for lots of new posts.]

Several years ago, as part of a 9/11 commemoration, I wrote the following words as part of a post I did about Lt. Brian Ahearn, one of the New York fire fighters who perished on that day:

My son, who is seven, is obsessed with superheroes. His current favorite is Superman. After all, when you’re a little boy, battling your way through the world, what could be more exciting than the possibility of being “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” I’m bombarded daily with questions about Superman’s ability to withstand extreme temperatures, his flying speeds, his ballistic capabilities and, most importantly, his bravery. It’s here that my son and I run into a conceptual problem. My son thinks Superman is brave because he gets involved in situations that involve guns, and flames, and bad guys. I argue — and how can you argue this with a seven year old? — that the fictional Superman, while good, is not brave, because he takes no risks. Superman’s indestructibility means that his heart never speeds up, his gut never clenches, and he never pauses for even a moment to question whether the potential benefit from acting is worth the risk. In other words, if facing a gun is as easy as sniffing a rose, there is no bravery involved.

The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation, but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle or to remedy an intolerable situation. The attacks against America on September 11, 2001, revealed the true superheroes among us — those New York firefighters who pushed themselves past those second thoughts, those all-too-human hesitations, and sacrificed themselves in the hopes of saving others. Lt. Brian G. Ahearn was one of those superheroes.

I’ve been thinking today about that moment of insight I had about courage and heroism, because I’m finally reading Marcus Luttrell’s Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  I say “finally,” because the book came out in 2007, and it took me three years to gather my own courage just to read it — and I did so only because of the possibility that I may soon meet the mother of one of those “lost heroes.”  Considering what her son did for my country, forcing myself to read a book about great heroism seemed like the least I could do.

Funnily enough, the book isn’t as painful as I thought it would be.  This is partly because Luttrell, with novelist Patrick Robinson’s able assistance, has a wonderful voice.  His is not a ponderous tome but is, instead, a human story of an East Texas boy who, buoyed up by patriotism and sheer grit, made his way through the insanity of SEAL training, and then found himself in Afghanistan, working to protect American interests and freedoms.

Luttrell’s upbringing, so different from my girly, urban, intellectual childhood is a story in itself.  As for his descriptions of what men push themselves to do to become SEALS — well, I’d heard about it academically, but I’d never understood it viscerally.

To be completely honest, I still don’t understand it.  As a card-carrying wuss, as someone who has always respected her personal comfort zones, and avoided challenging herself, I really don’t “get” what would drive young men, men in their 20s and 30s, to push themselves as hard as these men do.  And the rewarded isn’t a glamorous job, a la Hollywood or Manhattan, with fame, wealth and women.  Being a SEAL is the toughest job in the world, because SEALs end up doing the most dangerous jobs in the world, under the worst, scariest circumstances imaginable.

If you lack physical and mental will, not to mention the overwhelming training SEALs receive, you’re simply a statistic waiting to happen.  But if you do have that stamina, one that resides as much in the mind as it does in the body (perhaps even more in the mind than the body), and if you have this amazing commitment to your team and your country, you can move mountains.

Or sometimes, as SEAL Team 10 so sadly demonstrated, the mountains turn on you.  I am not giving away anything about the book, of course, when I tell you that Luttrell was the sole survivor of a firefight in the Afghan mountain ranges that ended up being the single deadliest day in SEAL history.  Reading about the fight and the deaths of Luttrell’s team member, not to mention his own story of survival, is harrowing.  I don’t want to say I cried, but I’ll admit that my eyes were leaking prodigiously.  Knowing that this would be my inevitable reaction is part of why I avoided Luttrell’s book for so long.  (To excuse myself a little bit, I also wasn’t sure I wanted to get too close to understanding what my father experienced during WWII, as he fought in some of the worst battles around the Mediterranean, including Crete and el Alamein.  Sometimes, empathy can be too painful.)

But really, I shouldn’t have avoided the book.  Yes, the deaths of LT Michael P. Murphy, Matthew Axelson, and Danny Dietz, as well as 16 SEALs and Nightstalkers, whose helicopter was shot down during the rescue mission, is heart wrenching, but the overall tone of the book is still uplifting.  Luttrell’s deep patriotism, his belief in the mission (not any specific mission, but the SEALs’ overarching mission to protect and defend), his abiding love for the SEALs, and the message that there are those who are willing to protect us, often from ourselves, ranks right up there with the most cheerful “feel good” book you can find.

So many people live pointless lives and die meaningless deaths.  One of the tragedies of the 6 million is that they were herded to death like cattle in an abattoir.  I don’t blame them.  They were ordinary people, living ordinary lives, when suddenly they were ripped out of normalcy, and without warning or preparation, sent straight to Hell on earth. Had I had the misfortune to be a Jew in Poland in 1942, instead of a Jew in America at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st centuries, that would have been me.  Not just a short life that made no difference, but one that ended with a death that didn’t make a dent in the hide of my murderers.

Some people, however, seem to have bred in the bone and the heart the belief that they will not be ordinary in life or in death.  Mercifully, these are people who don’t need the tawdry fame of Hollywood.  They don’t need the quick fixes of drink and drugs.  They don’t need to become bullies who control others, whether their control is exercised over a country or an office.  Instead, they prepare themselves to serve causes greater than their own egos.  Their lives have purpose and their deaths are never pointless.

Because the genesis of my post is Luttrell’s book, I’ve written this as an homage to the SEALs.  Everything I’ve said though, can be applied equally to the men and women who have fought and, sometimes, died for America, beginning back in 1774.  The fact that they didn’t do it at the level of pain and training one sees in the SEALs does nothing to minimize their courage, their patriotism and their sacrifices.  They are the backbone of our country, the defenders of our freedom:  “The truly brave person is the one who knows the real risks in a situation, but still moves forward to save people, to fight a good battle or to remedy an intolerable situation.”

(Luttrell, the sole survivor of the SEALS pictured here, is third from the right.)

Other Memorial Day posts:

Flopping Aces

Blackfive

Blackfive (yes, again)

American Digest

Kim Priestap

Michelle Malkin

Mudville Gazette

Florence American Military Cemetery (slow-loading, so don’t worry if nothing happens right away)

Noisy Room

NewsBusters

Hot Air

JoshuaPundit

Radio Patriot