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May 8, 2011
To be a SEALBy Greyhawk
Bob Woodward, in the Washington Post:
Sounds like "one senior official," at least, has played video games where he or she gets to "be" a SEAL. Whoever thinks that way should familiarize themselves with the still-controversial decision made by SEAL Team 10...
But "murderous thugs kept in check only by the courage and wisdom of overseers like Panetta and Obama" is the desired narrative here - that's the imaginary world described in Woodward's article, and it's unfortunate we live in a real world with "senior officials" like the anonymous one quoted above.
Fortunately we live in a world with real Navy SEALs, too. Few of the rest of us will ever prove ourselves like this:
What kind of man makes it through Hell Week? That's hard to say. But I do know--generally--who won't make it. There are a dozen types that fail: the weight-lifting meatheads who think that the size of their biceps is an indication of their strength, the kids covered in tattoos announcing to the world how tough they are, the preening leaders who don't want to get dirty, and the look-at-me former athletes who have always been told they are stars but have never have been pushed beyond the envelope of their talent to the core of their character. In short, those who fail are the ones who focus on show. The vicious beauty of Hell Week is that you either survive or fail, you endure or you quit, you do--or you do not.
You don't walk in off the street to special operations training - it's only open to those who've already proved themselves capable of serving in the military in the first place, a minority of Americans who are of recruitment age. (Though most tattoos are no longer disqualifying.) The majority - but not all - of those qualified who do join will pass the test of basic and other training, and some time in service (and further evaluation) before even getting the opportunity to volunteer to be evaluated for the potential to succeed at various entry points into the special operations community. Of those who clear that hurdle... "we had started our indoctrination phase with over 220 students. Only 21 originals from Class 237 would ultimately graduate." That's the experience of Lt. Cmdr. Eric Greitens, whose brief account of his own time in SEAL operations and training is in this article at the Wall Street Journal, quoted above. (His book-length account, The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian, the making of a Navy SEAL, was published just last month.)
From the above it's evident that the guy who makes it is one who may or may not have been told all his life he was special. ("Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training--men who puked on runs and had trouble with pull-ups--made it. Some men who were skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too.") Your team mates will encourage you to pull through, but that's countered by those "on the sidelines" not cheering you on but urging you to quit, and offering rewards if you do. The end result is a team, one created by true equal opportunity, through an actual process whereby character alone will ultimately determine fitness for membership.
Read the whole thing, it also provides glimpses of what the special ops community did in Iraq. (Something - of necessity - much under-appreciated, but also examined in Dick Couch's 2008 book Sheriff of Ramadi and discussed briefly here.)
Posted by Greyhawk / May 8, 2011 7:50 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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