Anyone who has begun and completed BUDS(Basic Underwater Demolition School), America's reknowned frogman training, knows what a SEAL is. That tends to limit the number of people who can answer the question. For the rest of the world, the term is hard to define and even harder to explain. Having long ago finished BUDS, I still have sufficient ego and gullibility to give anything a try.

I suppose, starting with the basics, a SEAL is a highly motivated, physically active, intelligent young man with great self-control and a high tolerance to pain. Many such men begin training but, on the average, less than a third complete it. The difference between those who do and those who don't is largely undefinable, and it is extremely difficult to determine in advance who will drop out and who will finish. For lack of something better, the ones who make it have more grit or perhaps are simply too stubborn to quit. Almost all of them are unusual men with a healthy sense of humor who not only are capable of, but prefer to be given a task and be left to themselves to complete it. Frequent checking on their progress is resented and actually counter productive. They work well alone or with other men like themselves, are highly persevering, and take pride in doing things others cannot. To sum it up, they are men who like to solve difficult practical problems, and they like to think for themselves. All that is true, but not very definitive.

Confronted with the difficulty of defining what a SEAL is, it may be easier to outline what SEALs are not. They are not men who intend to make a killing on Wall Street by using insider information or borrowed money. They are not a Sylvester Stallone, who combines steroids and a contemptuous sneer to command ten million dollars a picture for portraying tough guys in movies. They are not men who attempt careers in politics in order to amass power, direct foreign policy, and risk the lives of young men to attain political ambitions. They are not men who beat a woman the way Dimi Moore was supposed to have been by a SEAL in the film, GI Jane. And finally, they are not men who prefer to risk the lives of others in dangerous activities such as diving with closed circuit rebreather SCUBA, detonating explosives, parachute jumping, military combat and anti-terrorist operations. Instead, in calculated, intelligent ways, they are willing to risk their own. All that also is true, but not very definitive.

In fact, perhaps the best explanation of a navy SEAL, what he does, why he does it, and what he thinks was presented in a letter written in October, 1996 by Steven Voigt. Steve, a member of SEAL Team Eight, wrote a letter to his sister Martha just two days before he was killed in a helicopter crash in the Persian Gulf. In its simple eloquence, he was better able to say what I tried to and could not. Being cleverly articulate and emphasizing the negative don't always get the job done.

Those who set the standards for political correctness may scoff and consider it corny, but the basis of Steve's letter is Love Of Country and his willingness to suffer personal hardships to maintain the vast liberties we enjoy. Our country has military personnel like Steve in all parts of the world, living as he did and experiencing the same dangers. They do it to preserve freedoms we too often take for granted. Read his words, and realize what freedom and America are all about.


"Alarm goes off. I wake up. It's 0600 hours. Same time I woke up yesterday. And the day before. Actually since June 28, almost 120 days ago. Four months. That's OK, though, because if anyone in the Persian Gulf tries to interfere with the policies of my sacred country, the United States of America, I'll be there to stop them. Two months ago, it was anyone in the Mediterranean. Actually, we could stop anyone in the world.

Breakfast time. Forty-five minute wait in line. Every meal is the same. Standing in line sweating. That's OK, though. There are people in my country who neither know nor care that their freedom is being protected at this very moment. That too is OK, because I do know. I'm doing it.

Go to work. Same routine day in and day out. It could be compared to being in jail except that the work we do is too hard and too dangerous to impose upon a criminal. It would be considered inhumane. That's OK, though, I understand freedom and the sacrifices that have to be made for freedom to be achieved. The life we live at the cost of our military members cannot have a price put on it. If you saw our paychecks, you would understand.

Dinner time. Chicken and rice again. That's OK. The opportunities we have in the states are limitless. There is nothing that any person cannot achieve if he/she has the heart. They don't have those opportunities in the parts I've visited. They don't even have Taco Bell."

Long ago, Thomas Jefferson was credited with saying the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Steven Voigt understood that price and paid it.

Sam Orr sorr@metrolink.net
World Traveler
and Philanthrope
(Location Unknown)