GI JANE

Many in the SEAL community have seemed taken aback with the movie GI Jane, which stars Demi Moore and Ann Bancroft. Some of my UDT/SEAL friends have sent via e-mail and the Internet snippets of correspondence about the film. I wanted to see if all the conjecture and hype meant anything. The only way to do that was to see the film.

History teaches us any successful group eventually begins taking itself too seriously, and Navy SEALs have been notable for the favorable publicity they've received lately. Not only are they said to swim on and under the water, they are supposed to walk on it as well. The movie, GI Jane, will dispell that illusion.

To me, a man who entered and completed BUDS(Basic Underwater Demolition School), the famed navy training course frogmen took and SEALs still take, the movie represents Hollywood at its most deceptive and entertaining best. What is shown as SEAL training in the movie no more resembles the real thing than the picture Alien did of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to the New World. I use Alien advisedly, because it and GI Jane had the same director, and there are many similarities. Both portrayed a strong minded, intelligent, and attractive woman as the film's protagonist, or heroine, and both were not of this world. With that clearly in mind, viewers will greatly enjoy GI Jane. It is gender parable and social engineering all wrapped in a wild adventure. For those who know the truth, it is light, frothy, and diverting, and its considerable savagery reduces to black comedy. Just don't take it seriously. Perhaps my only criticism is that the SEAL Commanding Officer and the master chief are arch-stereotypes, and the ways in which their parts were written somewhat weakened the film for me. In real life, their men would have fragged them long ago.

My concern when I first heard of the movie was that it would give away SEAL trade secrets, show capabilities and limitations, and enable competitors, labeled enemies, to plan effective counteractions. The SEAL community is close, secretive about what it does, and wants to remain that way. It was only a month ago that I and four thousand others attended the Annual East Coast SEAL/UDT Reunion at the naval amphibious base in Littlecreek, VA. Former members and active duty SEALs come together for a weekend that is like old home week, and we easily span the generation gap. The simplest way to get some of these young fellows killed is to reveal the game plan to the wrong people, just as a boxer would lose if he told his opponent how he planned to fight, or a corporation would soon plunge into bankruptcy if it disclosed its new products to business rivals. GI Jane does none of that, and I was relieved. None of my young, able SEAL friends is going to get hurt except by laughing too hard.

The only proviso I might add is that the Navy Department neither endorsed nor aided in production of this film. All SEAL basic training, BUDS, takes place at Coronado, CA. SEAL training in GI Jane was done in a mythical place in Florida. It is a pure work of fiction, with a politician's guile(Ann Bancroft as a female senator) responsible for the plot in which Demi Moore, a navy Lieutenant, enters SEAL training. The film is all action, and some of the treatment of SEAL trainees would be hilarious if it were not so vicious and sadistic. So long as the viewer understands that kind of conduct is totally untrue, the film is harmless.

Training has changed in small ways since I went through, but remains principally the same. The goal is to place sufficient pain and stress on a man to physically drain, frighten, or mentally goad him to quit. Those who don't are at least tough-minded, very determined, and able to absorb lots of punishment and continue functioning. Today, instructors cannot touch or curse a man directly. They weren't supposed to do it in my day, and rarely did. A man's body and spirit can be stressed and undermined in other ways, and instructors are resourceful in finding them. The physical abuse of Demi Moore by her master chief is a travesty of current naval law and practice. Those kinds of things don't take place, and it is unfair and an injustice to BUDS training that they are shown to happen in the movie.

The movie is slick, entertaining, actually avoids serious treatment of doctrinaire use of women in combat, and lightly treats its stated premise of women entering SEAL training. I've been there, and think I might have met two women in my life capable of making it through training. I'm sure there are others, but my belief is that adding a woman or two to a seven man rubber boat crew would make successful completion of a mission less likely. It's not that the women couldn't pull their weight as crew members: with them on board the men wouldn't.

We live in a funny world, and if you're a SEAL this is a very funny movie. Enjoy it, but realize it's as great a fable or fairy tale as Snow White. Then leave the SEALs alone.


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