A VETERAN'S VIEW OF SEAL DEPLOYMENT
I had the opportunity last week to visit with some old friends from the
Special Warfare Community, which includes navy SEALS. Among the information
I received was the fact that our SEAL active duty sailors are at any given
period deployed 43% of the time, much of it overseas. Further, SEAL Teams
today are, on average, 10% under complement.
Only a year ago, I was able to meet and talk freely with numbers of young
SEALs, and noted then that operational schedules were very demanding. Those
who were married mentioned they rarely were back in Littlecreek, and that
they didn't get to see their children learn to walk, talk, and grow up.
They admitted those conditions were hard on families, said the divorce rate
was high and growing, but felt progress in their careers required these
From what I could gather in my recent discussions, deployment schedules have
not eased during the past year and, if anything, might have gotten worse.
Mind you, no-one complained. These extensive overseas operations were
matter-of-factly viewed as a necessary evil. In my considered opinion,
long-term continuance of those deployment schedules cannot be sustained.
I've been associated with UDT and SEAL Teams for more than forty years, went
through BUDS myself, and served with UDT-11 during a navy hitch that lasted
more than four years. For nineteen additional years, I took two weeks
Active Duty for Training as a naval reservist with either a SEAL or UDT
team, performing refresher diving, demolitions, and administrative tasks.
During these periods I saw old friends and maintained continuity with the
SPECWAR community, and watched it grow enormously to a well-staffed and
well-funded force. Two young Lieutenants I had known, Irish Flynn and Chuck
LeMoyne, advanced in their careers and become rear admirals. No-one could
have been more proud of them and their accomplishments than I and my peers,
and we still are. To deliver a strange but apt metaphor, it is like being
part of a young gang of ruffians and over the decades watching them become
successful and famous. Both enlisted and officer grades even write books
today that are popular and sell. A man becomes proud of what evolved from
The point of all this is that I feel I am qualified to express a viewpoint
because to some degree, I have walked the walk, not simply talked the talk.
Unfortunately, I believe the people in our government who are making policy
decisions about Special Warfare Forces are simply talking the talk. They
have almost no concept of what it is to walk the walk. I served my time,
took the risks they have not, and did it in large measure so I could live in
America and voice my thoughts in a free country with unparalled liberties.
It was something worth fighting for and preserving. I am going to exercise
my right of free speech right now.
In my opinion, the unjustifiable operational routine that is being imposed
on America's SEALs will have significantly adverse effects on the teams'
ability to respond to their mission capability. I would have to investigate
what reenlistment rates actually are, but the anecdotal evidence I have
heard makes me believe they are suffering from chronic and rampant
overtasking. Those who command Special Forces are aware of the problem, and
within their allowable limits have raised the issue. But they are likely to
be branded as disloyal, mediocre leaders and malcontents if they too
strongly present the truth to their superiors. The messenger of bad tidings
often gets shot, and those sufficiently bold and improvident to risk
promising careers may lose them.
It is better that an old gray head should raise the issue. I have nothing
to lose or gain, except the feeling that a man can serve his country in many
ways, and age is not always a barrier to such service.
We now have troops in Bosnia who are scheduled to depart that country in
June, 1998. Mr. Cohen, our Secretary of Defense, believes we should bring
American forces home then, as promised by our president when he ordered them
there, but our Secretary of State, Ms. Albright, wants the option of keeping
them there for a longer, unspecified period.
I seem to remember the constitution clearly states the purpose of America's
military is to defend our country, not enforce a humanitarian peace in a
European nation with whom we are not at war. The road to hell is paved with
good intentions, and we would do well to consider not only Bosnia, but
similar kinds of pacification operations that reduce our own military
readiness. Squandering it in order to expedite well-meaning foreign
policies, no matter how desirable they appear to decent and concerned human
beings, weakens a national defense that, throughout our history, has always
been needed to protect our country.
Take a realistic look at the world. Hostilities could erupt with Iraq at
anytime, Russia is undergoing a wrenching economic transition that makes it
politically unstable, and China is running an enormous trade surplus with us
and resents our lectures on human rights. During times like these, when the
world seems safe and impervious to large-scale conflicts between nations, it
is easy to be lulled into complacency. History has taught us those are the
times to watch out. America's drawn-down military forces, and SEALs in
particular, must have the chance to train and prepare for war, not spend
almost half their time overseas assisting allies or maintaining a tenuous,
Sam Orr firstname.lastname@example.org