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 frequent separations.

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 his past.

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, compassionate peace.


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