February 21, 2014

A Mile In Their Shoes: Maritime Security, Substance Abuse & The Special Operations Community

Over a decade of sustained combat operations have taken its toll on the American Special Operations Operator. The toll of war strikes deep and shows up in many different forms: a broken marriage, child custody issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, PTSD, suicide and much worse.

SOFREP spoke with representatives from US SOCOM (Special Operations Command) recently, and we’re confident the organization under Admiral McRaven’s leadership has aggressively put measures in place to deal with these issues in a meaningful way. But what about the men who are no longer on active duty? What happens to them?

The recent incident with Trident’s former SEAL maritime security contractors provides the uninitiated observer a peek down the rabbit hole when it comes to the Special Operations community and its history with illicit substance abuse. And before you judge a person, first walk a mile in their shoes. Back-to-back-to-back combat deployments and a broken marriage have claimed many a good man in over a decade of sustained warfare. Some guys dig out, and some fall deeper into the darkness, never to return as their former selves again, casualties of war.

The situation gets more complicated when unit members cover up the substance abuse of their teammates under the guise of “He’s a good operator, and the unit can’t afford to lose him.” An example of this was pointed out in a book called Fearless. Fearless tells the amazing story of Adam Brown, his ongoing battle with substance abuse, and his ability to overcome it all to pursue his dream of becoming a US Navy SEAL. Adam’s story is a must read, however, what’s hiding in plain site is the story of Adam’s relapse on crack while on active duty. This was prior to his assignment at Naval Special Warfare Command’s Development Group (DEVGRU or AKA SEAL Team 6).

“There is no room for that in this job. We train at high levels, shooting real bullets”, said his former teammate who had it out with him, quoted from the book Fearless written by Eric Blehm.

When I spoke to Blehm, and asked him about Adam’s story he had this to say, “I believe Adam is one of the exceptions, truly. He deserved a second chance based on a lifetime of character. That is why the recruiter signed the waivers, he knew about Adam’s past, and felt he could rise above.”

adam-brown-sofrep-fearless

Having briefly met Adam I agree with Eric but he is a rare case, especially given his history of drug abuse and felony conviction, and ultimate rise to a tier one unit like DEVGRU.

When you ponder Adam’s story, it leaves many unanswered questions about how to deal with substance abuse within an active duty unit.  Where do you draw the line between teammate and military law? I’ve personally seen (twice in my career) senior members cover for a senior enlisted teammate with a drug problem. The first time it was handled appropriately, and the person was put into Navy rehab until retirement. The second time was worse. I had a senior (to me) enlisted member assigned to work for me at the sniper course. The plot of why a higher ranking individual was assigned under me, at a remote sniper stalk field, revealed itself after he popped positive on a field urinalysis test. He tested positive for dextromethamphetamine, commonly referred to as “Bikers Coffee” or “Meth.”

Nobody wants to see a good operator’s career tarnished or ruined because of this stuff. However, covering for your buddy doesn’t fix the problem, it only makes it worse. Then, there’s also the risk of creating  a unit subculture that is more Sons of Anarchy than American hero. How does this happen you ask? Multiple combat deployments and individuals who are used to pushing the limits of everything with which they come into contact. For example, I’ve seen fights break out during a game of ping pong.

And what happens to brave men once they separate from active duty? Once you cross the threshold from active duty to civilian life, and leave your Team Room behind, life is a lot different on the outside. Nobody cares how many combat deployments or kills you have, and this sure as hell doesn’t translate well in the world of corporate Human Resources (HR). A friend in advertising once told me that their un-written corporate practice was to place all military veteran resumes at the bottom of the pile. This has to change, and it starts with you.

The men from the Special Ops community leave behind a world, experiences, and a culture that no Department of Veterans Affairs representative or childhood best friend can come close to understanding. And the problem is getting worse, not better. It’s been taking a quiet toll on the Special Operations veteran community for a long time.

The culture of “suck it up” with no complaining sometimes makes a bad situation worse. This quiet is now turning into a loud roar, and making national headlines in the media. America shouldn’t ignore or judge these men that served their country in the most terrible of conditions. Instead, it’s time to help, and now is the time that it’s desperately needed the most.

 

(Featured Image Courtesy: sharingiseverythingeng.blogspot.com)

The Steven and Alexandra Cohen Military Family Clinic/NYU Langone

About the Author

is a former U.S. Navy SEAL with combat deployments to Afghanistan, and Iraq. During his last tour he served as the west coast sniper Course Manager at the Naval Special Warfare Center. He is Editor-in-Chief of SpecialOperations.com, a SOFREP contributing editor, and a New York Times best selling author (The Red Circle & Benghazi: The Definitive Report). Follow him on twitter here.

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  • SEAL76

    SEAL76 Motleynomad  Thanks for the comment. Yes that is what friends do

  • JHR13

    SEAL76 Motleynomad AND FRIENDS. That's what Friends do as well. Godspeed.

  • SEAL76

    SCD SEAL76 Jaycel Adkins  The MSM like dirt and never will let the facts stand in the way of a good story or a bad one.

  • SCD

    SEAL76 Jaycel Adkins What I was going to write before that technical blip is that Jeff was a good friend of mine also. And yes, in a jam you wanted him by your side.

  • SCD

    SEAL76 Jaycel Adkins