On a simmering Friday evening in July 1990, when Dave was about to enter his senior year of high school, a summer blockbuster came out. Navy SEALs, starring Charlie Sheen, did a few million at the box office that first weekend, no more than a modest splash for a summer action film. But it ignited a lot of young men’s souls, including Dave’s. He walked out of that suburban theater with the siren song of life as a SEAL pounding in his blood.
At the same time, the world of numbers and electrons held as powerful an attraction as ever. A National Merit scholar, Dave graduated high school with excellent SAT scores, then enrolled in Penn State to study computer engineering. It looked for a while like the academic brain might hold sway over the thrill-seeker gene. But Dave quickly grew bored with college and couldn’t bring himself to sit through his classes. Soon he wasn’t even showing up for them. He gave it a year before dropping out.
When he called his parents to break the news that he was joining the Navy they were aghast. Maggie Scott, Dave’s mother, burst into tears on the phone and did everything she could to persuade him to change his mind. As her husband, Jack, says, “I heard some words from her mouth I heard only then and during childbirth.” Maggie sums it up this way: “We were not happy.” But they both knew that nothing they could do would budge him.
In 1993, two years after finishing high school, Dave went through BUD/S Class 195. He then spent the next few years in deployments with his SEAL team in various parts of the world.
One Sunday morning during these years, the phone rang in the Scott home in the Philadelphia suburbs. When Maggie picked it up she was surprised and delighted to hear Dave’s voice on the other end. “Dave!” she exclaimed, beckoning to Jack to pick up an extension. “How are you!”
“Better than I was,” said Dave. He was calling from a hospital bed in Quito, Ecuador. “I was in a little accident,” he explained.
As his parents listened horrified, he related the sketchiest details of his “little” accident. It had happened about a week earlier, in the middle of the night, and it involved a car crash somewhere along the Ecuador-Colombia border. That was all they ever knew. The story we heard on the teams was that he and some buddies had gotten into it with some locals and were speeding away from the banditos when their car rolled. One Golf Platoon teammate says he heard Dave was on a motorcycle at the time. Whatever actually happened, Dave had been badly hurt, his colon perforated and his insides pretty much torn out.
Dave was taken to a clinic in the area, but when they saw his sonogram the clinicians on staff knew they were way out of their depth. Dave was medevacked out for emergency surgery in Quito. There he lay wide-open on an operating table for an extended series of procedures, including the removal of a few inches of intestine that were not salvageable. (We could see the evidence whenever Dave took off his shirt: a huge, ugly scar ran some 10 inches vertically from his lower gut up to his rib cage. “Hey, check it out,” he’d say. “You wanna see some cut abs?”)
After being shuttled through several different hospitals, Dave eventually arrived back at Walter Reed in Bethesda. Jack and Maggie fetched him out of the hospital and brought him back home for some brief recuperation time before he could go in and have his colon reattached. Meanwhile, Dave had to wear a colostomy bag — which he lost no time using to good advantage when he was back at NSW headquarters in Virginia Beach for a short stretch before his reattachment surgery.
Every SEAL team has a floor in the Naval Special Warfare building where all the paperwork, travel claims, and other administration happens. This is where the CO’s office is located, and it’s also where nobody in the platoon wants to be. (We’d all rather be hanging out in our platoon’s team room.)
Dave would let his colostomy bag fill up with gas, then sneak upstairs into the main hallway in his PT gear, open the valve, and squeeze its contents out into the open air. He delighted in describing the results to us in graphic detail. “Man, that stench was so nasty and tear-gas powerful, people would run for the exit with their eyes watering. It would clear the building.” And he took such unadulterated pleasure in it that he’d do it all over again the next day. I’ll never forget Dave’s evil grin as he painted the scene for us. He called it “Saddam gassing the Kurds.” Totally tasteless, I know. We all laughed so hard we thought we might end up with internal injuries and colostomy bags, too.
Following Dave’s exploits in South America, the pendulum swung the other way for a while, as the incandescently brilliant side of his personality decided it was hungry. Leaving the Teams, he enrolled at the Elliott School in D.C. to pursue his bachelor’s in international affairs with a concentration in counterterrorism and national security — the same program where he would soon take a course with Dr. Post and write his paper on bin Laden. For the next few years, he funneled his explosive kinetic energy into academics, completing the four-year program within two years. “You know,” he told his parents, “it’s really not that hard if you actually study and go to class.”
But he desperately wanted to get back into the field. Without telling Jack or Maggie, he enrolled in ROTC at the same time so he would walk out of George Washington with his officer’s commission as well as a bachelor’s degree. (Dave was what we call a “mustang” — that is, an officer who started out as an enlisted man. The term comes from the idea that a mustang horse can be tamed and saddle-broken but always maintains its wild streak — a definition tailor-made for Dave.) It wasn’t until he was halfway through his program that he confessed to his parents about the ROTC track and his intention to return to the teams. When they grilled him as to why on earth he would give up a brilliant and promising academic career to return to the SEALs, he said, “I still can’t believe I actually get paid to jump out of airplanes, shoot guns, and blow things up!”
SEAL officer billets are highly competitive. The U.S. Naval Academy gives out the majority of them and allows only 16 spots per year. Half that number go to ROTC programs and are competed for across all the top colleges in the nation. The odds of getting a SEAL officer billet were extremely low — but as a formerly deployed SEAL, Dave was already in the club, and his work at the Elliott School had also made him well-connected. On top of all that he was extremely well-liked by his peers. If it took bending a rule in Dave’s favor to allow him back into the teams as an officer, the chances were good that would happen. Sure enough, immediately after graduating, he was in Coronado reporting to Team Three. The ink barely dry on his re-up papers, he wangled his way onto our platoon, where we instantly accepted him into our tight-knit group. Two weeks later he was with the rest of us on the USS Duluth, bound for the Middle East and our rendezvous with the crippled USS Cole.
Once the Cole was loaded onto a freighter and hauled away and we were released from the Port of Aden, we returned to Bahrain, where we finally did get in some ship-boarding exercises. But we didn’t stay there long.
This is Part I in a two-part series on Navy SEAL Dave Scott. Part II will publish soon.
In Brandon Webb’s and John Mann’s book “Among Heroes,” Brandon provides his personal account of the life of Glen Doherty and of seven other of his fallen SEAL comrades. Brandon’s and John’s forthcoming novel “Steel Fear” releases next year.