What causes former teammates, men who’ve gone through the rigors of Special Operations training and fieldwork, to create drama on social media and other public outlets as if they were still in junior high school? I don’t know; it baffles me. I’ve discussed it at length with some of the most successful (and insightful) people I know. The common themes seem to be that this behavior comes from a toxic mix of professional jealousy and a desperate attempt at relevancy in individuals who are not at a good place in their lives. Maybe that’s so. One thing is certain: regardless of the motive, and no matter what the community or organization, such outbursts are unprofessional and reflect well on no one.
Infighting: prolonged and often bitter dissension or rivalry among members of a group or organization.
Most of the time I prefer to stay out of the flame-fests and above the fray. Still, there are times when you have to wade and separate the mud from the truth. This is one of those times.
After careful consideration, I’ve decided to respond directly to my former friend Chris Osman’s untruthful and inflammatory comments about my service on his social media accounts. He’s been at this for years now, his main point being that I never fired my weapon in combat—which is a patently false assertion. However, Osman knows this will get fellow SEALs in my community fired up, and why he does it to hunt for attention.
The facts are these:
In 2001-2002, I participated in multiple combat missions in Afghanistan. While on an extended operation near the Zhawar Kili cave complex (right by the Afghanistan-Pakistan border), my SEAL squad encountered a number of enemy combatants in the hills during a C-130 BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) patrol. We were cleared to engage by our OIC Cassidy, just as a round of bombs was about to drop. Several of us did so. Moments later the first round of JDAMs hit, slightly off the target. Moments later, a second round of JDAMs scored a direct hit and completely eliminated the enemy forces.
End of event.
This episode has been well documented in numerous accounts, including my book, The Red Circle (2012); Chris Osman’s own book, SEALs (2008); and Down Range, by Dick Couch (2005). Here is how Osman’s book describes the event:
“The SEALs engaged the three hostiles but eventually a B-52 slammed the area with JDAMs. After the strike the SEALs found some burnt clothing. A P-3 Orion claimed that 12–15 enemy were killed” (from SEALs: The U.S. Navy’s Elite Fighting Force, by Chris Osman and Mir Bahmanyar).
Osman’s account describes “three hostiles.” Dick Couch’s has it as “some thirty armed men.” My description in The Red Circle pegged it at twenty, my best recollection. Such variance of numbers is common in after-the-fact reports, even among eye witnesses; the infamous fog of war plays havoc with specifics. But we can safely say that the true number is somewhere between Osman’s “three” and Couch’s “thirty.” (The aircraft overhead, remember, reported twelve to fifteen.)
On a number of crucial details, though, all three accounts agree, including this: just moments before the bombs dropped, several SEALs opened fire, engaging the hostiles. One of those SEALs was me. To this day I don’t recall who else in our party fired rounds, except for our platoon corpsman; I distinctly remember glancing at his rifle and wishing I had his ACOG instead of my red-dot sight.
It’s impossible to determine with certainty what happened to any of the enemy we shot at, including whether or not they were hit or killed by our return fire, because within moments they were all sent to hell with a JDAM drop and there was nothing left but a smear of body parts.
In The Red Circle, some details of missions and events were purposely altered and names changed, as described in our upfront disclaimer. (In the Couch narrative all the names were changed, including mine and Osman’s.) However, the book is factually correct about this incident that Osman keeps referencing.
Our Cryptologic Technician (CT) on that mission, Pete Morlock, remembers the events well. Over the years, Pete and I have had numerous conversations about the operation, mostly because Zhawar Kili was such a significant op in many ways, including the fact that it was conducted by an unusual mix of Special Operations, EOD, FBI, USMC, intel, and air assets all working together. Here is what Pete says:
“As someone directly involved in the operations with ECHO platoon on the ground at Zhawar Kili, I can fully support Brandon’s account as told in The Red Circle.” (CTIC Peter Morlock).
I’ve talked to my friend Scott McEwen about it as well and he said:
“I have witnessed a variety of criticisms within the SEAL community in my attempts to chronicle the efforts of this group of warriors. Some of the comments by SEALs about other SEALs are just healthy rivalry, whereas other comments are simply demeaning and unproductive. Brandon Webb was introduced to me by Chris Kyle as his friend while Chris was still with us. Brandon has been criticized by his teammates for things I believe are unfair and unproductive to the community in general. Brandon was highly respected by Chris and many of his teammates as a sniper instructor and fellow warrior. It is my hope that people can focus on the positive in the community and avoid the negative wherever possible.” (Scott McEwen Co-Author American Sniper and American Commander)
Osman continues to deny the reality of what happened and to insist that everything I say is a lie. My guess is, he will keep on doing so, no matter what anyone else says or does. And I can’t stop him—but I can counter with the facts.
I’m proud of my thirteen years, six months, and six days of military service, both as an Aircrew Search and Rescue Swimmer and as a SEAL Chief Petty Officer (CPO) who finished my last duty station as acting sniper course manager for the west coast Teams. I was made a Chief by my fellow SEALs who were also Chief Petty Officers. I am humbled that they found me worthy of joining the ranks of the Navy’s Chiefs. My full service record is well documented and publicly available; my DD214 is on my author website where anyone can examine it. It’s a record I’m happy to stand on.
For my part in things. I was always Osman’s friend. Through his own challenges on the SEAL Teams. I was there when he got out of the water in third phase of BUD/S training to quit, when he was performance-rolled into my platoon’s diving block of training, when he failed the SEAL sniper program, and when he was sent home early from our Afghanistan deployment for an alcohol-related incident. I did the things friends do for each other when they are in trouble, I stayed his friend. When I was the SEAL Sniper Course Program Manager, Osman’s company Tactical Assault Gear, delivered sniper drag bags to me that were the wrong dimensions (they weren’t long enough to fit our sniper rifles), I gave him the chance to make the order right and my program ate the mistake which I had discretion to do. Had it been anyone else, I would not have. I had his back when he wrote a book (and took heat from several SEALs for publishing PowerPoint slides that were labeled SECRET), and had it again when he was down on his luck after leaving his company TAG and asked me for an intro to a business friend of mine in San Diego, CA.
I always believed in the Brotherhood of the SEAL community and have tried to live my life reflecting its values. I don’t know when or what made Osman turn into what he has become but his behavior is not an example for others to follow. As a former SEAL, I want to join with the other guys doing great work on the outside, to protect the great legacy of Teams for future members to enjoy, and to leave the reputation of the Navy SEALs as spotless as possible.
Too often it seems former SEALs publicly lash out at each other over personal squabbles by attempting to discredit the other’s military service knowing it’s the unkindest, dirtiest way to fight. Full disclosure: I got suckered into this too, early on. I quickly learned that it serves no useful purpose. Infighting doesn’t work in politics (it’s a major reason we don’t get much done these days in Washington), and it doesn’t work well in the SEAL Teams. As I said, it’s simply unprofessional—and it certainly doesn’t reflect well on the Naval Special Warfare community, as viewed through the lens of the civilian world. (I’ve talked with quite a few business professionals who see this stuff and are perplexed that grown men could behave like this.) Far better to take the high road and keep your focus on moving your own career forward than to try to tear down someone else’s.
To those of you “quiet professionals” of social media who pile on without bothering to fact-check or search out motive in those doing the posting. Well, you’re just sitting in this sewer and adding to it.
And to the confused observer, it’s important to remember that a Navy SEAL is still a human being subject to all the weaknesses and personal liabilities of ordinary men. The leadership of the SEAL Teams can support such people inside the community to help them do their jobs, but once they are out and civilians again, those weaknesses of character can resurface with outcomes like you have read above.
From what I can see, the best thing any of us can do is to focus on conducting our own lives as well as we can and try to make a positive difference in the world. And to you young and aspiring SEALs or SOF operators looking to join that Brotherhood: Look for positive role models who act like professionals, and be the kind of brother you would have for yourself and shed no tears over the guys who will yell “Long Live The Brotherhood” when drunk but can’t live it when sober.
And remember, whatever it is that you do, you are making a stand, either for excellence or for mediocrity.