I wouldn’t want my son to be in the SEAL Teams that exist today, it’s a mafioso environment where everyone has dirt on each other. The culture is more Hells Angels than a professional Special Ops unit.” – Anonymous Navy SEAL
I was initially worried about addressing this topic because of the toxic peer pressure that exists among the SEAL community inside and outside. However, my business network kept asking me about Gallagher and Trump’s intervention in his case, and in the end, I decided that if the thought of speaking about this made me uncomfortable, I should just write about it.
Stage set, cameras rolling, soundcheck, action.
According to the Navy Times, Navy Captain Aaron Rugh determined that, “the NCIS intrusion placed an intolerable strain on the public’s perception of the military justice system because ‘an objective, disinterested observer, fully informed of all of the facts and circumstances, would harbor a significant doubt about the fairness of the proceeding.”
The military judge presiding over the court-martial of a U.S. Navy SEAL charged with war crimes said on Friday prosecutors who electronically tracked email communications of defense lawyers without a warrant violated the accused’s right to a fair trial.” – Reuters
So, what do I think of Trump’s intervention? I’m personally not surprised at the theatrics, and in this case, I support Trump for stepping in given the unusual nature of the case, NCIS’s mishandling of the investigation, and the current dysfunctional environment of the SEAL Teams. Most on active duty will not realize how crazy the Teams look from the lens of a former member (and the rest of the world) who is on the outside now looking in.
NCIS botched their case, no argument there. It’s sure to go down as a legal case study for the ages. For the uninitiated, Trump is well within his right to inject himself as the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military. It may be inconvenient for some of the top brass but it is what it is. Trump’s intervention should come as no surprise to Admiral Green and the rest of the SEAL leadership given the ongoing strategy of Eddie’s legal team of constantly outflanking their adversaries in the press, and that one of Gallagher’s attorneys, Marc Mukasey, has worked for Trump in the past. However, I’m not surprised to see the myopia of senior SEAL leadership get the best of them again when it comes to dealing with the press.
My opinion is given here, in the open, as a former SEAL combat veteran who served honorably for 13 years, has held both Secret and Top Secret clearances, went back to Iraq as a contractor in support of U.S. intelligence interests, and then went on to build a business.
The punchline of the story is this: The leadership of the SEAL community needs to get its collective shit together. Many will read this and be outraged but this anger is part of the hubris that has long plagued the community and will continue to be cancerous until true reflection happens.
When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989 and spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound of Alaska (habitat to birds, whales, dolphin, and many other sea life) it was the captain of the ship (not his crew) that was to blame. A captain has to take responsibility and not point fingers or blame his crew. It’s his job, and his job only, to steer the ship safely to its destination, regardless of the conditions. And as hard as it has been to see my own community steadily drift off course, it hasn’t happened overnight or without warning. It’s been years in the making.
Let’s pretend Admiral (SEAL) Green was running a publicly-traded company. What would the stakeholders think of the bullet points below as it relates to overall performance? Would you honestly say it’s a good culture? The result of good leadership? Would the share price go up? Down? Should the CEO stay or go? Here’s a quick glance…
- CBS News – Gun trafficking case gets ex-Navy SEAL 18 years – July 2012
- The New York Times – SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines – June 2015
- SOFREP – SEAL Training homicide: Heads will roll at BUD/S – July 2016
- The Intercept – The Crimes of SEAL Team 6 – January 2017
- SOFREP – Military leadership to blame for SEAL Team Six war crimes – January 2017
- The Washington Post – Navy promotes SEAL commander in defiance of Congress – March 2017
- LA Times – No charges in drowning of Navy SEAL candidate – April 2017
- CBS Evening News – Navy SEAL drug use “staggering,” investigation finds – April 2017
- San Diego Union Tribune – Navy SEAL commando pleads guilty to sex crime against child – September 2017
- SOFREP – SEALs charged with Green Beret murder in Mali, six years after another case involving soldier deaths and Malian prostitutes – November 2018
- Navy Times – War crimes case expands to SEAL Team 6 – March 2019
In 2013, I started getting calls from teammates when we first started breaking news at SOFREP. They would call to ask for help in dealing with anything from internal embezzlement of U.S. Government funds to drug abuse, war crimes, and misconduct. None of them wanted to blow the whistle themselves because they knew it would be a career-ender.
I was so overwhelmed and in a state of disbelief that I didn’t know what to do. Some of the reports were clearly motivated by revenge but, some had real merit and this was disturbing to me. I ended up going to a good friend who was the editor of a big city newspaper, and he actually (putting his personal interest aside) advised me to reach out to the Special Operations Command directly. This was with the hope they could correct the issue internally and avoid bad publicity.
I contacted the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in 2013 and relayed several allegations to Command Sergeant Major Chris Faris. He asked us to give up sources. “Who is talking to you guys? We want the names”, was how it went. That exchange went poorly and was leaked to the SEAL community.
Shortly after I started getting threatening phone calls and texts. Active duty SEALs were threatening myself and my family. I wrote it off. My main concern was trying to do the right thing by the community. I figured I’d said my piece, got it off my chest and just dropped it from there, with the hope that the SEAL leadership would eventually right the ship. Wishful thinking in hindsight.
“Have a problem, better suggest a solution,” my first platoon chief would say to me. What’s a solution?
Green and his senior staff need to address a very clear cultural rot internally. Time to carve out the cancer, because it runs deep. Only they know how best to do this.
After that, they would be wise to do outreach and create an environment of camaraderie among the SEAL veteran community to replace the hostility, public trashing of fellow teammates and hatred that exists today.
Example of hubris.
I had a friend tell me that WARCOM had a slide presentation that had all the SEAL authors, myself included, up on powerpoint slides in an attempt to blame outsiders for a slew of public relations issues currently facing the SEAL command. This is not only unprofessional: it’s counterproductive to maintaining the legacy and heritage of the SEAL brand; and it creates more division and distrust among all active and former SEALs. Creating an exemplary environment in which all SEALs can communicate and support each other is desperately needed.
The leadership within the community owes this to all SEALs who have fought and given so much. Civilian life can be a lonely and cold place after coming from one of the top military jobs — far colder than the freezing Pacific Ocean surf torture of Navy SEAL Hell Week. Fostering positive communication and cooperation among the active and veteran SEALs would create alignment in the community and alleviate a lot of future press headaches that are sure to come as everything Navy SEAL related continues to be newsworthy.
Eddie Gallagher isn’t someone I’d invite to dinner with close friends but, he is a decorated combat veteran of multiple deployments. He put his ass on the line like many others, and he did it multiple times. How can we send people to war, ask them to brutally kill the enemy, and at the same time expect them to behave like Boy Scouts? The nature of warfare is everything but this and the SEALs have been at war for almost twenty years with no break. This pace of war is unsustainable and will surely have deep psychological impact on many. Eddie had his day in court and was proven innocent by a jury of his peers. His family has been through enough with the trial alone, let alone the tole of multiple combat deployments on loved ones back home, as was showcased by Clint Eastwood, and Bradley Cooper in the movie, American Sniper. Let him retire with his full rank and SEAL pin intact. Time for the community to start the chemo and move on.
If ANYONE deserves a Budweiser review board (what we insiders call the SEAL pin) it should be the very SEAL leadership that is pointing the finger at Eddie and has been asleep at the helm of the community for so many years. They are the ones who need to take a hard look in the mirror and start making their own beds every morning.