Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the founders were former Public Affairs Officers. I have been in contact with MUSA management and they have informed me that none of their consultants were SEALs involved with the recent NSW Non Judicial Punishment (NJP). I had another source who claimed MUSA involvement but I have no reason not to believe them based on recent dialog. With that said, I owe them an apology.  I’ve updated the information below and will include updated statements if/when they come in. 

From MUSA MGMT:We confirmed w our former client (have the written correspondence to prove it) and he let us know that none of the 7 came through us. We actually have no idea which entity made the coordination to bring those guys on.”

Brandon, Editor

The Grey Area: Why SEALs, & Other SOF Guys Secretly Consult

It’s a catchy headline for CBS to claim SEALs are giving away secrets but, they obviously don’t have the big picture or understand the internal politics.

If you serve or have served, you know that  if guys were caught on active duty giving away real secrets they’d be facing Court Martial and harsher consequences then forfeiting a few months pay.  From what I hear the guys didn’t even lose rank, and this leads me to believe that the only rules broken were the the silent un-written ones that live in the cultural grey area. The insider leak to CBS also smells like continued fallout from the publishing of the book No Easy Day and all associated with its author Matt Bissonette.

SECRETS?

I’ve seen the videos, they admitted delve lightly into TTP’s but, in my opinion the movie Act of Valor, and most SOCOM sponsored documentaries give away more capabilities than these game videos. Should active duty guys be allowed to consult? Read on…

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From the MOH website:

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Why Do Spec Ops Guys Consult?

Active duty Special Operations personnel have been consulting and running side businesses for decades. It’s no secret to anyone inside the community. When I was a SEAL instructor I was taking college classes and buying and selling my own real estate. It’s no different to the fireman or police officer that runs a side business with their spouse.  However, it’s the cultural grey area and lack of clear left and right flanks that is causing the Special Operations, in particular the SEAL, community problems.  Even worse when grey leads to black and guys slowly, sometimes unknowingly, violate the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) or Operational Security (OPSEC). It is these extreme cases where it compromises the entire community’s ethics.

The unwritten rules of this cultural grey area is what the leadership of SOCOM needs to clarify, and get rid of altogether. This grey area has existed for too long, and the problem isn’t going away overnight. Incentive bonuses are not enough, and retirement benefits are severely lacking. Also, it’s not only Hollywood and the publishing world that pursues active duty guys, they are highly sought after by big Defense Industry companies, some openly seek access and favors in return for lucrative starts after retirement.  Who can blame guys for using their expertise to make money, and how is it different from Steve Young playing professional football and now using that same experience as a sports commentator. I hear General McChrystal himself has partnered with at least one former SEAL, and they are running a Defense consulting business. The General is also serving on the board of the highly secretive General Atomics.  Should we tighten the noose on guys who use their military know how to take care of their families? Probably not but setting clear guidelines is something to think about.

The problem starts when guys reach the ten to fifteen year mark, have a family, and realize that 50% of their base pay (approx. $2,000 a month for the average guy at twenty years) doesn’t add up to much when you have a wife one or two kids that want to go to college.  I know of very few places in this world where you can support a family on $24,000 a year (most are in southeast Asia). Compare this retirement to other high risk first responders like police and fire, with retirement at roughly 90% of their gross pay, and you get the picture.

Guys start reaching their twilight years and facing retirement they start to set themselves up for the transition to civilian life.  For the Operators that are approaching retirement, and don’t want to take that boring GS job at the command, they start prepping a few years before they’re out. This can be a good thing, the SOF mindset is great when applied to a business or the Executive suite. By nature SOF guys are very entrepreneurial and successful as a result.  Take a look at Blackhawk founder Mike Noell who sold his business to ATK for tens of millions. Nothing wrong with the American dream unless you violate your NDA or OPSEC.

Retirement Is An Incentive

The majority of young men that enter Special Operations get their initial start doing the job for selfless reasons. Where else can a young man challenge himself, and at the same time serve the great country we live in.

Special Operations guys get paid pretty well while on active duty ,no argument there, and when you add in all the extra compensation it’s a decent living.  The problem is that the hazardous duty pay does not count towards your retirement multiple. A twenty-year SEAL or Green Beret will get the same retirement as a twenty-year cook.  This isn’t a dig on cooks, they have an important part to play but, they don’t have the same risk profile as SOF guys. Until the retirement scale changes these guys will do what most good men would do, they will do whatever it takes to take care of their family.

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No Easy Day

For the time being SOCOM leadership has yanked the throttle to idle with regards to media access, guys starting businesses, and outside consulting. Other foreseen consequences are that guys that did file the proper paperwork through the JAG and their Commanding Officer are getting hung out to dry as a result of the Bissonette book , No Easy Day and its backlash. Is this right? Probably not, especially for the guys that played the game by the rules in place, where they went wrong is purely cultural grey matter. For SOCOM and the SEALs it’s going to take several miles for this big ship to come to a full stop, and we’ve likely not seen the end of other non-flattering issues coming to light.

Summary

I hope that SOCOM leadership focuses on educating it’s current and future force on clear guidelines on what’s acceptable and what’s not outside of the normal non-disclosure statement.  Set clear guidelines and lead by example.  Consider adjusting retirement benefits to allow for special pays to factor in, and start educating guys on financial and retirement planning from the start. Show them how to invest their special pays in order to have a secure financial future for themselves and their families.

One thing is for sure, as long as there’s no clear boundaries, Spec Ops guys will continue to make un-wanted headlines.

 Featured image: Grey Area by Julie Mehretu