Editor’s note: We hope that you enjoy this Among Heroes chapter excerpt, Daredevil: Dave Scott.
On August 14, 2000, a few weeks after Mike Bearden’s funeral, my platoon took off westward across the Pacific on our first deployment, bound for the Indian Ocean as part of an amphibious readiness group (ARG) attached to the transport ship USS Duluth. Our days as new guys were finally coming to an end—and not one moment too soon. After years of training and preparation, we were so glad to be getting the hell out of Coronado, on our way to becoming seasoned operatives at last.
You’d think this would have been really exciting.
For one thing, being part of an ARG was at the top of exactly nobody’s list. As part of an ARG, we had weeks of being shipbound to look forward to. This was smart in an operational sense, but it sucked for us. Yes, SEALs are technically part of the Navy, but in practical fact we have nothing to do with the Navy per se, and the last thing we want to do is spend our time on a boat. Not only is it tedious as hell, it’s also practically impossible to stay in decent shape on a boat. Still, we gave it our all, putting in as much time as we could at the onboard gym lifting weights. On a ship, as they say, the acronym SEAL stands for Sleep, Eat And Lift.
Even when we did get off the boat there just wasn’t all that much going on in the world. Trade sanctions against Saddam had been in place for a decade now since Desert Storm, and as part the multinational enforcement effort SEAL teams were routinely involved in interdictions to curb the constant oil smuggling traffic out of Iraq. That was an interesting gig, and we figured we would eventually have some fun doing ship boardings in the Gulf. But there wasn’t any serious action happening anywhere.
We steamed southwest across the Pacific with a few brief stops along the way at exotic locations, including Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands and Hiva Oa in the Marquesas, until we reached the port town of Darwin, Australia, where we spent a week doing the things SEALs do to keep themselves occupied: joint training exercises with the Aussies, working out, and blowing off steam when we could. From there it was a quick hop north to war-torn East Timor, which had recently fought for its hard-won independence from Indonesia and was still in a shambles. A team of our guys went ashore for a few days to help in some humanitarian efforts there. And that was about as exciting as things got in those days. It was a time of unprecedented prosperity and stability, both in the States and in the world at large. To put it in SEAL terms, a pretty boring world. Or at least, so it seemed.
That was about to change.
From East Timor we sailed westward through a series of stepping-stone stops—Singapore and Phuket, Thailand—until we finally arrived in mid-October at the Persian Gulf, where we planned to spend a few days engaged in ship-boarding exercises. It was October 12, a quiet Thursday morning right about lunch time, when Jim McNary, our officer in charge (OIC), suddenly showed up in our berthing area with some unexpected and sobering news. One of our destroyers, the USS Cole, had been hit and was in danger of sinking.
Shortly after 11:00 that morning, a small power boat just off the coast of nearby Yemen, loaded with a quarter-ton of homemade explosives and manned by a total of two as yet unidentified assailants, had sidled up to the ship on its port side and detonated, blowing a 40′ x 40′ hole in the Cole’s hull.
Two guys in a powerboat did this?
Yes, two guys. Seventeen American sailors had died, thirty-nine others were wounded, and the ship was dangerously close to sinking. Immediate support was needed. Other naval personnel would labor to save the vessel from sinking, and still others would play an investigative role and work to nail down who it was who did this thing. As SEALs, our job was to button the place down and provide impenetrable security.
Within eight hours we had made the clockwise loop through the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Aden, and were in the Port of Yemen boarding the crippled hulk of the Cole.
An acrid smell from the explosion still hung in the air, but as we climbed aboard the Cole that odor was quickly overtaken by another, far worse smell. The two suicide bombers had set off their charge at just the right time and location to catch the Cole’s crew lining up for lunch in the ship’s galley. Any other time of day, maybe one or two people would have been killed, or possibly no one at all. At first we thought these two jokers had just been incredibly lucky. Later we realized there was nothing accidental about the timing or placement; this attack was the product of detailed intelligence and advance planning. The carnage was awful, with rotting food and decomposing bodies under the hot Mideastern sun.
I’ll never forget that smell.
Command had serious concerns that there might still be unexploded ordnance, so some of our guys went to work searching the vessel while others circled the harbor on RHIBs (rigid-hulled inflatable boats, twin-diesel-powered and extremely fast and maneuverable, our wheels of choice on the water) and maintained a defensive perimeter. Meanwhile Glen and I, fresh from our sniper school training, joined the platoon’s two more experienced snipers up on the Cole’s bridge and began round-the-clock overwatch rotations. We had a 50-cal sniper rifle, a .300 Win Mag sniper rifle, and four light M72 anti-tank weapon (LAW) rockets. Our orders were unambiguous: if anyone came within 100 yards of that ship, we were cleared to use deadly force.
Our reaction when we heard those orders was raised eyebrows followed by fist pumps. These were unusually aggressive ground rules. Ask any Spec Op warrior about ROEs (rules of engagement) and he will tell you they are seldom our friends. As SEALs we are trained to operate independently in any situation, which means we’re expected to use our own judgment and make snap life-and-death, mission-critical decisions. In essence, every SEAL is a fully operational army of one. The last thing we want is to be second-guessed on the battlefield by short-sighted restrictions motivated by political considerations parsed in comfy armchairs thousands of miles from the realities of war. Unfortunately the typical ROEs in situations of armed conflict more often reflect the conditions on Capitol Hill than those on the battlefield. In years to come, such timid and impractical ROEs would routinely drive us nuts. But not here on the bridge of the Cole. Right now our orders were simple: “Anyone approaches without permission, shoot to kill.”
As snipers it was our job to maintain constant, 100 percent, 360-degree situational awareness and threat assessment. What were the strengths and weaknesses of our position? Where were threats most likely to come from? At any given moment, what should we be most focused on—and what was happening everywhere else? Glen and I and the other two snipers spent hours at a stretch on the spotting scope or binos, surveilling every inch of the harbor, Win Mag at the ready, different sectors arranged in our heads and accurate ranges dialed in on our scopes so that if at any second we had to take a shot, we’d be prepared and not have to scramble to set our parameters.
Meanwhile the Cole was slowly sinking under our feet. Our team of naval engineers brought in special equipment to keep the bilges pumping and the ship afloat. If someone farted in the wrong direction, that boat was going down. It almost sank a few times right there in port.
As we watched the shore, the shore was watching us.
-Chapter Excerpt from Among Heroes a May 26th Penguin/Random House 2015 Release.
Author’s note: Please consider pre-ordering this book for family and friends on Memorial Day. Proceeds from all the books I write go to the RedCircleFoundation. 100% of what is donated to RCF goes towards the mission.
Please help me spread the word about Among Heroes and share this post and pre-order the book here. Pre-orders are incredibly helpful to authors. Also, stay tuned and help me with the Among Heroes project this Memorial Day, a day to honor heroes who gave all. Thank you, Brandon