The following views and opinions are mine alone.
I’ve written about Navy SEALs in the media before as have others in the community. As an author, I’ve felt the backlash by some in the community personally. However, friends in the community with whom I served remain friends regardless of some ungrounded character assassination attempts I’ve witnessed lately. Ungrounded, because my service record doesn’t support many who throw these accusations my way. Navy SEALs with good reputations and accomplishments get to serve as SEAL Sniper Course Managers, end of story. I can only guess that many who dish out the hate are envious and jealous to the extent only frustrated alpha males can be.
I write because I enjoy it, and don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
I’m proud of my service in the Navy’s Special Warfare community. It’s a community rich in history dating back to the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) of the 1940s who cleared the beaches of Omaha.
What I’m not proud of is how NSW (Naval Special Warfare) leadership have pointed their fingers at many of my fellow SEAL writers and me as the problem for a media situation that they created in the first place. Hell, a SEAL friend told me recently that WARCOM actually paid for special meetings with RAND about how to curb veteran SEALs writing books and commenting in the media. Naval Special Warfare Command (WARCOM) created this media frankenstein themselves, and now that their creation is out of control bashing down buildings, they are quick to place the blame elsewhere when it lies within the leadership of the community itself.
Earlier this year Rear Admiral Sean Pybus sent a scathing email to the active duty SEAL community:
“We do NOT advertise the nature of our work, NOR do we seek recognition for our actions.”-Rear Adm. Pybus
Since the late 1980s, the SEAL community has had a healthy relationship with Hollywood and the media. I have this theory that the SEALs have enjoyed this relationship because Hollywood is only a short drive from the SEAL headquarters in San Diego, CA. And let’s be honest here folks, who in Hollywood wants to make the trip to Ft. Bragg? As a West Coast SEAL, I witnessed the relationship first hand. It was common to see celebrities and professional sports teams paraded around the Team area in the late 90s, and I’ve heard it hasn’t changed much. The majority of SEALs I know don’t like the celebrity “Dog and Pony” shows that have become commonplace. Who in the chain of command authorized this? It’s safe to say that it wasn’t the SEAL E-5 sled dog.
“I am disappointed, embarrassed and concerned,” Pybus wrote. “Most of us have always thought that the privilege of working with some of our nation’s toughest warriors on challenging missions would be enough to be proud of, with no further compensation or celebrity required. Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against Enemy Number 1; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations. For an elite force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so. We owe our chain of command much better than this.”-Rear Adm. Pybus
Act of Valor was a WARCOM-endorsed movie made with active duty SEALs (many still on active duty), and in itself violates the very same ethos spoken of in Pybus’semail. The US Navy and Naval Special Warfare created the current media situation because they built a SEAL brand, the same way successful companies do, and the “brand” in turn created the current demand for anything SEAL. As a result, a lot of guys who had books in the pipeline, myself included, were propelled into the spotlight, and new opportunities opened up for other SEALs to tell their story. Add a few high profile missions (e.g. the Maersk Alabama/Capt.Phillips rescue, and the UBL raid) that were exploited to the fullest political extent in the news media, and you have a situation that spiraled completely out of WARCOM’s control.
So now what? Well, as I learned as a young “new guy” SEAL in my first platoon, you don’t complain about something unless you bring a solution to the table. Below are three things that WARCOM could do that would immediately improve their problem, and put the remote (see main image) back in their hands:
- Dedicate billets for an East and West Coast SEAL media spokesperson. Train senior NCOs or mid-grade officers to speak on behalf of the community when warranted. The Public Affairs Officers aren’t SEALs, and are unqualified to speak for SEALs.
- Use the UDT/SEAL Association to communicate official community messaging to the veteran SEAL community. Isolating veteran SEALs, especially those who are actively involved in the media, doesn’t work, and only builds resentment all around.
- Start leading by example when it comes to Navy SEALs in the media.
It’s time for the community to look in the mirror and reflect on the past decisions, practices, and projects that led to the current state of Navy SEALs as a popular subject in the media.