I’m rounding the corner to the finish line on my next book, and wanted to share the opening introduction with the Team Room. Enjoy. -Brandon
After the dust settled from writing and releasing my memoir, The Red Circle, I was stuck about what to do for my next writing project. I was working on a few ideas for a book on Special Operations and considering taking a stab at my first novel (writing it as we speak)—but then something happened that put all those plans on hold.
One day I received an email through my author website from a man I’d never met but whose name, Michael Bearden (Sr.), was completely familiar to me. He said he’d been feeling a little down one day after delivering a Memorial Day address as part of a tribute to veterans, so he and his wife went out to the bookstore to look for some reading to take his mind off their own private pain. “For some years,” he wrote, “I have avoided reading anything to do with SEALs, but I saw The Red Circle and was drawn to it.” He picked the book up and started browsing through it … and was stunned when he came to a passage talking about his own son, Mike Bearden, and our experiences during our time as fellow SEAL sniper students.
Mike, aka The Bear, died in a terrible parachute training accident just weeks after we graduated the sniper program together. His parachute had a rare malfunction that prevented him from cutting away the bad chute in order to deploy his reserve. He fought the problem all the way to the ground. That was Bearden, a true fighter who would never give up.
The Red Circle included a story about how Mike and my close friend and shooting partner, Glen Doherty, had tied for top shooter on our final UKD (unknown-distance) shooting test with the .300 Win Mag bolt-action sniper rifle. For the test, shooters and their spotters were given six lanes of targets out to distances of just over 1,000 yards. Estimating range with the mil dot system built into our scopes, we had to hit all our targets with a total score of 80 percent or higher. Glen (with me spotting) and Mike had both aced the test with the highest scores in the class. Beforehand the instructors had announced that whoever made top score would win a brand new shotgun donated by a local gun range. Since Glen and Mike had now tied for first place, they held a shoot-off to determine who would come out on top. Both men were crack shots, but in the final set of targets at the 1,000-yard range, the Bear edged Glen out and took the prize.
Mike finished the course in the top of his class, and was loved by everyone. His death hit us all hard, and it was a great loss felt throughout our community. He is as sorely missed today, more than a decade later, as he was then. I was out of the area when it happened and wasn’t able to be at his funeral. A friend of mine said there wasn’t a man in uniform with a dry eye.
In his email, Mike’s dad explained that he’d never heard the story about the shoot-out, and he was grateful for it, and that he was moved to tears of joy by the way we remembered and honored Mike and his wife and son in the book.
“Please convey my family’s appreciation for this book,” he concluded. “I think I can speak for all the other families whose children gave all.”
It was signed, “The Bear’s dad.”
After reading the email I knew what my next project had to be.
“Leave no man behind” is the mantra of all Special Operations teams, and I realized I had to do something to help ensure that guys like Mike were not left behind. I had a burning desire to share my stories of friendship, and the principles that guided these men in their lives. These are principles I have adopted in my own life and share with my children. Knowing these great men, who they were, how they lived, and what they stood for, has become such an integral part of my life. We can’t let them be forgotten.
It’s a strange place I find myself in these days. When I talk with people in their eighties or nineties, sometimes they describe what it’s like seeing so many of their friends vanish, one by one, and finding themselves progressively more alone in the world. That’s a normal part of the cycle of life, I suppose—but I haven’t yet reached forty, and I’m having that same experience. We have now been at war for more than a decade, the longest continuous state of armed conflict in our history as a nation, and this has put an enormous stress on all men and women in uniform, along with their families and friends. But with the unique nature of today’s asymmetrical warfare, it has placed an especially heavy burden on our Special Forces community. Many of my closest friends in the SEAL Teams are no longer here. They sacrificed everything, many leaving behind mothers, fathers, wives, and children. At the same time, they also left behind powerfully instructive examples of living—models of what it means to be a hero.
I had already begun working on early drafts of this book when my sniper school partner and best friend, Glen Doherty, perished in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. Suddenly I lost my best friend, and my children lost their beloved Uncle Glen. I sat down with them and told them it’s okay to be sad, and we cried together. But I also explained that we shouldn’t feel sorry for Uncle Glen and others like him.
“Glen wouldn’t want us to feel sorry for him,” I said. “And here’s the thing. He died living life to the fullest, doing what he absolutely loved, what he was passionate about.”
How many of us can say that about our own lives? It’s so easy to sacrifice or marginalize our dreams, especialy for reasons that seem so important at the time but reveal their trivial nature when we look back years later. Glen never did that. Neither did the Bear.
“Life goes by in a blink,” I told my kids, “and you should each live your own lives, doing what you love, and abandon your dreams for no one. That’s the best way to honor Uncle Glen. Do your best to live the way he did.”
So read about these amazing men, share their stories, and learn from them as I have. There’s regret, and there’s sadness, but it’s never too late to start living—and no better way to live than among heroes. We’ve already mourned their deaths; let’s celebrate their lives.
— Brandon Webb