It appears that a declaration of war, or at least an insurgency campaign, has been launched against the Navy’s SEAL teams. The battlefield this time is not some desert wasteland in a far-away Muslim-majority country. No, the SEALs now find themselves besieged on a field of battle that can be far more treacherous, at least bureaucratically speaking. They are being assailed on Capitol Hill, that deadly political battlefield that has claimed the careers of countless politicians and military leaders.
The vagaries of politics—and more specifically, certain politicians—are currently making life difficult for the commanders of the Navy’s SEAL teams. In fact, a slow roll of oversight questions, blocked promotions, and held-up command assignments is starting to look like it might be a concerted campaign being waged against the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC), the parent command of the Navy’s SEALs.
Let us examine the evidence.
First, the current commander of Naval Special Warfare Command, Rear Admiral (SEAL) Brian Losey, was recently denied a promotion to a second star—which would have made him a two-star admiral—due to his alleged retaliation against a whistle-blower within his command. That story can be found here. Losey’s promotion was effectively denied by three senators: one Republican (John McCain) and two Democrats (Jack Reed and Ron Wyden). The SEAL admiral will now retire from active duty as a consequence of his denied promotion.
Next, in March of this year, California Republican congressman, and veteran, Duncan Hunter, who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, began asking questions about the shortage of “combat rifles” for deploying SEAL platoons. According to the Associated Press story, Hunter was approached by unidentified SEALs complaining that their individual rifles were being shared between platoons because there were not enough of them to go around. The unnamed SEALs also complained about ammunition shortages, and the seemingly inordinate amount of time it takes to process travel claims for official travel (this author can attest to the latter problem as neither new, nor confined to the SEALs, nor even solely to the Navy).
Hunter denied that the rifle shortage was due to a lack of funding, but rather, he called into question the procurement priorities of the Naval Special Warfare Command. According to the AP, Hunter said that the NSWC was wasting money, and not adequately getting it to the people who needed it most—the operators.
It appears to this author to be quite logical to assume that whoever raised this issue with Hunter would have also pointed the finger at Naval Special Warfare Command leadership as the culprit. What else is one to assume?
As if the above issues were not enough to make the SEAL command feel as though it were under direct assault, a new issue has arisen as of April 2016, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune and the website military.com. These news outlets have reported—here and here—that Congressman Hunter is now delaying the promotion of Losey’s successor, Rear Admiral Tim Szymanski, as head of NSWC. Hunter is executing this political procedure due to Szymanski’s involvement in the award of a training contract.
The crux of the latest issue for Hunter is as follows. Try to stick with me, as it is somewhat convoluted. For roughly two decades, a company run by Duane Dieter has provided a training program called Close Quarters Defense (CQD) to the SEAL teams. That training program focuses on a form of close-quarters combat in which SEALs use their weapons and their own hands, arms, and legs to subdue hostile individuals without shooting (or killing) them. There is more to it than that, but that is the basics of the training—to subdue a hostile with less-than-lethal force.
The original contract for hand-to-hand combat, worth about $345 per SEAL, was denied to Dieter’s CQD, Inc. in 2011, and was instead awarded to an unidentified mixed martial arts (MMA) company at a cost of $2,900 per SEAL. Hunter is questioning that decision, and has alleged that current and former SEALs are involved in the MMA business venture, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. The further insinuation is that the current and former SEALs are possibly benefitting from some form of nepotism in the award of the contract, or that things were not done in an ethical manner.
Once again, this issue was clearly brought to Hunter’s attention by either someone within the SEAL command—logically, someone unhappy with this change, or skeptical of the ethics of the contract award—or by Dieter’s company, or someone with an interest in its continued relationship with Naval Special Warfare. Regardless, it is beginning to look like Duncan Hunter has got a bone to pick with Naval Special Warfare.
Hunter has demanded the details of the contract award process, and is holding up Szymanski’s promotion, and assumption of command, until he receives those details. So just who is behind this campaign against Naval Special Warfare? Is Hunter doing this all on his own? Is a SEAL, or SEALs, unhappy with the command and feeding him all of this ammunition? Is this just run-of-the-mill oversight on the part of Congress?
My money, for what it is worth, is on a combination of the latter two theories. It looks like someone within the Naval Special Warfare Command is disgruntled with the leadership, and is providing Hunter ammunition with which to attack the command. Hunter is using it, which is fully within his purview as a congressman with oversight of the community, to hold Naval Special Warfare to account.
These high-profile political squabbles do not bode well for the SEAL teams. Someone out there looks to have a bone to pick with the force, or at least, the leadership of it. These kinds of questions do not spontaneously arise out of thin air on Capitol Hill. The whole situation smells of a possible campaign against someone, or multiple someones, within the leadership of the SEAL community. Until the conflict resolves itself to the satisfaction of one California congressman, the infighting and political distractions will continue to dog the SEAL teams.
Nobody should want that, least of all the Navy or its SEALs.