It is no secret that we’ve been locked in a deadly war in Iraq and Afghanistan for close to two decades. Sadly, many Americans have been killed or wounded in these combat zones. All of the special operations communities have paid a heavy price to complete the missions they’ve been tasked with. In order for these elite warriors to go downrange and to maintain their edge, they are constantly exposed to tough and dangerous training regimens at home.
Many operators have also given their lives for this country without ever stepping foot in a conflict zone. Training for the fight is just as dangerous as being in the fight. Sometimes, judgment is passed on those that never deployed to a combat zone or never fired a shot at the enemy. I can assure you, it is not fair or accurate to think any less of the service of these individuals.
I’m sure many readers have read articles about operators that have died in training accidents. Unfortunately, this is an inherent risk to the job. During my time in, I began to lose count of all the special operations training deaths that occurred. The week after I graduated from the Military Free Fall Course, a SEAL died in a training jump at the same airfield I had been training at. One of my OIC’s had lost a young operator in a HUMVEE rollover prior to taking command of my troop. Freefall jump deaths specifically have been occurring at an alarming rate in the past several years.
Almost all training evolutions have an element of risk associated with them. That’s why risk analysis is always taken into consideration prior to any training operation. This doesn’t mean that all risk is averted; the idea is to identify the risks and try to minimize them.
When the everyday job involves jumping out of airplanes, fast-roping from helicopters, shooting weapons, diving, and operating watercraft and off-road vehicles in the pitch-dark, accidents are going to happen. I and many of my friends experienced “near-misses” while training. I personally had the privilege of being in a boat that flipped — needless to say we had pushed our tactical training capabilities to the limit.
Special operators do an incredibly impressive job of staying alive in some of the most dangerous combat zones on Earth and honestly, the same thing can be said about training. Still, deaths from training accidents are never considered acceptable or worth the cost. They are harder to bear and more difficult to justify. But, in order to be the best, the requirement is to train hard and push the envelope. Unfortunately, from time to time this does result in loss of life and injury. This harsh reality will be forever present for those in special operations.
So, it is important to remember that no matter whether an individual is sitting in a sniper hide in a foreign land or conducting close-quarters combat training at home, they are all fighting the good fight and accepting an enormous risk to defend this country.
This article was originally published in January 2020. It has been edited for republication.