Copyright 2012John T. Reed
I have a running pet peeve that the U.S. Navy SEALs are the most overhyped military unit in history. They are somewhat skilled and have had some successes, like the the three snipers killing the three pirates and the Osama bin Laden killing, but they also seem to have, maybe more than their share, of dopey screw-ups like Operation Redwing or the Chinook shootdown in Afghanistan.
“The most elite military unit in the world.”
And then there is the Pentagon getting investigated for refusing to tell the public details about the killing of bin Laden because they were secret, but sharing those military secret details with a Hollywood production company that is going to make the movie Act of Valor about the SEALs.
SEALs say they want no publicity, but a number of them are playing themselves in the movie. And of course we are incapable of seeing the absurd hypocrisy of that claim and fact because we are blinded by the reflections from the SEALs’ medals.
There is probably no more public-relations-conscious military unit in history than the SEALs, with the possible exception of the U.S. Marine Corps, both subsidiaries of the U.S. Navy, which has also masterfully handled the challenging public relations task of keeping secret the fact that surface ships have been obsolete against modern enemies since around 1955.
And there is the story of the SEALs legal battle with Disney Corporation over trademarks. Who knew the SEALs were involved in trade?
When I was Cub Scout in Wildwood, NJ, we had our meetings in the VFW. (I saw that building, apparently unchanged, during a 2008 visit.) Around the tops of the walls they had painted the names of the famous battles Tripoli, Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, etc. One imagines the secret headquarters of the SEALs having similar celebration of battles including the word Disney. How long can it be until the SEALs have their own battle hymn including lyrics celebrating their battles in Abbotobad, Panama, and Hollywood.
From the shores of Manuel Noriega’s yacht harbor
to the sidewalks of Sunset Boulevard
We will protect our copyrights and tray—ademarks…
and so on.
When used by the military, the word “elite” has lots of very odd meanings.
An argument could be made that Jesse “The Body” Ventura is a walking SEALs blooper. He is also evidence that the SEALS are more Hollywood hype than reality.
First, his real name is James George Janos. Jesse “The Body” Ventura is his stage name. Audie Murphy was the most decorated hero of World War II. He did not have a stage name. Although I most admit that he played himself in the movie about himself, To Hell and Back. And he went on to star in other movies.
Generally, a group that calls themselves the “quiet professionals” and “the community” should not have stage names. They are supposed to be professional soldiers, not professional entertainers. World War I’s most famous hero, Sergeant Alvin York, just got drafted, served, won the Medal of Honor, and went back home to his Tennessee farm. Now that was a quiet professional. I have never heard anyone describe Ventura as a “quiet professional.”
As if there was any doubt about his use of Hollywood hype, Ventura was a professional wrestler, color commentator, talk show host, and movie star, most notably Predator in which upon being told he was bleeding said, “I ain’t got time to bleed.”
Ventura became a one-term governor of Minnesota, yelling “Hoo Ah” at his inauguration. He was never a SEAL per se. They had a different name when he was in the unit in the 1970s: Underwater Demolition Teams. The two units merged after he was out of the Navy. But he is regarded as the most famous U.S. Navy SEAL by the public. The salient feature of the SEALs appears to be their Basic Underwater Demolition School training. I read about that in an article called “Hell Week at Little Creek” in the Readers Digest when I was in high school in the early 1960s. Some SEALs nit pick about the name of the unit Ventura was in or the differences between SEAL and UDT missions in Vietnam, but the SEALs main claim to fame is their graduation from the UDT school that they got from their predecessor unit. Ventura graduated from UDT school Class 58 in December 1970.
Ventura is a sort of 9/11 truther. Here is one quote.
How could this building just implode into its own footprint five hours later? That's my first question. [...] The 9/11 Commission didn't even devote one page to that in their big volume of investigation.
I would not say that Ventura is typical of the Navy SEALs, but he is not the only one to appear in movies or seek the political limelight using his BUD/S background to draw attention to himself.
I despise affirmative action and related stuff like minority set asides. However, I also note that blacks seem, if anything overrepresented in the ranks of star athletes. SEALs are sometimes described as “world class athletes,” a factually untrue statement for almost all of them. But I rarely see a black—or an Asian—in photos of SEALs.
What’s up with that?
Here is one theory. The late San Francisco columnist Herb Caen once asked O.J. Simpson why blacks were well represented in, or dominant in, many sports but not swimming. “Blacks don’t float,” was O.J.’s answer.
I do not know if that’s true, but there is no doubt that blacks are underrepresented in NCAA and Olympic swimming events. If blacks don’t float or have some other bodily handicap regarding water activities, I would expect they would have trouble graduating from SEAL BUD/S training.
Part of that school is a test deceptively called drownproofing which consists of guys in bathing suits with their wrists tied behind their backs and their ankles tied together having to do what was called “bob and travel” when I had to do it at West Point. We had to go to the bottom of the pool, then use our legs to propel us up to the surface and also forward. The idea was if the water was shallow enough, you could get to the shore by repeatedly hopping off the bottom of the body of water. At West Point, our wrists and ankles were not tied.
But drownproofing is a pretty near thing. You can barely get your head out of water enough to get air in between bounces off the bottom of the pool. I can see where having greater body density, if blacks do indeed have it, could prevent you from passing that test.
I have criticized the drownproofing test in SEAL training as invalid because there is no combat counterpart to it. Courts have decided that certain tests adopted by fire departments that systematically disqualified women were invalid and illegal because they forced women to perform feats of upper body strength that they could not, but which were also unrelated to the duties of a fireman. Now, as a result of he court decisions, the strength tests for being a fireman, like carrying a fire hose, are related. And although many females flunk, they do not all do as before.
Since SEALs almost never do anything in combat related to the ordeal in the surf and in the pool and on the sand at their Coronado, CA training location, I think that training is bogus—serving almost no purpose other than pride through masochism and screening out of non-masochists—arguably a manifestation of a group psychiatric defect.
If the drownproofing and other water-related aspects of BUD/S tests are A. unrelated to 99% of combat missions and B. result in almost all otherwise qualified blacks flunking BUD/S, it would appear that the tests are improper, have a discriminatory effect against blacks, and essentially are the moral and practical equivalent of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers denying Jackie Robinson a spot on that Major League baseball team because of his weaknesses as a swimmer.
I am not opposed to NCAA and Olympic swim teams rejecting a disproportionate percentage of blacks. Swim teams are about swimming and they should give the spots to the swimmers with the best times regardless of skin color. But SEALs are not about swimming almost all the time. I am not opposed to SEALs having a sub specialty regrading UDT. But the water-related tests to become a certified UDT specialist should relate only to the actual job, not to artificial ordeals like bouncing off the bottom of a pool in a bathing suit with your wrists and ankles tied behind your back. If black SEALs disproportionately flunk the sorts of tests civilian SCUBA schools require for their certifications, those blacks should not get Navy certification for UDT.
Am I saying that the SEALs deliberately use those test to exclude blacks? I cannot say that because I have not been in that unit and have no other data that would prove that. However, if you Google the phrase “Navy SEALs” then select “images,” here are the photos you get. Awful lot of white guys, don’t you think?
There also appear to be few Asians. Why? I have no theory on that. The only Asian SEAL I could find was James Suh who was killed in a Chinook crash in Operation RedWing.
The Washington Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate—in 1962 under threat of not being able to play in their federal-government-owned stadium. A sports writer of that time once described their team colors as “burgundy, gold, and Caucasian.” In that same vein, the official colors of the U.S. Navy SEALs appear to be Navy blue, gold, and Caucasian.
Here is a 2011 article about the lack of blacks in the Navy SEALs and other “elite” units. I was an Airborne ranger when I was an Army officer from 1968 to 1972. I do not recall ever thinking about whether blacks were disproportionately underrepresented in the rangers. They may have been, but we had blacks in my ranger class and they did as well as any of us. One of my black West Point classmates was made the student commander of our ranger class—after they fired from that job a white West Point classmate of mine who had been captain of the Army football team. And there sure as hell was no shortage of blacks in my first unit, the 82nd Airborne Division. My platoon sergeant was black.
The U.S. Navy, it must be stated, only used blacks as waiters for the officers mess on ships. They
manned the officers' mess and maintained the officers' billets on board ship, and, in some instances, took care of the quarters of high officials in the shore establishment. Some were also engaged in mess management, menu planning, and the purchase of supplies.
In other words, the Navy treated black sailors as if the ships were Antebellum Southern plantations and the blacks were used like the “house slaves” had been on plantations: waiters, maids, and butlers. The Army segregated blacks from whites until 1948, but they did not do the plantation routine like the Navy.
That was the job of the black sailor, Doris Miller, who is now featured prominently in all recent Pearl Harbor movies using a .50 Cal. machine gun to blast away at Japanese planes on 12/7/41. He was later killed in the war.
Anyone wondering why there are only 31 blacks in a SEAL force of 2,299 has a right to consider the amazingly recent black mess steward history of the U.S. Navy in the analysis. Things change at glacial speed in the U.S. military and sometimes things that officially have changed have not fully changed in reality.
As you would expect, the Navy is embarrassed about the relative lack of blacks in the SEALs and is doing the usual “outreach” and all that shit to get more black SEALs. I’ve got your “outreach” right here. Shove all that freezing in the surf and “drownproofing” shit up your masochistic personality disorder ass and start training and testing the SEALs in ways that reflect the actual missions the SEALs have performed in their real world history. Keep the UDT school for people who perform, well, UDT, like the World War II frogmen who blew up beach obstacles before amphibious landings.
I would appreciate readers sending me other examples of line items on the SEALs report card where the teacher would write “needs improvement.”
Here is an email from a reader:
At the end of your article "Navy Seals Bloopers" you stated that: "I would appreciate readers sending me other examples of line items on the SEALs report card where the teacher would write “needs improvement.”"
In the same spirit I think you might be interested in (former Army officer) Richard Gabriel's book Military Incompetence. If you're not aware of it, it first came out in the mid 1980s and was devastating in it's critique of what ails the American military. Of course, it was promptly ignored by the top echelons of US military, not to mention the general public.
Anyway, in it there are several stories of conduct not exactly flattering of the Seals (or rather not in keeping with their carefully crafted image) that may match the criterion of "needs improvement". The first one involved a Seal team/squad/group (whatever they call themselves) trying to raid either a power station or radio transmitter station (which one I cannot just recall) and all that was there was a civilian attendant fast asleep in a chair. Later, the Seals were awarded bravery medals for this altercation. [eye roll] It's been many years since I read the book and I might have some details mixed-up or forgotten but that's the gist of it.
A second story was about some Seals trying to do something called LAP? Low Altitude Parachute (something I can't remember). They basically come out the back of an aircraft near sea level and fall by parachute to the water, unhook chute from rubber boat and then motor their way to shore. The motor didn't work or was swamped out and the Seals were carried out by the current to be picked up later that afternoon after a half day marooned at sea. I believe some other Seals, in on the same mission, were drowned. To me all this seems to show that the Seals (and other Spec Ops) choose equipment and missions of such complexity that they are just doomed to fail. It's like they have to show how special, and by implication indispensable, they are to the public/Congress. It all too often goes wrong for them.
There is a third story and I don't think it came from the aforementioned book. Essentially the Seals were sent to rescue the island governor and his family. They were not held hostage but were believed to be trapped in their residence and could not leave without the Grenada militia taking notice and stopping them. The Seals made such a spectacle of themselves getting into the residence that the Grenada militia took notice and converged on the residence, essentially trapping governor, family and Seals. A Marine Corp force of some kind had to come in and extricate the whole bunch. It was really the Marines who did the rescuing. That's a synopsis of how I remember it but darned if I can remember where I read this. But I do distinctly reading this had happened.
If you are interested in Spec Ops on Grenada other than Seals there are the Rangers and the Delta Force to consider.
The Delta force were supposed to take out the Cuban military engineers who were making the airfield unusable for the imminent American invasion. Someone in the OAS (Org. American States) apparently caught wind of what America was planning and tipped off the Grenadians, who in turn asked Cuba for assistance. The American plan was for the 82nd Airborne to fly in (not parachute) and secure one part of the island, the Marines the other (all services need to get in on the action). But first the Rangers would land on the airfield and secure it and the immediate area for the 82nd. But before that, the Delta Force were to take out the armed Cubans and remove any/all runway obstructions so the Rangers could simply land instead of parachuting.
It didn't work out that way. The Rangers had to parachute, under fire, onto the runway and fight their way out from there because something had happened to the Delta Force. The Rangers found out on the plane ride down to Grenada that the runway was obstructed and they had to rig a parachute drop while in the air. Of course in those days the Pentagon denied the very existence of Delta Force. They specifically denied any spec ops on the morning of the invasion. Some reporters confronted the Pentagon with a film made by a civilian named Gaylord??? that showed clearly a AC-130 Spectre gunship directing fire very close to one end of the runway. If not in support of spec ops, then this would be a gross violation of the element of surprise for parachute drop on the runway. Also, it turned out there was a depression in the topography near the end of the runway the Spectre was firing upon. The Spectre was obviously giving someone fire support and that someone had to be in the depression and who else could it be but Delta Force? It has been conjectured that Delta Force was discovered sneaking around in the dark by the Cubans. How? I think maybe a pet dog started barking and wouldn't stop, a Cuban came out to tell dog to zip it, Cuban saw/heard/sensed something in the dark, knew the Americans were coming any day now and assumed the invasion was on, all Cubans came out fighting, Delta had to retreat due to being outnumbered and found the depression, got into depression, called for fire support. Most likely scenario.
Later in the operations farther inland, the Rangers were shot to pieces trying to raid the medical school or college. They were caught in a crossfire from the Grenada militia resulting in several Black Hawk helos being shot down. The aforementioned book seems to make the case that the Rangers didn't put much thought into what might conceivably happen to them approaching the steep sides of the ridge the school was located upon. As if they just rushed in to do their patented rappelling-from-helos-tricks, thinking nothing would happen to them, cause they were the almighty USA. And after all, it was only against some island gendarme and militia.
That's the basics. The book has more details about this Ranger incident as to why it turned out that way. But any cursory examination shows that it was eerily similar to another Ranger incident ten years later to the month (Oct 1993) in Somalia. It doesn't appear the Rangers learned anything in the decade 83 - 93.
Outside of Grenada operations, I have read that the Panama and Gulf War efforts of Rangers/Seals/Delta et al were mainly bloopers themselves. Of course, Somalia 1993 (Black Hawk Down) was the nadir for Spec. Ops. That Task Force Ranger came within an hour of complete annihilation. The 2/14 Inf 10th Mtn Div. saved them and were given no credit whatsoever in Mark Bowden's book. Leg infantry, that Rangers have so much disdain for, ended up saving the "elite". For twenty years now, not one Ranger or Delta person gives any credit to 2bn/14inf/10MD for saving their lives, actually they are somewhat critical of the 2/14th. PBS Frontline episode and the History Channel documentary are also in on the act of ignoring 2/14th rescue force.
So, anyway, don't know if all the above is fit to print. Maybe you can find more definite details. Admittedly, it will always be difficult to find anything critical about the spec. ops.. They are usually glorified no matter how they have performed.
I also appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.
John T. Reed
Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military