Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs. A Review

Alpha

This was a very depressing book to read. It also should be required reading for all involved in Special Operations, especially the Navy Special Warfare community.

If you think you know what happened in the Eddie Gallagher case, you probably only know the tip of the iceberg. The rest is what is even more depressing. Particularly how, at a national level, we have an entire section of our country living in an alternate reality where facts don’t matter, only the spin and the lying and grift. Eddie Gallagher is in that part. On a personal level, he was a part of it before the events in Iraq.

All of us who’ve served have met his type. A slick talker, tough-acting, bullshitter. Who at his core is scared. The danger is that he was responsible for others and put them in harm’s way. The worst kind of leader. On top of that, as a result of his terrible actions, he became a figurehead for those like him. I recently saw a picture of him with a police SWAT team (I spent some time doing that) and have to wonder what he taught them. He’s the last guy I’d want teaching police.

Having worked with SEALs on operations and commanded a Special Forces A-Team with a maritime operations specialty (we graduated the Royal Danish Navy combat swim school where we learned “dry suits aren’t”) I have some idea how small special ops units operate. And there is a world of difference between SEALs and Special Forces. Not just our missions, but our culture.

I met Dick Marcinko several times, all after having read Rogue Warrior which put me on notice. That was a book I didn’t like. Why? Because I thought his leadership philosophy was toxic. He put “his way” above the Navy’s way. He was the law. No leader is the law. We were put together by our agents to write together but I couldn’t do it. Our philosophies were too divergent. I found it fascinating that we did a book signing sitting side by side and didn’t even speak to each other. Sometimes that gulf in attitude is so large it can’t be crossed. Then again, maybe I’m just an asshole

Bernie Kerik, who is in the book, called me to talk about ghost writing for me and concluded he didn’t feel any connection, which I take as a compliment from a convicted felon. As an aside, I’m stunned that a major “news” channel has so many convicted and accused criminals on as pundits.

SEALs are outside the mainstream Navy; pretty much a world apart. Special Forces is outside the mainstream Army, but it’s a growth from out of the Army, not a world apart. An SF Team leader at the very least has commanded a platoon. I commanded three before I went through the Q-Course and then was assigned to Group and took over a team.

As the only officer and in command, I was also one of the least experienced in SF on the team. I had to trust my Team Sergeant and other NCOs for their expertise and input. BUT, I was still in command. The bullshit stopped with me. The responsibility was mine. Not the Team Sergeant’s or the Warrant’s. In one year’s time I saw three team leaders relieved of command, their army careers over, because they didn’t LEAD.

The fact none of the officers in Gallagher’s chain of command stepped up as he constantly not only violated orders, but pursued dangerous tactics and didn’t even really lead is highly disturbing. It’s also endemic in the SEALs. Their junior officers defer to the senior enlisted beyond the point of responsibility.

This book shows the danger of that. It also lays out the schism in the ranks of the SEALs between the “pirates” and those who do their duty with honor, dignity and courage. There are many more of the latter than the former. But the former get all the news for better or worse.

We also have to accept that the operational tempo of the infamous WOT was unsustainable, especially for Special Operations with constant deployments. It took its toll on the psyches and the bodies. I do blame our civilian leadership on both sides of the aisle for having no clear guidance. I blame our flag officers in that not a single one took a stand on something like Afghanistan and said “We have no mission. No clearly attainable goal that will signify when this mission has been achieved.” They all bullshitted their way through their commands and their crimes are greater than Eddie Gallagher’s.

Regardless, I’m not sure the problems exemplified by Eddie Gallagher have been resolved. It will probably take a generation.

This book is highly recommended and very well-researched.

Alpha: Eddie Gallagher and the War for the Soul of the Navy SEALs

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Bob Mayer

West Point grad; Special Ops Vet; NY Times bestseller of over 80 books; for free books and over 200 free downloadable slideshows go to www.bobmayer.com