Should the SEALS be abolished?

I recently saw this question posed on Quora and it made me think. Let me start by answering with my opinion, which is NO. But . . .

It’s interesting to look at the history. Marcinko ended up in Federal Prison after he founded Red Cell. I’ve met the man, did booksignings with him, and even was asked to co-write some of his fiction, which I declined. I just didn’t agree with his leadership philosophy as set out in Rogue Warrior. Essentially it was “Do it MY way” not the Navy’s way. His rules took precedence over the legal rules. To me, that was a recipe for disaster which is bearing fruit now.

I’m not certain but I’ve heard that Admiral McRaven who commanded SOCOM and was a SEAL was assigned to 6 and asked to be transferred out due to the slack command culture.

I commanded a maritime operations SFODA. We were surface swim qualified after attending Danish Combat Swim School. Operating in the water is a unique environment and in SF one of our three lightning bolts stands for water infil and exfil. We were not trained for specific water missions such as ship take-down or oil rigs, etc. Those are SEAL specific mission. Operating on land is NOT. Afghanistan is a land-locked country. What are SEALs even doing there? There seems to be an attitude that one can easily transfer skills. I can testify that is not so.

Let’s start with the fact the SEALs are part of the Navy. I remember visiting the Naval Academy and being shocked at the culture difference between it and the Military Academy. My take: the midshipman were being trained to be in charge of things, not people. Whether it be ships, sub, planes, etc. I found the attitude about leading people somewhat lacking.

When we worked with the Navy there was a very strict line between officer and enlisted, much more than the regular army and far beyond what we have in SF. However, in SF, it is acknowledged that the team leader, an officer who has at least had a platoon command, if not a company, usually in Infantry, is in command. I don’t get that sense in the SEALs. The officers seem to defer to the senior enlisted. True, my team sergeant was much more experienced than me and I did rely a considerable amount on his, and the other NCOs, expertise but I saw those team leaders who sacrificed their professionalism to be buddies with their team get in big trouble and their teams screw up. That seems pervasive in the SEALs. I saw team leaders relieved over things that seem common among the SEAL community. I saw team leaders relieved on the spot, their careers over, for minor OPSEC violations. I saw one relieved for a tactical blunder during a training exercise. Another relieved during a mission briefback by the commander because, frankly, his team’s tactical plan was for shit and would’ve gotten people killed.

Frankly, I think the Navy views the SEALs as a foreign entity inside of it and doesn’t know how to deal with it. There was a hands off mentality for a long time that allowed many bad habits to fester. The recent trial showed big problems on both sides of the issue. Both among the Navy in their approach to the SEALS and vice versa.

I was out at Coronado a couple of years ago and was once more shocked at the attitude of the SEALs I met. There seemed little focus on the big picture. Very much a gung-ho, let’s go kill them attitude, sort of like Army Rangers, but Rangers are an extraordinarily disciplined unit. Talking to civilians in the area there were many stories about the SEAL community that did not reflect well.

Then, of course, we’ve had the proliferation of media about SEALs. When I was in SF we never even allowed our photos to be taken. We had pride in our unofficial motto of the Quiet Professionals. Some SEALs seem to crave the limelight. I say some because I do believe a minority are the cause of much of this. There are many, many true professional warriors in the ranks. But given recent events it seems as if the renegades are ruling.

I do not believe they should be abolished, but higher command in the military, particularly in SOCOM, need to get the SEALS back to the specific missions they are trained for and stop using them as substitutes for SF or Rangers. We all have different missions and are not interchangeable, particularly SF and SEALS. There have been SEAL units rotated in to take over SF FID missions which is ludicrous.

The rotation tempo of Special Ops cannot be sustained. That is a reality. There is no easy answer for that other than we wind down these never-ending ‘wars’ which aren’t wars. I’ve searched in vain for strategic goals for all these deployments and there are none with an end goal.

This is a command responsibility and that’s where the focus has to be. As with what happened in Niger with an SFODA getting ambushed and no one higher in the chain of command being held accountable, we need to focus on the leaders. They are responsible.

Originally published at https://bobmayer.com.

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

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