Can’t be a Navy SEAL; can behave like 1

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Good things come in threes even for Special Operations or Spec Ops types such as our Navy SEALS. Coincidentally or not, on the Saturday after the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden (1), Bath Iron Works launched the USS Michael Murphy, christened for the SEAL Medal of Honor recipient to commemorate his sacrifice in Afghanistan as well-described in the Lone Survivor. By the way, eighteen SEALS and Rangers perished in the related rescue attempt. On Monday May 9, the New York Times reviewed two recent books describing the SEAL life (3).

USS Michael Murphy, DDG-112, launched at Bath Iron Works on Murphy’s 35th Birthday

I’ve met a few SEALs and even helped a UNC graduate find his way into the program. One of my own cocktail stories is the November evening in 1974 when I took the physical exam required to apply for SEAL training. I travelled across the bridge from the Naval Base in San Diego to Coronado to meet my test instructor. He arrived at the pool with his German Shepard; both looked fit, serious and non-threatening. The gate to the pool was locked. Surprised was I when the instructor asked if I had the key; more surprised was I when having replied, ‘no, I don’t’, he looked up at the ten foot fence, commanded the Shepard to lie and scaled the fence commenting that we had to be finished by 1700 (5pm), 45 minutes from now. I followed him up the fencing, over the wire and into the pool area. I was nervous and now winded. He walked to one end of the pool, took out his stop-watch and suggested that I get into the water. I yanked off my boots and shirt and dove in. I forget how many laps that I had to swim or how much time elapsed, but I recall that 30 minutes was the maximum permitted. I dragged myself out of the pool and was informed that I failed – without prejudice or malice of forethought. He turned toward the fence. In a rush of panic, I asked if I could complete the remainder of the test. He stared, replying, “Affirmative.” Push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups later, he marked my results on his clipboard. For swimming, noted the maximum time of thirty minutes. “You may not be the best swimmer, but I like your attitude for wanting to complete the test.” Up and over the fence, he jogged with the Shepard to his vehicle.

My career with the SEALs never got off the ground – or into the water. I applied and was denied permission until I finished my tour at sea, the reason that I was transferred to San Diego in the first place. I’ve known all these years later that becoming a Navy SEAL was a highly improbable achievement because I am not a strong swimmer or even a good floater and that cold conditions, both water and weather, deplete my energy in a hurry. Maybe it’s the New Orleans roots. At any rate, I run across these unique warriors from time to time. We all do and you just don’t know it from their demeanor. Here are a ways that we can be like them even if we could only barely pass the qualification physical:

1. Get in shape: physically, mentally, morally. Morally means accurate compass on what we stand for.
2. Let our actions speak for themselves. To the best of our abilities, lead and not manage.
3. Be respectful; be honest; don’t back down from the BS.
4. Expect a lot; trust a lot.
5. Take care of your people. They are termed SEAL teams for a purpose.
6. Commit to the mission.
7. Plan, cross-train, have a reasoned back-up plan.