Should SEALs Just STFU?

The Navy Special Warfare community is angry at SEALs exploiting their part in the bin Laden raid.

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Rear Adm. Brian Losey, head of Naval Special Warfare Command, and SEAL Force Master Chief M.L. Magaraci have issued a blistering letter reminding their community that SEALs are supposed to be “quiet professionals” rather than seeking to capitalize on their heroics. The key passage:

A critical tenant [sic] of our Ethos is “I do not advertise the nature of my work nor seek recognition for my action”. Violators of our ethos are neither teammates in good standing, nor teammates who represent Naval Special Warfare. We do not abide willful or selfish disregard for our core values in return for public notoriety and financial gain, which only diminishes otherwise honorable service, courage, and sacrifice.

The letter’s release Friday was rather clearly aimed at former SEAL Matt Bissonnette, who participated in the Osama bin Laden raid and who has now released his second book on his exploits. As Daily Beast’s Kimberly Dozier documents, Losey and Magaraci aren’t the only SEALs angry at Bissonnette,

That’s still not likely to win back many of his former comrades in arms, like his former SEAL Team 6 commanding officer, whom Bissonnette was told kept a mock tombstone in his headquarters office with the shunned SEAL author’s name on it.

“They don’t call it SEAL Team 6-Year-Old for nothing,” Bissonnette said bitterly of the rejection by a man who up until then had given him top performance reviews and tried to persuade him not to leave the Navy after the Bin Laden raid in 2011.

Bissonnette believes it was some of his own former teammates who revealed his real name to Fox News, which first reported it after the release of No Easy Day. (Other reporters, including this one, named him after that.)

[…]

“There are people in the community who aren’t talking to me anymore,” he said, especially active-duty SEALs who fear their careers would be ended if caught communicating with him.

He speaks with wistful bitterness of how in the aftermath of No Easy Day‘s publication, he reached out to that SEAL Team 6 commander who fashioned the fake headstone to explain that he’d never intended to put out anything that would endanger his teammates.

The Navy captain responded to the text from Bissonnette with the words, “Delete me.”

While apologizing for having illegally published classified information and failing to submit his first book for Pentagon review as required by his non-disclosure agreement (he complied with the law for the new book) Bissonnette is taken aback by the anger.

“Every SEAL I know read a book and that’s why they became a SEAL. SEALs in Vietnam, Panama, Iraq were writing books,” Bissonnette said “So I don’t buy it when the old crusty dudes say ‘Nobody should be talking. We’re silent professionals.’ So don’t sponsor a movie where people are talking about it!” he said, his voice rising in frustration.

Bissonnette’s latest book is a “here’s how it happened” chapter-by-chapter summary of the highlights, and sometimes lowlights of his decade-plus career as a SEAL. It includes more detail about his humble Alaskan roots and how he was inspired to become a SEAL after reading Rogue Warrior, by Vietnam veteran and SEAL Team 6 founder Richard ”Dick” Marcinko—who was also shunned by many in his community for writing a book.

Bissonnette rather clearly violated the public’s trust and flouted the law with the publication of his first book. But I think he’s right that the SEAL community is being hypocritical here. The notion that there’s some longstanding SEAL Ethos of being quiet about one’s exploits is laughable; their penchant for self-promotion is legendary. Marcinko is a veritable cottage industry in his own right.

Publicity seeking in and of itself simply can’t be the problem here.  It’s possible that many believe Bissonnette and the individual calling himself “the Shooter” released information about SEAL tradecraft that actually jeopardizes the safety of the community in future operations. Given that the SEALs heavily participated in a movie about the raid, though, that strikes me as unlikely. The most likely explanation is that are perceived as taking too much credit for work done by a whole team of men.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Mikey says:

    The most likely explanation is that are perceived as taking too much credit for work done by a whole team of men.

    Bingo.

    I spent a few years in the special operations community and while there’s a Hollywood-fueled reputation for big personalities and grand antics, in reality one of the easiest ways to get yourself a bad reputation on “the teams” is to have the kind of ego that leads you to act like you’re King Shit.

    Do not take individual credit for what it took a whole team to accomplish. Yeah, you pulled the trigger. Big f’ing deal.

  2. KM says:

    Too often we forget servicemen and women are human, with all the foibles and faults that come with that. The glory bug doesn’t care who it bites – the hideous bitch goddess will ensnare anyone she can. We like to think of SEALs as consummate professionals: humble but proud, dedicated yet selfless, ultimate team players. That’s a lie – they brag and boast, they want credit where credit is due. They’re soldiers – that’s what they do!! I don’t have a problem with that; what I have a problem with is someone like Bissonnette who is literally putting a paycheck over patriotism, dollars over duty.

    Do your job, remember you are one elite among many elites, and for god sake, stop screwing over national security for residuals. The time for memoirs is later on in life, not up-to-date current events.

  3. Rafer Janders says:

    @KM:

    They’re soldiers – that’s what they do!!

    Actually, no, SEALs are not soldiers — they’re sailors. They are in the US Navy, not the US Army.

    But sailors, just as much as soldiers, brag and boast, so the bigger point is accurate.

  4. Guarneri says:

    @Mikey:

    Did he really take individual credit? And sure, team is crucial, but would you rather have Michael Jordan on your team, or not? Keith and mick in your band, or not?

  5. Mikey says:

    @Guarneri: The thing is, pretty much everyone on the teams is Michael Jordan, to an extent anyway. So one has to rein in one’s ego.

    Something relevant I was told when I got to the unit in which I was privileged to serve, which has stuck with me nearly 20 years later: “You were the best of the best at your last unit, but here you’re just average.”

  6. C. Clavin says:

    The whole killing of OBL surprises me.
    Had Bush 43 been the President that got it done Republicans would already be carving his face on a mountain in S. Dakota. You wouldn’t be able to shut the Cheney’s up about it. Leapin’ lizards, they brag about keeping America safe when 9.11 happened on their watch. They try to claim credit for killing OBL by saying that their illegal torture led to finding him, when it did not. The height of absurdity; they claim victory in Iraq.
    Obama, in contrast, got hardly any mileage out of the shooting of OBL.
    I don’t have a problem with this guy claiming his 15 minutes…we give it to far lesser people for accomplishing far less. What would we, as a society, be offering him if he had been maimed in the operation?
    On the other hand I’m trying to think of individual acts by military personnel that have led to fame and I’m not coming up with a lot. Marcinko…as James notes. What about Audie Murphy? Sargeant Alvin York turned down many opportunities to profit from his fame. There is Eisenhower and Patton…but they were leaders.

  7. JohnMcC says:

    I was kind of excited by the publication of his first book (No Easy Day) because the books come out after the war is (at least mostly) over. I’ll stand by that, despite all the empty talk. What’s happening in the ME now has very little similarity to what we faced with a fugitive AlQaida being given Afghan sanctuary.

  8. Michael Robinson says:
  9. al-Ameda says:

    This is no surprise, it is who we are today. We are attention seeking, self-aggrandizing, self-interested. These Seal Team members certainly are not different.

  10. Todd says:

    I have no problem with the books. But I do wish that the ones who decide (especially while still on active duty) to be “outspokenly politically active” would STFU. Too many people in the military these days are entirely too “free” about expressing their “opinions” while still on active duty. I have a few friends who, if you judged them just by their Facebook pages, probably have no business being part of what is supposed to be an “impartial institution”.

  11. Todd says:

    Let me amend that … if the writers are deciding for themselves what classified information should or shouldn’t be revealed, then I guess I do have a problem with the books too.

  12. the Q says:

    C. Clavin – add gunny sergeant John Basilone to the “don’t want to be a hero” list.