Sunday, March 30, 2008

SEALs in Iraq

Doing my behind-the-scenes for The Victory Caucus, I often come across articles that are very interesting but aren't quite the kind of news and information pieces we're looking to highlight on the front page there. I found one of those this evening: Bravery (and How to Master It) by Bob Drury, from Men's Health.

I have just interrupted the disquisition of the square-jawed and, yes, ruddy-faced executive officer of SEAL Team 10, the lean and muscular Lieutenant Commander Mike H.

"What are you guys doing here anyway," I ask, noting that there's not a hell of a lot of water in and around Fallujah to justify the presence of the U.S. military's waterborne special operators.

We're inside the makeshift (and air-conditioned -- it's 117°F outside in the Anbar desert) Special Operations Task Force command post. Before I blurted out my question, the 36-year-old Mike H. had been delineating which details I could and could not write about in regard to the previous night's "kinetic" -- or lethal -- mission, a gunfight with al-Qaeda zealots clad in suicide vests. All six insurgents, eager to die, did so. Mike H. stops, exasperated.

"Because the L stands for land," he says. "SEAL: sea, air, land." At 6'5'' and 230-odd pounds, Mike H. has the build of a classic college tight end. "You're right, though," he quickly adds. "With Afghanistan and Iraq, we have been very land-centric over the past couple of years." He sweeps his left arm, a gesture encompassing the gated and gritty tent-and-trailer SEAL compound tucked away in a hidden corner of Camp Fallujah. "But there's plenty of water in the showers."

Here, I suppose, is a good a place to explain the restrictions that were placed on me and our photographer, Max Becherer, for this story. SEALs are notoriously elusive with the media. It took a year of lobbying to secure access to the SEAL base in Fallujah, and no other media outlet has been here. During our stay last September, we weren't so much welcomed as tolerated. Chilly graciousness.

The SEALs are a semicovert organization, deployed in countries from Colombia to the Philippines, and all special operators in Iraq and Afghanistan are high-priority targets of insurgents. Because a SEAL scalp is a major enemy coup, you'll notice that this article contains almost no last names or photographs of faces or other identifying features.

The real SEALs are nothing like the Hollywood ones -- the "knuckle-dragging Charlie Sheens," as one officer put it. Established in 1962 by John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Navy SEALs are a separate, elite force charged with clandestine reconnaissance and unconventional warfare. To a man, they are tough and smart.

Go read the whole thing.

H/T: Michael Goldfarb at The Blog of The Weekly Standard

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