Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
No, SEALs don’t need ‘slack’ from their elite standards
Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed. The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Task & Purpose.
The commander of the US Navy Special Operations Command, Rear Admiral Collin Green, issued a letter to his subordinates last week telling them that there is a problem with discipline within the SEALs that must be addressed immediately. It's been obvious for awhile that there is something dysfunctional within special operations generally, and naval special warfare in particular.
Special operations forces are famously afforded latitude in certain regulations not given to conventional forces. Those are supposed to be for legitimate operational reasons, such as modified grooming and uniform standards for working with indigenous forces. They aren't supposed to be a reward for being "special."
The SEALs, while undoubtedly having done more than their share in the conflicts of the past two decades, are still subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as are all those wearing the nation's uniform.
In an open letter published on August 1, Higbie wrote, "...cut us some slack if we want to have a few beers in Iraq between gunfights," referring to the recent case where a SEAL platoon was sent home after being caught drinking. He correctly pointed out that drinking while deployed isn't exactly unprecedented behavior among service members, making it sound as if they were expelled by some prudish teetotaler for sneaking a fifth of Jack into the country.
Actually, there was an allegation of sexual assault against a member of the platoon and the rest of the unit decided to not cooperate with the investigation. With that bit of context, perhaps senior leaders were right to give the SEALs a little extra scrutiny. Most leaders might overlook someone sipping a drink or smoking a cigar behind the CONEX.
They can't ignore someone allegedly being assaulted and that being covered up.
But in Higbie's words, "....cut us — and quite frankly any other soldier who is willing to die for his or her country — some slack."
Is that "cutting slack" inclusive of cocaine use, sexual assault, and murder? While the SEALs seem to have conduct issues disproportionate to the size of their organization, this idea that service — especially combat service — somehow earns one a free pass, seems to have some currency today.
War is indisputably horrible, and sometimes it calls for brutality in order to accomplish a mission.
The types and limits of that brutality are described in detail in any number of laws and rules, from the UCMJ to the Law of Armed Conflict. Being in the military doesn't exempt you from rules — it actually affirmatively subjects you to them. It's adherence and enforcement of such rules that distinguishes members of legitimate armed forces from mercenaries, criminals, and terrorists.
The most important rules undoubtedly involve conduct on the battlefield itself, but good conduct is not something one can just turn on and off like a light switch. Militaries with poor conduct and discipline in garrison will have the same in battle.
As the saying goes, "take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves."
While it's easy to glamorize the SEALs for their rightfully earned status as an elite force, they aren't exempt from the discipline and adherence to orders and regulations that holds the U.S. military together.
Service members don't get to choose which orders are necessary and which are for POGs. There's a reason that one can usually tell a good unit from a bad one within five minutes of stepping through the quarterdeck. Building a unit without the foundations of good discipline is like building a house on sand.
This is not to say that good leadership is just an exercise in martinet-like enforcement of frivolous and inconsequential rules. Discipline untempered by judgment and mercy can easily descend into petty cruelty.
But those excusing crimes on account of how elite or brave a service member might be are missing a critical piece of what defines selfless service. Service doesn't earn one the slack of getting a lower standard. It earns the honor of maintaining higher standards.
Carl Forsling is a senior columnist for Task & Purpose. He is a Marine MV-22B pilot and former CH-46E pilot who retired from the military after 20 years of service. He is the father of two children and a graduate of Boston University and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @CarlForsling
The inside story of how The Village People shot the Navy's most controversial recruiting video onboard an active warship
The video opens innocently enough. A bell sounds as we gaze onto a U.S. Navy frigate, safely docked at port at Naval Base San Diego. A cadre of sailors, dressed in "crackerjack" style enlisted dress uniforms and hauling duffel bags over their shoulders, stride up a gangplank aboard the vessel. The officer on deck greets them with a blast of a boatswain's call. It could be the opening scene of a recruitment video for the greatest naval force on the planet.
Then the rhythmic clapping begins.
This is no recruitment video. It's 'In The Navy,' the legendary 1979 hit from disco queens The Village People, shot aboard the very real Knox-class USS Reasoner (FF-1063) frigate. And one of those five Navy sailors who strode up that gangplank during filming was Ronald Beck, at the time a legal yeoman and witness to one of the strangest collisions between the U.S. military and pop culture of the 20th century.
"They picked the ship and they picked us, I don't know why," Beck, who left the Navy in 1982, told Task & Purpose in a phone interview from his Texas home in October. "I was just lucky to be one of 'em picked."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday casually brushed aside the disturbing news that, holy shit, MORE THAN 100 ISIS FIGHTERS HAVE ESCAPED FROM JAIL.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Esper essentially turned this fact into a positive, no doubt impressing public relations and political talking heads everywhere with some truly masterful spin.
"Of the 11,000 or so detainees that were imprisoned in northeast Syria, we've only had reports that a little more than a hundred have escaped," Esper said, adding that the Syrian Democratic Forces were continuing to guard prisons, and the Pentagon had not "seen this big prison break that we all expected."
Well, I feel better. How about you?
On Wednesday, the top U.S. envoy in charge of the global coalition to defeat ISIS said much the same, while adding another cherry on top: The United States has no idea where those 100+ fighters went.
A senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday the White House's understanding is that the SDF continues to keep the "vast majority" of ISIS fighters under "lock and key."
"It's obviously a fluid situation on the ground that we're monitoring closely," the official said, adding that released fighters will be "hunted down and recaptured." The official said it was Turkey's responsibility to do so.
President Trump expressed optimism on Wednesday about what was happening on the ground in northeast Syria, when he announced that a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurds was expected to be made permanent.
"Turkey, Syria, and all forms of the Kurds have been fighting for centuries," Trump said. "We have done them a great service and we've done a great job for all of them — and now we're getting out."
The president boasted that the U.S.-brokered ceasefire had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Kurds "without spilling one drop of American blood."
Kade Kurita, the 20-year-old West Point cadet who had been missing since Friday evening, was found dead on Tuesday night, the U.S. Military Academy announced early Wednesday morning.
"We are grieving this loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to Cadet Kurita's family and friends," Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, superintendent of West Point, said in the release.
The U.S. Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon effort looked a lot more possible this week as the three competing weapons firms displayed their prototype 6.8mm rifles and automatic rifles at the 2019 Association of the United States Army's annual meeting.
Just two months ago, the Army selected General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems inc., Textron Systems and Sig Sauer Inc. for the final phase of the NGSW effort — one of the service's top modernization priorities to replace the 5.56mm M4A1 carbine and the M249 squad automatic weapon in infantry and other close-combat units.
Army officials, as well as the companies in competition, have been guarded about specific details, but the end result will equip combat squads with weapons that fire a specially designed 6.8mm projectile, capable of penetrating enemy body armor at ranges well beyond the current M855A1 5.56mm round.
There have previously been glimpses of weapons from two firms, but this year's AUSA was the first time all three competitors displayed their prototype weapons, which are distinctly different from one another.
The Air Force is investigating whether an airman smoked weed at a missile alert facility for nuclear Minuteman ICBMs
The Air Force is investigating reports that an airman consumed marijuana while assigned to one of the highly-sensitive missile alert facility (MAF) responsible for overseeing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.