Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sailor Slighted

Came across this article in the on-line Esquire mag yesterday.

The Man Who Killed Osama Bin Laden...Is Screwed is written by someone named Phil Bronstein and advertises itself as
"...the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family."
It is, as advertised, largely about the raid on Abbottabad on 6 MAY 2011.

That part's just your basic war story, a story about what might be the most famous night raid in recent history, but, still...just another no-knock entry in the thousands the U.S. Army, Marine, and Navy infantry have been doing since 2002. Read it, if you will. It's your bread-and-butter light infantry operation that at least partially accomplished the mission (Just me, but it would have been nice to have hauled ol' Osama back for a Nuremberg-style tribunal, but, whatev'; First Rule of War - Shit Happens).

Hooah, raid team. AAMs for everyone!

Sorry. Army joke.

But, kidding aside, that wasn't really what I got out of it. I've done my share of MOUT, just not with the live rounds and the angry Arabs. Didn't really need the lyrics to know how that song goes.

I did have a strong reaction to the piece, but probably not what the author wanted. What he wanted is pretty clear; to get the reader angry about "...the startling failure of the United States government to help its most experienced and skilled warriors carry on with their lives" Between the raid story the article centers around a long litany of complaints that this guy and his fellow Seal team members are getting screwed.
"But when he officially separates from the Navy three months later, where do his sixteen years of training and preparedness go on his résumé? Who in the outside world understands the executive skills and keen psychological fortitude he and his First Tier colleagues have absorbed into their DNA? Who is even allowed to know? And where can he go to get any of these questions answered? There is a Transition Assistance Program in the military, but it's largely remedial level, rote advice of marginal value: Wear a tie to interviews, not your Corfam (black shiny service) shoes. Try not to sneeze in anyone's coffee. There is also a program at MacDill Air Force Base designed to help Special Ops vets navigate various bureaucracies. And the VA does offer five years of benefits for specific service-related claims — but it’s not comprehensive and it offers nothing for the Shooter's family.

"It's criminal to me that these guys walk out the door naked," says retired Marine major general Mike Myatt. "They're the greatest of their generation; they know how to get things done. If I were a Fortune 500 company, I'd try to get my hands on any one of them." General Myatt believes "the U.S. military is the best in the world at transitioning from civilian to military life and the worst in the world at transitioning back." The Special Operations men are special beyond their operations. "These guys are self-actualizers," says a retired rear admiral and former SEAL I spoke with. "Top of the pyramid. If they wanted to build companies, they could. They can do anything they put their minds to. That's how smart they are."

But what's available to these superskilled retiring public servants? "Pretty much nothing," says the admiral. "It's 'Thank you for your service, good luck.'"
I hate to be this way, but...guys? Lemme sing you a little song I know:

"In time of danger or in war
God and the soldier we adore.
Danger past and all things righted
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted."

Some British grunt wrote that song in fucking 1645.

Ain't no different three hundred and fifty years later. If nobody told you that in Reception Station?

They should have.

I mean, yeah; it sucks to be this guy. I get that. It sucks to be an imperial grunt in a country that is fiercely pretending NOT to be fighting colonial wars, so much so that it that is practically jamming its fists into its collective ears and shrieking "ICAN'THEARYOUlalalalalala!" rather than accept what it is doing to the legionaries it is sending out to do the dirty deeds it doesn't want to hear about or is pretending are the military equal of storming ashore on the Normandy beaches instead of the vile, ugly business of suppressing foreign rebellions in shitty parts of the world.

That's the reality. You can hate it. But you can't pretend you didn't know that going in, especially now after ten goddamn years of it.

A couple of other things;

1. The article is full of sad about how the poor dude is getting screwed over because he's getting out with jack shit; "Anyone who leaves early also gets no pension, so he is without income. Even if he had stayed in for the full twenty, his pension would have been half his base pay: $2,197 a month. The same as a member of the Navy choir."


I know they told you that shit in Repo. You don't do your twenty, I don't care if you're Audie Fucking Murphy; you get squat. Always have, always will. You sing in the choir for 20 years, you get the brass ring. 19.9 years of hard fighting? Bupkis. Them's the rules. You may not like that, but you can't complain you didn't know that.

The article keeps talking about the Shooter "retiring". Dude; this guy ain't "retiring". He's ETSing short of retirement. Get your military terminology straight, Phil. And if you ETS short of your 20-year letter, you get...? C'mon, say it with me now..."jack"...and what else?


Sorry, man. That's how it works. If the author didn't get that somebody he talked to should have squared him away. It makes the guys in ST6 sound like whiners, and I'm sure they wouldn't want that.

And this guy is described as all jacked up physically (which I believe; 16 years as a grunt would have crocked me up. Hell, they DID, in a way.). Why isn't he getting out on a medical? You CAN retire medically short of twenty. Why no discussion about that?


2. Here's the thing that completely baffled me; there's a ton of talk in this article about how special these special operators are, how any CEO and Wall Street firm and school district should be killing themselves to get them, how they're the best of the best of the best?

So where the hell was the Navy re-up guy?

The Shooter says he doesn't want to be a shooter any more. OK, fine. I'm not a squid but I'll bet there's tons of jobs in the USN that don't require a guy to bust a cap in Abu's ass. PAC clerk? Third shop? Stores? Chief of the Boat?

Plus, if these guys really were all self-actualizing and entrepreneurial as the article implies, wouldn't you think that the USN would be begging them to stay in and provide all this special leadership as senior NCOs.

Over at MilPub Al just talked about the importance of those salty old Navy chiefs; why isn't this guy moving on from the hard-core hooah infantry fun to a cushy job the regular Navy? Beer and skittles aboard a carrier? Why isn't he heading up the path towards CPO? Why doesn't anyone in this article talk about these guys as future Master Chief Petty Officers of the Navy, as the future Kings of the Goat Locker?

Could it be...that for all the stuff in the article about how special these guys are, when you come down to it - with 16 years in the Navy this Shooter has about the same experience with troop leadership and organizational management as an infantry squad leader, an E-6 on his second or even the end of his first enlistment?

And that the sort of senior leadership you need to have to be a good Chief Petty Officer for a big organization - running a division or being Chief of the Boat - or even be a good teacher, or a stockbroker...requires more, and very different, skills than just "a fist to the helmet"?

And that these guys have, in essence, been frozen in place as infantry squaddies for more than a decade?

There's always been tension between the special operations organizations and the line dogs, but one of the reasons for that is this; these guys ARE good. They're among the best light infantrymen in the world. As a former grunt medic, I gotta respect that.


That's ALL they are.

The Regular Army's problem with senior SF NCOs has always been that - short of the supposed-wartime mission of creating indig armies - an E-7 in SF is a nothing more than a super squad leader. He doesn't even get the experience of leading a platoon of grunts, let alone the experience with combined arms and the logistic and operational business of troop-leading in a combined arms battle.

So could it be that the reason the Navy re-up NCO wasn't chasing this guy is that even with 16 years in he's not really considered all that terrific as a potential line Navy chief?

I don't know, but it makes me wonder; is the Navy and, by inference, the other services doing these guys any favors allowing them to, or making them, make a home in these special operations units? If they really don't have any civilian skills, shouldn't we be making it easy for them to do their thirty years in the Navy (or Army, or Marines) and retire full of years, honors, and a fat pension?

Makes me wonder, anyway.

And finally...

3. There's the obligatory hat-tip to the Crazy Mad National Defending Skilz that these wars are supposed to have been All About; "The Shooter himself, an essential part of the team helping keep us safe since 9/11, is now on his own."

Don't get me wrong. This guy and his teammates have been fighting hard. They've been doing everything they've been asked to do, and more.

But a lot of that fighting has had nothing to do with "keeping us safe."

Everything they did in Iraq?


A hell of a lot that went down in Afghanistan, that involved chasing angry tribesmen around and around the mountains?


And the other stuff? The secret wars in places like Yemen and Somalia?

Who the hell knows? But probably some yesses, some noes.

Look. I was a soldier for years. In a lot of ways I'm still stuck inside the Green Machine. I want my soldier brothers - and that includes this guy, who for all that he wore blue, has fought as a grunt for more than a decade - to get the best life they can out of the nation and the People who employ them.

But I think that a big part of that means that the People should get the whole story about our guys; good, bad, and indifferent. And told straight out, without the attempt to "sell" the guys to the Public. I think that the Public might, just might, for one thing, start wondering why these guys have been doing this for twelve years, and whether it is really "keeping us safe", and whether there might be better ways to do this both for us and for them.

And I don't think that a big part of this article really helps with that instead of just turning it into another war story.

So; question - what do you think? Am I reading too much into this? Is this sort of article part of the problem, part of the solution, both, or neither?


Swanditch said...

1. If they're so entrepreneurial, why do they need government help to get jobs?

2. In a time of budget deficits, why are they asking for more government handouts?

FDChief said...

1. I think the article does a poor job of explaining how military service can develop qualities that ARE useful in the civilian world and yet makes it very difficult to make the transition from one to the other.

The U.S. Army took a guy who had a George-W-Bush-level-C-average as an undergrad and instilled the discipline and ability to task-organize in me that enabled me to pull something like a 3.89 through grad school. But at the same time, I did that in two enlistments over something like 8 years; for a guy whose been in over a decade...that's a big jump.

So there's some merit to the argument that it would help to have some better programs in place to help these long-service NCOs do that.

But - and this was my main point - the thing is that a LOT of the sorts of skills these guys are developing are incredible task-specific. They're terrific light infantrymen; some of the best in the world. In that narrow lane they ARE great organizers, decision-makers, and task-managers.

But I think the fallacy of the article is exposed by the way the Navy has been (apparently) fine with these guys getting out. They haven't - or at least the article makes no effort to show that they have - been intensely recruited to stick around as regular Navy chiefs.

That tells me something.

And in re: #2, I'd argue that it is in time of budget deficits (i.e. when tax revenues are down BECAUSE incomes are down) that governments SHOULD hand out largesse. Our problem is because at a time when we were running surpluses - back in 2000 and 2001 - the GOP used that as an excuse to give away the store to the wealthy. And then, when we started two wars we put THAT on the credit card, too...

Since 2008, though...it makes actual sense to run deficits, and to pull back to "austerity" now would merely mean a collapse back into depression a la 1937...

Anonymous said...

I have to admit being a bit put off by the 'dark humour'. Obviously a coping mechanism and obviously I haven't been there yada yada yada. But I mean in seeing the way American troops have desecrated bodies and abused detainees in the past 10 years is it like a starting point? I mean perhaps its impossible for me as a civilian to understand but the anger and grief they show about one of their own getting killed is not at all registered the enemy might as well. I mean there wasn't any sense of irony on part of the so called 'shooter' or the author or anyone in America I meet that he has to fearfully train his wife for home invasion and getting killed in front of the children though its exactly what they do everyday in night raids (the whole Iraq if we'd kill 6-8 guys a night it wasn't enough). Though obviously they are carrying orders and would not be doing so if they weren't told to do so. I keep thinking about the raid in Gardez with the Seals digging out the bullets of the pregnant women and blaming the Taliban. And then Admiral Mc Raven coming later to vista the family and give condolences and reparations.

He writes that all the Seals popped shots in the body and by the time they got back to A-stan there were at least 27 bullet holes in the corpse. Doesn't seem like the professionalism championed in the media. Maybe it was the whole macho retelling but this person didn't seem like quite the 'quiet professional', in fact the whole thinking about the Bush quote as he landed struck me as the writer trying to go over the top on what was a routine night raid though over the border. I don't know I just keep thinking if it were true and his gun was 10 inches from OBL's head and he was unarmed why not tackle the motherfucker so he could get ultimate humiliation in an American court like a criminal rather than dying in action as he vowed to. Water under the bridge, or rather the aircraft carrier I guess.

FDChief said...

Anon: I've never met a guy who has been shot over who doesn't think this way. There's "us" and there's "them" and that's how it is. One of the reasons that Sun Tzu said that no nation every profited from a long war has to be that if you fight long enough this us-them thing seeps into everybody's head, not just the soldiers.

And I noticed that, too, about the night raids and this guy's own family. Ironic, if you will, but I don't think that there's any room left for irony after you've been downrange long enough. I thank God that I have never had to find out.

The whole tone of the article bugged me. We've been doing this long enough to "get" that a hell of a lot of what we've been doing has be at best wasted and at worst actively harming our own national interests. It seemed a little late in the game to be mourning the fact that guys like this Shooter have been used up in a Game of Thrones that most of the U.S. public either never cared about, actively hated, or, at best, "supported" with a facile yellow-magnet sort of patriotism that faded as soon as the headlines did.

But as far as starching OBL rather than capturing him? Hey, it's MOUT; fucked up from the get-go. And GI would tell you that running around inside a building filled with armed or potentially-armed and angry enemies is about the most Numbah One Thousand thing you can do in war. I'm not going to second-guess these guys for who and how many times they ventilated the guy; I've come too close not to know the feeling.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

I am so glad that me and my Manchild are not the only ones going "Oh, pleeeease, you want some cheese with that whine?"

As the son said, "WTF, dude, 16 years and you couldn't discover GI Bill?" He just sounded like he wants to cash in ala-Sarah-Quitter-Palin to both of us. We were both aggravated and not very sympathetic. Try being the guy injured or shot up medically discharged with 3 years in or ten years in....and body hurts for life. THEN you can whine.

Otherwise? Suck it the fuck up, oh, and yes. STFU about ops that are supposed to be kept hushed.

FDChief said...

Syrbal: Again, the thing that really weirded me out - perhaps more than anything else about this article - was the complete lack of anybody from the Navy either a) trying to re-up this guy or b) talking to the writer ABOUT stuff like re-up, early out, disability, etc...

So I was left with a ton of questions. Is there something in this guy's 2-1 that stinks? Does he have a string of shitty EERs somewhere? Did he get a serious downcheck from the headshrinker that has made the Navy scared of keeping him?

But, if so, why isn't he fighting for disability on PTSD or the many physical problems he's supposed to have?

So either this dude WANTS to re-up and the Navy won't take him, which at least explains why he's got something to whine about but opens a lot of other cans of worms re: WHY this dude is on the street...or he's getting out because he wants to get out, in which case (picture me rubbing my first two fingers together) here's the world's tiniest violin playing a sad, sad song just for him. You terminate your jump status (which is still voluntary AFAIK) and, presto, you're off ST6 and riding out one more enlistment in some dead-head squid job somewhere, get your 20, and then pull the pin.

There's just SO much that came across as really, really strange about the details behind this story. The actual operational details of the raid? Meh. Just another night raid - the real classified stuff was in how they spoofed the Pakis and he doesn't really go into that. But it's this guy's personal tale that rings so odd, and I can't figure it out.

Swanditch said...

Given the amount of secrecy surrounding the OBL raid, it's not impossible that the article was produced with significant input from the intelligence community.

FDChief said...

Swanditch: I suspect that, if anything, the intel folks provided OPSEC guidance on what couldn't appear in the article. As I observed somewhere in the comments above, the real "secrets" came in how we were able to spoof the Pakistani air defenses and civilian tracking radars, as well as whoever we were working with in the inside in Abbottabad (and I'm guessing we surely must have been working with someone...) and none of that ever comes up in the article.

And most of the actual tactical stuff has already turned up in one form or another somewhere. The real risks are to the individuals involved if their names and locations are revealed to OBL groupies and AQ hardcores, but that, too, is absent from the narrative...

Swanditch said...

Good points but I meant to imply that the article might serve a larger intelligence purpose, i.e. be propaganda of some kind. That might explain the strangenesses.

Pure speculation on my part.

Syrbal/Labrys said...

Yeah, Chief....something wonky for sure. I mean, hell, after I got out I was just another military WIFE...and I knew and knew damn WELL exactly what would happen if the Minotaur got out short of 20. So all the "Oh, oh, oh noes!" are a bit of "protests too much" for me.

And maybe the Navy 'code' is different? But guys I knew didn't talk about ANY of those 'jobs' at all. Something ringing just that off tone like a cracked bell...

FDChief said...

Syrbal: It gets worse. Suddenly this guys is all over Chas. Pierce's place, talking to Congresscritters. Now turns out he wants retirement to phase in after 5 years...but maybe only for speshul snowflakes like special ops guys, so the warriors can get the bennies after a nickel instead of waiting around with all those lowly choir-singing squids and shit.

Color me disgusted.

Syrbal/Labrys said...


Ok, my medically discharged son, with almost ten years in before he came home to rebuild his much changed life, and for whom the VA didn't even grant a 20% disability rating until THIS year (after more than 6 years) ALWAYS has abused the Navy as the military dilettantes of the services.

Wait till I tell him this....

BigFred said...

So with my dated association with Navy Special Warfare, circa 1999-2001, I know this fella to 95% fidelity.

The Head Frogman has already dismissed him as a money grubber, trying to cash in on immediate fame and glory.

The tattoos and anecdotes remind me of Fleet week in NYC at the turn of the millennium. Good guy, lots of tats, probably some steroids, and a lot of trigger time. The year group (2 to go) matches up.

Bottom line? An M-60 gunner who wanted to cash in on the rest of the narrative, and ejected early. A shame.

FDChief said...

BigFred: Thing is, I don't have so much of a problem with this dude wanting to cut a slice for himself. If he wanted to cash in on his story I'd say it's not that much worse than any of the other war-porn bullshit that's come out of these fucking cabinet wars. The U.S. public is getting the wars and the "warriors" they deserve for letting our politicians convince us to go shopping whilst they go farkling about in land wars in fucking Asia.

What DOES get up my wick is his conflation of his own situation - which you point out boils down to "...(a)n M-60 gunner who wanted to cash in on the rest of the narrative, and ejected early. A shame." - with the Special Forces/SOF as a group.

No doubt that the SpecOps people get muled; one of the problems WITH "special" units has always been that commanders tend to abuse the shit out of them. And no doubt that some of the SpecOps guys probably they feel like they've been pulling the heaviest load for the past decade.

But EVERY troop feels like every other troop has been jakin' it and THEIR unit has been doing all the work. Most of us have the common sense to realize that we're all part of a team and that pissing and moaning about who is working harder than whom is a waste of time and an insult to our profession. That's why good sergeants and chiefs tell their guys to quit bitchin', shut up and soldier.

I wish to hell some salty old chief had told that to this guy before he got himself in print sounding like such a whiny bitch.