Book Recollection: Down Range

As much as I benefited from the long month in January, February is basically a cruel joke on my deadlines.  This being the 6th post of the month, I can rest a little easier now and start prepping for the next month of which I already have two of that set already identified.  But you don’t care about that right now, you want to see if my latest read is worth spending any time with.

Although not at a let down level as the US Women’s hockey team that was essentially owned tonight, Down Range: Navy Seals in the War on Terrorism was not as engaging as the previous novel I read from Dick Couch called Chosen Soldier.  The focus of this particular novel was the early efforts in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  Chosen Soldier was a slight deviation from Couch’s normal topic in that it focused on the Green Berets.  However, in difference of sorts, this book focused more on the land engagements of the new transformed SEAL engagements as it extends its lethal capabilities into the heart of the enemy country.  Dick is still an excellent writer and is capable of translating the semantics and warrior mindsets into something desk jockeys can relate to.  I think the real let down is a result of the lack of good field examples.   This is largely due to the effectiveness of the SEALS in these environments and what appears to be a deficiency in the local defenses.  This has changed since this book was authored (2005) with the emergence of insurgency fighting, but definitely during the early engagements with the Iraq army it was a route similar to Canada over US tonight.  It also did not go as deep into the training aspects of an elite warrior which is one of the primary reasons I spend my wind down time diving into the chapters.  Note, it did give some excellent insights into the Close Quarter Defense system they employ to clear out hostile rooms which is quite fascinating due to the mental aspect of that.

As always, I was able to find some things in the book that make the precious time spent all worth it.  Take the jump to see a synopsis of those items

  • Actually named the 11 seals that had passed away since the initial printing – hats off to those warriors and my heartfelt thanks for making the ultimate sacrifice so I can enjoy the American way of life out of harm’s way
  • Good soldiers only speak with official approval from their chain of command – others who talk on their own are breaking their faith with brother soldiers (traitors)
  • It appears the various special forces actually get along and appreciate the talents each force can bring to the theater – contrary to popular media portrayals
  • Calls out the war on terrorism as the war on Islamic fundamentalists apparently originating out of the Wahhabite sect which became popular in the 1930s
  • A threat to the sustainability of special forces is the lucrative salaries available to these people in the corporate world (they only make ~60K in service) – this includes the Blackwater type companies which are staffed with ex special forces soldiers which the author recounts are still extremely lethal in battle.
  • Apparently political correctness has bitten the SEALS who now have to refer to Hell Week as Motivation Week (as in 90% are motivated to quit before they get through the first day)
  • Enlisted and officers train together with the difference officers are held to higher standards.
  • Takes roughly 3 years for a SEAL trainee to see action (unlike Vietnam which was less than a year)
  • A life of a SEAL is a life of training
  • SEALS practice for desert training near San Diego (Camp Billy Machen who was the first SEAL to die in Vietnam)
  • SEAL Teams are 130 strong with 84 being pure shooters and 12-14 as officers
  • There are no women in the SEALS due to congressional ban on women in ground combat roles and general physical deficiencies to make it through the training
  • SEAL boats (rigid hull inflatable boats) are powered by two turbo charged Caterpillar in-line six-cylinder diesels.  Making me proud to work for Cat!
  • One role in the war was maintaining the ship embargo around Iraq – this was more of a cat and mouse game due to congressional mandates that limited their capabilities (no breaching charges).  The smugglers trying to get oil out would weld their doors shoot forcing the borders to arc-cut through them to get at them.  In the meantime, the smugglers would try running back into protected waters (Iran for one).  This was later defeated through an ingenious (but dangerous) entry through the ship control windows.
  • Their close quarter defense philosophy is built around “a fight is a risk to death” and focuses on mental as well as physical skill – interesting enough they equate a moral life to the effectiveness of the Warrior
  • “They get what they deserve, no more, no less”
  • Engage the deadliest threat first.  This is somewhat similar to the philosophies that were drilled into me during martial arts training, but we also had the option of eliminating the weakest threat first (in the attacking group of course) and using that action as a warning to others or establishing a defensive position.  I think the seriousness of the weapons in this game is what rules out the latter for the SEALS
  • I respect the warriors that have to carry out this mental and physical ballet in the context of room clearing missions.  To apply the appropriate response must be an unimaginable mental strain
  • The Taliban and Al-Qaeda cave strongholds in Afghanistan were known pre Sept 11th and were actually constructed with American aid during Russian occupation
  • The huge weapon’s caches found in these caves came directly from Pakistan – were destroyed with over 404,000 lbs of bombs – the most at any one time since Vietnam
  • The enemies actually use Toyota 4×4 to navigate through the terrain – I wonder if they have an accelerator problem?
  • I find it odd that we have no GREEN outrage when it comes to what Saddam did during the war (blowing up oil rigs, setting pumps on fire etc.).. or doesn’t that fit their self serving agendas?
  • Apparently this UN Oil for Food program was utterly corrupt!
  • More SEALS went into combat at one time during an Iraq oil rig operation than were at any one time in Vietnam
  • Apparently the Polish GROM (special forces and translate to Thunder) are a major force to be reckoned  with and well respected by the SEALS who work with them
  • SEALS do not manage enemy prisoners of war – if they take them, they are turned over to other forces immediately
  • The terrorists know we play by the rules and leverage that against us – thank you Congress for another failed enemy engagement bill – maybe we should make them get off their leather seats and try it out for themselves
  • Marines apparently have not had success with establishing an elite force of their own
  • I actually knew this,  SEALS have a covenant of leaving no man behind and willing to go to great lengths to make sure that doesn’t happen
  • I need to look into Bat*21 which was apparently about a daring SEAL recovery mission as well as another account in a book called Ghost Soldiers.
  • Medals of Honor have been given out to Special Forces – Three Navy SEALS in Vietnam and two Green Berets  in Samalia were detailed in the book – If you have seen Blackhawk Down, it was to the two GB at the end of the movie that roped down to help save the downed Blackhawk pilots (they did not make it out alive)
  • Two SEALS earned the Navy Cross for personnel recovery efforts (and their guns are still in the fight) – these accounts are quite gripping.
  • He also provided some background on the Jessica Lynch rescue
  • John F. Kennedy is attributed to initiating the birth of the SEALS back in 1962
  • Tommy Franks is a well respected individual and acknowledged by the author for his military capabilities
  • Saddam put a token/suicidal armored division against the US hoping for France and Germany would intervene to help him out – that didn’t happen like he had intended
  • Interesting enough, Al-Qaeda actually hated Saddam only slightly less than George Bush)
  • The SOF Truths include Humans more important than hardware and quality over quantity  – truths I think the corporate world should get behind.
  • Special Operations force sits (at publish time) ~50K  – note SEAL average age is roughly 28 at a budget of $7B of the $400B defense budget
  • The author has no love for Iran and calls them out as state sponsor of terrorists

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