Book Recollection: SEAL Team One

Having been a little disappointed that my last few book recollections did absolutely nothing to the original reading commitment stack, I decided it was time to get with the program or I’ll be putting a DNF next to that goal. Those who know me should understand how angry failure makes me, so when it came time to pick a new reading subject I headed right to the stack. In honor of the recent accomplishment of SEAL Team Six in taking out a spineless terrorist living in relatively luxury compared to his brainwashed followers, I selected SEAL Team One. This book was the first effort from Dick Couch who has become one of my favorite authors. You may recall my growing collection of his with the previous Chosen Soldier post and the Down Range read. This book originally came out in 1990 to great acclaim for its authenticity to a true deployed team SEAL experience. The back cover even has an endorsement by Stephen Coonts, an author whose complete portfolio I’ve completely devoured.

Unlike the other two books from Dick, this one is more story based than the other more technical skills based offerings. The story focuses on the main character James McConnell as he progresses through the SEAL training program and first deployment to Vietnam. This is not a biographical account of Dick’s own experience in the Vietnam War (yes, he is a SEAL), but rather a composite of experiences and events of his tour along with those of his fellow SEALs deployed in the region. Unlike Dick’s other books, he went through the training experience pretty quick leaving an open canvas to paint the life of a SEAL team leader as he plans, executes and deals with the aftermath of combat missions in the jungle. The book is first person from Jim’s perspective allowing you to get the true emotions involved and probably more surprising, peeling back the layers of dirt, grime, sweat, ego and conviction to convey the fear and sadness that they must deal with in their role.  As with the Lone Survivor book this read puts your supposed difficult days in perspective.  It is kind of hard to get too down because your boss needs a hot report while there are soldiers crawling through the jungle in total darkness playing a game of cat and mouse with weapons capable of producing a most violent death.  As I was reading about Jim’s numerous excursions up the Vietnam waterways I found my inner voice routinely asking could I do what these characters were doing, could the fire teams rely on me to make the right decisions while being chased down by VC or would I hesitate or worse freeze putting my team in further peril.  I may be able to tell myself the answer to that, but the comforting fact is I’ll likely never have to find out for sure.  This in part to the fact there are people out there who are willing to volunteer to put themselves in harm’s way for the safety of our country.  This is definitely one of the reasons it infuriated me when I found out Disney was trying to copyright SEAL Team Six after OBL was taken out.  SEALs have never asked for personal recognition of their feats yet some marketing clown thinks it would be good to slap an ear hat on their military organization.

I’ll leave details for the recollection list, but there was a personal eerie moment while reading this book.  Deep into the book I was engrossed in the storyline and asked myself “where do these decisive people come from?”  Three sentences later, Dick’s main characters asks the very same question.  I do not know the answer to that question, but one thing is for certain, thanks to Dick Couch I have a much better understanding of what it takes to be a member of our elite fighting forces.

Hit the jump for the takeaways:

  • The Forward actually mentions the Lone Survivor incident
  • A Navy man has to volunteer to be a SEAL
  • Dick actually tries to model Stephen Coonts’ ability to bring the reader into the experience (agreed, Stephen has an uncanny ability to do that)
  • To Dick’s credit, he admits today’s SEALs are superior to those in his day – better trained, more professional etc. ..
  • He comments on a sign above a bunker – “Life has a flavor the protected will never know”  – how true, I think someone should simply stand with this on a sign next to every protest gathering.  Dick reworded it to be “Anticipation of life is sweetest among those in mortal danger”
  • Jim’s weapon of choice was the Stoner – not familiar with this weapon, but plan to do a little research on it
  • Dick uses the drunken line of is the Bear a Catholic does the Pope shit in the woods? – this is personally hilarious since I have been using that wise-crack quote with Linda since we met.
  • Dick’s main character was born and raised in Mattoon IL
  • SEAL training site sign: The only easy day was yesterday – every once in awhile during my training runs I’ll mention this to keep myself motivated
  • Dick writes about the famous bell you have to ring when you are giving up on yourself and want out of the SEAL training
  • Hell Week was renamed to Motivation Week to “not offend any hippies that stumbled into the Navy”
  • They actually practiced their SEAL skills on the Mexico border tracking illegals
  • The SEALs deploy a pretty big arsenal of weapons in Vietnam including the M16, the CAR-15, the Stoner and the heavy weapon M60
  • They actually took Levi’s with them to fight in the jungle (actually wore longer and were quieter in the bush)
  • Each man tried to get 500 rounds through his weapon a day
  • The Stoner could be nursed up to 1400 rounds per minute
  • They actually had a program call Kit Carson for VC Guerrillas who came over to the government side – they were deployed as scouts for the SEAL teams
  • SEAL instructors referred to ambush training as practicing premeditated murder due to their skills and execution
  • Scraping everything away, being a SEAL is killing people – kind of sobering if you think about it until put into the context of kill or be killed
  • After a dangerous mission Couch elegantly sums it up in words “rock me a little before we land to break the suction my asshole has taken on this seat”
  • There were actually holiday truces allowing the SEALs to get some downtown – this truce was probably due to the VC having to replenish supplies
  • There were ~80 SEALs in the field at one time
  • Interrogations were done by the PIC (Provincial Interrogation Center detachment)
  • In the story, one of the SEAL teams killed the wife of an important VC in order to force his hand for later capture when he came back for the funeral (guessing the liberals would have a field day with that now days)
  • McConnell comments that it wasn’t so much he was afraid, but that he almost let the fear consume him
  • A funny story about two SEALs getting beat up by a giant lizard while trying to capture it as a pet turned into a teaching point having put the rest of the patrol in danger of being killed
  • The story had a few casualties which even stung the reader having become close to those characters thanks to Couch’s excellent narrative
  • Tears were flowing for the main character having been informed his first tour of duty was over – hard to imagine these hardened soldiers are capable of balancing their personal emotions with the critical responsibilities they are burdened with
  • McConnell informs his girlfriend “I’ve lived with the constant fear of making a wrong decision – one that would get my men hurt”  put that into context with your difficult decisions on a daily basis
  • After completing his tour and making it back to the states, McConnell learns he has to lead another team into Vietnam – a responsibility he wrestles with and eventually resigns to the fact he is an involuntary volunteer.

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