Several weeks ago, I had the honor of visiting a Navy SEAL training facility in Virginia and spending a day with a SEAL team commanded by a former colleague from my time in government. I left that experience impressed by the bravery and commitment of these young men, who were preparing for a future deployment to Afghanistan.
There are now reports that the home base of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden was the same facility that I visited. While I cannot confirm this, it doesn’t surprise me, because the skills I saw being inculcated in these soldiers and the stories we heard about previous operations overseas are consistent with the professionalism and quick thinking apparently deployed by the team in Pakistan.
One thing that struck me during my visit was how much these special operators, like the intelligence community professionals they often partner with, are at times overlooked except by a few who follow their work by reading between the lines in official statements and news reports. Unlike regular military units, they don’t often have journalists embedding with them and reporting the daily slog of war. You see the results of their handiwork only in the rare accounts of high-ranking terrorists being captured or killed and the occasional report of locals trying to fabricate civilian casualties as a result of their raids.
You also tend to forget that despite their formidable skills, these are not supermen. They are members of the military like any other, many with family and loved ones they leave behind during their exhaustive deployment and training schedules. They thus face the same pressures as many of our overstretched Army and Marine units, with increased demand for their services and a seasoned corps of veterans that are increasingly being tempted by the better pay and more stable lifestyle afforded by the private sector.
What you also don’t always hear about are the deaths and injuries suffered by these warriors on their missions. I’m sure that the SEALs’ moment in the spotlight may change some of this, but because of the nature of their work and the importance of it to the nation, the full extent of their activities must, by definition, remain in the shadows.
At the end of our visit, many of those on the visit had the same question on our minds, “What could we do to assist their efforts?”
The answer is to make a donation to the Navy SEAL Foundation, which supports injured SEALs, the families of those killed in action, and helps preserve and tell the history of Naval Special Warfare forces.
Hopefully, this is something that many Americans will be doing now, as the very public nature of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden allows a light to shine on the sacrifices made by these remarkable Americans to protect each and every one of us on a daily basis.