Authors: Chuck Pfarrer
Random House | New York
For my wife,
who is teaching me how to love,
and for Paddy,
who is teaching me how to live
People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because
rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.
AS A NAVY SEAL
, I was trained to notice little things: a blade of grass bent by the side of a trail, the small shadow cast by a trip wire. I was taught to plan methodically, to attack where I was not expected, and to vanish when the enemy attempted to strike back. These skills kept me alive through seven months of combat on the streets of Beirut, and during more than two hundred classified operations in every climate and ocean around the world.
The “SEAL” in SEAL Team stands for the elements in which we are trained to operate: sea, air, and land. Naval special warfare is the smallest and most elite special operations force in the United States military. Although the exact number of SEALs operational at any one time is classified, I can say that our organization is considerably smaller than Hells Angels.
Team members refer to themselves not as SEALs but as Frogs, Team guys, or shooters. Within this society, a man’s reputation is earned solely by his standing as an operator. A SEAL is judged not only by the missions he has undertaken but by the manner in which he conducts himself, his courage, operational skill, physical ability, and character.
Since the first navy frogmen crawled onto the beaches of Normandy, no SEAL has ever surrendered. No SEAL has ever been captured, and not one teammate or body has ever been left in the field. This legacy of valor is unmatched in modern warfare. In Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Somalia, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan, SEALs appeared where no enemy thought possible and struck with a ferocity far out of proportion to their number.
My proper share of this glory is a small one. Because of a few twists of fate, some luck—good and bad—and the courage and honor of my teammates, I am on hand to tell this story.
The exceptional among our number we count as heroes. My service, though varied and geographically diverse, was workmanlike. I was in combat. More than some, and less than others. I served as a military adviser in Central America. I conducted reconnaissance and denied area operations in places the United States and Americans were not thought to be. I served as an assault element commander in a top-secret “black” counterterrorism outfit. I was in the game, and I was an operator.
It is the failing of a first-person narrative that the spotlight will fall disproportionately on the writer. This is unfair both to the whole story and to my teammates. Sometimes I was a leader, and sometimes I was led; my point of view was never impartial, and many times it did not extend beyond my own small operational circle. What you will read is what I remember, what I saw, and what I felt.
There are many operations that I am not presently at liberty to write about. I will leave those stories for another time, or for some other SEAL to describe. I have omitted the specific details of some operations, leaving out tricks and techniques that would contribute to the tactical education of our enemies. Likewise, I have obscured the location of some of the adventures I describe, as it might be necessary for some other SEAL, on some future moonless night, to revisit the scene of the crime.
Since the time of my service, a few of the men who worked with me have become public figures: I have made use of their real names. I have kept the secrecy of others, and in all cases I have changed the names of my operational teammates. I have tried to draw the characters as accurately as possible, flattering or not. To teammates who see themselves portrayed badly (not unflatteringly but
), I apologize. And to friends who do not find themselves in these pages, again I ask forgiveness. They will know that in writing this book some accommodations were made, not only with certain facts, but with dates and participants. The operators I left in shadow have my complete respect and profound gratitude.
I have also changed the names of the women in my story. That might be just as well; I cannot say that I have always been fondly remembered, and what I am able to write would not paint an adequate picture of their beauty, kindness, or patience. I have tried to be honest about my faults, which are many. It is not my intention to drag up old hurts or to surprise with unknown offenses. I did not always love well, and that was the greatest failing of all.
You know you’ve made it in the SEAL community when you attend a reunion and someone comes up, shakes your hand, and says, “I thought you were dead.” It’s time to retire when you answer, “I thought I was too.”
I left when I felt I had used up all of my luck. I flatter myself to think that I got out before I had lost my courage. If you stay in the Teams long enough, complacency, accident, or the enemy will eventually take you. I’ve seen it happen to operators braver and more accomplished than I am; sooner or later, it would have happened to me.
SEALs are not often mentioned in dispatches, nor are their operations frequently revealed in the press. It is more common that our missions, highly classified, are not disclosed for years. Even within the community, there are operations only whispered about. The actors in them are sworn to secrecy by duty, honor, and an oath.
In the SEALs, the reward is simply knowing that the job was done. The prize is the quiet pride felt for an operation that remains unknown to the American public and continues to be a distressing nightmare to the enemy.
If operators who were there read this book and then say, “That’s the way it was”—that is enough.
TWAS A FRIDAY NIGHT,
and Gate 14 at Norfolk International was not crowded. American Airlines Flight 405 was a scheduled hop from Norfolk, Virginia, to Miami, with continuing service to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The maybe two dozen people in the departure lounge were hardly sufficient to fill even a third of the seats of the 727 now completing fueling at the end of the jet way. The bulk of American 405’s passengers were said to be boarding in Miami for a weekend junket to the casinos and nightlife of San Juan.
When my row was called, I lifted my carry-on, showed my boarding pass, and walked down the jet way. Through the windows, I could see thunderclouds pressing low on the horizon. It was 8:25
only ten minutes before our scheduled departure, and the last red light of day was showing in the west. As the flight attendants closed the doors and made ready for departure, I found my seat and managed to push my duffel into the overhead rack. I had definitely exceeded the recommended dimensions for carry-on luggage. Concealed in my bag was an MT-1-X military parachute.
I wasn’t going to Miami.
Like a dozen of my fellow passengers, I was going to jump from the airplane.
A closer look at the people in the departure lounge might have been instructive. Most of the passengers were under thirty-five, and the men all hard-eyed and fit. Some might have noticed that the passengers had a predilection for Rolex watches and expensive running shoes. Beyond that, they hardly seemed remarkable. The passengers were no mixed bag of civilians; they included a twelve-man Navy SEAL assault team. The balance of the people on American 405 included members of the Defense Intelligence Agency, air force combat controllers, navy parachute riggers, and a handful of officers from the Special Operations Command, based in Tampa, Florida. All were in civilian clothes; all exhibited what the military calls “relaxed grooming standards.” In short, they blended in.
I was as unassuming as my fellow passengers. My reddish hair was collar-length, and my face was swathed by a luxuriant Wyatt Earp mustache, something I’d grown to add some authority to my perennially freckled face. My father used to tell me that I looked like a shaggy tennis pro, or some kind of overmuscled yachtsman. I certainly didn’t look like what I was—an active-duty lieutenant in the United States Navy. Not just any lieutenant. As far as I was concerned, next to being a space-shuttle pilot, I had the best job in God’s navy. I was an assault element commander at the navy’s premier counterterrorist unit, SEAL Team Six. The other men hefting duffel bags were my shooters, my “boat crew,” as the parlance went. I was in charge of tonight’s festivities, a low-profile exfiltration and insertion exercise.
Two hours before flight time, we packed gear and weapons in the SEAL Team Six compound and individually proceeded to the airport. We checked unmarked suitcases containing our weapons and assault gear, and were issued tickets on a flight that was never intended to reach its scheduled destination. With the complicity of the airline, we were conducting a practice run for a covert mission.