Having recently read With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge, I didn’t expect the next book on my reading list to be another military autobiography. I blogged about With the Old Breed because it is describes Sledge’s experiences fighting and trying to survive through the battle of Okinawa. I heartily recommend it to anyone who has lived in Okinawa, or has any interest in what happens to young men when they are thrown into what Sledge describes as hell on earth.
The book I just finished is SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper. I had followed the progress of this book for a while, because one of its co-authors Stephen Templin is a friend of mine. In fact, he’s the guy in the aikido shoot I did a couple of months ago. Little did we know, that days later the members of Seal Team Six would kill Osama Bin Laden. Suddenly, just a week before it’s release date, the book got the kind of publicity that normally is reserved for Harry Potter. Howard Wasdin (the author and subject) was flown around the country for newspaper, radio and television interviews. Each time I saw Stephen he was looking more haggered, having been up all night doing similar interviews over the phone, or getting news that the rights to publish the book had been sold in countries X, Y and Z, and that the movie rights have been sold (Vin Diesel is signed up to play the lead). The book went from obscurity to a bestseller, and eventually I got a copy.
Seal Team Six was an interesting read. In summary, it is about the forging of a warrior. What it takes to make a person physically and mentally able to put themselves in, and survive, situations that are far beyond the limits of normality. The physical aspects of training were tough, but it was the psychological conditioning that I found the most fascinating and perhaps disturbing.
In Mogadishu it was years of practice that allowed Wasdin to accurately shoot a man with a rocket propelled grenade launcher before the Somali took down a friendly helicopter. The fact that they were 846 yards apart is a testament to just how good Wasdin was at his job.
It was, however, an entire life of brutal hardship and mental preparation that gave him the ability to continue operating having been shot first in the left knee, then in the right shin, and finally in the left ankle. There were the beatings as a child, and then the hardships of various versions of hell week during training. Mentally he felt he could do anything, that he could handle any situation thrown at him, and he would do it all wrapped in a cloak of confidence (or arrogance) that comes from believing you are in the greatest military team, in the greatest branch of the armed forces in the greatest country on earth. In his own words after being shot:
“I still felt superior as a SEAL Team Six sniper – Howard Wasdin”
These feelings of superiority, indestructibility, and at times righteous indignation can, and did, cause problems. From a tactical point of view it can easily lead you to underestimate the enemy (as was the case in Mogadishu) or be unable to deal effectively with those outside of your inner circle (including other special forces teams, conventional soldiers, government, and the police.)
The final chapters talk about his life after leaving the SEALs. This deals with the process of physical rehabilitation and the mental struggles to deal with the world as a civilian. It’s a happy ending though as he eventually remarries, and begins a career as a chiropractor.
Living on Okinawa I have friends both American and Japanese who are either active or retired military. Books like these give me a glimpse into what their lives are like.