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The Loudest "Quiet Professionals" Start Screaming: Hollywood Edition

When I joined the Army, like most impressionable young cadets, I dreamed Special Operations dreams. The Army path to becoming a modern John Matrix (Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando) roughly follows: 1. Branch Infantry. 2. Get my airborne wings. 3. Graduate from Ranger School. 4. Become an Army Ranger. 5. Join the Special Forces. 6. Go to Delta Force. 7. Go to the even more secretive Intelligence Support Activity.

Of course, as a nerd, I dreamed of doing intelligence work for Delta. (Or, as they’re called now, the Combat Applications Group (CAG).) The farthest I got was doing intelligence for 5th Special Forces Group. By the time I left the Army to pursue my MBA, the allure of CAG had worn off.

But it wasn’t just me who didn’t care about CAG/Delta; Americans don’t really carry either. America now loves its SEALs. Kick-started by SEAL Team 6’s assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the SEAL legend has morphed from puppy love into full-blown stalker obsession. The Navy SEAL’s emphasis on secrecy only fuels this passion. Oh, the Navy SEALs, America’s quiet professionals, they don’t brag, they keep to themselves, they don’t do interviews and they shun media coverage.

Except when they don’t.

Though they are “quiet professionals”, they make quite a bit of noise. (Find examples of SEALs or SEAL supporters boasting about their “quiet professionalism” here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.) While the last movie about Delta Force came out in the 80s (Fine, The Unit was probably Delta Force), Navy SEALs have filled American airwaves with their stories, silently and quietly in the news constantly since 2010.

On cable television alone, we have seen...

- The Military Channel cover SEALs 24/7. In a post last year, Eric C looked at the schedule for The Military Channel. That night, their schedule included the TV programs “Weaponology: Sniper Rifles”, “Weaponology: Navy SEALs”, “Secrets of Navy SEALs” and “Secrets of SEAL Team 6”. Notice a trend?

- Not to be outdone, the National Geographic channel rushed out a movie on the Osama bin Laden raid last year.

- Oh, and the Discovery Channel also filled us in on the secrets of SEAL Team 6, which again, are not very secret any more.

SEALs are even more prominent on the big screen. Though Hollywood made Navy SEALs in 1990, they hadn’t made a movie featuring these quiet professionals...until the Osama bin Laden raid. (SEALs made guest spots in Tears of the Sun (which no one saw) and Transformers (which also had Rangers).) Now our “quiet professionals” have starred in Act of Valor and Zero Dark Thirty two years ago, Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips last year, and Peter Berg’s Lone Survivor this year. And Clint Eastwood’s upcoming American Sniper comes out next year.

All of this reminds us of Marcus Luttrell’s outstanding description of SEALs from the introduction to Service:

In these pages, you’ll get a glimpse of our elite special operations warriors who occasionally make headlines but strongly prefer to remain anonymous, quiet professionals.

Coming from a man who has written two books (and sold one of them to become a film), we couldn’t agree less.

thirteen comments

Nice irony at the end on this one.

I think SEAL popularity is just a fad though.
Wait 5 years and it’ll
be another military branch that
has all the attention.
Go mainstream entertainment
keeping attention spans short,
or the other way around.

Mike, First, congrats on the MBA! That’s awesome. I hear what you’re saying about the incongruity between what the SEALS say about being quiet professionals and what’s happening in the media, but I think it’s a good thing. First, it seems like it’s only a handful of actual SEALS that are making the headlines. Besides Marcus Latrell and that one sniper dude, I can’t really name any SEALS. As far as them being in the media, America needs a hero, especially now. We need to see some dude with the Stars and Stripes I’m his shoulder kick down bin laden’s door. I agree with Teague. This is just a fad, when an Army ranger fast ropes into kimmy sungs bathroom window and carries him out in his sparkly underwear, the discovery channels gonna have ranger month. The media is gonna play what sells. Right now that’s the SEALS. What do you think?


Read through the blog to get a better idea of where Mike and Eric are coming from. There is much more here than Marcus Luttrell.

I would especially suggest you read the post discussing why the differences between Luttrell’s book, the movie version of the book and other [official] version[s] of the events matter. http://www.onviolence.com/?e=763

Part of the problem with discussions about this subject area is that people let their emotions get in the way of rational thought. You may not agree with them, but Mike and Eric do not let their emotions get in the way of rational thought—can you say the same for yourself?

Alex, thanks for sticking up for us, but we had to delete Kaylee’s comment. She told us to “shut the f up”, and we don’t allow anyone in the comments to say that to anyone on the blog. It is rude and disrespectful, and we don’t allow that on the comments.

@ Jake – Can’t disagree too much, especially considering after Black Hawk Down, America loved Rangers. I would be curious if Somalia had happened in the full on Twitter age what the response would have been. So yeah, it is a fad, but it also seems strange that SEALs have released tons of books, but Delta hasn’t. (Of course, as we’ve written before I think, America really confuses Seal Team Six with all SEALs.)

First off, Michael thank you for your service to this country. On a second note, It didn’t sound like anyone was trying to bash the Navy SEALs for their heroism. These guys are definitely awesome warriors and indispensable to America. I think the point was that you shouldn’t label yourself as a quiet professional and then write a book/make a movie about it. Either change your label or don’t have books written by every third guy. Although, I disagree with you Michael. I was looking up books written by other special forces members. There seems to be quite a number by the other forces. http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/4017....

Well put, Jake. For other SF books, check out how many are written about snipers.

More SEAL envy, I get it. It’s going to be okay, bug guy.

It’s surprising they haven’t written a book yet about their true expertise-brand management. Embracing Hollywood is likely to be effective for them in this respect and in terms of getting new recruits and budget increases. Most Americans now think a 19 year old fresh BUD/s grad is on par with a seasoned CAG operator. As John Boyd said, “It is not true the Pentagon has no strategy. It has a strategy, and once you understand what that strategy is, everything the Pentagon does makes sense. The strategy is, don’t interrupt the money flow, add to it.” Seems like the frogs are following this tack, even though no one’s cracked the code on strategically defeating our enemies.

@ Jim – Very well put. Cynical, but true. The military embraces positive depictions, allowing access and using equipment.

Every one else? No thank you.

The real problem with the spec ops fads, whether they be seals, rangers, snipers or whatever is people begin to think that all you need to win wars are spec ops troops. Even people who should know better seem to believe this, or so it seems to me. We can have the best snipers and operators in the world but if we don’t have enough regular troops of sufficiently high quality we can’t win.

@ Carl – I agree one hundred percent. Great point. Not just people, but politicians.

Carl, I agree. Many observers think that commandos and special forces can solve counterinsurgency when effective counterinsurgency often requires several hundred thousand soldiers or more.