When Navy SEAL Team 6 stormed into Osama bin Laden's hideout in Pakistan a week ago, that was not just a fighting force. That was the most elite fighting force in all the world. It's harder to become a Navy SEAL than it is to enter Harvard Law School. Different, but harder.
Entry to the SEALs is perhaps the most brutal test of a man's will in all the military. There's usually a hundred and sixty of them hoping to be selected for each class. There will probably be only eleven left standing at the end of this most searching test of character.
It's a six month road to hell. Driven by their teak-hard instructors, they pound the Pacific beaches at Coronado, mile after mile. At the beginning, someone drops out just about every hour. They are driven into the Pacific Ocean. Freezing, shivering, they undertake a succession of exercises -- lifting, pulling, rowing, swimming -- until it seems no one can take it anymore. Except the guys who'd rather die than quit. Even going to lunch is murder. It's a two mile jog from the beach to the chow hall, mostly in teams of six, carrying a boat on their heads. Seventy-five percent of all SEALs have college degrees. The mental training, the development of an iron-will is as brutal as the physical test. One SEAL, whom I know well, told me of a devastating night when he had prepared his room for a 2 a.m. inspection.
Two instructors climbed up a ladder outside, through the window and trashed the place, hurling everything asunder, tipping out drawers, hurling washing powder all over the SEALs possessions. When he arrived back for inspection, he was immaculately dressed in his pressed trousers, polished shoes, starched shirt and devastated by the condition of his room. The instructor arrived immediately and bawled him out, ordering him instantly to go down to the beach and get "wet and sandy." At 2 a.m. the young SEAL ran across the dunes in the dark, all the way to the freezing water's edge, and plunged in wearing his best clothes. The instructor watched him for 12 minutes and ordered him out, to roll in the soft sand. When he finally stood up, the instructor told him he looked ridiculous, and to get back up and clean himself up and his room. As the SEAL jogged by, the instructor patted him on the back and told him, "Don't worry about it, son. I just needed to know how much unfairness you could take."
It was men like this who stormed Osama bin Laden's house. Men like this whose expertise at marksmanship, tactics and if necessary, hand-to-hand combat is the best there has ever been. They think odds of five to one against them is probably fair. Marcus Luttrell, whose book which I co-authored, Lone Survivor, has become a classic, described the last day of training when there were only eleven left, thus: "Matt McGraw could only say, 'Thank God, thank God.' Two guys fell to their knees and wept. Someone was saying, 'It's over. It's over.' Like the remnants of a ravaged army, we helped one another back over the sand dunes, picking up those who fell, supporting those who could barely walk. In our wildest imaginations, no one had ever dreamed it would be this bad."
Those are the Americans they sent in to take out bin Laden, those iron-souled SEALs who came clattering in over that Pakistani town, in the dark, not knowing what awaited them when they hurtled down the ropes into that compound. Might it be a heavy machine gun? Might they have to blow the place apart? How many of them would make it home? For a normal person it would have been terrifying, but for the SEALs it was different, because they're trained to believe they're invincible. And they rushed out into the dark, with their courage high, and they smashed their way through their mission. Because they are not other people. They are men who would rather die than quit.
In my latest thriller, published on May 2nd, The Delta Solution, SEAL Team 10 acts in an identical fashion, as they prepare to raid a ship held by Somali Pirates. It is a fantastic coincidence, but will tell you much of what you want to know about how they operate.
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