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‘Whiskey Tango Foxtrot’
SEAL Team Six by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin
© 2014 James LaFond
JUN/26/14
Memoirs of An Elite Navy SEAL Sniper
2011, St. Martin’s, NY, 331 pages
‘Mother Ocean’
Howard’s story begins like many special operations soldiers does, with a rough childhood. He then goes on to give the standard account of BUD/S training. His details on sniper training were very pointed, not comprehensive. I loved his sniper’s view. He is the fourth SEAL I have read and the sixth sniper. He is the most interesting operator of them all. Perhaps the craziest detail he gives is the fact that the hundreds of SEALs expend more ammunition in training than the entire U.S. Marine Corp.
As usual with SEALs you get the recreational violence stories. The best was probably when he and three SEAL comrades took on 4 Tunisians, 30 cops, a police dog [which was critically bitten by a SEAL] and a bouncer in a bar fight and parking lot brawl. Just reading this account and the ‘WeeWee and the rednecks’ story was worth the price.
The ghost writing by Stephen Templin was top notch—perhaps the best I have read. The book moves, and comes full circle. The thing that Howard pressed home for me more than any of the other SEALs was how important, and how much of a refuge, the sea was, what they called ‘Mother Ocean’.
‘The Smell of Hopelessness’
Howard served in a number of ops in the 1990s, including Desert Shield and Desert Storm, before he went to sniper school. He details the essence of operating in ‘underdeveloped countries’ and assigns a smell, an actual ‘scent’ to hopelessness. The reader gets to meet Howard the man as the dehumanized military façade peals away before the real sorrow of his enemies and the abject poverty of the local noncombatants.
‘Under the Black Cloak of Sunday’
The action in the book mostly transpires in Mogadishu Somalia where Howard and three other SEALs were detailed to capture or take out the warlord Farrah Aidid. He gives an insightful glimpse of a UN operation that was entirely compromised by the press—who had more Pentagon pull than the SEALs—and the scumbag Italian contingent. The U.S. Quick Reaction Force comes off as a joke even though he does not make malicious comments and praises all of his U.S. comrades for their bravery. The Pakistani and other U.N. contingents get high praise as well.
That said the U.S. Forces in Somalia seemed like a Keystone Cops operation. Soldiers were not permitted to have a bullet in the chamber. Hits on Aidid and others were scratched—as if the higher ups were working with the enemy. The heroic friendly Somalis, which was most of them, were assassinated by Aidid’s people with the help of the press and the Italians, and then left behind to be butchered when the inept Clinton clones had screwed the thing up beyond all repair.
In many ways Howard is like a later day American version of Ernst Junger; a soldier who refuses to become a drone, who never checks his humanity at the door. He is at his best as an author-interview subject when he discusses why a sniper should have a belief in a higher power; why atheism is the wrong ethos to bring to sniping. Time and again, he was authorized or even ordered to take shots, and balked based on his Christian convictions, and when he did so, it inevitably turned out to be a shot that should not have been taken: a kid on a roof from an allied family trying to imitate the SEALs, an old man who is only hauling enemy ammo to keep his family from being executed. This perspective is balanced with his duty to his comrades in arms.
A note for all of you manliness guys who are working on resuscitating your reviled gender identity: There are few modern warriors as respected as the SEALs. One of the reasons Howard gives for their field effectiveness being way out of proportion to their numbers and weapons, is that they do not operate according to a strict hierarchy, but as interconnected war-fighters, bound by something greater than rank, and looking to the man who is best at the moment at dealing with the situation at hand, as the leader. This is how most primitive warriors have operated for most of human history and prehistory. Howard drives that point home decisively.
‘In Booger-eater Territory’
If you have read the book or seen the movie Blackhawk Down, you should really read this. SEAL Team Six comes to a crescendo as Howard and his teammates pair up with some Rangers and DELTA operators as part of the hopelessly ill-conceived light caravan through Aidid’s clan territory. This is some of the most gripping firsthand modern battle action I have seen in print.
SEAL Team Six is a topnotch modern war memoir that gives us a snapshot of a U.S. Military of a different era, before the eggheads at the Pentagon realized they were fighting World War Three.
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