Published April 17, 2009
The world has been riveted by the news of the daring rescue of Captain Richard Phillips by U.S. Navy SEALs this week. In a dramatic turn of events, highly trained SEAL snipers eliminated the Somali pirates with deadly accuracy.
To my great fortune, I have embedded with U.S. Special Operators twice, once in Iraq and once in Afghanistan. People have the image that Special Operators are intimidating, trained killers. They are, but they are also some of the brightest and hardest-working people you could ever meet. Since they operate in a secretive world, they are wary of outsiders until they have a chance to get to know you and become comfortable.
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When they are deployed in the Middle East, they usually have beards in keeping with the local traditions of the region. They can use any weapon known to man and can speak several languages. They are just as well in classical literature as they are in military tactics.
What most people do not understand is the level of maturity and incredible knowledge that these men and women have. They are experts in versatility and easily adapt to the environments in which they operate — a necessity to their survival.
My first experience with Special Forces was going to their small compound situated in a large Iraqi city. It was a small handful of Special Forces soldiers in a city of about 500,000. When we arrived, I wondered whether my being there was a good idea. Very quickly, I was able to see that the Special Forces had trained the local security counterparts forged such a strong bond that the Iraqis would die protecting them. That made me feel a lot safer.
We saw a lot of the same things in Afghanistan where Special Operations Command (SOCOM) had stationed a joint Army-Marine Corps Special Forces group to train Afghan commandos to provide security in their country. I asked a Marine gunnery sergeant whether it would be easier to operate just with American forces instead of working with and training the locals. "It might be easier to just work with people that you have trained with for years," he replied. "But then they would never be able to protect their own country and we would never get home."
In this program, you will learn about all facets of Special Operators. Yes, they can be "scary" people who use deadly force. But, as you will see, they are also some of the most mature and educated men and women you will ever meet.
— Andrew Stenner is an associate producer for "War Stories"