Sunday, May 08, 2016

Window into a warrior's world

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, navy seals, training, memoirs

There aren't many jobs for which the training, education and other preparation required can take longer than one's subsequent career. Navy SEAL is one of them. In Brandon Webb's case, he was in the Navy four years, doing whatever was needed to move him closer to being assigned to BUD/S, the training program for SEALs, before BUD/S itself took up a lot of another year. At that point he was a SEAL, and spent a year as a helicopter spotter and gunner. Then he was invited to train as a SEAL Sniper, which took up a good chunk of the following year. At age 28, after another active year, he was deployed to Afghanistan, where he took part in the January 2002 raid on Zhawar Kili, the mountain complex to which al-Qaeda had fled after being bombed out of Tora Bora. Not long after that he was assigned to the Training Detachment. In the four years that followed he and a handful of others reworked the program to radically increase the effectiveness of Navy snipers; so much so that the Army sought their help with their own program. During this time he trained Marcus Luttrell, who wrote Lone Survivor, and who credits Webb's training in stealthy stalking with saving his own life. In 2006, at age 32, Webb left the Navy to embark on a fulfilling post-SEAL career that draws heavily on the particular skills and training and experience he received as a SEAL. His explicit SEAL training may have totaled a couple of years, but his time in the Navy can be divided into nearly equal halves: Seven years leading up to his certification as a SEAL Sniper, and the eight years that followed; and 2/3 of that was training the next generation of snipers.

That's a basic outline of what we read in Webb's book The Making of a Navy Seal: My Story of Surviving the Toughest Challenge and Training the Best, written with John David Mann. Usually you might think of such an outline as a spoiler, but read the book. Knowing what is coming doesn't spoil a thing. Re-living it with Webb as he and his co-author practically drag us into his life, that is the real pleasure of reading this book. And for an armchair warrior like me, it has the added bonus that I didn't have to get the bruises or feel the thirst along the way.

It is a comfort knowing that, in spite of this country's quisling leadership, there are still those who train far, far beyond what is possible for most of us, to engage the ruthless and wily enemies that still plague us, and ensure those freedoms that undergird the wonder that is the United States of America.

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