It’s been since December that I last posted a chapter on “My time in the Corps,” but I’ve finally finished the next chapter. Here she be. (All earlier chapters here.)
Chapter 6: My thoughts on the SEALs
I want to share my thoughts on the Navy SEALs in this chapter not because my views matter, but rather because a look at how I viewed them back in the day will give some revealing insight into the mentality of a Marine.
Best of all, I think it’ll also teach you a few lessons that’ll help you in your current situation in life.
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, my platoon was fortunate to spend almost a year with the elite Marines known as Force Recon. And during several of those training ops, we got to train with the SEALs as well. Specifically, it was SEAL Team 2 out of Little Creek, Virginia.
So, what did nineteen-year-old Lance Corporal Mitchell think of the SEALs? In short, I’d say that we thought we were just as good as they were. (Please don’t attack me over this until you read further!)
It’s funny. I went into the Corps holding the SEALs up in my mind as some kind of supermen. Some kind of Rambo-like force of bullet-proof men.
But it wasn’t long upon arriving to the Fleet that their sky-high reputation began taking hits from higher ranking Marines and instructors who trained me. Even at the School of Infantry, which you attend immediately after Boot Camp, I’ll never forget a salty sergeant talking about doing a machine gunner’s course in Israel with the SEALs. According to him, after the SEALs and Marines had finished their initial iteration of the fire-and-movement range, the SEALs decided to do it again.
Except this time, he said they were showing out. Going much faster and showboating in front of the Marines there, trying to really destroy the time it took to clear the course. And during this run, one of the Navy SEAL machine gunners let his machine gun get away from him on a long burst and some rounds bounced off a wall and hit a SEAL teammate. The story got a little more outrageous at that point when my Marine Corps instructor claimed the SEALs froze up upon seeing the devastating wound and were crying and panicking over their bleeding buddy. According to this tale, the sergeant ran forward and put a tourniquet on the SEAL’s leg — the man had allegedly been hit in the quad muscle.
So in short, the sergeant was saying the Marines saved the day, so to speak, after these elite SEALs made a stupid mistake and then froze up at the sight of a wounded comrade.
Even as a brand-new Marine, I didn’t believe the latter part of the story of them freezing up. It’s just nearly impossible to imagine a dozen or more SEALs just panicking and not providing first aid. Hell, even brand new Marines in Boot Camp are taught first aid and how to apply a tourniquet. Surely the SEALs master this skill as well.
Honestly, I’m even a tad skeptical of the first part of the story. For all I know it never even happened. While it’s true the sergeant told lots of vivid details about the incident, he may have been simply a gifted story teller.
Perhaps it happened, but he simply stretched the truth about the SEALs panicking. But the greater point is that in the Corps, they were hacking away at the reputation of the SEALs from some of my earliest training days. And I don’t think that was accidental.
The sergeant wanted us to believe that we were every bit as good as the SEALs or any other force out there. It was part of the mindset they were trying to hammer into our heads.
Every time the SEALs slipped up, the rumors would fly through the ranks of the Corps. “Yeah, they’re not the good.” “They’re just cocky, arrogant surfer boys who can’t do the basics well.”
On and on you would hear it.
I’ll never forget when a squad of Marines were playing the bad guys in an observed operation. A battalion of Marines were on ship and were playing the good guys, invading some make-believe small country that had overthrown their government. Waiting for the battalion on the beach and in defensive positions further in country was an op force, or opposing force. If memory serves me correctly, there was a company of these Marines playing the bad guys.
But the only part of the story that bears telling is a squad of these bad guys (regular infantry Marines, just like me), was to defend the beaches on where the good guys might land. And there were like only three places the battalion could safely land.
So these Marines studied the maps, make their best educated guess, and guarded one of those beaches, while the other hundred Marines in their company dug in deeper inland.
Day after day these Marines stayed hidden, watching the beach, hoping the SEALs or the rest of the battalion would land on their beach. The bad guys didn’t know when it would happen — or even if it would happen on that beach — but they held onto hope that they’d picked right. And sure enough, one night the SEALs showed up on their beach.
These Marines used their night vision to watch two scout swimmers land right in front of them. And instead of firing their blanks at the two SEALs, the Marines stayed hidden and somehow managed to not get seen. The two SEALs, thinking the beach was clear and safe, signaled for the rest of the SEALs to come in with their rubber boat.
And as the boat landed and the SEALs worked to drag it up the beach, these Marines launched their ambush, firing blanks and yelling like a bunch of crazy maniacs. An impartial observer, who was with the Marines watching the action, said the Marines would have wiped out the entire SEAL squad, and I remember holding onto that story as if my life depended on it.
Sure, it would probably never happen again. Not even in a hundred more attempts, but at least once, a squad of Marines had stayed exceptionally disciplined and hidden, and the Marines had bested one of the most elite units our nation has to offer. Appalachian State had beaten Michigan.
When you’re a young Marine who thinks he’s six feet tall and bulletproof, you hold onto stories like that. You tell friends at home about situations like this. And you say with absolute confidence that Marine infantry are as good as Navy SEALs.
Obviously, this isn’t close to being true. The SEALs are a much smaller unit. Their selection standards and training metrics are far more difficult. I could go on and on, but I don’t have to: you already know the SEALs are better than the Marines. Much better.
Even though it was mostly foolish that we thought we were as good as the SEALs, I still think there’s a lesson in this situation.
The Marine Corps has it right about comparing yourself to others: you shouldn’t ever see yourself as being inferior to others. You shouldn’t ever sell yourself short or think your team or company isn’t as good as the competition.
I remember when I finally got to meet the SEALs, I glared at them and wanted them to absolutely know I didn’t think they were any better than me. My buddies did the same. Even my squad leader, who I barely respected (more on that later), bragged about being able to run better than them. He had run on the flight deck with a bunch of them and since he was a gifted runner (that was about all he was), he just wouldn’t shut up about how bad they were at running.
There’s a lot more to combat than running, but instead of reminding him of that, I basked in his take down of them as well. I wanted to believe I was as good as they were, and any (and all) evidence of such a thing was gladly accepted by me.
As any service member who’s ever served in any branch knows, competition between services is fierce. And frankly, this competition is good. It sharpens each of our branches of services.
To be a Marine, you have to think you’re the best. It doesn’t mean it’s true, but it does mean you have to believe it.
Likewise, no matter what sector of work we’re in as civilians (or branch as service members), you need to think you’re the best as well. You need to have pride and high standards. You need to push as hard as you can, pretending you’re as good as a Navy SEAL if that’s what it takes to up your game.
Competition as a civilian is crushing. You literally have to be better than those around you or you will lose out. You’ll miss out on that promotion. You’ll be cut when it’s time for the company to tighten its belt.
Likewise, if you don’t have high standards in the military, it could cost you your life. You need to think you’re the best and require those around you who are dropping the ball to step it up. A unit is only as good as its weakest link,
In short, I hope each of you reading this will no longer see a coworker or fellow squad member as being better than yourself. If you believe that, then you need to change your views. Change that mindset because it will cost you at some point, if it’s not already.
Once you’ve changed your mental beliefs, start stepping up your game. If you’re a civilian, dress nicer. Show up earlier. Stay later. Work on your attitude and watch who you’re hanging out with. If co-workers are complaining about the company, politely excuse yourself. Don’t allow that poison to infect yourself.
Think of the good things about the job. Make a list of ten things you enjoy about the job, even if it’s a struggle. Change your mindset, grow your gratitude, and rise to another level. And if you’ve outgrown your job, have the courage to begin looking for the next step in your career.
Keep pushing, my friend. We may not be Navy SEALs, but we don’t have to think they’re any better than us.
Stan R. Mitchell
Stan R. Mitchell, author and prior Marine, is best known for his Nick Woods Marine Sniper series, which has remained in the Top 100 on Amazon for more than three years. The series has also been picked up by Audible.com for a multi-book audio deal. Additional works include a Western thriller, detective series, and World War II story. Learn more at http://stanrmitchell.com.