It’s tough to stun a bunch of hormonal, unfocused 15-year-old sophomore boys, but we were good and truly stunned.
Up on my high school’s stage, a man paced like a panther contemplating his next meal. His voice was low but powerful, a deep baritone growl buzzing beneath every word he spoke. His presence was calm and placid, but there obviously lurked a tremendous resource of power, brains, and brawn a hair-trigger from release at any moment.
He told stories that simultaneously thrilled us and scared us to death. Stories of being blindfolded, duct-taped, bound with ropes, then driven to remote isolated locations and left to fend for himself. He told about being shoved into boxes, thrown into water, enduring tortuous demands and even torture itself. He told of facing powerful armed adversaries while defenseless.
And he came through each and every one of those true instances. The most astounding part of it all? The people doing all of these incredibly harsh things to him were on the same team.
He was a Navy SEAL, a member of the elite Sea, Air and Land commandos, and he was describing the unbelievable training he and his fellow SEALs experienced to prepare them for absolutely anything they might encounter later.
Part of an assembly to encourage recruitment into the armed forces, our guest SEAL did his job well. It made a lasting impression on me in two ways. First, I was very glad that we had guys like him safeguarding our nation. And second, there was no way I was cut out to be one of them.
The thought of that memorable assembly all those years ago sprang to mind as I read about the verbal dressing down a retired leader gave the current commander of the Navy SEALS for being too willing to talk about his team’s recent successes, including capturing and killing the world’s most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, and the rescue of civilians from a group of Somalian pirates.
“They’ve been splashing all of this all over the media,” said Lt. Gen. James Vaught, 85, while addressing the National Defense Industrial Association this week in Washington, DC. “I flat don’t understand that. Now back when my special operators extracted Saddam [Hussein] from the hole, we didn’t say one damn word about it. We turned him over to the local commander and told him to claim that his forces drug him out of the hole, and he did so. And we just faded away and kept our mouth shut.
“Now I’m going to tell you, one of these days, if you keep publishing how you do this, the other guy’s going to be there ready for you, and you’re going to fly in and he’s going to shoot down every damn helicopter and kill every one of your SEALs. Now, watch it happen. Mark my words. Get the hell out of the media.”
It’s a fascinating question. Typically, my advice to clients is to tell as much as you can, as soon as you can, as long as what you are saying is verified and validated. If you don’t frame the situation first, you remain at the mercy of others who may have a different perspective.
But when the Navy SEALs get called into action, the situation immediately becomes life-and-death serious. We’re not talking about a CFO embezzling from the company kitty, or an athlete sneaking steroids. We’re talking about precision strikes by highly trained fighters called in to do things no one else can. Is that appropriate fodder for full disclosure in the media?
When a mission ends as spectacularly successful as the recent SEAL examples, should details of that story be told to the world? Can the story be stopped, even if leadership decides to not talk about it? Is it better to release an official statement and provide as much background as possible, before potentially inaccurate and dangerous Facebook and Twitter versions have been slingshot around the planet?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut answer here. The patriot in me says the SEALs should keep this information confidential, to protect the next team that’s pressed into service. But the first amendment constitutionalist in me says it may be better to make sure the story gets told as accurately as possible.
This is a tough one. I’d love to hear what you think.
Copyright 2012 Transverse Park Productions, LLC