In this morning's NRO, W. Thomas Smith has asked if we are properly employing our SOF assets in Iraq and to put it more specifically, are we "burning up SEALs"? In the wake of PO Marc Lee's death while protecting his fellow frogmen, it is a question worth asking. Let me say from the outset that in NO WAY do I believe that Marc Lee's life was "wasted". Marc Lee is and will always be an American hero who placed the safety of his comrades above his own and personally ensured that Ryan Job and probably other members of his platoon are alive today. There is no greater deed that can be done in this life of ours than to lay down your own life to protect your family-which is what Marc gladly did.
Smith interviewed among others, LCDR Mark Divine, who is not only a fellow SEAL Reservist, but a personal friend of mine. Mark is a key figure in the new SEAL recruiting efforts underway in the Navy and his dedication to the Teams cannot be questioned. Mark is also a unique man in that he is an extremely intelligent advocate for the Teams and perhaps one of our most important strategic thinkers. He is a Master's level instructor in Leadership training at the University of San Diego and a person totally committed to the development of young American minds and especially young SEALs.
Divine pointed out that the operation in which Marc was engaged when he died was to support US Army conventional units in a cordon and search mission in downtown Ramadi. By all accounts, this is an unusual role for a SEAL platoon to play as Navy SEALs are strategic assets which are designed to be used to accomplish missions of a strategic nature. SEALs are used to being supported by conventional forces in the conduct of operations that will have a strategic impact on a conflict-not the other way around. The very limited number of SEALs on this planet necessitates that they be reserved and employed only on missions that are of the utmost importance and too complex for conventional forces to perform.
To be perfectly frank, one of the reasons that I became a SEAL instead of staying in the Marines, was because I believed that I could serve my country better being a member of an elite unit tasked with conducting highly specialized missions as opposed to facing large elements of enemy infantry in open combat. Traditional SEAL missions are characterized by utilizing stealth, surprise, and violence of action in order to acheive a strategic objective. Conventional infantry, on the other hand, does its work by employing large numbers of troops using superior firepower, manuever, and aggressive infiltration to acheive tactical control of a target area.
That said, I can understand why conventional commanders would want to use SEALs in a counter-insurgency role as they are, in a sense, insurgent-type fighters. The problem with that idea is that there are simply not enough SOF operators in the inventory to risk them in such a broad scoped guerilla war.