We are proud to present Rear Admiral Thomas Brown (USN, ret) as our first #YOUAREGOVX member profile during Military Appreciation Month. A historically minded, ‘Big Picture’ thinker, Brown’s long career and multiple commands established him as an authority on the global role of Special Operations Forces. Are you thinking about trying for a career in SOF? This is essential reading:
NEVER RING THE BELL: BUD/S training and SEAL conditioning
I learned of the UDT/SEAL program as a freshman at the University of Connecticut. The depth of the challenge appealed to me, so I decided to pursue an NROTC scholarship at the University of New Mexico that would be put in position to apply after I graduated. Though I didn’t know it at the time, there were only 17 billets a year for officers to attend BUD/S, and NROTC grads only got four of those. I guess I lucked out, and I got one of those slots. By comparison, today, there are around 90 billets a year for SEAL officers. There has been a massive growth of the SEAL community since 1983, when there were about a thousand active duty SEALs.
REGARDLESS OF ONE’S ABILITIES, THE SEAL PROGRAM IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. AND THAT WILL NEVER CHANGE.
At BUD/S, I flirted with the idea of ringing the bell when things were especially painful, but I didn’t let myself give it any serious thought. In Hell Week, they organize you as seven-man boat crews, including a coxswain who steered the boat, and every event is a competition. This was when most of the guys who quit rang the bell. This one member of our team—whom I recall as one of the strongest, fastest athletes in the class— always held back and put a greater burden on the rest of the crew, whether it was lifting the log or rowing the boat. During ‘surf conditioning’ where we spent most of the night staying just on the alive side of hypothermia, this man got the thousand-yard stare. As the boat crew leader, I was supposed to encourage the whole team to stay in the program, but I knew this man was holding us back. I put little effort into convincing him to stay. The instructors got him to give it one more try … but an hour later, he quit. For good.
Another time in Hell Week, one of the more physically strong members of my class went tearing out of the water, heading toward the bell. A member of my crew tried to stop him, and was rewarded for his effort with a punch to the face. He continued out of the water and rang the bell.
Regardless of one’s abilities, be it strength, endurance, or intelligence, the SEAL program is not for everyone. And that will never change. So if someone wants to quit, and you see character flaws in a trainee that will make him the wrong person you’d want to rely upon in combat, they should ring the bell. The people who quit, however, are for the most part good and highly motivated young men; it’s just that the program wasn’t meant for them.
On the SEALs of yesterday and today.
The SEALS of the post-9/11 world are better trained, equipped, and prepared than those of my generation. They’ve also been forged in the fire of combat and intelligence and other operations, opportunities that were in short supply during the pre-9/11 times when the military and special operations forces sat on the sidelines of the war against Islamic extremists. This is a conflict that had been going on for decades prior to 9/11 waking the country up to what very well may be an existential threat to our way of life.
OVERCOMING THE IDEA THAT SEALS ALWAYS HAD TO HAVE SWIM FINS IN ONE HAND AND A GUN IN THE OTHER WASN’T ACHIEVED UNTIL AFTER 9/11.
The 80s were a time of reinvestment in special operations, and we saw the beginnings of improved training and equipment, but it was very rarely employed in field operations. The 90s saw the first Gulf War, troubles in Haiti, and conflict in the Balkans, so the investment in improved training and equipment paid off and the SEALs were employed more frequently, though they remained mostly maritime focused. At the time, few military leaders really understood that the light infantry training the SEALs receive is probably the best in the world (although I’m a little prejudiced in my judgment here.) But overcoming this idea that SEALs always had to have swim fins in one hand and a gun in the other wasn’t achieved until after 9/11, where the demand was so great that leaders threw out their preconceived perception of the L in Sea, Air, and Land. They eventually came around to the understanding that SEALs were highly proficient in land combat ops.
Today’s Naval Special Warfare Community is in the best possible place. We’ve increased the number of combat support personnel, from intelligence analysts that map out enemy networks, SEABEEs that maintain our forward operating bases, aviators that fly our UAVs, supply, gunner’s mates, personnel that operate our tactical ops centers that track missions and can call for fire support and CASEVAC, and a list of other essentials too long for this article. Most importantly, we continue to be seen as the best option for most maritime special operations, but we’ve also proved ourselves as expert light infantrymen, from the precision commando raids to kill bin Laden and rescue hostages, to the battles along the Euphrates River Valley were SEALS supported infantry and armor in operations against radical extremists.
MANY ARE UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT TERRORISM AND AL QAIDA PHILOSOPHY IS LIMITED TO THE MIDDLE EAST. THE REALITY IS, THIS THREAT IS GLOBAL.
SERVING IN LATIN AMERICA: A global conflict
There are still terrorist groups like the FARC in Colombia, and Sendero Luminoso in Peru that cling to the veneer of Marxist or Maoist communist doctrine to motivate their troops. They present themselves as attempting to free the people from oppression. The reality is that these organizations murder, extort, damage the environment, employ child soldiers, grow and sell illegal drugs, use land mines … just about everything a progressive would be against is central to their business model. It’s all about power and control.
It's unfortunate that in parts of the world such organizations still receive support, which is particularly surprising in some European countries where many still view these narco-terrorists as ‘freedom fighters.’
Many are under the impression that terrorism and Al Qaida philosophies are limited to the Middle East. The reality is different. This threat is global and that includes the Western Hemisphere.
USSOF contributes by working with partners to achieve a secure environment that will allow for people to live safely and economies to flourish. America will do better through such security investments. In my view, Latin American and Caribbean can form a strong reservoir for the West, greatly increase the size and resilience of that grouping of nations that shares the value of private enterprise and individual freedom. US interests in Latin America are relatively straightforward; we work with the nations of the Western hemisphere based on our shared values, founded in the beginnings of Western thinking in Athens thousands of years ago.
ON POST MILITARY LIFE.
I’m presently in a leadership position with GVP Global Corporation, a Captive Venture Fund focused on clean energy, biotech, firefighting, and water remediation. It’s a very entrepreneurial endeavor where good judgment and leadership values are critical. I hope my experience in the Navy and special operations serve me well here.
I’m also quite involved with my wife Stephanie and her team, Leona, Jill, Robin, and the others who make up The Rosie Network. They continue to raise funds for the innovative idea they’ve implemented to help veterans and their families become entrepreneurs or expand businesses. It works principally through the presence of veteran and military family owned businesses where consumers can choose to purchase services or products of veterans and their families. The Rosie Network offers or intends to offer a variety of other services including education, micro-loans, and mentorship.
KNOW YOUR ENEMY: The continued importance of Special Operations Forces
The nation will increasingly rely on SOF to guide our efforts against the kind of hybrid and political warfare being waged today by Russia and Iran as well as combating increasingly dangerous non-state actors who use unconventional approaches and tactics that SOF is best equipped to confront. Our community includes information operations, civil affairs, and other capabilities that form a powerful platform to combat the complex forms of aggression our foes wage worldwide. SOF excels at confronting these threats wherever they arise.
If you make it into the SOF community, study the world, learn the languages, and be an expert in military science. SOF excels at understanding countries, regions, sub-regions, building partnerships and unconventional thinking and solutions. You need to truly understand how our adversaries think and operate, just as you need to understand our allies.