At the risk of turning TTAG into “The New York Times Book Review of Gun Stories,” I’ve read three outstanding books about Navy SEALs in the last month or so and with Veterans Day this week, a brief rundown seemed timely . . .
In the spirit of full disclosure, I actually listened to these three books rather than read them. My free time is pretty limited, but I do have some downtime while traveling, and audiobooks fit the bill perfectly. If you have never had a chance to listen to an audiobook, you should. Good ones are far more than simply someone reading the story in a droning monotone. A good narrator adds emphasis, accents, and other things making the reading more of a performance.
The first book is The Red Circle by Brandon Webb. Webb is a retired Navy Seal sniper who for a time following his deployment to Afghanistan, ran the SEAL sniper training course for the west coast SEAL teams. He begins with an account of how he found his way to the Navy and a reasonably detailed overview of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training program. But what TTAG devotees may find most interesting is his coverage of the SEAL sniper training – initially as a student and later as an instructor and ultimately course developer.
While Webb doesn’t divulge any classified information (as far as I know), he does go into some detail on equipment used and some of the training and deployment practices used by the SEALs. For folks interested in long range precision rifle shooting, it’s a great book.
One of the really cool things about the audio book version is that Webb himself has recorded a short introduction to each chapter which helps set context for the story to follow. In these sections and throughout the rest of the book, he comes across as an “aw shucks” sort of guy. While you come away from the book with a healthy respect for Brandon and other SEALs, at no time do you get the feeling that Webb is trying to toot his own horn. And by end, he has a couple of excellent tidbits including a story about the subject of my next recommendation, American Sniper.
It’s the autobiography of the late Chris Kyle (helped out by a couple of ghostwriters), the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. The book takes a different approach than The Red Circle. It’s the lightest of the three on the hell of BUD/S and other follow-on training, but goes into a fair amount of detail on Chris’s experience during four tours of duty in Iraq, serving in every major operation of the war including the battle of Fallujah.
While the book may be light on some details, the reader learns a lot about the battles that shaped the Iraqi war. You get a real feeling of what it’s like to be under fire through Kyle’s account. Of the three authors, Kyle definitely comes across as the most cocky. But as the saying goes, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.” And he could most certainly back it up.
You’ve may have seen Kyle on “Stars Earn their Stripes” or “Sons of Guns” and this book really helps to fill in the background on this extraordinary warrior.
My third book recommendation is Lone Survivor. It’s an eyewitness account of Operation Redwing and the lost heroes of SEAL Team 10. Of the three books, this one goes into the greatest detail of the BUD/S training including the initial indoctrination phase. The book also has a harrowing account of the infamous hell week. It’s truly shocking what the SEAL candidates are put through during this training and it only elevates the immense respect that I already had for them.
All this training is a good thing as the second half of the book focuses on the discovery of the four man SEAL team deep in enemy country by the Taliban and the battle as these four amazingly tough and brave men fought for their lives. Three of the SEALs were dealt terrible wounds yet continued to fight on. It was truly heartbreaking as the story of their heroic deaths are recounted.
Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor of the battle was badly wounded himself and was only saved by the generosity of the Pashtun people who come across him in the mountains and ultimately offer their protection and assistance. While it may be easy for us to think of all Muslims as terrorists, this book makes you to stop and question that point of view. The Pashtuns didn’t have to help Luttrell, but chose to do so and once having made that decision, were prepared to defend him with their lives against their own people in the Taliban.
Lone Survivor is truly a feel good story in the end. While you mourn the loss of the fallen SEALs who went into the mountains with Luttrell as well as the men who died trying to rescue them, you share his joy as Luttrell recounts the story of his family and friends learning he was still alive after five days of grief and worry.
One thing I noticed in all three books was how much respect the SEALs had for their brethren in the other branches of service. The authors all speak very highly of the bravery, commitment and abilities of the Army, Air Force, Marines and regular Navy personnel they work with. No one doubts that the SEALs are among the most highly trained and conditioned people in the armed forces, but they still respect the abilities of their brothers and sisters in the other branches.
You can’t help but be inspired by the amazing capabilities of the SEALs recounted in these three stories. If these books don’t inspire you to push yourself beyond your percieve limits — at least a little — nothing likely will.