Navy SEAL training (shutterstock)
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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.

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  1. We’ve seen a lot of SEALs on ‘Top Shot’ and ‘Stars Earn Stripes’ and there are a lot of books and movies (released or in production) about Navy SEALs right now. Showing our nation’s well-deserved respect and admiration for these professionals is good and proper, but many experts and operators think that this level of publicity is too much of a good thing.

    It’s hard to maintain the cultivated ethos of this core of ‘silent professionals’ when ghostwriters, movie studios, journalists and Reality TV producers are offering recently-retired SEALs and Delta operators three to fire years’ active-duty pay for their name and story.

    I don’t offer this as a criticism of the special forces community or anyone who has ever served in it. These men, and the things they do, are flat-out amazing, but successful clandestine/covert operations don’t go off very well under a constant media spotlight.

    • You make a good point, but the three books I read really don’t reveal anything beyond what is already available from other sources. Rather, it just collects them onto one place. All that bad guys are likely to get from these books is a better understanding of how screwed they are should Spec Ops folks come looking for them.

      Granted, there are lines that should not be crossed, but there is not that much harm in giving folks a small peek into the world of these guys. Then again, as long as the Pentagon wants to make full length feature films featuring the actual operators and the Obama administration wants to leak details at the drop of the hat, I don’t begrudge any of these guys for cashing in on the hard work they have done.

      Ome other thing to keep in mind. When you say Special Forces, you are referring to Army operators only. SEALs and the spec ops folks from the other branches are more correctly called Special Operations.

      • You are correct: I clumsily referred to Special Forces instead of ‘Special Operations.’ Proper nomenclature can be important, and I should have remembered the difference.

        These books you’ve listed were all properly submitted for vetting and carefully reviewed by the DOD prior to publication; they aren’t leaking anything sensitive. Bissonette’s book, as well as the original cut of Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘Geronimo’ film, may have leaked operational secrets.

  2. I just got done reading a great book by one of the SEALS who was on the mission to kill Bin Laden. It’s called “Exactly HOW We Conduct Missions and Exactly HOW We Can Be Defeated by People Who Learn Too Much About Our Tactics by Reading Books that We Write About Ourselves”. It’s a great read, check it out.

    • Yup… reading books about our elite warriors and the missions they undertake will give the enemy the edge… every bit as much as being a Keyboard Commando COD player makes any 18+ yr old as ready for Delta, SEALS, etc as those already serving in “regular” units…

  3. I read Lone Survivor. The account of the selection (and his preparation prior to joining the Navy) are astonishing. Not to Monday morning quarterback, but I can’t help wondering if a couple of zip ties could have prevented the situation. Also, I wish the scvmbags who killed his dog could have gotten more time.

  4. So having heard / read all 3 books, which would you read again first? Or more precisely, in what order would you read the 3 books now that you’ve heard / read all 3?

    • Depends on what you want to get out of it. If you are interested in long range shooting, the Red Circle. If you want a great account of BUD/S, I’d read Lone Survivor. If you want a firsthand account of Operation Iraqi freedom, then I’d read American Sniper. I read them in the order that I presented them. If you are going to read all three, do Red Circle first then you can choose the order of the other two.

  5. The Warrior Elite and The Finishing School, both by Dick Couch, are excellent books for anyone looking to learn about the training Navy seals must go through before going on their first deployment. The Warrior Elite covers all of BUD/S training while The Finishing School, the prior’s sequel so to speak, covers SQT, Cold Weather Training, and some other things.

    • Oddly enough, Marcus Lattrell is in “The Warrior Elite.” he joins the featured class at the beginning of Phase II training and graduates with that class.

  6. Easily the most overlooked book written by a Navy SEAL in the recent past:

    Powerful Peace: A Navy SEAL’s Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War

    I’ve read two of the three about (still haven’t read Red Circle) and would strongly encourage people who have any interest in understanding the use of power balanced against a hope for peace read Mr. DuBois’ book as well.

    Cheers, -Pk

  7. May have gotten a lot of negative press, but “No Easy Day” is a good read. Green Team was pretty interesting, as well as some of the other missions the author describes.

  8. I want more on USSAF Pararescue. From all accounts, they are really some kick ass dudes with some of the toughest training out there. Someone once said that Pararescue is called when other SOFs need a lifeline.

    • “That Others May Live” by Jack Brehm is the book for you. USAF PJ’s don’t get much recognition outside the circle of those they rescue, but they deserve it.

  9. I just finished reading “Fearless – the Adam Brown Story” and really enjoyed it. More about what he overcame to become a SEAL than the combat ops, insipiring read. Goes through his faith, training, various injuries and top level detail on operations he was involved with. Totally different than American Sniper and Lone Survivor, both of which I enjoyed as well.

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