By Joe Boyles
I recently read “Inside Seal Team Six” by Don “Doc” Mann with Ralph Pezullo. In light of the recent successes attributed to ST-6 including the assassination of Osama bin Laden, Doc Mann has written an engaging autobiography of his twenty year Navy career, most of it as a Seal and member of the elite team 6.
First, let me issue a warning. This book is heavily redacted, meaning that significant sections of the book are blacked out for security reasons. Rather than deleting the sections, heavy black lines over deleted text make some stories hard to follow. The Seals (which is an acronym for sea, air, land) are a shadowy organization that shuns the limelight. They thrive on anonymity.
Don Mann grew up in New England during the 1970s. From the start, he was an adrenalin junkie, a speed freak, always pushing himself to go faster and farther. As a teenager, he was in constant trouble with the law. As he puts it, Mann was on a fast track toward prison or an early grave when he decided to channel his energies toward the Navy. From the start, he wanted to be a Seal.
But the Navy doesn’t pick Seals from raw recruits, so after breezing through basic training, Don Mann was designated a corpsman, what the Army calls a medic. Thus, Don Mann became Doc Mann early in his military career. To push himself further, he began to enter long distance races like Ironman competitions with no preparation and rudimentary equipment. His competitive spirit and will to win was evident with consistently high finishes against seasoned performers. At one point, he trained himself so hard that his organs began to shut down from exhaustion. This is extreme!
Fairly early, the Seals decided they needed a medic and Mann passed the demanding physical and mental entrance requirements, so he was off to BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal) training at Coronado Island near San Diego. Frogman is a thing of the past; today’s Navy trains Seals. It has been said that BUD/S training is the most difficult of any military preparation course. Doc Mann began in a class of one hundred; 23 finished. Even after graduation from BUD/S, the apprentice Seal is on six months probation before being eligible for the coveted trident badge. And make no mistake, there are no women in the Seals. It’s a man’s world.
Being a medic, Doc Mann received some highly specialized medical training, including training at the Army’s infamous “Goat Lab.” He spent a great deal of time working in trauma centers because that would be the worst case scenario for his work as a Seal. His skills were called on repeatedly throughout his career.
Mann’s first assignment with the Seals was Team 1 which is based on the west coast at Coronado. But before long, Team 6 showed up to interview prospective candidates. Again, Mann’s training as a corpsman helped him stand out and he was selected for the elite unit.
Doc Mann’s duty took him to places like Somalia, Panama, El Salvador, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Twice he was captured by insurgent forces, both times talking his way out of a jam. Always, his bags were packed for a quick reaction departure to a troubled hot spot. Every operation was covert. Seals like Mann would prefer that no one knows their name or where they are. They live, move, and thrive in darkness.
Every Seal has additional duties on his team. In addition to being a corpsman directing all medical actions, Doc Mann was always his team’s lead climber. Whether the task called for boarding a ship; an oil rig; or climbing a mountain, he was always the first one on the rope to secure the objective, clearing the way for others to climb. As a fitness guru and long distance racer, he frequently established the most grueling training programs on his team. Today in his mid-50s and “retirement,” he trains recruits in Virginia before they depart for BUD/S. This is one tough cookie.
The rescue last week of two relief workers from Somalia highlights what the Seals and Team 6 are about. The squad parachuted silently out of a special ops cargo plane from high altitude, probably a high altitude, high opening (HAHO) approach. They landed at night in close proximity, buried their chutes, and formed into patrol to approach the target. The engagement was short-lived and resulted in all nine enemy killed. The hostages were rescued, stabilized and quickly taken to an extract point where a special ops helicopter using night vision equipment lifted everyone to safety. The entire operation was highly rehearsed and measured in minutes.
Another word of warning: with 300 days of away time each year, intense training and frequent injury, the Seals aren’t noted for stable marriages. Mann documents two failed marriages and estranged family as a result of his personality and career. But if you had a Seal as a next door neighbor, you would never fear a home invasion.
The Seals aren’t for everyone; in fact, they are only for a few. But they’re on our side, and we’re safer because they move silently through the night and dispatch our enemies.