Whether or not to offer encouragement and support to your child in deciding to join the U.S. military is a dilemma that millions of American parents have faced throughout the decades. Regardless of the answer, it is a question fraught with some difficulty, especially for this author, as a veteran and former Navy SEAL.
In the first place, it is not ultimately my choice to make, as a parent. After all, what my children ultimately do as they are making their life choices is up to them. However, I would be delusional to think that my opinion does not carry weight with my children. It absolutely does. I can sway them one way or another, whether it be subtly, or in a more heavy-handed fashion. Especially if it came to choosing to follow in my footsteps and go into Naval Special Warfare.
Over the years, I have had countless informal discussions with young people thinking about enlisting in the U.S. Navy and going on to Navy SEAL training (BUD/S). Most of those discussions usually also include one or both parents, as I am often meeting with 17- or 18-year-olds who are thinking about big life decisions.
Typically, the discussions revolve around how to make it through BUD/S, and what the process is like. No parents have yet asked me if they should be sending their kids off to BUD/S and I’m kind of relieved at that because I wouldn’t know how to answer them. This is primarily due to the stories I have heard in recent years, both from former SEALs and in the press. These have included the entirety of the Eddie Gallagher trial, reports of possible war crimes within the community, other criminal acts committed by SEALs in war zones and at home, the use of performance-enhancing drugs at BUD/S, and potentially preventable deaths of SEAL trainees.
I won’t go so far as to say that the SEAL community is irredeemably broken, as some have publicly claimed, because I don’t believe that’s the case. However, I do think that the community needs some reform, both at BUD/S and within its Tier 1 element, often referred to as SEAL Team 6. While the SEAL Teams continue to reliably complete some of the nation’s most critical missions, there nevertheless appears to be a cultural problem that needs addressing within the Teams.
I would hesitate to send my kids to BUD/S
As I left the community two decades ago, I can’t make a diagnosis or propose a solution. Perhaps the issues facing Naval Special Warfare are just a perception problem. Perhaps the community recognizes what needs to be changed, and is already on the way to making those changes. That is for the leadership of the SEAL community, of the larger U.S. Navy, and perhaps even, for the political leadership of the country to work out.
What I can say is this: if my child today asked me whether or not he should attempt to become a Navy SEAL, I would hesitate before I answered. I would suggest he look at the other branches’ special operations units. I would probe him as to what he hoped to gain from a career in the SEAL Teams. I would have a hard discussion with him about the moral choices he might be forced to make, both at BUD/S and within the SEAL Teams. In short, as things stand now, I could not in good conscience wholeheartedly approve of that life choice.
This hesitation on my part, which I believe must also undoubtedly be felt by some other parents across the country, should worry the leadership of the SEAL Teams, and prod them to take a hard look at the community and its values. While it saddens me to feel this way about a community that I and my family have been a part of for over 50 years, I also feel it is my duty to express this opinion because the Teams have meant so much to not only me and my loved ones but to the nation as a whole.
Frumentarius is a former Navy SEAL, former CIA officer, and currently a Captain in a career fire department in the Midwest. This first appeared in Sandboxx.