As you will have read, on Saturday America's special operations forces (SOF) community suffered its worst single-day loss ever (*), when a helicopter carrying 30 American personnel and eight of our Afghan friends was shot down.
In that moment, we lost 17 SEALs from DEVGRU ("SEAL Team Six"), five Navy Special Warfare support personnel, four pilots and crew from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (the "Night Stalkers"); three Air Force special tactics guys (an elite combat controller and two Pararescuemen); and a military dog handler and his dog. These people are, in a word, the very best of our best, and their loss is a grievous one.
Even worse, there are going to be a number of newly fatherless children as of Saturday. And they're going to need looking after. For that reason, I bring your attention to:
The Special Operations Warrior FoundationSOWF supports America's special operations forces by providing full college educations to the surviving children of fallen operators as well as immediate financial assistance to those severely wounded, so that their families can travel to be with them.
The primary mission of the foundation is to provide a college education to every child who has lost a parent while serving in the Special Operations Command. Today, the foundation has 760 children in its program, who receive or will receive full funding for tuition, books, fees, room and board, and a laptop.
The Foundation has received five consecutive four-star ratings from the nation's leading charity watchdog, Charity Navigator.
You can make a tax-deductible donation at www.specialops.org.
The demands we make of our SOF personnel to train to the very razor edge of skills and capability, to maintain a blisteringly high operational tempo for years on end, and to undertake terrible risks constantly are enormous. Only real-life superheroes can do what they do. If you'd like to learn more about two of the units that were hit on Saturday and the more you learn about them, the more knocked out you'll be I commend you to:
The Night Stalkers, by Michael J. Durant and Steven Hartov, w/LTC (Ret) Robert L. JohnsonThe 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR) was formed in the aftermath of the debacle at Desert One, when inadequate helos and pilots caused the failure of the mission to rescue the American hostages in Tehran (which would have been Delta Force's first). The lesson learnt was that an elite counter-terrorism force can't counter anything if it can't get to where the terrorists are. Hence the 160th.
The Night Stalkers are the Delta Force of aviators. They fly at night, in horrifying weather, inches off the deck, in non-permissive environments, under fire, in the mountains, and over water. And they guarantee delivery of their "customers" to their target at the planned insertion time plus or minus 30 seconds on time, every time. 160th pilots have been known to do things like hold a hover while large-caliber bullets tear through the airframe and air-burst RPGs explode all around, so guys fast-roping out can make it safely to the ground.
160th pilots also cross-train in small arms combat (they may end up fighting alongside their customers, as in Mogadishu); battlefield medicine (they may have to patch up operators, or themselves); escape and evasion (for when they're shot down over enemy territory) and open water survival (ditto, over the ocean).
Michael Durant is the Black Hawk pilot who was shot down and captured in Mogadishu. This amazing book tells the story of the 160th from its founding to the current conflicts, with its most harrowing, dramatic, and heroic moments drawn in vivid detail. It's a thrill ride just reading about what these guys do every day.
SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper, by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen TemplinBefitting a sniper, Wasdin's timing was excellent his book was in the publication pipeline when his old unit took down bin Laden. Seal Team Six now known as the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU is our other Tier-1 black special operations force. Hyper-skilled, totally indefatigable, and absurdly smart, man-for-man they rival anyone in the world at hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, direct action, and strategic reconnaissance missions. Like their brother operators in Delta, they genuinely seem superhuman.
But surprisingly human for all that. The great interest in military memoirs is usually the "memoir" part; and one is reminded, reading Wasdin's wonderful book, that all drama is human drama. There seems hardly any getting away from Mogadishu, and that's where Wasdin met his Waterloo. As part of the "lost convoy" that drove endlessly and at great cost through the streets looking for Durant's crash site, Wasdin (already wounded) flubbed his initial shot at a gunman in an alley, who shot him in the leg, nearly severing it below the knee.
This effectively ended his military career. However, years of painful rehabilitation and resulting back pain led him to his new one: as a happy and prosperous doctor of chiropractic. Very funny old thing, life. (*)
Mind-wrenchingly skilled and elite unit; wonderful man, writer(s), and book. (disclosure)
Surpassing the loss of 11 Navy SEALs and eight special operations aviators in Operation Red Wings in 2005.
What are the odds of him missing that shot a doubletap instinctive fire headshot with his sidearm, for which he had trained and practiced hundreds if not thousands of hours? And where would he be now if he hadn't missed?
Dr. Wasdin and I share both a literary agency (Trident Media Group) and a publisher (Macmillan). Though I've never had the honour of meeting him.