My first Team out of BUD/s was SEAL Team Four. When my BUD/s Class received our orders, I was ecstatic to learn that I would be joining Team Four, and I was also the envy of most of my classmates. The reason for their coveting of my orders was that Team Four’s Area of Operations was South America, and OPERATION JUST CAUSE had recently kicked off. This meant that I would likely be getting in the shit right off the bat, or so I thought.
Little did I know the latter was not to be, for a couple reasons, not the least of which was the fact that the conflict was short lived.
Noriega and his cronies wound up being no match for our U.S. Special Operations Forces. Our quick victory in Panama did not come without cost, as Team Four took a big hit during the Patilla Airfield raid and sustained 4 KIA and twice that many WIA during the ensuing firefight. It was a dark day for our community and for the team. It was also a somber and humbling experience for me. It made me realize very quickly that being a team guy was much more than just making it through BUD/s and showing up at the team. I had a long way to go, and a lot to learn before I would be ready to deploy, and even if the conflict had lasted longer, I was far from ready at that point to be any good to anybody in an operational situation. What I would come to realize pretty quickly is that BUD/s is hard, because being a Team Guy is hard. I would experience challenges at Team Four and other places in my career over the years that were harder than anything I experienced in BUD/s.
Showing up as an FNG to a SEAL Team fresh off the battle field was, let’s just say… interesting. It was far from a warm welcome, and the lessons came hard and often. I remember walking down the hall upon arrival and getting one dirty look after another from dudes that looked like they had just popped straight out of a Tom Clancy novel. Sam Elliott mustaches, goatees, and hair that rolled over their collars seemed to be standard issue at the team, as were the non-conformal grooming standard waivers that accompanied them.
Another thing that was obvious about these guys was that they all had the thousand yard stare. I didn’t… not yet anyway, and I was fish out of water. I felt like a steak that had just been thrown to a pack of wolves. It wasn’t that the guys didn’t like me, but as a new guy, they didn’t know me, and more importantly, I had not yet earned their trust or respect. Little did I know at the time, but making it through training simply meant that I had been given an opportunity for a shot at earning my place amongst these warriors. They would decide if I deserved to be there, they would pin the Trident on my chest… if I earned it, and nothing was guaranteed.
Having just experienced the sting and pain that accompanies the loss of Teammates in combat, their tolerance for mistakes was non-existent, and the bar they set for operational performance was very high. I was expected to show them I deserved to be there, and that I was operationally ready to be trusted with their lives. They knew better than I did at the time that my actions would affect the team as a whole. They also knew that my potential mistakes would most likely result in someone else’s death or injury rather than my own.
These guys weren’t about to just hand me that without knowing that I was good to go. My teammates and the leadership of my first platoon taught, mentored, and coached me through those early days. Although it was not always obvious to me at the time, everything they did was for the betterment of me and to strengthen the team as a whole. The result was that I became a valuable and respected member of the team. Once I had earned their trust and confidence, they welcomed me with open arms into their brotherhood.
Through the lessons and teachings of the Team Four Operators, I discovered that being a good team guy is pretty simple as long as you can follow three rules. These rules are the fundamental building blocks upon which you build the foundation of your life in the Teams.
1) Make yourself the best operator you can possibly be
This means, find your operational and physical weaknesses, and work your ass off to make them your strengths. Too often, operators want to focus on things they are good at, and are afraid to show their weaknesses, but those who are willing to expose themselves to criticism and work to become better at the things they are lacking in, will end up much better overall operators in the long run.
2) Be a Team Player
Mission first… Teammates second… Self last. Always be looking for a way to contribute to the Team’s mission success. Find a way to be a part of the solution no matter what task the Team is facing. This rule applies to everything from room clearances to tactical planning and preparation for a real world op to cleaning the shitters and everything in between. Bottom line; you are either employed (have your part covered), or you are actively seeking employment (looking for something that needs to be covered).
3) Be humble
This is a tough one to learn, especially as a new guy, and some people never achieve this one. Pride and confidence come from a place of strength, and if they are earned, they are a good thing, but cockiness comes from a place of weakness, and it is generally a sign that you have something to hide or that you are compensating for self doubt.
Following these rules resulted in a pretty long and solid career in the Teams for me. I spent five years at Team Four, and almost 25 years total at various Teams and commands within NSW. I did my best to pass on the lessons I learned in the early days of my career as an FNG to those who came behind me. Today’s FNGs are tomorrow’s leaders and mentors, and you need to always make sure the guy behind you can do your job when you are gone. Is that the 4th rule?… Hell, what do I know?… “No shit… There I was…”