Earth, Air, Fire and Water…and Fallen SEALs by @RobDubois

Posted: September 7, 2011 in Uncategorized

With the deaths of so many of my Brother SEALs and other U.S. and Afghan heroes in last month’s Chinook crash, I knew I would inevitably feel compelled to write some tribute. I also knew that, as with my friends who fell in Operation Redwing, I would be emotionally incapable of doing so for some time. These have been especially difficult weeks; by far the most difficult event was our interment of ten men at Arlington National Cemetery in one ceremony.

A concept took root and grew during this “processing” period, and I believe it’s ready to be spelled out in honor of these brave commandos. The theme for this article is based on a worldview that goes back to ancient times: the view that believes all matter is composed of four primary elements of “earth, air, fire and water.” Some hold that a fifth “element” is that unseen spirit which animates humankind. I’ll come back to all this after an overview.

The U.S. Navy SEALs were founded by President John F. Kennedy to be an all-in-one force made up of men who would be universally trained to undertake missions in any environment this rough planet can dish out. Unlike more specialized units that focused on narrow areas like parachuting, intelligence, and the combat diving of the original “Frogmen” in the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT), these new warriors would do all of the above and so much more.

One principle was engineered into the curriculum from the very beginning: that a man can do ten times what he thinks he can. If he thinks he can swim a half mile he’ll swim five. If he thinks he can do twenty pushups he’ll do two hundred. The training would be designed to destroy students’ wildest ideas of their own limitations, crafting highly able operators in their place.

They would also become jacks of all trades, and masters of none. (This is slightly misleading, since all SEALs tend to specialize according to personality as they mature, while maintaining the full range of generalist skills. As for me, I’m partial to special reconnaissance and disappearing into the forests or deserts.) The title of this new breed was subject to some debate. In the end, the term SEAL was selected as a creative acronym from the three operational environments of Sea, Air, and Land.

All this was in my head as I walked through the personal pain of losing these comrades. Sea, Air and Land blended naturally with the concepts of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and suddenly it came to me: there is no difference between the finest qualities of those men we lost and the basic elements upon which the entire world depends.

Though only Earth, Air and Water are listed in their title, Fire was an essential ingredient in every one of these exceptional warriors. There is even an award, posted clearly on a wooden sign at our training compound, which acknowledges that student with the greatest “Fire in the Belly.”

Their hearts, minds and muscles had burned like Fire in the forge of SEAL training. That crucible of blood, sweat and tears is an inferno from which very few emerge; none unscathed. These men had emerged, shining with a razor edge. The tempering process of training and operations had turned iron men into steel SEALs. Refined, they had become something finer than the good men they had always been. When they emerged from this voluntary process of torment, still smoldering from the embers, they knew they now had ten times more to give…and they would give it all in a heartbeat.

They did. They gave us ten times ten for years, and days…and for that final heartbeat. I thank God for men such as these.

There is a final concept. I happen to be of the camp that believes in a fifth element, that uniquely vital spark which moves and motivates our species. All too often, the incredible physical capabilities of SEALs overshadow the greater strength they carry in their spirits. Never be deceived that these are “stone-cold killers.” On the contrary, as any friend of a SEAL will tell you, they can be among the finest, most compassionate, and most human beings you will ever meet. They are men, husbands, brothers, fathers, sons…and SEALs. Let us honor this great testimony to humanity even as we remember their incredible feats and incredible sacrifice.


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