BRIAN LAMB, HOST, Q&A: Dick Coach (ph), what is a SEAL?
DICK COUCH, AUTHOR AND FORMER NAVY SEAL: Well, a SEAL is a member of our special operations community. The SEALs stands for sea, air or land. And they’re a maritime proponent of our special operators. They’re home based in Coronado, California, and in Little Creek, Virginia.
And as you probably know, they came from the frogmen of World War II, and they’ve evolved through times of Vietnam right on up to the present as maritime commandos.
LAMB: When were you a SEAL?
COUCH: OK. I was on active duty from ’67, but I was in the SEAL program from ’68 through ’72 on active duty.
LAMB: Doing what?
COUCH: Well, primarily then it was all Vietnam. So, most of our deployments then were to Vietnam. And just like the deployments today for SEALs are mostly in Afghanistan, ours were into Vietnam.
LAMB: Were you an officer?
COUCH: Yes, I was.
LAMB: And as an officer, what were your responsibilities?
COUCH: I was a platoon leader. I had an assistant platoon leader, and I had 12 I was privileged to lead 12 fine young Navy SEALs. And we primarily did direct action missions against the Viet Cong infrastructure in Vietnam.
LAMB: If I count right, you have at least 12 books you’ve written.
COUCH: Actually, it’s 14.
LAMB: I’m sorry. How many of those are novels?
COUCH: I’ve got to think about this. Six of them seven of them are novels.
LAMB: And the rest?
COUCH: Non-fiction. And they relate to Navy SEALs, but also I’ve written on Army Special Forces, and I just completed a book on the training of Army Rangers for the 75th Ranger Regiment.
LAMB: How long have you been writing the story of the SEALs?
COUCH: My first book, ”SEAL Team One,” was a novel. It came out in 1990.
LAMB: Why did you do it?
COUCH: Well, I think that as a you get to be middle aged. You realize that the things that you used to do, you’re not going to do anymore. And I thought, ”Well, gosh, it might be fun if I could write about them.”
So, I thought about writing a spy book, since I had spent some time at CIA. And then I picked up a book that was supposedly written by a Navy SEAL, but it wasn’t. It was about the Riverine Forces.
So, I called the editor. They said, ”Well, we’re really hungry for books on Navy SEALs.”
And I said, ”Well, that settles that one.”
So, I wrote a book called ”SEAL Team One,” and the rest is history.
LAMB: Where do you live now?
COUCH: I live in Ketchum, Idaho.
LAMB: And how long were you in the Navy?
COUCH: I was only on active duty five years, but I did do 30 years as a reservist. And being in the Navy Reserves, associated with the SEAL program, kept me current with what was going on within that community.
LAMB: And your final rank?
COUCH: I retired as a captain in the Navy Reserves.
LAMB: I want to show you a picture. And this is you can find this all over the Web.
Is that what a SEAL team looks like?
COUCH: Well, I think those are SEAL trainees. But yes, that’s pretty much what they look like. They’re very robust, healthy young men who are probably starting out, hopefully, on long and safe and productive careers as a Navy SEAL.
LAMB: Now, we’re going to show you the rest of this picture, which includes somebody that people will be familiar with.
This was taken back in 2009 at Coronado. That’s the vice president of the United States.
LAMB: How often do politicians, in your experience, visit operations like the SEALs?
COUCH: Well, back in 1968, I didn’t see any politicians during my training. But I think periodically, now and then, they do come through there. I think it’s you know, there are classes that go through that never see any politicians.
But occasionally, somebody, you know, of that stature comes through and wants to see what’s going on. And so, they let them go out and view training.
LAMB: Before we go any farther, I want to make sure I correct. I said Dick ”Coach.” It’s Dick ”Couch.”
COUCH: That’s it. Yes, sir.
LAMB: What kind of a name is that, by the way?
COUCH: Sir, I have no idea. I’m an American, and it’s an American name. I think it may have some English-Scottish ancestry, but I’m not real sure.
LAMB: What was your reaction when you heard that the SEAL team and I want to ask you about the name of it, because I understand it’s not SEAL Team Six, really but the SEAL team had killed Osama bin Laden?
COUCH: Well, at first we you know, I heard I happened to be in California at the time. My wife and I were taking a walk, and somebody stopped and said, ”You know, they’ve got bin Laden. They killed bin Laden. And they’ve got him, and they’ve got his body.”
And I thought, being like, well, where did it happen? And how did it happen? And come to find out, it was a special operations component.
And then, as the news came in, it was a cross-border operation into Pakistan. And then we learned that we started hearing a lot about Navy SEALs. So, I’m not so sure where that came from. I rather think it didn’t come from the Department of Defense.
But pretty soon we had a steady diet of Navy SEALs, sophisticated operation into Pakistan, and that they had killed bin Laden and brought out his body.
LAMB: What does it mean, ”special operations”?
COUCH: Well, the special operations, this country’s blessed with a very robust special operations presence, both Army, Navy, Air our special operations airmen, and special operations Marines.
And they have a lot of different capabilities, from strategic reconnaissance, counter-insurgency, foreign internal defense, intelligence collection. They do an awful lot of things.
One of the things, of course, that they do and this is the one we focus on are the direct action operations. And those are the combat assaults like this one was, where they a small unit comes in with the element of surprise, violence of action and takes down a target.
LAMB: So, how many of the I know you’ve looked at this how many SEALs were involved from what you can tell?
COUCH: You know, I really don’t know. I hear the number of 20-some or 30-some, or what have you. It would be my estimate that there were probably there were some SEALs there, but there were probably a lot of non-SEALs on that target intelligence specialists, security specialists, people there to exploit the intelligence that might be taking place.
I think there was probably an integrated team that took down that compound. But as we understand it, a lot of them were Navy SEALs.
LAMB: This outfit is not called SEAL Team Six. It’s called DEVGRU?
COUCH: Well, I really don’t talk about these things. Within our special operations posture, a lot of these units have broad, general capabilities. But some of them are special units that focus on certain capabilities, and they spend all their time doing one thing, and they can do it very well.
In this case, the team that went in there was specialized on combat assault. And that was the team that went in.
LAMB: You know, you get on Wikipedia
and all this stuff is on there. Naval Special Warfare Development Group.
LAMB: It used to be called SEAL Team Six, supposedly started in 1980, ’81, with the whole Iran rescue attempt of the hostages,
by a guy named Richard Marcinko, who do you know him?
LAMB: He was, what, same thing as you were, a special
COUCH: He was of my era SEAL, yes.
LAMB: Why is what’s secret about the you know, what are you told, because you’ve been a part of all this
and wrote about this you can’t tell?
COUCH: I think that what it is, is they like to maintain, even within our non-secret elements, a certain amount of anonymity.
These men go out, they risk their lives. They have a high profile, especially in a mission like this. And they like to come home to their families and their communities and be able to integrate back into society without having the notoriety that might accompany this type of thing.
So, that’s why that there’s a lot of security and considerations around this. And also, some of their training, some of their specialties, their communication skills, their tactics and procedures all of these things they’d like to keep very closely held.
So, they put these units off-limits to a lot of people, including people like myself, just to sort of protect their the way they go about their business, and to protect their identities, as well.
LAMB: A television station down in West Palm Beach, WPTV, has a report on the website of the museum, the SEAL Museum. Have you ever been there?
COUCH: Yes, I have.
LAMB: So, is that run by the Navy?
COUCH: No, that’s run by that’s an independent UDT-SEAL Museum. It commemorated where the first frogmen trained. And they have a lot of memorabilia there.
And it’s just it’s an independently financed organization.
LAMB: We’re going to run it’s about a two minute-and-a-half report
COUCH: Oh, great.
that Channel 9 down there had on, I think it was, like, May 2nd, just to give a sense of how they looked at it down there right after this happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLEY DUNN, WPTV CHANNEL 9 NEWS, WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA: Keep the details locked and sealed. It’s what Navy SEALs are being told to do after the highly trained Special Operations Group killed bin Laden.
The operation was carried out by a unit known as SEAL Team Six, and they’re known as the best of the best.
The group had been reportedly training in Afghanistan for the mission for a month. But it takes longer than a month, or even a year, to become a Navy SEAL. The super soldiers are trained to the highest standards, and are considered to be some of the most fearsome fighting forces in the world.
News Channel 5’s Carolyn Scoffield joins us live from Ft. Pierce where the Navy SEALs got their start decades ago.
CAROLYN SCOFFIELD, WPTV NEWS: Kelley, right here, from 1943 to 1946, a special group of men trained to go into the most dangerous situations, the frogmen paved the way for the Navy SEALs, and that history is celebrated here.
SCOFFIELD (voice-over): Executive Director Mike Howard opened the front gate today, even though the Navy SEAL Museum is closed on Mondays. People wanted to stop by, walk around and reflect. Someone placed a bouquet below the memorial underneath the 55 names of Navy SEALs who have died fighting in Desert Storm and the war on terror.
MIKE HOWARD, RETIRED NAVY SEAL: People have been driving up, just out of the blue, wanting to thank SEALs for this. And it’s just been a tremendous outpouring of patriotism and thanks.
SCOFFIELD: This museum honors the long, proud history of the Navy SEALs. That history began here on Hutchinson Island during World War II. About 3,500 frogmen, trained to clear obstacles off beaches in Normandy. The frogmen evolved into the Navy SEALs. And nearly 70 years later, SEAL Team Six killed Osama bin Laden.
HOWARD: I think all SEALs or former SEALs are proud of that fact. And we’re fortunate that they you know, the SEALs could be part of that. And it puts on notice a lot of other bad guys out there that we’re coming after you, and you’re not going to hide, you know. So, stand by.
SCOFFIELD: There have been other successful missions in recent history. Somali pirates held the captain of the Maersk Alabama hostage on this life boat in 2009. Three bullets fired by Navy SEAL guns shattered the windows and simultaneously killed all three pirates.
Now the museum is planning a display for this latest show of force.
HOWARD: And we’re already at work trying to get some artifacts, some things about the operation. It may take some time. But we’re optimistic we’ll have some things.
SCOFFIELD (on camera): And the museum will be open from 10 to four tomorrow.
Congressman Tom Rooney recently introduced a bill that would make the memorial here the official national Navy SEAL memorial. There is a lot of pride for those military men here.
Reporting live at Fort Pierce, Carolyn Scoffield, WPTV News Channel 5.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Were you surprised when you hear the number 55 had died over in Iraq?
COUCH: No, I wasn’t. I’ve watched these casualty figures mount. And it’s an on you know, we’ve been at this for 10 years. I believe 43 is the number that we lost in Vietnam. So with a much smaller force, by the way.
So, no, I was not surprised. I knew we were in the fifties someplace.
LAMB: I understand from reading that this group that went into Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden, that group is higher trained than the average SEAL? Is that correct?
COUCH: Well, I think they’ve more the group that went in there is more specially trained for that particular mission.
I think a lot we have a lot of special operations components that could have handled that mission. It could be that this team was selected, because of their availability. They could have been area specialized.
But I think it’s because they had expertise in this particular mission, so they were selected to go and do that.
LAMB: How many SEALs are there?
COUCH: There’s a little over 2,000, maybe 2,200, active duty Navy SEALs. And that’s not all those are young guys with guns. You’ve got your, you know, your higher-up staffing function, command and control, and what have you.
LAMB: What’s the average age from your experience?
COUCH: The average age of a deploying SEAL platoon is probably around 28, 29 years old.
LAMB: So, if a SEAL enlisted man were to go into this mission, what kind of training would they have gone through to get there?
COUCH: Well, it’s quite a journey. He’ll sign up to be a sailor. He’ll go to boot camp. His A school will be BUD/S Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training. And that and associated schools will take him approximately six months.
LAMB: Where will it be?
COUCH: It will be in Coronado, California. Then he’ll immediately go to Airborne School, and then he’ll go into SEAL qualification training. And that’s what really qualifies him to wear the Trident and to qualify him as a Navy SEAL. That’s about another six months.
So, you’ve got a year’s training in after boot camp until this young man is a qualified Navy SEAL. Then he will go to a SEAL team, and he will train with his new SEAL platoon for as much as 18 months before he goes on operational deployment.
So, it’s a two-and-a-half-year process to make a combat-capable Navy SEAL.
LAMB: There’s the symbol on the screen of the Navy SEAL. Is there a pin that you get when you become a SEAL?
COUCH: That’s it.
LAMB: Right there.
COUCH: That is the pin that you wear. It’s called the Trident. It came about, I think, probably around 1972-’73, that it was adopted as the emblem of the Navy SEALs.
LAMB: And if you don’t mind, I’ll characterize you as not a large person.
COUCH: I think that’s an accurate characterization.
LAMB: How tall are you?
COUCH: Five nine.
LAMB: And what is the average height of a SEAL team member? And you’re not very big, either.
COUCH: They seem to be making them bigger nowadays. I notice a lot of these young men seem to be more robust, a lot of upper body strength. They seem to be bigger than they were in my day. But then, everybody’s bigger nowadays than they used to be.
I’ve always felt, and I think it’s still true, that the SEAL training, the rigorousness of SEAL training, is almost a little man’s game, you know. You have to be able to drag your body around all those obstacles, and all those runs and swims and what have you. And sometimes, being a smaller man is to your advantage.
LAMB: And the Navy has a lot of pictures you can find on their website. And one of them we’re going to see right now, which is somewhere up in Alaska, I believe.
Is this glamorizing what a SEAL team member is, some of the shots that you’re going to see?
COUCH: I don’t think so. The training in Alaska, that’s part of SEAL qualification training. And they’re up there in cold water, coming out of that cold water, across the beach and up into the mountains. So, it’s very rigorous training to prepare them for what SEALs often are asked to do, and that’s come from the sea.
LAMB: Here’s a student that you said would be going through the BUD/S, on the screen there, that Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL
what that stands for.
What’s the toughest part of this?
COUCH: Well, I think the toughest part and we focus on that and that’s Hell Week. You have about five to six days of continuous training with maybe a total of four to four-and-a-half hours of prescribed sleep during that process.
So, it’s physically difficult, but it’s a mental challenge to keep yourself going, to stay focused, keep your eyes on the goal of getting through this, and to come out the other side.
LAMB: Just had a helicopter. And now you have a young fellow jumping out.
Are they all men, by the way?
COUCH: They are all men. There are no women in any of our ground combat components, Marine infantry, Army infantry and SEALs.
LAMB: What’s that? Do you know?
COUCH: OK. He’s climbing the scaling ladder, probably up the side of a ship, you know, ship boarding. It’s a maritime operation, coming from the sea over the side of a ship to board it, and conduct an operation aboard that ship.
LAMB: Is the training any different today than it was when you were in Vietnam?
COUCH: It is different, and it’s not different. Some of the same requirements. Hell Week was started by Admiral by Draper Kauffman, who founded the Navy SEALs back in 1943. We still have a Hell Week today.
Some of the evolutions, the physical training, the challenges there are much the same. I think the but during the training in the in-water training aspects, the land warfare aspects have been greatly elevated, updated.
And there’s a lot more once they get through the physical rendering of who has the heart to do this business, then I think there’s a much more dedicated focus and refinement on teaching them military skills that they’re going to need.
LAMB: How accurate is the statistic that I read that 80 percent of the people that come into the SEALs don’t graduate?
COUCH: That’s very accurate. It’s also about the same number that comes into our 75th Ranger Regiment and our Army Special Forces, the Green Berets. They have similar attrition rates as do the Navy SEALs.
LAMB: And if you’re knocked out, what’s usually the reason?
COUCH: Well, it could be we like the analogy that and I think it holds true then and now, that 10 to 15 percent of these young men will not quit. It’s just not in them. And unless they get injured, they’ll get through training.
And there’s another 10 or 15 percent who don’t have the physical equipment to go through this training. But the rest of them, it’s whether they want it bad enough to do it, whether they have the mental toughness to get through this training.
So, those who have that get through it. Those who don’t will be sent off, go off into the Navy, and they’ll find another way to serve their country.
LAMB: What’s the ratio of enlisted men to officers?
COUCH: You know, I’m not too sure on that, but I think it’s right around 10 to 15 percent officers, the rest enlisted.
LAMB: Do the officers have any different training from the enlisted men?
COUCH: No. They go through the same initial training with the enlisted men, side by side. They may branch off for separate leadership courses, and there may be some additional things. But basically, the training, until they get to their actual SEAL teams, is very much the same.
LAMB: The face of this particular event over in Pakistan seems to be Vice Admiral William McGavren (ph).
LAMB: Boy, I’m having trouble with my accuracy today. McRaven tell us about him.
COUCH: Well, Bill McRaven is a very intelligent and forward-looking officer. When he was commander of Naval Special Warfare Group One in Coronado, he brought in an awful lot of innovative things that helped link intelligence collection with operations.
So, this op-intel fusion was sort of he contributed to that a great deal, and he’s carried that forward. He’s had some very responsible positions. He was commander, as is in the papers now, of the Joint Special Operations Command. And he’s recently been nominated for a fourth star and nominated to be commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
LAMB: In that article that was written in the Washington Post by Craig Whitlock, it says here, ”the author of a textbook titled ’Spec Ops’” the admiral
”had long emphasized six key requirements for any successful mission.”
Surprise. What are you taught about surprise?
COUCH: Well, if you want to you want to get there when they least expect you and their guard’s at the lowest. Surprise we break it down into two. There’s the element of surprise and violence of action.
But basically, surprise, you want to get there when they don’t expect you to come. And if it’s rainy, it’s a bad night, it’s a good time to go on an operation.
LAMB: Another one is speed.
COUCH: I think that’s yes, getting on target quickly, getting deployed, getting set up and getting the job done.
LAMB: Were you surprised to read that the helicopters being used, or at least one of them, was stealth?
COUCH: That I was. I wasn’t aware and ”stealth” is a broad term. Whether this was electronically stealthy, or whether it, you know, had some radar absorption-reflecting capabilities, or what have you, I’m not just sure. But it seems that there were some new technologies involved with this.
LAMB: Another of his six points was security I’ll name them security, simplicity, purpose and repetition.
Go to the repetition.
COUCH: I think repetition comes into battle drill. You have to practice, in other words. And sometimes preparation can be it’s an intelligence the intelligence is perishable. You have to move quickly. That means you’re out the door. You grab your guns. You draw it up in the dirt, get on the helicopter and go.
But if you have the chance that you can practice and rehearse, you do this you make good use of your rehearsal time. And if you can do it and not only just for an operation, but practicing your procedures and your techniques over and over again until you become very proficient at it.
Have a saying in the military. If the amateurs do it over and over until they can get it right, the professionals do it over and over till they can’t get it wrong.
LAMB: How often do you one of the other ones, as we say, was simplicity. But how often and we’ve got a picture of some of the SEAL team members this again comes from the Navy not this exercise in Pakistan, but practicing for going in and out of rooms and buildings.
How often do you think they practiced before they went in there?
COUCH: Well, they’ve practiced this for the last 10 years. They practice all the time in one form or another. Maybe not of this particular target, but they’re constantly out practicing.
If they’ve got what we call a shoot house, they’ll find one and they’ll practice entering rooms, opening doors, moving from room to room, from floor to floor, assault in an urban situation, moving from building to building. They practice this day in and day out, week in and week out.
Then when it comes down to focusing on an individual objective, if they have as they appear to have had this time some idea of where they were going, then they construct a facility, and then they try to bring that practice in to where it’s a little more relevant to the mission they’re going to be going on.
LAMB: How much weight do they put on their bodies in way of equipment?
COUCH: It depends. On a combat assault like this, where they’re in and out, they’re very heavy they’re not taking food and water, and things like this they’re very heavy on weapons and ammunition and communications equipment.
I would say 40 to 45 pounds is what they’re carrying and their body armor, helmets, that type of thing.
LAMB: What kind of a weapon?
COUCH: They have a variety of weapons they use. I would think the standard special operations M4 rifle is what most of them use. They may have other weapons in the mix. There are light squad assault weapons. There are heavier squad assault weapons that have heavier caliber.
They have a broad selection of weapons, but they’re rather standard throughout our special operations community.
LAMB: How much firepower does one individual have on them?
COUCH: Well, I’d say a rifleman going through there probably has his M4 rifle. It’s associated with certain targeting devices for daytime and nighttime shooting. He’s got his night observation devices.
I can’t imagine him going on this thing with less than 400 or 500 rounds of ammunition.
LAMB: And they’re all automatic weapons.
COUCH: Yes. Very seldom do they fire on full automatic, though.
LAMB: When you go on a mission like this, who’s going to know about it in your family?
COUCH: You know, that’s a good question. I’m not real sure. I think that they try to obviously, you want to come home and say something more. ”Yes, I’ve been away for a couple of months, and I can’t talk about anything.”
I think you have to share things with your family as it’s appropriate, with your spouse. Perhaps maybe not your extended family.
But I think that you have to I know that even when I was in CIA, some of the things were highly classified, but you shared things with your spouse.
LAMB: How long did you work for the CIA?
COUCH: I was there for four years.
LAMB: What years?
COUCH: I’m going to have to go back here and think. Seventy-three to ’77.
LAMB: And what kind of work were you involved in that you can talk about?
COUCH: I was my title was maritime operations officer. I did a variety of things, but I really can’t go into it.
LAMB: And why are we so secret about something like this? What’s the reason?
COUCH: I think that, kind of as a general security blanket, to keep these things from people who maybe don’t need to know about them and having general security procedures. There’s an awful lot of things that go on at CIA that are not classified.
But I think having a general security policy that covers everything is helpful for those situations where you really don’t want to talk about it, or you don’t want anything out about it.
LAMB: What was your reaction to what was reported in the general press after this event?
COUCH: Well, we were getting information bled out. I find that, I think what a lot of people asking questions, and what certainly bothers me, is how we had an operation, the basics of special operations, Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. He was killed. The body was brought out.
Those were sort of the basic facts of it. Then you started hearing things that, well, he was armed. He resisted. His wife he used his wife for a shield, and what have you.
I can’t imagine those coming out, those comments coming out of a military briefing. When these guys came back, they were briefed what happened, how, what, where, when and why.
And I think this administration would have been much better served to have put out the basics, and then said, wait until you have all the facts and all the stories. Then come out with the details, as appropriate, as to what took place. And then you wouldn’t have had this backtracking on various things that seemed to flow out of the operation.
LAMB: There was a piece written in ”The Telegraph” of London, the newspaper, by a guy named Toby Young World, and it got a lot of attention. And the headline on it is, ”Jay Carney is Floundering Under Pressure, Say Washington Insiders.” He’s the spokesman for the president.
But it was the last paragraph I wanted to read back to you, just to see what you think of I mean, this guy was harsh about Jay Carney.
He says, ”Unless Carney is capable of raising his game, he needs to be thrown under a bus. President Obama is coming dangerously close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Somehow, he and his press secretary have created the impression that Operation Geronimo was carried out by the Keystone Cops rather than an elite unit of Navy SEALs. In fact, the only amateurs in this unfolding story are in the White House.”
Is that fair? I mean, have you had that feeling?
COUCH: Maybe not that strong, but, yes, I have. And I think that the communication from the debriefing room at the operational level up to the presidential level, something happened there that was miscommunicated, mishandled, and should have been a whole lot done a whole lot better than it was.
LAMB: You know, you read these stories and every newspaper had a different story about it. But somebody was feeding that, the story line, the back story on that.
And did you ever get a sense of where it did any of it sound like it came from the Pentagon?
COUCH: It didn’t sound like it came from no, it didn’t. It didn’t sound like it came from the Pentagon, nor from the operational end of this thing.
I think, when these guys come back off an operation, there’s a very prescribed format to where they go through and debrief this, take notes on it, because on any operation, but especially an operation like this and I can’t imagine these things spilling out like this in the format that they’ve come out.
So, I don’t know where the disconnect was, where the misinformation, or what happened.
But I think that, after any special operations, they will go back and say, what did we learn even a successful one what did we learn? How can we do it better next time?
That has to be going on within the White House and their layers of communication.
LAMB: Supposedly, the SEALs came out of Afghanistan somewhere.
And what could you tell us about what would be the normal set-up time for something like this and the way of getting ready to go in there, whatever it was, midnight, or whatever time it was?
How long are they in place? Who’s talking to them to get them ready? How much tension is in their bodies?
COUCH: Well, it all depends on, you know this was not their first rodeo. These guys have all done this many, many times. And quite often, they do it in a very compressed timeframe, because intelligence comes down to them. It’s perishable. And they have to act on it.
This seemed to be something that it was a long-term target. They were tracking it. There was more of a gradual build-up to it, so that they could be highly briefed. They rehearsed in depth.
So, there was a they had a lot of time to prepare for this. And I’m sure that when they there may have even been some windows that they were hitting. This window, OK, we’re not going to go now. We’re going to hit the next window, and the next window.
So, they may not have known quite when they were going.
People that manage these operations have to make sure that they’re ready to go, that they’re fresh, that their sleep cycles are in order, so that they’re going on target, you know, with their at their optimum physical capabilities. So, there’s a lot of things that have to go on.
I also would like to point out that, whereas the SEALs are getting front and center on this, there was a huge team of people that put those guys on target, from analysts to briefers, to trainers, and some very talented aviators that took them there.
So, there was a lot went into this, and the SEALs are getting a lot of credit for it. But there was a whole, huge team that put this together to get these guys on target.
LAMB: From your experience, how much of what happened could have been seen on television, in closed-circuit?
COUCH: Do you mean
LAMB: In other words, how much of the on-site event could have been televised all the way back to Washington via satellite on a closed-circuit, secure system?
COUCH: I tell you, I’m just guessing, but probably all of it. I think that well, they have these helmet cams. They have a lot of the communication capabilities are very robust. Maybe not every bit of it, but we have a lot of capabilities in this area of communications and real-time video and audio communication.
So, I’m sure that there’s a good deal of it that is on tape and is being reviewed, and lessons learned from it.
LAMB: They did say there was a 25-minute gap somebody, when I say ”they,” I’m not sure you know, during the operation when there was no video contact.
COUCH: Well, that possibly could have been. They were in a foreign country. There was a lot of things going on. And sometimes the links don’t quite work. Even the even your regular radio sometimes, you know, you have to jiggle it around to make it work.
So, I can see where they may have had better communications, but they were down for a period of time.
LAMB: When you look back on your own career and the SEALs, did you ever were you ever involved in a moment where you thought you might not live?
COUCH: Yes. And they all kind of fade. But I remember one time, some friendly fire had my boat pretty well zeroed. And their faces were walking right up to us. And the boat officer, a good friend of mine, managed to dive for the phone and yell ”cease fire,” just in time to call that gunner off. He would have had us. I was confident of that.
LAMB: And how much of what you did in Vietnam and as the SEALs can you talk about today?
COUCH: Pretty much all of it. It was a long time ago. There was it was a lower-tech type of engagement. There wasn’t the transparency on the battlefield that there are today.
So, this was a long time ago. And oddly enough, some of the mechanics of an operation you have intelligence. We think there’s a target here that’s viable. We’re going to do it. We study it. We get information on it, then we brief.
Here’s what we’re going to do, here’s how we’re going to do it. Here’s how we’re going to get in. These are our actions on the target. This is what we’ll do.
This is our timeframe. These are our support elements. This is how we’re going to come off target. This is the timeframes, and what have you.
It’s pretty much right out of the Ranger handbook what we did back then, and pretty much how they go about operations today.
LAMB: In the article about Vice Admiral McRaven, it said that he’s a guy that I this is a quote ”He’s a guy that I think you can look at as a modern SEAL, a post-Vietnam era SEAL guys that are quiet, humble and smart.”
What’s the humility thing? I mean, are you taught humility?
COUCH: Yes. Well, that’s brought up quite a bit, you know. Let your actions speak louder than words. Be a professional. We’re the quiet professionals.
I think that’s the theme that’s brought throughout the SEAL training, throughout their operational history. And the highest accolade that you can pay a Navy SEAL is, you are very professional. I think it’s
LAMB: What about ”quiet”?
COUCH: Well, quiet, I think that within their own groups they talk and they’re boisterous, and there’s a culture there. But I don’t think you need to be I think there’s, maybe in the past, some tendency to go down and, you know, spend time in the bars and get a little rowdy and what have you. That has no place in modern special operations.
LAMB: Are there many college-educated SEALs that are enlisted?
COUCH: I think probably as many as half, perhaps more than half, are college educated. And I mean with degrees, not just having been to college, but have college degrees.
LAMB: And they choose not to be an officer.
COUCH: Many of them have chosen not to be an officer. I find that also, that’s the same case within the Army Special Forces, the Green Berets, and the 75th Ranger Regiment. A lot of there are some very fine men who have college degrees, who have elected to be a leader at the non-commissioned officer level.
LAMB: Let’s go back to BUD/S. Again, it means?
COUCH: Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training.
LAMB: Done where?
COUCH: At Coronado.
LAMB: We’ve got some video to show SEAL team members either in training or, you know obviously not you can see it there. Here they are in the water. And we have all different kinds of video showing them in different places.
When you see this, does this remind you of what it was like when you were there?
COUCH: I think mine was far more cruder than what they go through right now. Here they are in the surf. These are this is the land warfare phase. They train at San Clemente Island for their weapons training and their land warfare training.
LAMB: What kind of weapon are they holding there?
COUCH: That’s an M48 submachine gun. This is an older clip, because those are some dated weapons they’re handling there.
LAMB: Do they tend to get the best weapons the fastest?
COUCH: I think they do. I think they’re standard military weapons, but they tend to have some of the best ones. And when new ones come out, they tend to get them first.
LAMB: When they are being trained, what’s the toughest part of the training?
COUCH: Well, initially, I think the toughest part of the training is Hell Week. The daily grind, week-in week-out, of this physical and mental grind, I think
LAMB: But during Hell Week, though, what’s the roughest part of it?
COUCH: Oh, I think just staying up, being up for 48 hours without sleep, then getting an hour’s sleep, then just staying up another 24 hours. It’s just it’s mentally very, very challenging.
LAMB: At what point do you remember people breaking the most during Hell Week?
COUCH: In Hell Week, where you have five days where you get four hours’ sleep, everybody drops out in the first day, because it’s anybody can do 24 hours. But the mental strain of saying, ”I’ve done 24 hours, I’ve got four more days of this, I’m going to quit.”
So, the real tough ones will say, ”Well, OK, I did one day. I’ll do another day. And I’ll do another day.”
And the really good ones at the end of Hell Week, they’ll say, ”I’ll do this as long as you want, because I’m going to be a Navy SEAL.”
LAMB: What do you think, from your experience and you’ve taught at the Naval Academy what do you think a person has to have, other than the platitudes that you hear all the time. But what is where do they learn to want to do this kind of stuff?
COUCH: Well, there’s a whole bunch of things in the way of character, maturity, physical and mental strength, and what have you. But I’ve been a student of special operations training, especially SEAL training here.
And the thing, the common thread that runs through it are, the young men who succeed are the young men who have parents who had high expectations of them. They were not surprised to see the young men succeed in these programs, because they had sort of programmed them to finish what they start, to do their best and to they have high expectations.
And I found that to run if any one trait runs through all these people, it’s, for want of a better term, good parenting.
LAMB: I noticed in all the video we see, and most of the film, you see almost no minorities. You see one or two, but most of them are white boys.
COUCH: Yes, that is an issue. I think it has to do with water skills.
Within the SEALs, it’s how many kids played in the swimming pool when they were growing up, and how many played in the fire hydrant out in the street. Those water skills almost have to be taught at a very young age to be comfortable in the water.
A secondary thing is with a lot of black men, they have very dense muscle mass, so they’re very negatively buoyant in the water. And this can be very challenging when you’re asked to perform in the water.
And they stress them in the pool. They tie their hands and feet together, and they have to be able to grab a bite of air and deal with that. And if you’re very negatively buoyant, it does create challenges.
LAMB: Is it an issue that’s talked about?
COUCH: Yes. I mean, how do we get more of these good black kids to come into BUD/S and to get through BUD/S?
And it’s the same in Army Special Forces and the same in our Ranger regiment. We just don’t have as many minorities as we would like.
LAMB: So, you go back to this operation that killed Osama bin Laden. What kind of orders are given? I mean, how well, let met start with this.
How soon before they take off would they have been told exactly what the mission is?
COUCH: You know, that’s I’m not sure. I think somewhere along they’re training for a mission. When it starts, this much time and attention, everybody looks around and says, this better be important, you know. And there is one mission that’s on the back of everybody’s mind, is getting the public enemy number one.
At some point, they will be told, this is your mission. When they are briefed into the target and the mission, they’re put in what’s called isolation, where they are they don’t have any communication with the outside. This is standard procedure.
They’re in isolation, and they will stay in isolation till this mission goes or is cancelled.
LAMB: So, they won’t be able to talk to home or
COUCH: Nobody. Nobody. They are locked down.
LAMB: And what are you told about communicating with your family?
COUCH: I think you tell your family there’s times when I will not be in communication, because I could be on an operation. If something’s going to happen to me, somebody’s going to contact you in person at the door. And it’s not going to be a so, if you’re not hearing from me, everything is OK.
LAMB: How much do SEALs have to deal with post-traumatic syndrome?
COUCH: It is an issue. I think it’s almost less of an issue within our special operations components, because they’re involved in combat assault as opposed to the broad range of counter-insurgency work.
I think it’s very stressful to be a young Army or Marine trooper on patrol in Helmand Province, day after day, week after week, with the ambiguity of IEDs and somebody shooting at them, and having to deal among friendly populations and being very measured in their response.
I think that’s what creates a lot more stress than perhaps a high-risk operation like the one we see with Osama bin Laden.
LAMB: This may sound like a strange question, but do SEALs ever get some kind of a relaxer? And I don’t want to use the word ”drugs.” But, I mean, is there any kind of a relaxer that’s given to somebody about to go into combat, because the stress is so high?
COUCH: I can’t imagine that. I think anything would degrade from that.
I remember in Vietnam, we used to have these little Dexedrine pills, that if you’d been up a long time and you had to go on an operation, you could take one. But all they do is just screw you up.
I can’t imagine they’re doing anything like this. I think that they try to keep their sleep cycles in proper rotation, so that when they’re awake and alert is the time that they’re going to be going on this operation.
LAMB: When you go about selling your books and talking to audiences, what’s the questions that are asked the most often?
COUCH: I think most of them revolve around training. What does it take to be a Navy SEAL? How do you go about it? Who are these people? How do they get into that? Why do young men become interested in this?
Those are the general questions. And I tell them, I mean, I love Navy SEALs and I’m very proud of it. But we have a whole range of special operations components.
So, if a young man is looking to serve his country and wants to serve his country in special operations, he has a smorgasbord of organizations he can look at and say, which one meets his capabilities best, and how can he best serve his country.
LAMB: You get on Wikipedia, click in Navy SEALs, and they tell you that there are, I guess, 10 SEAL teams.
LAMB: And you number them odd for the West Coast, even for the East Coast.
COUCH: That’s kind of how it unfolded, because back in my time, there was SEAL Team One that was on the West Coast, and two was on the East Coast. And that was it, one and two.
LAMB: And now there are 10.
LAMB: And then, also, there’s SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One and SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two. What do they do?
COUCH: They specialize in operations from nuclear submarines. In other words, they will come out, they will go someplace off a coast that is denied area, perhaps. And they will come out from the parent submarine into a smaller submersible and conduct a mission from there.
It could be harbor reconnaissance. It could be an across-the-beach operation. It could be special reconnaissance of a type. But they specialize in that.
And it takes an awful lot of training to be very good at those underwater operations. They’re highly choreographed, clandestine underwater operations.
LAMB: So, normally, how many men are there in a SEAL team?
COUCH: You know, it can vary. I think you have a small admin segment that can be up to 30 to 40 people. And you have your platoon SEALs in those platoons, which could be 96 to 100.
LAMB: And what are the basics that you have to be able to do? Like how much swimming do you have to be able to do?
COUCH: Well, I don’t know the parameters. But you have to be SEALs are generalists, for the most part, except maybe when they get into specialized missions like the one we were talking about.
But they have to be good in the water. They have to be able to function on land. They have to maintain their parachute skills. So, there’s an awful lot of training to keep those skills current.
So, a team that’s back, that’s not deployed, will go through its work-up, and they will do combat swimmer attacks, ship attack, harbor penetrations. They will go through their airborne training. They will do lots and lots of land warfare training.
They’ll maybe fast-rope or rappel onto oil rigs or onto ships, to be prepared for those contingencies. And then, typically, they’ll go to Afghanistan and do nothing but land warfare operations in the mountains.
LAMB: So, what about the kind of things that a SEAL has to do in order to be approved during BUD/S? Do you have to stay under water for a certain length of time?
COUCH: Well, they have various things. A lot of times they will I remember from my SEAL training, we had to swim down 50 feet and tie three knots, which is, if you practice at it, it’s not that hard. Some of them will have as much as 50 meters that they have to swim under water.
So, there’s certain things they have to do. They’ll have certain open-water swim times three-, five-, seven-mile swim in open water with fins in a certain period of time. So, there are water requirements.
And then they have their drown-proofing, which is very difficult. They tie your hands behind your back, and your feet together, and you have to go out there in the pool for a period of time, and stay afloat.
LAMB: Anybody ever drowned in training?
COUCH: There have been some drowning issues that more have to do with hypothermia than of drowning. But they’re this training is very highly supervised. And I think I do recall an incident of a drowning in a pool, but it’s been quite a while.
LAMB: What about running? How much do you have to put 50 pounds on your back and run certain distances?
COUCH: They have certain runs every day. They’re out running on the beach or in various situations. They have certain timed runs. You know, you have to run a certain distance in a certain amount of time.
I do recall that part of running is a part of it. If I was going to tell a young man, should I be a good runner or a good swimmer, I’d be a good they’ll teach you how to swim. I’d be a good runner.
LAMB: What about jumping out of airplanes?
COUCH: Well, that’s a very that’s just another skill set. It’s not for the faint of heart, perhaps, but a lot of our military people will jump out of airplanes, including Navy SEALs. It’s just it’s a very formatted, very structured and very safe evolution.
LAMB: What does it do to an organization like the SEALs after this recent Osama bin Laden killing?
COUCH: Well, it’s the media hopefully will die down, and things will go back to normal, and they will go back to doing their jobs. And the team that was tasked with this will be tasked with something else.
As far as any recruiting aspects, obviously, this type of thing will probably help recruiting. There’ll be a few young men who think, ”You know, I think I’m going to give that a try,” or ”That’s what I want to do.”
Right now there was a period of time where the SEALs were having a hard time finding recruits. They weren’t getting as many people as they needed, because they were modestly trying to expand the force.
But very recently, they have not had a lot of problem with that. They’re getting a lot of fine young men who want to be Navy SEALs.
LAMB: Have you been able to watch training over the years?
COUCH: I have. I wrote a book called ”The Warrior Elite.” Now, granted, this was 10 years ago, in 1990 it came out in 2001. But I was allowed to walk with a class, start to finish. It was almost like going back to like when you were a lieutenant junior grade you’ve got to go back to OCS and do all this again.
I was with class 228, start to finish. And I wrote a book called ”The Warrior Elite.” And it was really very personally satisfying to go back and be with them every step of the way through their BUD/S training.
LAMB: How much of your writings has to be cleared by either the SEALs or the Defense Department?
COUCH: Pretty much all of it, and generally, service component. If I’m writing a if I’m with Army Special Forces, it goes through the Army Special Forces Command and the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. I just finished a book with the 75th Ranger Regiment, which will go through the U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
But typically, they in my last SEAL book, ”The Sheriff of Ramadi,” was vetted very closely, because it was operational details with the Naval Special Warfare Command. And I typically have no problem with this. They’re very helpful. And I tend to, at this stage of the game, know what’s appropriate to write about and what is not.
LAMB: Does that give you I mean, does that bother you that you can’t just write something and publish it?
COUCH: Not really. I am afforded a lot of trust to be allowed to go into these training venues and be among these people. And to have the access I do, nobody else does. And I would never violate that trust, so I’m very careful about what I write about and what I talk about.
LAMB: Have you ever written I mean, can you write stuff in your novels that you don’t have to have approved?
COUCH: Yes, but it will not relate to any it won’t be a ghosting shadow of an operation that say, wait a minute, he’s writing about this operation here.
The things in my novels are totally fictitious. And I don’t think there’s any attribution there at all.
LAMB: One young man who’s deceased and was killed, Mike Murphy
has been honored, Medal of Honor?
LAMB: Do you know him? Did you know him?
COUCH: I did not know him. I was privileged to write a forward for the book, ”Seal of Honor,” about Mike Murphy.
LAMB: What happened to him?
COUCH: Well, he was in a special operations team where three of them were killed. One of them, Marcus Luttrell, managed to survive the engagement. As a matter of fact, Marcus Luttrell was in the SEAL class I followed for four-year elites. So, I happen to know him rather well.
They got into a situation to where they didn’t have any support. There were an awful lot of Taliban around them, and they had a running fight for their lives. And they died in a very courageous stand, but they died fighting.
LAMB: What did you think of Marcus Luttrell’s book?
COUCH: It was difficult for me to read. I hate reading stories where you know the outcome, you know that these men are going to die.
I thought there were some very interesting, from an ethics perspective, of discussions that took place about when and when not to take life that I found instructional, if nothing else.
And then, I think that the issue of hospitality within the Muslim culture, I found compelling, because that’s a lot of most of us in the West don’t understand just what the means in the Muslim culture. If you offer somebody hospitality, that has to be honored.
LAMB: Is there a lot we don’t know of what SEALs train for and what goes on behind the scenes?
COUCH: I think there are, but more on the operational level. I think the training is basic, hard, hard, military training. I think the basic skill sets are universal to all Special Operations Command and all to the Army and Marine conventional units, as well.
It’s when you get into the actual operations and into the specialized tactics and procedures that it becomes classified. And if not classified with a security classification, it’s sensitive. They don’t want to talk about just exactly how they enter a room, what they do to get from one room to the next and how they go about executing a mission.
LAMB: So, if they said to you, we’d like to have you visit with some of the SEALs that went in on this mission, and it’ll all be top secret and you can’t publish it, but you could talk to them, what were the questions you want answered?
COUCH: I think I would ask them, I’m more interested in their personal stories. What was going through your mind? At what point did it said, we’re going to they’re not going to cancel this one. We’re going to go do it.
When you got on target, what were some of the tactical how were your fire teams set up? Just the I have an interest in these things. So, what was going on on the ground that you were doing this? What was the resistance you met? What are your kind of recollections?
Typically in an operation like this, something happens that is that we’ll never know about that was kind of poignant or tragic, and something maybe even humorous.
When you got back to that bird, and you lifted off out of there, what were you thinking about? You guys had to be it had to be a tremendous emotional release.
So, it would relate to the things that go about that. I would love to talk to that assault commander, because he had a lot on his plate.
LAMB: What rank would he have been?
COUCH: I am not sure. He would have been a lieutenant commander, perhaps a commander. He would have been senior. He would have been around for a while.
I think that, as I’ve always he had what we all have in a mission like that, three things. You’ve got to accomplish your mission. You’ve got a mission to do.
Second thing is, you’ve got to get your men on target, and you’ve got to get off target. You want to get off target safely, so you have to take care of your men.
And the third thing is you want to you’ve got to watch out for non-combatants. You’d like to get in and out of there, do your job, take care of your men, and not shoot anybody that doesn’t have to be shot.
LAMB: From what you know, let’s say there were 20 or 30 men on the ground. Can they all hear the commander in their ear?
COUCH: I would think that, in a mission like this, yes, they can. And they operate in sections. You’ve got squads and fire teams, and they’re operating somewhat independently and reporting back to the ground force commander.
He’s in a position where he tries to maintain a control of what’s going on. He’s also in touch with higher command, his support elements, and trying to keep some idea of the bigger picture, so that he can respond. If something goes wrong over here, they’ve got resistance. There’s a problem here, he can shift assets or do something.
If they once they get into a target like this, they’ll start looking out. Is somebody else going to approach them? Is there a force that might come in to interfere with what’s going on? He has to be mindful of that, as well.
So, he has a lot going on, because he’s more responsible. He’s not running from room to room, doing that type of work.
LAMB: If somebody were to buy one of your 14 books, basic knowledge of SEALs, which one would you recommend?
COUCH: Of SEALs, I think that I’d have to SEAL training is definitely ”The Warrior Elite.” That’s where I talk about it. And it’s changed a little bit, not much.
Operationally, what the SEALs did in the Battle of Ramadi was nothing short of magnificent. So, the ”Sheriff of Ramadi” is a very good feel for what SEALs do and what they have done in the global war on terror.
LAMB: Dick Couch? Am I right?
LAMB: I don’t want to do that one again.
Thank you very much for joining us.
COUCH: All right. Thank you, sir. It’s been a pleasure.