Larry B. is one of the finest NCOs I have ever known. Besides being an awesome SEAL Operator he is a good man and a great friend. Let me tell you about him.
I did several tours in Afghanistan as both a contractor and solider. For the most part I kept the insurgency in Afghanistan at bay with demonstrations of my Staff skills.
Not unlike a Jedi wielding his Lightsaber in defiance of the evil of the “Dark Side” of the Force.
I used my expertise of different Office Suites such as PowerPoint, Word and Excel hoping my tireless efforts would have a significant and direct impact on the insurgency, bringing it closer to its final defeat.
I was a Staff Officer extraordinaire! As in most of my army career, I was a paper pushing, coffee drinking office guy.
Hoping against all hope my actions had contributed in some small way to the future of Afghanistan and my own country. Every morning I would ask my commander a single question which helped to bring the war in perspective for all the hardened Special Operations Warriors I worked with.
After handing him his cup of coffee I asked him, “Sugar or cream, sir?”
The command I belonged was called the “Special Operations Advisory Group” and we were charged with the training of the Afghan Commandos and Afghan National Army (ANA) and Special Forces (SF).
It seemed more like the movie “Office Space” with uniforms than the “Green Berets: with John Wayne. The work we did there was important. Lots of time was spent arguing what Theme Fonts to use in PowerPoint and the endless and never ending typing of awards, memorandums and arguing who failed to make coffee in the morning.
It was an environment that would be immediately recognizable to any fan of Dilbert or a scarred veteran of working in a sea of cubicles.
The only difference is the reason so many men of America’s Premier Fighting Units were gathered in one place is to help the ANA establish the first Special Operations Headquarters; it was a calling we all take very seriously. It was a mission I was glad to apply my Black Belts in Excel and PowerPoint to.
The core leader of the Staff Section I worked in was Larry B. He was a 23 year veteran of the Navy SEALs.
Larry was the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Commander. He always reminded me of Viggio Mortenson, who played Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings.” Intense, lean and direct you always knew what he was thinking.
Part of Larry’s duty as the “Senior Chief” was his voluntary continuation of a formerly mandatory program of “killer PT” every morning, six days a week.
Pushing 45 is looked at least ten years younger and was fighting it every inch of the way. Part of his program was running (his favorite pastime), part of it was weightlifting and Crossfit- an intense program designed around circuits using a variety of exercises like pull-ups, dips, ab routines. My name for them was “torture sessions.”
A lot of people might look at him as some kind of aging, frustrated jock, always exercising to relive a past best forgotten but it was much more than that.
Standing a wiry 5’10 and bald as a bowling ball, he exuded confidence and authority. His main passion in life besides his family was training perspective frogmen to survive in combat.
As Larry says, “The only factor you can control on a mission is how well-prepared you are when the sh*t hits the fan.”
The Mantra of Larry
When working out with Larry, he always had a mantra, “Fitness can be the difference life and death. You never want to come up short in a gunfight due to a lack of conditioning.”
His basis was when you talk about training one of the most important aspects of training should be functional training. Training that is transferable directly to the actual task.
If I go forward and pull a buddy to safety has nothing to do with sitting in a seat doing quad extensions.
The mind is primary. One of the outcomes of training the mind is the development of values. Values that apply to your everyday life.
You show up every single day, you do what you said you would do. What practice on a daily basis becomes a habit. If your habit is to do less than that is what you will do in the field when things get tough.
The best habit is to do more than you say you will do. Under-promise and over-deliver becomes your mantra. You begin to respect yourself. You prove to others you are worthy of their respect.
Larry’s favorite workout was something he called “Tag Team.” He would devise a task while the other teammate did a punishing exercise routine. Something like thrusting a heavy weight overhead over and over while the first guy ran a lap around a track.
The faster, the other teammate did the task the less the other guy suffered.
He knew you will always work harder in the service of someone else. It causes the runner to dig deeper and to run faster for his buddy.
Larry’s gospel was to, “.. Always tell the truth in the gym.” If you say you are eating right the results are noticeable. If you say you are training hard the results are obvious.
That honor and honesty in the gym become part of your daily life and automatic when the time comes to help others. Larry would assign us homework outside of the gym.
He wanted to see if we had the integrity and character to do what we promise we would do. There was a larger intent.
Larry had a belief due to his SEAL Training. If you confronted your doubts in the gym and overcame your fears you would respond in an automatic way when confronted with a challenge in the real world.
Larry at Work
Watching a video Larry had on his team doing training is like watching an Award Winning Painter work on a masterpiece.
The video starts with Larry and his Team of SEALs being lashed by icy winds in the back of a plane, they are getting ready to do a water insertion at 13,000 feet.
All the men in the video are hazed in a red light like at a traffic stop to conserve their night vision. As the cameras pass their faces, they all mug it up for the camera, smiling and giving thumbs up.
All you hear is the wind as the rear descends to allow the men to jump. As the red light turns green to indicate a “Go Status” one by one the men step out of the aircraft.
You see them try to properly align themselves as they disappear from the camera’s view. It is called “free fall” but is more like sky diving for the military.
The team surrenders itself to gravity and tries to remain perfectly still in the face of powerful, loudly whistling winds. As they leave, you see huge packs attached between their legs and flippers on their feet.
The packs are all they carry into combat loaded with various death dealing devices; additional ammo, mines, other weapons and food. The flippers are for the water that is four miles below them as they fall and eventually land into a cold, heaving ocean.
If the next two minutes do not go as planned the mission could be over before it has begun. The camera picture fades to black.
In the next shot we see the team swimming. The image is bathed in an eerie green haze as seen through a Night Optic Device.
Using an odd breaststroke called a “SEAL combat stroke”. Swimming in a modified formation with each man directly behind the other one the camera focuses in on Larry.
He narrates for his audience as we watch the video, “… this part was on the same mission. We spliced the two movies together.”
You can see the muscles in Larry’s back ripple like a wave from the base of his neck and shoulders, dragging his legs behind him and kicking with every third stroke of his left hand.
His body is in a skintight black wet suit designed to keep him warm despite the cold water. Larry says, “It briefs well, but that water is as cold as an overworked freezer.”
It seems his long, loose muscles of his arms and legs move in what seems in effortless rhythm, that propel him at speed through the water.
Larry is the lead in the formation and is setting the pace the rest of the men will follow. Watching him swim for several minutes it seems he ripples through the water like a dolphin.
His breathing is steady and he approaches the shore, he changes his stroke to freestyle, swimming powerfully to land. As soon as his feet touch the bottom we see him transition to a weapon at his side.
His head begins to scan back and forth looking for possible targets or signs that the clandestine insertion of the Team has been detected. Like a group of actors knowing their parts in a play each man on the team does the same thing.
Immediately the Team is in a combat formation and moves out. We watch the video fade out. Larry smiles and looks at all of us and says, “Pretty cool, huh?” It was very cool indeed.
Lessons Learned from a Fat, Staff Guy
In some ways many people forgot that the demonstration of the high degree of physical fitness required in the world of the soldiering. It is even more so in the competitive world of Special Operations.
The way a Master Carpenter or a renowned Surgeon studies and practices their profession the men who are in the Special Forces of America’s military are professionals of the highest caliber.
Many spend years learning and honing their craft. The recipe for most Special Operations Warriors is high. You started with an already spectacular soldier who has a proven service record of several years in a good unit.
They go through a grueling selection process that is every bit as physical as it is psychological. Once the candidate is “selected” they usually spend a year learning the “deadly arts” of shooting, first-aid, driving, and other skills in a training program that is designed for masochists.
At the end of you have a Barrel-Chested Freedom Fighter who is assigned to a team. Here he will continually be mentored and held to a higher standard than the regular military.
Any violation of these standards and the individual is excused from the organization. This is the group of men I am served with in Afghanistan in 2010 to 2012.
All of them were proven combat veterans with multiple, violent tours. As they called me “sir” and look at me for leadership, I was humbled in their presence.
Among the features of our daily routine, there was a series of daily athletic contests. Even on the days when I don’t want to go I do my best.
No worthwhile operator was going to follow a leader who doesn’t demonstrate, or at least try to, the tremendous physical and psychological prowess, they live up to each day.
I always remember a saying from Alcoholics’ Anonymous, “You fake it to make it.” I was a mere mortal but these guys are animals. In the end, I stayed for two years because besides believing in the war I was thankful on to serve alongside the rough men that made up the SOAG.