The United States Navy SEALs are revered as a lethal and focused fighting force, but now one of its former members is warning that bureaucrats are muzzling the famed special operations group.
Carl Higbie joined the military in 2003 and deployed twice to Iraq as a member of the Navy’s elite corps of special operators. That experience gave him an insider perspective on how modern wars are fought, and he’s sounding the alarm about a crisis within the ranks.
“The top US Navy SEAL, Rear Adm. Collin Green just sent a message to the Teams that was titled ‘We have a problem,’ and he’s not wrong,” the former SEAL wrote on his personal website on Thursday. “But I would argue that the problem most of the men see is not what the admiral has in mind.”
Higbie was referring to several recent incidents that have pushed SEAL teams into the news, and not in a positive light. One such incident involved the drawn-out prosecution of Chief Eddie Gallagher from SEAL Team 7, who was recently acquitted of serious war crimes charges.
That same team found itself back in the news in late July after one of its platoons was sent home from Iraq, allegedly for disobeying orders against alcohol consumption during a booze-filled Independence Day party.
“The Commander lost confidence in the team’s ability to accomplish the mission,” an official military statement said at the time.
But in Higbie’s opinion, the real problem is not within the ranks but at the top of the leadership hierarchy.
“An observer might look at this as ‘what is wrong with the SEAL Teams’ but the real question is; what is wrong with the leadership that has taken the word of terrorists, politicians and over zealous Navy attorneys or investigators that are selling our brave soldiers out?” the veteran wrote.
“I speak from personal experience. In 2009 my platoon captured the infamous ‘butcher of Fallujah’, so well featured in Chris Kyle’s America Sniper movie,” Higbie explained.
“We were subsequently Courts martialed by fellow commanding SEALs, Wilske and Richards. 3 of the 8 of us initially charged stood full courts martials. Everyone was acquitted as we knew we would be, however the damage was done,” he continued.
Higbie’s point is that the military trained soldiers — especially elite operators like the SEALs — to be the cutting edge of the spear, but then also expected them to act like choir boys when their mission was to track and kill the enemy.
“The system is broken,” Higbie said. “Do SEALs get a wrap for being cowboys? Hell yes we do, and that’s because we are the ones that raised our hands to do the job that most don’t want to do and even more can’t do, so cut us some slack if we want to have a few beers in Iraq in between gun fights.”
The broken system is not new, the former SEAL said, but added that gun-shy bureaucrats are now uncomfortable with the realities of war and the hardened special operators tasked with fighting America’s battles.
“The SEAL teams have not changed much, the two things that have changed are the political climate around us and the fact that everyone has an iPhone that records every minute of our life,” Higbie pointed out.
“[W]hen it comes to the battlefield, cut us and quite frankly any other solider who is willing to die for their country some slack,” the veteran wrote.
“Every troop should go into battle knowing that no matter what, their commander is behind them if they have to pull that trigger. That is not the case now and it is destroying the military.”
Following his military career, Higbie accepted a post in the Trump administration at the Corporation for National and Community Service but resigned less than six months into his tenure when controversial comments he had made about Muslims, African Americans, and other groups came to light.
Higbie is without a doubt right about one thing: This isn’t a new problem. The issue with enlisted men feeling unsupported and even betrayed by the higher brass and politicians has been a trend throughout history and became a well-known problem during the Vietnam War.
There may be no simple solution, but the president and other top leaders would be wise to at least listen to voices like Higbie’s. The last thing America needs is low morale and discontent in our military, and taking the issue seriously will help avert more problems in the future.
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