Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s ‘Damn Few’ is damn awesome

Rorke Denver Damn-Few

Lt. Cmdr. Rorke Denver’s ‘Damn Few’ hits bookstores on Feburary 19, and it is damn awesome. Given that there are roughly 2,500 SEALs, any book that delves into the mindset of America’s elite warriors has a high probability of being deemed “awesome,” but this effort earns the distinction for its ability to zoom in on some of the more intimate aspects of SEAL life before seamlessly pulling back to 10,000 feet to give readers the bigger picture. Lt. Cmdr. Denver is direct, but tactful. And unlike Chris Kyle’s ‘American Sniper’ (another amazing read), in which Kyle brings his audience a completely uncensored account of his exploits,  ‘Damn Few’ is diplomatic. It’s an instruction booklet that is more mindful of bridging the gap in understanding between civilian and special operations forces.

Lt. Cmdr. Denver may have led more than 200 combat missions overseas, and he may have been the officer in charge of every phase of training, basic and advance, for America’s ultimate assault teams, but like most SEAL books it really begins with BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL). And while most Americans are familiar with the grueling nature of BUD/S, (70 to 80 percent of the class washes out), they tend to focus their admiration on the physical demands of the class. Lt. Cmdr. Denver doesn’t disappoint on that level, but he also makes a point to stress that it takes a team player with extraordinary mental toughness to earn the coveted SEAL Trident.

Winning pays. Losing has consequences. Nothing substitutes for preparation. Life isn’t fair and neither is the battlefield. Even the smallest detail matters. We are a brotherhood. Our success depends on our team performance. And we do not fail. These are precepts are driven home constantly as we make new SEALs. …

You have to want to win. You have to want to win so badly, losing is not even a possibility for you. If you feel that way, there is no obstacle the instructors can put in front of you that you won’t figure out how to get past. …

As a student at BUD/S, I never allowed myself to think, I have a choice here. I never let that concept anywhere into my consciousness, not even the faintest possibility I might not survive Hell Week and BUD/S. It wasn’t like I answered the should-I-leave question with “I’m staying.” It was that no such question was ever even asked.

Lt. Cmdr. Denver makes a very profound point here. An incredibly profound point. How our lives take shape are largely determined by the questions we ask ourselves. When you ask yourself a question, you get an answer. There is an extremely large divide between “How am I going to complete this task?” and “Is completing this task possible?” Your success and failure in life is, to an enormous extent, determined by the endless string of questions and answers — the perpetual conversation — you are having with yourself. But what most people don’t understand is that they have the power to control the questions! Once we realize this, we possess the keys to happiness and success. The SEALs inherently know this, which is why they are a cut above.

While “Damn Few” does discuss terrorism, the Middle East, tyrannical regimes and any number of hell holes around the world, passages like those mentioned above are what make the book a compelling read. Readers who cuddle themselves in the freedom and liberty SEALs secure, while simultaneously mocking the national security threats they’re sent to neutralize, will not be swayed by the first-hand accounts from a war zone. If they see America as an imperialist oppressor before opening the book, they will likely see America as an imperialist oppressor after the book. Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s anecdotes are worth the purchase price alone, but as mentioned, it is his insight into the mind of a warrior that solidifies the book as a must-read for military enthusiasts.

I had confirmed what I believe was the case, that I was capable of executing the most intense exchange between two human beings, the attempted taking of another life, a deadly force connection. And that I was the one who’d come out alive.

I was now in a new category of warrior. I was a “meat eater” now. That’s the expression SEALs use for someone who has killed on the battlefield. When I entered the category of those who had done that, it was a special distinction to me.

Because of our training and temperament, SEALs are attuned to a more primitive version of what men were once required to be — and still are — when our special skills are called for. …

Nevertheless, I am cognizant of the fact that people we took off the battlefield had families, too. I know that I have changed a family, that this is a son, a brother, a father, or a husband whose life is now over while mine continues. … I didn’t see anyone we shot at who wasn’t prepared to shoot at us — or who wasn’t already shooting. I’ve never shot at a target or an individual I didn’t believe was absolutely the enemy. …

The ability to perform the ultimate act of a warrior lives inside me. I know because I have let it out. And that’s given me a higher sense of responsibility and a stronger appreciation for all that life offers. Those who have fought in combat units in any way know what I am talking about. When you have fought for your life, that life means more to you.

There aren’t many true warriors out there, and there are even fewer who are willing to offer the rest of us a glimpse into their minds and souls. “Damn Few” is part of a rare collection of books, in which our most highly-trained special operations forces tell their side of the story. Give it a read if you want to expose yourself to the kind of mentality that produces winners, on the battlefield and off.

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‘Act of Valor’ SEAL blasts Washington’s attempts to lower standards in ‘Damn Few’

Rorke Denver Damn-Few

Lieutenant Commander Rorke Denver was the former head of Basic and Advanced SEAL Training. He was one of the stars of a number one movie, “Act of Valor,” in which active-duty Navy SEALs gave Americans an inside look the world’s most elite fighting force. He is now the author of an illuminating book, “Damn Few,” which comes out February 19. And after its release, he’ll be known as the patriot who sounded the alarm on the Beltway political class’ efforts to lower the standards of arguably the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.

Since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that combat roles would now be open to female soldiers, Pentagon brass has assured Americans that the standards of excellence expected by infantrymen and special operations forces would not be compromised. Those promises ring hollow, given that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Patrick Dempsey, talked out both sides of his mouth in an effort to alleviate fears during a press conference last week: “[If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?”

And that’s where the importance of Lt. Cmdr. Denver comes in. Speaking on the consequences of the success Navy SEALs had in Iraq and Afghanistan, the saving of Captain Richard Phillips of the MV Maersk Alabama when he was taken hostage by Somali pirates, and of course the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, Lt. Commander Denver writes:

“The message as it was delivered from General Bryan “Doug” Brown, SOCOM’s commander, was simple: “You guys need to make ’em grow.”
Then an interesting thing happened.
The special-operations forces of the Army, Air Force, and Marines each produced projections of how their units could expand and how they would expand. Those units all expanded as promised. …
There was on notable exception: the SEAL teams. …
It didn’t take long, less than a year, for a fresh directive to find its way to the junior and senior SEAL leadership, this one considerably firmer in tone.
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” was the way it was heard on the ground. “We want more SEALs. You will get us more SEALs.” There was also an addendum to that, unstated by still perfectly clear: “And if you won’t, we will find new leaders who will.”

Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s first-hand experience should serve as a clarion call for anyone who cares about the safety of the American people. Pundits and politicians of all stripes — as well as Pentagon officials — claim that the integrity of our elite units will be maintained when it has already been attacked. “Damn Few” even details how at one point during Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s tenure on the SEAL’s Academic Review Board, candidates were getting “ten, eleven, and twelve opportunities to pass their tests.”

The mindset in Washington is that if teams of SEALs are so effective, the U.S. should simply double or triple or quadruple the numbers — but it doesn’t work that way. Why not just have all soldiers be SEALs while we’re at it? What Congress doesn’t get, and what “Damn Few” does an excellent job of demonstrating, is that it takes a very special, very rare kind of person to even want to try out for the challenge of becoming a SEAL. And then, only the best warriors have the mental and physical toughness to earn the coveted “SEAL Trident.”

Social engineers in Washington and the high-ranking Pentagon officials who want to curry favor with them are trying to turn the “damn few” into the “damn many.” Sadly, the concerns in Lt. Cmdr. Denver’s book may be a harbinger of things to come. At one point he writes of his time as an active-duty SEAL that “it was like being a member of an excellent fraternity, the greatest man club in the world. Maybe the last one.”

Inevitably, some women will have what it takes, physically and mentally, to become SEALs. But they shouldn’t earn that distinction with lower standards. It would be a shame if politicians who claim to act in the public’s interest decimated the one fighting force that consistently secures freedom and liberty around the world. “Damn Few” comes out February 19. For those who take national security seriously, it is a must-read.

Related: American Sniper Chris Kyle: Guardian Angel who doesn’t know it