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Larry Barrett aka Bullet Head/Gold Dust Twin
Larry served with me when I had command of SEAL Team TWO; back then, he was a young E-4 petty officer, working in the Ordnance department. He's one of those tenacious bulldogs who doesn't let go when he has a job to do. ("Bulldog" is appropriate, since he had previous service with the Marine Corps.)
When I started the initial selection process for SIX, Larry was at the top of my list. Why did I single out this lower-than-whale-shit E-4? Because he worked hard at everything he did. The average person will put some effort into the things that come naturally and slack off on the things they're no good at. Someone above average will work at improving their weak spots, but they might not push as hard in the areas that come easy, relying on their natural abilities. The exceptional person will go balls-to-the-wall, no matter what he's working on. Larry was exceptional. "Diligence" is one way to put it; "can-do" spirit is another. He was always hungry to learn more, willing to go that extra step to become a more qualified operator.
(Just to clarify things - you'll hear a lot about both SIX and Red Cell, which are two related but distinct commands. SEAL Team SIX was charged with the mission of counterterrorism worldwide. That meant killing the terrorists or preventing them from doing their dirty deeds. Red Cell was designed to expose the Navy to terrorist tactics and help develop an antiterrorist environment throughout the Navy worldwide. That meant creating awareness and security programs that make it too hard for the nasties to get to you, so they'll give up and go down the street to the Air Farce base.)
There's another reason Larry impressed me. Most people's blood type is A, B, O, maybe AB; Larry's got soemthing unique flowing through his veins -- type L-O-Y-A-L-T-Y. He's not just loyal to me; he's loyal to his beliefs. There's nothing half-assed with Larry -- it's all or nothing. (You'll soon see that this is a common attribute amont the Real Team personalities. There's no "gray area" -- it's black or white. Compromise is not in their vocabulary.) An example of Larry's loyalty: after I selected him, he made sure I'd consider his swim buddy from training, Frank Phillips. (Frank is the other G old Dust Twin.) Not only did he make sure I'd interview Frank, he also coached him -- told him to volunteer for the unit and not ask any dumb questions. Larry was loyal to his swim buddy, and to his new Team; he was a believer in the unit, even before the unit existed.
Another one of Larry's assets was his skill with foreign languages. He could develop a working knowledge of a language pretty damn fast: give him a few days, and he could understand and assess conversations and written material, and express himself pretty well -- with one drawback. Whatever the language, he spoke in a south Florida drawl. That limited his effectiveness in counterintelligence operations. No real problem there. We all have talents and limitations; the key is to maximize the former and limit the latter. I'd pick other guys in the Team for the verbal stuff.
But in every other way, Larry was terrific operationally. When he wants to he can melt into the background and become wallpaper; he's got one of those faces that you feel like you know from somewhere. He mingles well with just about anybody; he can talk up to a total stranger and start a conversation without seeming pushy or threatening.
Behind that mild-mannered exterior, his brain is always going. He always has a purpose in mind; he's always collecting data, looking for ways to achieve the mission more effectively. He never stops learning, never stops passing on all he can.
Over the years, I had the privilege of watching Larry develop as a leader. He always led from the front and demanded top performance from his subordinates. He learned from the chiefs who raised him; he spent his time in the trenches with his troops, making sure they were well prepared, militarily and personally, for what they would face. He's a hell of an instructor - meticulous in his presentation, eager to explain the "whys" that make it all work. He never forgets that this shit was new to him once, too. I've also had the pleasure of watching him raise his two young boys with the same thoroughness and dedication. He's determined to pass on everything his father gave to him, plus whatever his "sea daddies" shared with him.
I don't want this to sound like some kind of "I love you - you love me" Valentine, so I've got to talk about Larry's flaws. His loyalty was so strong that his first impulse was to follow my orders or wishes, even if he saw a better way. He might not even tell me about that better way. He soon learned to speak up more often, and when he did speak, I listened. I knew his ideas were backed up with thought and merit. He never talked just to hear his own voice.
Larry was and is a "temple dog." Anyone would be blessed to have him in their organization. If the United States ever needs his talents again, I know he'll be there in some shape or form.
Now listen to what a growling bulldog has to say about teamwork.
NAME: Larry Barrett
DOB: December 22, 1951
HOMETOWN: DeFuniak Springs, Florida
MILITARY: United States Marine Corps; SEAL Team TWO; Mob SIX; SEAL Team SIX; Red Cell; SEAL Team FOUR, Navy liaison to the Air Force for SpecOps
HIGHEST RANK: E-9, master chief
CURRENT: Owner/operator, RV park and nature camp
First time I was in combat was Grenada. I thought it was...pretty interesting. We hit the radio station and received some fire, seized the radio station and basically stopped traffic. Not too long after that we started having guys arriving in these six-bys, armored trucks. That's when all hell broke loose. We had to shoot our way off the beach. Some of the guys had to swim out in the ocean and appropriate a fishing boat.
The first time, I guess, is always kind of strange. You're thinking, "Why are these guys shooting at me? I'm a pretty decent guy why are they trying to kill me? Just because I invaded their country..." But it was pretty wild.
Combat can be terrifying, exhilarating, powerful all these different things, depending on what's happening to you at the time and how well you deal with it all. And combat is relative to the piece of ground you're standing on. You can say, "Ah, Grenada wasn't much." Well, from my point of view, it was plenty. It all depends on what's happening on your little piece of ground.
My dad did a lot of different things. He was a shipbuilder built Liberty ships during World War II. He was one of thirteen children, and two of the boys served in the Army during the war. But he stayed at the shipyard. Then after the war, he did a lot of things. He trapp ed, sold hides, he opened a grocery store and filling station, he ran cattle think he had about 150 cattle at the most. He did whatever it took.
My mom pretty much ran that store. She did a whole lot of work herself. My father was probably the toughest man I ever met, but when it came down to it, my mother was tougher in the long run. She had to deal with me and my two sisters, and him. Strong woman.
My dad was a firm believer in work. There was no sitting around the house. Came summer, he found you a job, farmed you out to people around here, maybe clearing land with a machete or working for a carpenter. So I had a job every summer. Then, of course, we were always helping out around the store, pumping gas and so forth. This was back in the days of full service at no extra charge.
We had a unique childhood. That's a story right there in itself, growing up in the store. We had a pet bear, and my father brought home little alligators when he came back from hunting.
I always went to real small schools, so we didn't have a high school football team or baseball team. I did run a little bit of track. As far as classes go, I was a real good student, starting out. I was the secretary-treasurer of the Beta Club, an academic club, early on in high school. Then about eleventh grade, I started drinking and running around with the boys. My grades subsequently fell.
So by the time I graduated, I didn't have any real idea what I wanted to do. First thing, I got a job on a roller coaster, down in Panama City, Florida. This thing was advertised as "the world's fastest roller coaster." We used to get up there and grease the tracks every morning with axle grease, to make it go faster. Climb around underne ath and tighten all the bolts that had fallen off the previous day. It was a seven-day-a-week job, from nine, ten in the morning to midnight or one o'clock at night.
I worked that most of the summer. Then I started getting bored. One day, I got on the ride, in the back car, and climbed out. You know those big springs that stick up in the back? Well, I rode those springs, holding on to the back end of the car. Rode that way all the way around.
I'd just gotten off and I saw the boss man running over.
A few yards away, he slowed down, and when he got up to me, he said, "My wife saw somebody riding on the back of the car. I was coming over to tell you about it and then I realized it was you. You do that again, and I'm gonna have to fire you. How would that look in the papers 'Roller coaster operator killed while acting the fool'?"
Well, like I said, I was getting bored, and then a friend of mine got fired, and I got mad and quit. Then I got on a survey crew, clearing land for the Intracoastal Waterway. We cleared land through every single swamp for I don't know how many miles around. Well, that got pretty old. I knew these guys in the Marine Corps, and that seemed like a good deal to me.
I spent two years in the Corps, got out as a corporal. I might have reenlisted, but for this little problem I had. Once when I came home from leave I got in a fight with a sheriff's deputy. They filed felony charges and all that. When I went back to base, the sergeant said, "Look, re-up and I'll send you to Okinawa. They'll never touch you." But I said, "Nah, my dad's put up a whole bunch of money for my bond. I have to go to court." So when I got out, I went down to Mobile, Alabama, and then it never went to court. They ended up dropping the charges because the sheriff was basically harassing me.
Well, by that time, I didn't want to go back into the Marines. I started working construction, building highrises, doing odd jobs. Just going nowhere. Back to my old habits drinking, fighting.
I was hanging around with this guy whose dad used to be in the Navy. He was a plane captain on a carrier the Forrestal. It caught on fire several times, so he always called it the Forest Fire. Anyway, he kept talking about the SEALs this, the SEALs that. It sounded pretty interesting, what he was saying, and I got tired of going nowhere. I told my girlfriend, who was about to become my wife, I asked her, "College or the Navy? Your choice." She goes, "Navy."
So I went down and signed up. I knew I had to change something, and that seemed like the way to do it.
I was in BUD/S class number ninety-two. I'm not really sure how many started. I believe it was the standard about 120. We graduated about 20, with several rollbacks.
I don't think you're ever prepared for exactly what happens to you in training. I was thinking, "Well, it's gonna be tough, but Parris Island was tough and you got through that." Because I had prior service, I got to skip boot camp and go straight to BUD/S. So before I reported, I stayed around here at home, trying to get ready. I'm running and lifting weights five days a week, and then just blowing it all on the weekends, partying and all this.
I thought I was in decent shape. I got there about two days before class started and went running with some of the other guys there and I thought, "I'm gonna die. I really am."
But I knew in my mind and my heart that I w asn't going to quit. I'd make it or not make it, but I wasn't going to leave there because I gave up. They were going to have to kick me out. It was like working for my dad. This was my job, and I was there to get through it.
About Hell Week, the toughest thing I remember was the night rock landing. We were a winter class, we must have had twelve-foot waves at that point. We went out in the daytime, and I mean, it's rough. Guys are getting hurt, really hurt, thrown back against these rocks. When we mustered up for the night landing, I was thinking, "No way. It's all a bluff. This is way too dangerous. It's all a mind game." So we get the boats and finally make it out past the surf. Just getting out past these waves is tough. I'm thinking, still, "Nah, it's all a bluff. They're gonna call us back." But we just keep going, and I'm thinking, "They're cutting it awful close. They're gonna have to call us back pretty soon." And then I realize they really mean it. That was tough.
There was some helping each other out, then and all week long. But when you get right down to it, it's up to you. People can encourage you, but after a certain point, they've got to take care of themselves. They're not there to look after you. It's really up to you to get through it.
Back then, about all you had to do was look like you wanted to quit. Once you said it, you were out of there. Since then, they've decided, "Well, that's humiliating." It's not humiliating. I don't even remember those guys. All I remember is their helmet liners lying there. They usually rang out while you're going through another evolution, so you don't even miss them. You're just surviving. You're going on. You feel bad for these guys who didn't make it, but who were they? You can't remember who they were.
When I was in training, I called home this one time, and my mother said, "Well, how is it, son?" I said, "Well, Ma, it's pretty tough here. I'm just hanging on day to day." And I always remember what she said she told me, "Well, son, if the other boys can do it, I'm sure you can, too." I'm thinking, "Thanks a lot, Mom. That's not any kind of advice." But it's really the best thing she could have said. If they can do it, you can do it. Don't worry about it.
I was thinking of that during those long swims in the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana, heading out to the oil rigs. If you judged the current wrong, you might be out there swimming for six or seven hours, and then you have to climb the rig. That would be pretty taxing. But you know if they can do it, you can do it.
You know that old saying: Courage is not the absence of fear; it's the conquering of fear. There's always fear there; it's just a matter of overcoming it. I think a lot of it is peer pressure. Look at the Civil War. These men served with people from around home, and nobody wanted word to get back that they were a coward.
Just because you go through all this difficult training, that's no guarantee you're going to do well in combat. But if you don't do well in training, it's a pretty good bet you're not going to handle the real thing all that well.
These days, if a person wants to quit in training, they don't let him. They give him four or five counseling sessions, let him warm up till he's not cold anymore. "Oh, we don't want him to make a hasty decision." Well, in some situations, real-life situations, you ca n't quit. You can't just walk off. You quit, and somebody's got to take care of you.
Of course I'd heard all the stories about Dick he was a wild man, he was a hard-fisted, hard-drinking kind of guy. Which was right up my alley back then.
The first time I actually met him was when we were unloading a truck at this place I probably better not mention. This was during the Iranian hostage situation, the buildup to the rescue. At that time, I was dipping Copenhagen, and I'd spit in this cup and set it on the bumper of the truck. Well, the cup turned over and spilled. I heard this voice, "Whose mess is this?" Plus a few more choice words. I looked up and saw Marcinko and I think, "Oh, man, I haven't even met the guy and I'm already in trouble."
When I went to work for Dick, I found out he was a great CO. The best I've ever worked for. Organizationally, he's probably a genius the way he put SIX together, the way he utilized people in certain areas, the way the team itself was organized.
And he's an amazing leader. First off, he stood up for his men. And he was very personally involved. You felt like he knew what was going on in your life, he knew things about you things that maybe you didn't even want him to know. He just kind of looked into you and really saw you, accepted some of your flaws and helped you use your assets. He motivated us to do things nobody really thought we could do.
I remember when we were getting SIX set up, he took the whole team out and got us free-fall qualified. I had probably thirty, forty static-line jumps at that point. But there's quite a bit of difference between a rope-a-dope, static-line jump, and free fall. Marcinko took the whole team down to F lorida and we all got free-fall qualified not just on parachutes but on the new square parachutes, which are very dangerous if you don't know what you're doing.
They laid us on the floor, and we all assumed these falling-frog positions. People would come around and correct you "Ah, that knee's not right." We go through that a couple of times and Dick says, "Okay, here's the parachute." He shows us how to pack it. We pack it once, maybe twice, then we all get in the plane and go up ten thousand feet and jump out of an airplane.
I was scared to death. But it all went well. Everybody made it, everybody did the job, everybody learned. And that had to be done. We were behind schedule, and the Old Man told us, "Hey, we're going. There's gonna be no leave until we're all on line. We've got a mission coming up."
When you're in the Teams, you have to prove yourself every day. You can't ever say, "Yep, I'm a hotdog here, I'm just gonna lay back now."
I miss the guys more than anything. I don't miss the operations so much. I'm not going to go join a private skydiving club, I do very little diving, of course I'm not doing any demolition. But the other guys they were my kind of people. We were a family.
Of course, families have conflict. We had conflict all the time. But that doesn't mean we weren't professionals. People called us cowboys, whatever, but we were professionals. We got the job done. We could go out with the Skipper and have drinks, be as close as father and son. But when the job came duty came the next day, then he was the boss and you were the employee. It just reinforced what my father taught me do your job and do it well, and you'll succeed.
Marcinko and my father both taught me the value of hard work, of teamwork, of making sure your people were taken care of. I sure wish the two of them would've got a chance to meet. There are a lot of parallels between them. Maybe that's why I like Marcinko so much.
I left the Navy Halloween of 1994. I'd already set up a business, putting in docks and piers and seawalls, working with this Special Forces guy who'd just retired. We worked with another older fellow who had a barge, and he was supposed to sell us the barge, but in the end he didn't.
Well, putting these things in, it's pretty rough, particularly on your back. I got to the point I just couldn't do it anymore. I was going to see my chiropractor every day. So then I just kind of slid into what Marcinko was doing, did that for a while, worked with an old SEAL buddy, Chris Caracci, up in eastern Michigan, just doing all kinds of things. Worked with a buddy who's a captain on a millionaire 's yacht, helped him bring the yacht down from Savannah to Fort Lauderdale. Worked in the air-conditioning business around here.
Then, not too long ago, I moved back here, where I grew up. Me and my sister are reopening the store, opening up an RV park. We've got to do something with the land the taxes keep going up so we're thinking we can put a nice RV park in, and keep it as natural as possible. We don't want to stack 'em in there like sardines. We want to leave some room, put some nature walks through there, that kind of thing. There's a creek that runs through the property, with very few people on it because we own both sides of it for about half a mile.
I wanted to come back here because this is where I grew up and it's special to me. And also, I h ave a nine-year-old boy and a three-year-old boy, and it's good for them. I'm trying to raise my sons the way I was raised knowing the value of work.
This house sits on three and a half cleared acres, and part of it's infested with prickly pear cactus. You have to keep digging 'em up and throwing 'em away, or they keep increasing. So I have my boy take a bucket and go out and work on that. He'll work for a while and then leave. I'll go find him and say, "Look, I'm the boss, you're the employee. You cannot leave this job until you check out with me." So we're learning some things. I think his mother's going to have him washing clothes, doing the dishes, and all that before too long. Be good for him.
I definitely think there's a need for something that teaches people how to work, how to think about something besides themselves.
I had an old chief, Bob Shamberger, who used to tell us, "Soft lands breed soft people." He always said he was quoting Alexander the Great on that, but who knows. I think we've come to that we've become a soft country. I'm a Christian now, have been for a couple of years, and I believe this country has turned away from God and the Bible, the ethics and the morals you need. And I think people are searching for that. You get these executives going out in the woods, beating on their chests around a campfire to act like men that's pretty sad.
SpecWar's become more and more pertinent to the world situation. You can't always send cruise missiles into drugstores and blow them up. So I think SpecWar's going to be more and more utilized, and more and more valuable. But I also think SpecWar has to get back to the values they started with hard training, focus o n the mission. People aren't getting any tougher, you know what I'm saying? People are getting softer. And if you keep easing off on the standards to accommodate the next generation, you're going to have people who can't do anything. Let's not deal with the quantity of people let's deal with the quality of people. You can take two thousand people who aren't worth anything and you get nothing accomplished. But if you have two hundred of the right people, you'll get the job done.
That holds true for the Teams as well. They have to be careful they don't get so big that they lose sight of the goals and the abilities they had from the start. Now, you got all these admirals, all this structure. People need to just step back and look at what happened to Special Forces in the Army. They got more and more and more, and the officers became more and more in charge, and they created positions of higher rank, and people wanted to be there just so they could make the rank.
One of Marcinko's strengths was depending on the chiefs to run things. They've got their eye on the troops, they know what's going on. Most officers in the Teams unless they're very lucky or very good most officers never spend more than two years, maybe three, in an operational platoon. Then they roll into a training department, go out for postgraduate work, become XO and CO. But they never really are on the operational level again not like the chiefs, who might spend most of their career in operations.
You can't have guys rolling through for two years, then becoming CO of a Team, making major decisions that affect not just his Team, but SpecWar as a whole. You've got to have somebody up there who knows what he's talking about , and somebody the four-star Army guy will respect. Not somebody who got there because of politics.
But that's the way this world seems to be. Things get hot, and the pencil pushers run like rats, hide out then when it's all over, they come right back and take over again.
We've all seen that happen. The suits, the desk jockeys, are in control when things are going well. Then, when the shit hits the ventilator, they abandon ship. That's the cue for the Real Team to enter stage left and kick ass.
Copyright © 1999 by Richard Marcinko