In recent years, the world has learned just what is required to bravely serve America through the navy’s most elite SEAL Team. Now, for the first time, we hear from their commander.
For more than half a decade, Ryan Zinke was a commander at the most elite SEAL unit. A 23-year veteran of the US Navy SEALs, Zinke is a decorated officer and earned two Bronze Stars as the acting commander of Joint Special Forces in Iraq. Zinke trained and commanded many of the men who would one day run the covert operations to hunt down Osama bin Laden and save Captain Phillips (Maersk Alabama). He also served as mentor to now famous SEALs Marcus Luttrell (Lone Survivor) and Chris Kyle (American Sniper).
Written with #1 New York Times bestselling co-author of American Sniper, Scott McEwen, American Commander will offer readers the hard-hitting, no-nonsense style the SEALs are known for.
When Zinke signs with the US Navy he turns his sights on joining the ranks of the most elite fighting force, the SEALs. He eventually reaches the top of the SEAL Teams as an assault team commander. Zinke shares what it takes to train and motivate the most celebrated group of warriors on earth and then send them into harm’s way. Through it, he shares his proven problem-solving approach: Situation, Mission, Execution, Command and Control, and Logistics.
American Commander also covers Zinke’s experience in running for Montana’s sole seat in the United States Congress. Zinke’s passion for his country shines as he conveys his vision to revitalize American exceptionalism. Scott McEwen and Ryan Zinke take readers behind the scenes and into the heart of America’s most-feared fighting force. American Commander will inspire a new generation of leaders charged with restoring a bright future for our children’s children.
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About the Author
With a focus on giving back to the country that blessed him with so much, Ryan Zinke serves Montana as their sole Representative in the United States House. As a Navy SEAL, State Senator and now Congressman, Ryan took the same oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and he takes that oath seriously. His distinguished military career began in 1985 when he graduated from Officer Candidate School and attended SEAL training (BUDS class 136). He was first assigned to SEAL Team ONE in Coronado, CA, then was later selected for SEAL Team SIX where he was a Team Leader and a commander.
After over a decade of exemplary service, Ryan was assigned as Deputy and Acting Commander of Combined Joint Special Operations for Operation IRAQI FREEDOM where he led a force of over 3,500 Special Operations personnel in Iraq. In 2006 he was awarded two Bronze Stars. He retired from active duty 2008 after serving 23 years as a US Navy SEAL. After retiring from the Navy, Ryan ran for Congress and was elected by a 15-point margin. Ryan was sworn in to the House of Representatives on January 6, 2015 and became the first Navy SEAL in the House.
Read an Excerpt
Serving a Country Worth Fighting for and Training the Brave Soldiers Who Lead the Way
By Ryan Zinke, Scott McEwen
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Ryan Zinke and Scott McEwen
All rights reserved.
SERVICE TO COUNTRY.
I love the sound of those words. We all serve: not just the heroic men and women in uniform but each and every one of us. We do it by caring for our families, our friends, our coworkers, our neighbors, our America.
Those three simple words mean that ideas you cherish, people you love and admire, hopes you harbor, and values you respect can all live and thrive in a safe, free environment. It means that the honest industry of any citizen has a place to grow; and, growing, can benefit the country and the world.
I love the sound of the following words, too, and they've served me well in more than a half century of life: "Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it." They were written by an eighteenth-century Irish statesman named Edmund Burke, and I can tell you firsthand that truer words were never written. I've seen that in action during twenty-three years of active military service here at home and also in the tortured landscape of the Middle East.
Yet there is a flip side to what Burke wrote: those who do know history can learn from the mistakes and triumphs of those who came before.
Case in point.
In 1987 — shortly after I'd been assigned to SEAL Team One in Coronado, California — I saw the movie The Untouchables, which starred Kevin Costner as Prohibition-era treasury agent Eliot Ness. What an inspiration: talk about a special operations team, a bunch of G-men working on their own against one of the most powerful criminal enterprises in American history. Ness's assignment was to bring down crime kingpin Al Capone, but the bootlegger-extortionist-murderer was too smart to be caught with blood on his hands. So the government agents took another tack to get him: they dove into his shady accounting practices.
That's right: one of the most notorious thugs ever to walk the streets of Chicago was put away for tax evasion and sentenced to an unprecedented eleven years for this white-collar crime. Capone literally lost his mind while incarcerated.
Capone has a moral counterpart in Iraq, a so-called cleric by the name of Muqtada al-Sadr. I say "so-called" because he's the kind of religious figure who makes a mockery of the word "religious" by spreading hate as well as lies like "The United States is targeting Islam, the Muslim and Arab states in the Middle East and beyond. It wants to control the world." That statement is as ignorant as it is inflammatory since we can't control our own deficit, let alone the world.
But back to Capone and Sadr.
By 2004, the hot-tempered, black-garbed Iraqi was certainly capable of causing a lot of trouble, and he did. Unfortunately, we couldn't find him. Intelligence indicated that he was frequently in Iran, which was going to make him difficult to spot and take out. Iran was known to be pumping weapons, explosives, and training to the Shia anti-coalition forces. It was clear even in 2004 that Iran wanted to re-create Persia and expand its brand of Islamic terrorism. Iranian explosives used to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other tools of terrorism were responsible for at least five hundred US deaths. Make no mistake, Iran is the enemy of liberty and our values, and no agreement or settlement with evil will deter Iran from continuing its global jihad of killing the American infidels.
Sadr was Iran's chief surrogate and operations officer in Iraq. While we could not find him through informants and methodical intelligence collection, we did find his accountant — whose name we will leave blank, given current conditions in Iraq — in Najaf, one of the more religious cities in Iraq, in the southern part near al-Hillah.
And accounting practices offered a vulnerability into Sadr's operations, just as was the case with Capone in the 1920s.
Our hope was that, like any good accountant, Sadr's man would have with him the Sadr files that would detail Sadr's organizational network of terrorism. If we could get our hands on his books, the chances would be good that we could follow the money trail and bring down his whole organization. Even criminals like to know where their money is and how it is being spent. We were hoping he had a good accountant who liked to know too. Thus, we began to run surveillance on the accountant, employing tactics we had successfully used before.
When, after several weeks of observation, we had a tangled profile of the man, we assessed what force package was necessary and how much support would be needed. We were pretty confident that he kept his books at his house, which would mean a compound raid. A SEAL task unit from Camp Posey, a small SEAL camp base at Baghdad International Airport (BIAP), was picked for the mission. They had been in country for nearly six months and by this time had conducted hundreds of combat operations. They also had a detachment of Polish GROM (Poland's elite counterterrorism unit) with them and the first ever Marine Special Operations Force. They were well led and ready for another mark on the wall.
The first time I was introduced to the GROM was when I was still attached to the Naval Headquarters in London. As the NATO naval commander, the US Navy would host and coordinate a naval exercise called Baltic Operation, or BALTOPS for short, that included the participation of our European allies. In 1994, BALTOPS would include a new participant, Russia. The Berlin Wall had come down a few years earlier, and grand ideas of an integrated Europe gave promise to greater cooperation and peace. As the unconventional warfare officer, I decided to be unconventional and pitch the idea of a SEAL platoon rendezvousing with a Russian warship at sea by parachute. The proposal was simple: simply give the location and time to the Russians, and we would drop the SEALs and boats out the back of a C-130 and hitch a ride with them into the Polish port of Gdansk. No problem. To my utter amazement, my plan was approved. Be careful what you ask for.
We gave the Russians the radio frequencies, the time and coordinates, and a description of how to position their small craft for personal recovery at sea. They acknowledged receiving the plan with only one comment — a request for personnel and equipment manifests. The equipment was not an issue as we weren't going to bring any new toys with us, but the manifest was problematic. We decided to provide them a generic list by giving positions rather than names and see what would happen. They once again acknowledged receipt and made no comment. On the morning of the at-sea rendezvous, we confirmed that the Russians were still going to play ball and loaded the C-130 bound to drop us off in the middle of the Baltic Sea. I was handed the name of the Russian frigate, the Neustrashimy, and a distress beacon should they decide not to let us board. After a couple of hours in the air, the back ramp was lowered and we prepared to jump. A small Zodiac boat filled with gear and with its own larger parachute attached would go first, and we would immediately follow. We made a low pass to confirm the Neustrashimy and her boats were lined up per our instructions. I could see her below exactly as planned, but we could not reach her on the radio frequency assigned. We made another pass without communications, and I made the decision to go. We had made it this far, and now was not the time to retreat. We climbed to 1,250 feet and exited the C-130. When you jump out of a plane over water you focus on three things: pulling your rip cord so you don't die, steering for the boat so you don't get lost, and making sure your fins are on and ready so you don't drown. Before you hit the water, it's best to be ready to cut your parachute away, so if the surface winds kick up you don't get dragged away. Even a SEAL can find his way to Davy Jones's locker by being dragged or pulled under by a parachute at sea.
The splash into the Baltic Sea was refreshing, and getting the platoon organized and onto the small boats was uneventful. We easily motored over to the accommodation ladder alongside the Russian frigate and climbed aboard. The captain and a man dressed in a polo shirt, khaki pants, and Top-Siders were at the top of the ladder waiting to greet me. I asked for permission to come aboard. My request was answered by that man standing on deck wearing the khaki pants, Top-Siders, and a polo shirt. He looked and dressed exactly the way I used to while assigned to my previous command. He greeted me by name and knew exactly who I was and where I came from. This was my first introduction to Petoskey, the man who protected Lech Walesa during Poland's solidarity and was one of the hardest men I ever met. He was at least sixty-five and still chiseled like a rock. His forearms reminded me of Popeye the Sailor Man. I would not mess with him. My instincts were right, as I later found out he also led the Ministry of Interior's successful Russian mafia eradication program in Warsaw. He was tough and introduced me and arranged a meeting with his favorite unit, the Polish GROM. They operated out of an old German U-boat facility outside of Gdansk. While their equipment was Russian hand-me-downs, there was little doubt they were tough and hungry to be a premier fighting force. They would not have to wait too long. To this day, I don't know how he knew who I was, but the fact that he did know deserved my respect.
Back to the accountant.
Unlike The Untouchables, we would take the accountant and his family.
First, though, some context.
* * *
"FIND ME SADR."
While we were in Fallujah, I would hear this, or something very much like it, almost every day from General Ricardo Sanchez. I'm pretty damn certain that Sanchez would have strangled Sadr with his bare hands if he'd had a chance.
Muqtada al-Sadr is a prominent Shia leader, and at the time, the different militias that were forming around us were also Shia. The Shias were the ones who had borne the brunt of abuse from the Sunni majority — the group from which Saddam Hussein had pulled the members of his ruling Ba'athist party. Incidentally, Ba'athist means "renaissance" in Arabic, and when the party was first founded in the early 1950s, its stated goal was "unity."
To which I say: "Bull."
Once we toppled Saddam, the Shias were looking for big-time retribution after several decades of often brutal Ba'athist repression, which compounded the ever-present internecine family disputes and clashes over property. As a result, there were regional conflicts based on religion, politics, and ancient blood feuds, and we were (and still are) in the middle of it.
Incidentally, it was with a snickering reference to Muqtada al-Sadr on his lips, on the scaffold, that Saddam Hussein died.
At the time the Shias had pushed the Sunnis west, into the desert, into Ramadi, and into the Anbar Province. (Many of those refugees are still there, by the way; only now we have another name for them: ISIS.) The Shias themselves were consolidating their power in Karbala, Najaf, Hillah, and Baghdad — central and southern Iraq — and the Kurds were solidifying their strongholds in the north. Iraq was and is a mess, and it's dangerous to think of any specific Shia or Sunni faction as being our friends, even if we continue to work with individuals from that failed nation. The Iraqi Kurds are another matter: they're generally aligned with Western values and for the most part bravely challenge the barbarians who are trying to destroy us and them. They are deserving of our help and our arms, and what we have given them most recently is lip service and limited support administered through the Shia-controlled government. Vehicle and material support intended for Kurdish forces gets redirected and sold before it ever reaches the front lines. We know it, they know it, and our enemies know it.
Back to Muqtada al-Sadr. His militias were primarily made up of local thugs and anti-coalition insurgents funded by a number of sources, including the siphoning off of US government contracts and the dangerously theocratic Iran to gain influence and control. I bring that up because Sadr and his principle minions were spending a lot of time in Iran. He would come into Iraq, talk to key people, and then leave for the safety of his adopted Shia home. We couldn't establish a pattern regarding where he would be.
But Sadr was a strategic guy, a big-picture guy, which meant he depended on an operational staff to handle day-to-day matters. Terrorists and insurgents rely on money to complete their missions, and someone has to collect, distribute, and track funds, just as with any other organization. We figured that if we could get a sense as to how the money flowed, we could gain a lot of insight into Sadr's operations and how to disrupt them.
General Sanchez was our own big-picture guy, and the Iraqis knew it. They targeted him, and at one point SEALs served as his personal security detail. There was a week in which convoys Sanchez traveled in had been hit a couple of times with IEDs. At the daily Battle Update Brief, or BUD, his chief of staff, whom I had known in Kosovo, came up and asked for our help. He had just returned from the Green Zone and had narrowly escaped death by another IED. He was pale and clearly shaken.
As it so happened, a couple of my former team members were passing through. Both had experience in Personal Security Detachment missions dating back to protecting Admiral Boorda in the early '90s. They were pros. I asked them to kick the tires on the general's security team and give me their thoughts.
They came back to me with a disturbing report: "Sanchez is going to die," they said in a serious but matter-of-fact tone. Sanchez's security detail lacked the right training and had internal leadership issues, they discovered. Half the time they didn't even do route assessments or have the general's schedule. They would take Sanchez along the same route in the same vehicles when he shuttled back and forth along the eightmile road between Baghdad International Airport and the Green Zone. Often their only defense was an electronic squawker that was designed to disrupt an electronic firing device. There was little doubt that Sanchez's movement and routes were being watched, and it was only a matter of time before the enemy would get him. Sanchez's security team did not know what they did not know and did not have the right training considering the task before them. They were not bad soldiers; they just had no idea what they were doing. They were tasked with protecting the theater commander against a determined enemy, and it was only by luck and God's grace that Sanchez was still alive.
I informed Sanchez's chief of staff that the problems were serious enough that a "tweak" would not be adequate to the task. I recommended that Sanchez's security detail be taken offline for training and some changes in leadership. And then I made a mistake: I offered up a SEAL platoon to temporarily fill the gap until his assigned team was ready. A new rotation of SEALs had just arrived in theater and could be assigned to the task. As luck would have it, it was led by the same hero who had saved my son's finger years before. While his team was not typically tasked with PSD missions, I knew they would excel at the assignment. That is both the curse and the blessing of the SEALs and, for that matter, all Special Operations Forces. The blessing is they are extraordinarily talented, highly trained, and motivated. The curse is that their success has made them the force of choice for almost every mission and the solution for almost every problem. Give them a task and they will find out how to do it better.
In this case, the chief of staff readily accepted and never gave the SEAL detail back. After his assigned security guys were trained and ready to go, Sanchez said, "Hell no." I don't blame him. I would have wanted SEALs around me too!
I'm biased, of course. I knew the SEALs would keep Sanchez alive and would excel at this or any other task. You must always keep something in mind: SEALs look at the enemy's mission (to take us out) as if it were their own in order to determine how to defeat it. In this case, bad guys wanted to kill Sanchez, so a SEAL would think, If I were the bad guy I would do it like X, Y, or Z; so I will devise a plan to defend/defeat all of the above. And once Sanchez's regular security force was ready to return to work, you could argue that there were better uses for those SEALs. But Sanchez was a four-star general and he wanted to live. He told me I could not have that detail back. Rank has its privileges.
Now, I actually wasn't reporting directly to Sanchez: my immediate superior for day-to-day operations was the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Commander, Colonel Mike Repass. Repass was the Special Force 10th Group Commander and a great American, dedicated, hardworking, and loyal to his men. Aside from conducting as many as twenty operations a night, he also had the challenge of keeping all of his bosses happy. He reported directly to Sanchez as the theater commander but also took direction from the theater Special Operations commanding general. There were also the generals commanding every Multinational Division sector. Keeping them happy was important. Then there was the plethora of home-front generals within the army and Special Operations Command structure. All of them would come into theater and offer either advice or direction or both. Repass was one of only a few Special Forces group commanders and no doubt would be looked at for flag officer. I don't think it drove every decision he made, but he was a man being pulled in a lot of different directions. I did not have any illusions of being a four-star admiral and had less of an issue trying to satisfy a thousand masters. The one person I did pay attention to was General Sanchez. He said he wanted Sadr and anything that we did to get him was pretty much a go.
Excerpted from American Commander by Ryan Zinke, Scott McEwen. Copyright © 2016 Ryan Zinke and Scott McEwen. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Al-Sadr's Bookkeeper, 1,
Chapter 2: Fallujah: A Warehouse of Death, 19,
Chapter 3: Abu Ghraib, 45,
Chapter 4: Small-Town America, 63,
Chapter 5: Early Teamwork, 95,
Chapter 6: Go Ducks, 103,
Chapter 7: The Energy Play, 119,
Chapter 8: So You Want to Be a Frogman, 129,
Chapter 9: Drop and Give Me 50, 135,
Chapter 10: The Teams, 157,
Chapter 11: The Love of My Life, 181,
Chapter 12: Into the Fire, 185,
Chapter 13: Good Luck, Lieutenant, 195,
Chapter 14: Lola's Big Storm, 207,
Chapter 15: The Last of the Pirate Raids, 215,
Chapter 16: Threat — No Threat (Life or Death), 229,
Chapter 17: Tactical and Strategic Failures, 243,
About the Authors, 255,