Battle Ready: Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic

Battle Ready: Memoir of a SEAL Warrior Medic

by Mark L. Donald, Scott Mactavish


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The gripping memoir of Navy Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart recipient SEAL Lieutenant Mark L. Donald

As A SEAL and combat medic, Mark served his country with valorous distinction for almost twenty-five years and survived some of the most dangerous combat actions imaginable.

From the rigors of BUD/S training to the horrors of the battlefield, Battle Ready dramatically immerses the reader in the unique life of the elite warrior-medic who advances into combat with life-saving equipment in one hand and life-taking weapons in the other. It is also an uplifting human story that reveals how a young Hispanic American bootstrapped himself out of a life that promised a dead-end future by enlisting in the military. That new life begins with the Marines and includes his heroic achievements on the battlefield and the operating table, and finally, of his inspirational triumph over the demons caused by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that threatened to destroy him and his family.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312600754
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 03/12/2013
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.52(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.16(d)

About the Author

MARK L. DONALD, the son of a retired U.S. Army Warrant Officer and a Mexican mother, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps before transferring to the Navy to train as a Corpsman. He subsequently completed Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training and served in SEALs until 1996 when he was selected for the Intra-service Physician Assistant Program. He graduated from the University of Nebraska and was commissioned a Medical Service Corps officer. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, he was assigned as operational medical support to special operations where he served in a number of capacities until his retirement. Donald was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest medal awarded by the Department of the Navy, for extraordinary heroism while engaged in enemy action against Al Qaeda fighters in southern Afghanistan. He lives in Chesapeake, Virginia.

SCOTT MACTAVISH is an author, filmmaker and veteran of the United States Navy. He does volunteer work for the Navy SEAL Foundation, and serves on the Advisory Team for the I:68 Foundation, a national non-profit organization that provides monetary relief to law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

Read an Excerpt

Battle Ready

Memoir of a Seal Warrior Medic

By Mark L. Donald, Scott Mactavish

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Mark L. Donald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-00976-0



In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.

— José Narosky

Those who know me understand I never intended to write a book, but over the years of learning how to cope with combat stress, I realized how cathartic writing had become. What started as an adjunct to therapy became an incredible psychological release. However, as my notes turned into journals I discovered the writing was less about me and more about the individuals and events that shaped my life. I felt compelled to tell others dealing with similar demons what I had learned, but I shunned the idea of letting anyone read what I had written — not because of a lack of writing ability but more from a reluctance to expose personal aspects of my life that I have kept hidden from even my own wife. As you will find out, I am neither the all-American boy nor a conquering warrior. I am simply a man who held many titles over his military career; some I worked very hard to attain, while others were simply assignments. The most difficult and at times haunting label that I have had to contend with is "hero."

I am not a hero, but I know many worthy of the title. I have had the distinct honor to serve among them for most of my career. I dedicated my life to preserving theirs. I trained with them for battle, bandaged them in combat, and listened to their revelations about life, everything from the birth of their first child to the burial of their closest friends. I am a man who worked hard to serve among the world's most elite warriors. I am a sailor who to the detriment of his own family placed service for his country and teammates above all else. A medical officer who struggled to maintain an oath to preserve life through medicine while taking lives in the defense of his country. A veteran who still suffers from the mental scars of war but through the grace of God, the love of my wife, and the support of the families of the fallen learned how to deal with it before it destroyed me. I am a Navy SEAL who lived by a creed and did what was expected. I am a lot of things, but a hero is not one of them.

The awards I received represent the actions of a team, not the deeds of a single man. I know how each citation reads, and I am not trivializing what is written. The line between hero and fool is razor thin, and it was the actions of the team that allowed me the opportunity to do what was required. Had the others not provided cover, coordinated air support, or maneuvered on the enemy as I moved under fire I would be buried at Arlington right now, my legacy viewed much differently. Truth be told, they, the team, are the reasons why I wear these medals, and I am honored to have received them on their behalf.

Until I wore the medals, I never understood their true significance. Our nation's medals represent more than the actions of any team on a single day. They embody the principles upon which our government was founded and are a tangible depiction of our military's core values: honor, courage, and commitment. The fact that the nation's top three medals for valor require a multitude of evidence only demonstrates the reverence our country has for them. However, it is my personal belief that this same standard of inviolability has also prevented many of my brethren from receiving awards commensurate with their actions. These are the heroes of whom I speak: Americans who, when asked to face danger and adversity, continually answered the call, not for notoriety or distinction but solely out of their love for their country, family, and teammates. They are the quiet and often unknown professionals of special operations and the parents, wives, and children who support them. They are both whom I served and to whom I am forever indebted.

Out of respect of their privacy, to protect those who continue to carry the sword and for reasons of national security, many names, locations, dates, and circumstances have been changed or omitted. If you are reading this in an attempt to discover information about special operations, I recommend you look elsewhere. If you're curious about the internal struggles of a combat medic, dedicated to saving lives but forced to take them, this book is for you.



I know well what I am fleeing from but not what I am in search of.

— Michel de Montaigne

I grabbed my backpack and navigated through the boxes, clothes, and household items stored strategically throughout our home and bolted out the front door into the frigid dawn air of Albuquerque. Mom was waiting patiently in the car, listening to a local news station on the radio. I jumped in next to her, careful not to slip on the ice.

"Did you remember your report, Marky?"

"Yes, Mom," I answered while rubbing the sleep from my eyes. It was five thirty in the morning; wrestling season was upon us, which meant early-morning practices. Like most teens my age, I would have preferred a warm bed until the last possible minute, but I was committed to the team and duty called. Mom was working three jobs per day back then and dropped me off on her way to the first.

As we drove in the dark, Mom passed the time by telling stories that morphed into life lessons, all with a common theme: Live for others, not for self. On that particular day, she shared a story about cleaning homes in rural Texas. She grew up in a poor but loving family, and everyone worked, including the kids. She started her first housecleaning job at age nine.

She wrapped up the anecdote just as we pulled into the diner parking lot, nearly wiping out a newspaper machine by the front entrance.

"Mom!" I gasped.

"What, mijo?" she asked, genuinely confused.

"You don't need to park so close! One of these days you're going to hit someone. I can walk the few extra steps to get inside."

"No," she quipped, "God will let them know I'm coming. Besides, I'm your mother and I can take you anywhere I want. Now, do you have enough money for your oatmeal?" She started digging in her purse.

"Yes, Mom, I have money for breakfast. I love you," I said as I jumped out of the car.

"I love you, too," she said in her motherly voice before tearing out of the parking lot, off to clean the home of a rich landowner. I smiled as she left, utterly amazed at her work ethic and love for family.

Vip's Big Boy was a popular restaurant with a friendly staff that started each day well before dawn. I walked into the bright dining area and took a seat at the counter. It would be another hour before Coach opened the gym, so I made good use of my time by doing homework.

"Marky, how's Mom?" Rosa asked from behind the counter as I plowed into an geometry book.

"She's fine," I responded while trying to focus on a particularly tricky geometric equation. Rosa always asked about Mom as she gathered up my breakfast. Everyone knew my mother, and it was impossible not to; she was extremely sociable and knew everyone that remotely touched our lives. Mom always had the ability to make people feel loved; she draws them to her like a magnet. Within minutes of meeting her she'd ask what she could do for you and, by the end of the conversation, offer a solution. If you were cold she'd put her jacket around you, even if you were a stranger. It didn't matter that she would go without; she simply couldn't allow others to suffer. She devoted her life to making other's lives better, even at the sacrifice of her own. Rosa's questions weren't small talk; she and the others thought of her as their mom, too, and they looked after me like family.

The diner was like a second home during wrestling season. My family was dealing with serious financial hardships due to my father's illness, and Mom worked three jobs in order to provide for my siblings and me. Mom's first job started before dawn, an hour before wrestling practice, and the only way I could attend practice was to wait outside the school for an hour until it opened. She simply would not have that, so one Saturday morning she walked me into the diner and asked to speak with the owner. He, like everyone else, was immediately charmed by her humility and willingness to solve a family dilemma. He listened for a short time, then interrupted her by putting his arm around her 4' 11" frame and offered a solution. The arrangement was simple; he'd let me in the diner each morning and provide a meal for a nominal cost as the staff prepared the restaurant for business.

It was the way she solved all her problems: Honestly explain the situation to those in the community and then ask for help. "Marky," she'd say, "don't be afraid to ask for help. People want to help. You just have to let them know how." This lesson would resonate throughout my life.

I started many school days in that diner even when the season had ended. Those drives with Mom taught me a lot about personal pride and the differences between self-esteem and arrogance, and the interaction with diner staff taught me about the inherent goodness in people.


Mom grew up during the 1930s and '40s experiencing the effects the Great Depression had on both sides of the border. She was raised in Matamoros, Mexico, and Brownsville, Texas, the youngest of a very large Mexican family. It was a tumultuous time for a region experiencing the terrible effects of the Depression and heightened racial tensions due to the various ethnicities competing for work. Instead of becoming bitter and untrusting, Mom and her siblings were taught the value of family and religion during trying times, and it was those lessons of unity, commitment, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice that she'd later instill in each of us.

I distinctly remember one story that emphasized her point. At the time Mom was working as a maid for a large hotel chain, and one of her bosses treated the laborers with contempt, especially the cleaning crew. Instead of becoming angry with him like some of the others, she waited for the right opportunity to speak with the man in private. She explained how she and the cleaning staff took pride in the quality of their work, not in the type of work they did for the company. It took time and persistence, but eventually her message sank in. By the end of the year he was their most ardent supporter.

Mom's dedication to hard work and caring for others wasn't anything new. Since childhood she always held a job and balanced it with service in the church and community. Even in her eighties she still insists on working and taking care of those in need.

Back then, Mom would start her day as a personal maid for the wealthy, then head home for dinner with the family before leaving to clean offices until late at night. Housekeeping was her life's work.

Ironically, our home looked like a hoarder's paradise, at least to outsiders. In reality, the "junk," as Mom jokingly called it, was a meticulously inventoried collection of clothes, housewares, canned food, and anything else she felt our family or friends might need. It started with her collecting the obvious items, jackets and gloves, but over time, and as our financial situation deteriorated, she expanded her collection to include every type of necessity, taking full advantage of closeouts, garage sales, and the generosity of others. Everything from blankets to school paper was cataloged, organized, and placed in a closet or a makeshift cardboard cabinet. If something was needed I guarantee Mom would be able to pull it from the rubble, which is what the rest of us called it, in a matter of minutes.

It wasn't like she was suddenly afflicted with some pathological condition that drove her to retain useless or sentimental items. Rather, it was a reasonable reaction to our circumstances based on her experiences during her youth and my dad's health; perhaps a primitive survival instinct to provide for the family. Still, I was ashamed and embarrassed when a stranger came to our home. They must have thought we were all a bit nuts, and perhaps we were, but our house wasn't a manifestation of mental derangement. It was a means of our survival, and had been for years.


Dad was a gringo born to parents that neglected him. At age seventeen, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and never looked back. He worked hard and rose through the ranks, eventually attaining the rank of chief warrant officer. After retiring from the military, Dad placed the family savings into a small gas station he was sure it would allow him to enjoy a simpler life being his own boss. What he didn't count on was the Middle Eastern oil restrictions and governmental regulations that threw the country into an oil and gas crisis. To make matters worse, even though the shop was in a rough neighborhood, Dad insisted on living close by in order to spend as much time with the family as possible, a luxury he never had in the military. Instead of making a quick trip home for lunch, though, he spent more time away dealing with the break-ins, vandalism, and robberies that seemed to occur on a weekly basis. The economy was in a free fall, and major oil companies were shutting out independent dealers like Dad. It didn't take long before the business went under, leaving him searching for work during a time of high unemployment and financial uncertainty.

In just a few years Dad went from being an army officer to being an unemployed veteran in a recession. His decision to leave the military to become a businessman had given him little time to plan for life's contingencies, and he didn't have the coping mechanisms to adapt. I believe it was this loss in status and a return to the same impecunious life he knew during his early years that escalated psychological problems that began in his youth and intensified over his military career.

In an effort to quell his inner demons Dad reached for the bottle. Of course, no one outside the home knew anything about Dad's problem. He was a master at hiding his drinking from the outside world — so good at it, in fact, that he finally landed a job in corporate collections and began to climb the company ladder. Shortly after, he decided to move us to the Heights, an upper-middle-class neighborhood on the good side of town. I suppose buying a house on the right side of the tracks was his way of making it up to us after struggling for so long.

In his heart, he believed he was giving us the opportunity to succeed, however, Mom saw it differently. She understood that fights, teen pregnancy, and gangs were realities of Albuquerque, and our ability to reject temptations was the key to our survival. For Mom the ability to counter these entrapments wasn't based on a geographic location but on how involved she and Dad were in our daily lives. That meant spending time together as a family and not working extra hours or a second job to live in a neighborhood we couldn't afford. In hindsight I am sure Dad wished he'd listened. Instead he was committed to moving the family, so he went to work trying to convince Mom, and himself, that everything would work out fine. While Mom ended up being supportive, she definitely wasn't secure with the decision, and she was right.


Excerpted from Battle Ready by Mark L. Donald, Scott Mactavish. Copyright © 2013 Mark L. Donald. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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

Author's Note ix

1 Who I Am 1

2 Getting Under Way 5

3 Emergence of an Amphibian 19

4 A Higher Calling 27

5 Anchors Aweigh 37

6 BUD/S-Just the Basics 49

7 Breakout 59

8 The Teams 73

9 Desert Storm 85

10 Evacuation 95

11 Metamorphosis 105

12 Teammate, Mentor, Friend 117

13 Arrival in Afghanistan 135

14 Battle of Khand Pass 149

15 QRF 189

16 Return to Battle 199

17 Criminal Encounter 221

18 Returning Home 227

19 Finding Peace 239

20 Adrift 249

21 Darkness and Light 261

22 A Cross to Bear 271

23 Return to Faith 281

24 Trident 289

25 A Common Bond 297

26 Coming Home 303

27 Brutal Honesty 309

28 The Decision 315

29 Time to Say Good-bye 321

30 The Association 325

31 Close 331

Acknowledgments 335

A Personal Appeal 339

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