Operation Screw Up

"Instead of using their sophisticated weapons and extraordinary marksmanship, the SEALs were to secure the hangars, tow the Lear onto the tarmac, slash its tires with a K-bar, and leave it out there to block the runway."

"Slash the fuckin' tires with a K-bar! What kinda weak shit is that?"
"Got something else to make you happy, Donkey Dick. One of the senior SEAL officers on the op apparently tried to justify this fine idea. He briefed our mates later, said the general was correct in not wanting the Lear shot up with rufus rounds. Planes, he said, were very expensive. He knew because he owned one."

"Did the SEALs accomplish the mission using these, ah, new tactics?"
"Oh, yes. And those in charge emphasized this point. Despite the tragic casualties, the deed was done with no civilian losses. Well, perhaps an elderly fireman took a round between the running lights, and the Lear was damaged - but mission accomplished, sir. The SEALs denied Noriega his runway as if he were stupid enough to have used it in the first place. Also, the Union Club retained its splendor, and the privileged remained untouched by war - at least the war the SEALs fought at Paitilla.

The Deuce King shifted in his chair, leaned toward Slator, and asked, as we feared he would, "How were the SEALs killed? How did they kill Connors, McFaul, Tilghman, Rodriguez?"

Although he couldn't possibly have known the dead men, the Deuce King said their names as if they'd been old friends. The Deuce King had a way with names. I've seen him memorize the names of an entire jury panel and talk to them during jury selection as if they, too, were old friends. He did this with the jury that acquitted me of drunk driving, which was actually a deuce with three priors.

But the Deuce King was best at remembering the names of dead SEALs. Most of us seemed to forget the names, or at least the names of those we had not known well. But the Deuce King did not forget. He would sometimes recite the names when he was lost in the liquor. (Later he would say it had been Jose talking.) The liquor did not, however, keep him from speaking the names clearly, precisely, emphatically. He sounded as if he were trying to chisel the names across our brains with his voice:


There are more names, but I don't have the Deuce King's memory. Thank God. Except the Deuce King would not let us forget. He was our very own talking memorial wall.

Slator was calming down the Deuce King now, urging another drink on him - which I thought was a mistake - telling him the dark heart of the matter would reveal itself in due course. Slator continued with the preliminaries.

"Although the rules did not permit ships to support the SEALs, boats were allowed with certain limitations. Two patrol boats would take station about a mile off the end of the runway, to support the three SEAL platoons as they went ashore in Zodiacs, which are now called combat rubber raiding craft. The patrol boats would act as a command center of sorts, with the commanding officer of the SEALs on one boat relaying instructions to the officer in charge, who would go ashore with the platoons. The commanding officer would in turn be getting instructions from his boss, the SEAL commodore, who would be back in the operations center for Just Cause."

"Excuse me for interrupting, Slator, but I'm troubled by a SEAL mission that takes three platoons, a command-and-control element, and such a complicated chain of command. Although I've been out of the teams for a few years, we seldom if ever operated with more than a platoon, twelve or fourteen men. If a mission called for more men than that, we just said no, let someone else do it, let the Marines or Rangers do it."

We nodded agreement as we looked at Skipper Stein, who until now had remained quiet. The Skipper was a Mormon who had retired as a commander a few years ago; now he raised Labrador retrievers. He naturally didn't drink and wouldn't say shit if he had a mouthful of it. But he didn't flaunt or try to impose his rectitude on others, and he was one of us.

The Skipper continued, "We said no, for example, when they asked us to participate in the Sontay Raid and the Mayaguez disaster. We said no when the army wanted to use our Nha Be platoons as waterborne points in advance of their riverine ops in Long An Province. We even said no to our own officers who wanted us to retrieve demolition packs that had been carelessly dropped from a helo flying over the Rung Sat.

"Of course, we knew the right way, the reasoned way, to say no. And when we weren't quite sure if we should say no, we established no-go criteria, like naval aviators do. We would proceed with the mission only if we did not encounter a predetermined limit. For aviators it might be a specific fuel state at a specific distance from a target or a return field. For SEALs it might be an inability to communicate with their fire-support element or a sea state and wind speed that exceed safe limits for a water jump."

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